Comic Books

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Hope all of you have a happy one!  Thanks so much for the support and well-wishing all year!  I hope you all hang around for another year and then some!  I’ve got a LOT more stories to tell and I hope as many readers.

Speaking of, here’s a BLACK DOG Christmas greeting by way of Mike Torrance over at the Daily Sketch Blog.

Until next time, be safe!

Black Dog Christmas


THE LEPROSY OF SELF-PUBLISHING

Let me get this in the open right from the jump:

I am ALL ABOUT self-publishing.  I LOVE self-publishing.  I  AM self-published—twice.

My name is Matt, and I’m a self-published author.  (Hi, Matt…)

Do I think it’s the ONLY way to go?

No.

Is it a VIABLE way?

Yes.

But—BUT!—not for everybody.

There is a certain stigma about self-publishing, and a lot of you writers out there know what I mean.  You may be a writer who’s doing their due diligence, (i.e. riding herd on yourself, keeping your butt in the chair, and putting out the best quality work possible by making sure the manuscript itself DOESN’T SUCK a turd-flavored lollipop), and still you get patronizing comments (Oh, self-published?  Well, that’s all right.”  Unspoken comment: “You’ll get there one day.”)  Or you answer the question “Who’s your publisher?” with “You’re lookin’ at him,” and the person winces like they just gulped a 44-ounce Thirstbuster of curdled milk, sets your book back down like it’s a two-headed, napalm-spitting spider, and slowly backs away, whispering  “Don’t touch me…!”

(Actually, a two-headed napalm-spitting spider sounds pretty cool.)  *jots down for future reference*

Hyperbole?  Maybe, but both of the above have happened to me, and I’m betting some of you other due-diligence pen-jockeys have had similar experiences.

And before we feel high and mighty in our super-scribedom, there is a definite reason for this preconceived notion:

It is insanely easy to self-publish these days.  Anyone can regurgitate onto the page and upload their vomit to Amazon, B&N.com, or any number of internet venues and charge whatever they want.

Within the open-ended system of Amazon’s Create Space and the eBook off-ramp of soiled baby diapers in the guise of “novels,” there is absolutely no system of checks and balances.  There could (and probably should) be some sort of filter through which Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and every other self and eBook publisher runs the steady stream of bilge-water that passes for “published” work.  And I’m talking about just the basics—grammar, spelling, punctuation.

After that, the Sargasso Sea of shitty book covers needs to be addressed—by which I mean taken out back and shot.  You!  Yeah, you–the one who is so in love with Papyrus and Comic Sans?  The one who can’t create a relevant title to said book?  the one who thinks Photoshop covers a multitude of sins?  Hire a cover artist/designer and at least make it look like you care about putting out a professional product.  That whole don’t judge a book by its cover thing?  Crap and double-crap.  If your cover is half-assed, mediocre, or downright awful, and your title is incomprehensible or just plain nonsensical, guess what?  I’m thinking the inside is the EXACT. SAME. WAY.  I worked for two major bookstores as a Receiving Manager for 10+ years, and let me tell you:  we knew when a self-pub came down the pike.  You could take one look and tell.

So that’s one-half of the key to self-publishing (or hell, any venture in life):  Put your best foot forward; first impressions matter.  Even if you clean up your Comic Sans funk later on, the stink will never wash off in the minds of prospective readers, and they are the ones for which your book (and consequently you) should smell like a Yankee Candle factory.  Otherwise, readers will associate you with the endless morass of warm garbage that already exists out there and it’ll be over before it starts.

The other half, again, is you actually writing something that doesn’t suck.

Yeah, I know, right?  Pretty simple, yeah?  You wouldn’t think so, browsing through Amazon.  A few tips:

1.)  Develop a good story idea:  This doesn’t mean writing your Star Wars/Strawberry Shortcake erotic fan-fiction, either; it means you need to develop a strong idea that can be built upon.  Influence is fine, but know where to draw the line.  Even if you change the names, we can still tell that Boba Fett and Peach Blossom are getting it on, while a sexually exploited Blueberry Muffin in a slave girl outfit takes out her bottled-up rage on Jabba the Hutt during a private dance session, and meanwhile on Bespin, Lobot has come out to Lando, expressed his long-repressed feelings for him, while also admitting to an affair with Huckleberry Pie during the last podraces on Tatooine…

…not that I gave that much thought, or even wrote a six-book series, available individually or as a bundle on Amazon, under the pen name “Wedge Antitties.”

2.) Know your craft:  A buzz word a few years back that really dragged a cheese-grater over my scrotum was “artisan.”  Suddenly, every fast-food joint in the nation was sporting “artisan” bread.  There were artisan knives, cakes, houses, yachts, bongs, Nikes, water…you get it.  Supposedly the term lent greater value to the products and let their purveyors charge more for them.  Personally, I had artisan underwear and they hugged me like they were painted on, brother—wait.

Did I say that out loud?

Anyway, artisan actually means a craftsman—someone who knows their shizzle about their shizzle.  A craftsman is someone who others come to because he can do a particular thing like no one else.  (At one point in my life, that thing was breakdancing; now, it’s pencil-fighting.)  People know they can get a quality product from this guy or gal, and will pay for the privilege of having it.  That’s what you should strive to be as a writer—what we all should strive to be.  People should see your name in the Kindle Shop or on a bookstore shelf and practically wet themselves getting to the Buy Now button or front counter.  You should strive to produce work that makes people get that “have to go to the bathroom from excitement” feeling, not the “can’t make it to the bathroom fast enough to paint the toilet with my lunch” feeling.

3.) EDIT YOUR CRAP!  EDIT YOUR CRAP!  EDIT YOUR CRAP! : Speaks for itself.  Edit the work.  Read it out loud.  See how good or craptastic it sounds, then edit it again.  Rinse and repeat.  Still concerned?  Hire an editor (Psst!  It’s what they do.)  They can either revamp your existing work, or tell you why it’s awful.  Either way, the feedback you’ll get is absolutely valuable.   In some ways, editing is my favorite part of the writing process.  If the actual composition is the hammer beating out the manuscript, then editing is the scalpel, slicing away the cancerous parts until the story is healthy and whole.  EDIT.  YOUR.  CRAP.

4.)  Get a test reader. Or eight.  It can be your wife, husband, girl/boyfriend, sure.  Most writers start with these, but move out of your comfort zone—of course Granny’s gonna think her Wittle Pumpkin’s story is the best thing since bunion cream.  (And let’s be honest, has there really been anything that good?)  Go out.  Leave your PC, typewriter, chalkboard, human skin and bone pen, and get out there and meet people.  Coworkers, writers’ groups ( a post about these guys later), friends, friends of friends, hobos under freeway bypasses, whoever.  Just let it fly out to readers and get the honest feedback you desperately need, not the ego-stroking you desperately want.

5.)  Do everything in your power to NOT make your book look self-published.   Editing.  A strong, awesome cover.  Good back copy that reads like a hook from a movie trailer.  A barcode and ISBN (both of which can be bought individually or are already included in Create Space’s publishing options.)  A formatted interior, preferably an existing template.  Break your back to make your book look like one that’s already on the shelves professionally.  To paraphrase Crash Davis’s advice to Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham:  “Your manuscript has multiple errors. You’ll never make it to the bigs with errors on your manuscript. Think classy, you’ll be classy.  If you sell a million books, you can let the errors stay and the press’ll think you’re colorful.  Until you sell a million, however, it means you’re a slob.”

This all sounds mean, I know, and I’m not trying to discourage people from writing—just from writing crap.  When you upload and/or publish your serial killer unicorn-urban fantasy-epic-cop drama and it looks like something that bubbled back up the garbage disposal, you RUIN it for the rest of us who are trying to produce quality work.  That stigma I mentioned earlier?  It’s because of the lack of quality-control on the writer’s part, first and foremost.  How could anyone want to hang anything less than their best out there for the world to swing at like a piñata?

And, as I said, the venues are equally responsible.  Amazon, B&N, and all the rest are throwing a house party for crappy books, no cover for the ladies, and not even bothering to card anyone at the door.  They need a filter—some sort of literary three-headed Cerberus at the gate to drag the shitty books down to Bad Book Hades—but that won’t ever happen; there’s no money in it for them.  We, as writers and readers, have to demand more of ourselves and the writing community; we have to police ourselves.  What do you think?  Your responses, rebuttals, and experiences—forthwith!

And seriously—quit with the Papyrus and Comic Sans, okay?

May I introduce you to Times New Roman and Garamond?

Yeah—I’ll just let you guys talk.


TOP 5 GUILTY PLEASURE COMIC BOOKS

“Guilty pleasures.”

Things that we find pleasing but believe the majority of the rest of the world does not, so we keep our yaps shut– at least until we find other like minds and openly admit our secret with a nervous chuckle or a pent-up belly laugh.

Like how you were too embarrassed to admit you liked Jem, even though you only watched it the first time because you had to share the family’s one TV with your two younger sisters, and got sort-of-kind-of-semi-but-not-really-too-interested in the storyline, which actually wasn’t that bad, really, and maybe the animation was pretty good, because after all, it was done by Hasbro and Sunbow Productions (“the same guys that did G.I. JOE and Transformers,” you told a buddy, if said buddy happened by and caught you watching it and maybe laughing out loud at the antics of Jerrica Benton and the rest of the Holograms.)

Or, you know… any similar hypothetical that never, ever really happened.

Anyway, here are my Top 5 Comics that I’m slightly ashamed of admitting that I like, why I think that the world thinks they’re shameful to like, and why I like them.

Agree or disagree at your individual whim.

5.  KAMANDI

Tiger-men controlling a Roman Empire-esque east coast; leopard-men sailing the seas as post-apocalyptic pirates; lion-men conservationsists herding and protecting “animals” (humans) on wildlife preserves in the west; rat-men living in the sunken ruins of New York City.  Lost in this strange new world and hunted by its denizens is Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth. The titular hero took his name from a bunker (Command-D) where he and the last remnants of humanity survived a namless cataclysm that engulfed the earth, turning animals into our intelligent, bipedal masters and humans into mindless, speechless, bestial cattle.

While obviously a rip-off of Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Apes, creator/writer/artist Jack Kirby put a new spin on the idea, adding his flair for action and adventure with a twist of weird science that became his trademark in the comics industry.

Out of all Kirby’s legendary creations–Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the New Gods, Silver Surfer, Challengers of the Unknown, among many others–I think KAMANDI is the one that stands out to me the most.  It’s different from the rest of his work; the hero is still a paragon of right in a world of wrong, but the world itself is darker, more sinsiter, and totally alien.

I list it at #5 because it’s the least embarassing–it’s Kirby, it’s post-apocalyptic, and both are right down my driveway.  AND I just bought the first of two omnibus editions collecting the entire run for my birthday.  I’m about halfway done and loving it.

So is KAMANDI a guilty pleasure?

In the sense that it’s a bit goofy, sometimes over the top, and has morals and ideals that most people find too old-fashioned nowadays?

Maybe.

In the sense that it’s an embarrassment, awfully-executed, and unworthy of our time and respect?

Never.

4.  THE HAUNTED TANK

  I like supernatural fiction, especially the stories where the setting is a little oddball.

You know, like a scout tank haunted by a dead soldier in World War II.

Yeah–that kind of oddball.

The Haunted Tank was a series feature in G.I. Combat from DC Comics. Written and created by great war comics writer Robert Kanigher (SGT ROCK, THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER, THE LOSERS, ENEMY ACE) and illustrated by some guy named Russ Heath, The Haunted Tank was the story of the crew of a World War II Stuart tank–a light reconaissance tank used to scout ahead of tank columns for danger.  The tank’s captain was Jeb Stuart–just like the tank and just like the Confederate general the tank was named for.  The crew were all Southern boys and because of this, the ghost of general J.E.B. Stuart “haunted” the tank, giving his namesake cryptic guidance from the Great Beyond and helping them get through the war alive.  No one but Jeb ever saw the General, and though the crew thought Jeb might be a little crazy, they hung a Confederate battle flag from the tank’s radio antenna in honor of the General’s ghost that seemed to be helping them.

The crew of the Haunted Tank faced a lot of real-world nightmares from the Nazis in the European and African theaters of war and the Japanese in a rare Pacific theater stint.  But they had their share of supernatural danger as well, once in the form of Genghis Khan’s ghost, who battled General Stuart’s ghost while the crew of the Haunted Tank tussled with a Panzer tank that Khan was championing.

People wince when I mention this book; obviously, it’s the Confederate battle flag (which DC needlessly and cowardly erased from their DC SHOWCASE black and white compilations) and the good guys being Southern and helped along by a Southern general.

But if you can get past the historical taboo and look at the story for what it is–a great supernatural war comic–then you can enjoy it and leave the past in the past where it belongs.

3. CABLE

 Cable is one of those characters you aren’t supposed to like, simply because he was drawn by an artist who is held in low regard, who I won’t name but his name rhymes with ROB and LIEFELD.  Yes, he was part of a cheesy reboot of NEW MUTANTS, and yes, he was something of a Mary Sue, what with his teleportation (bodysliding) to practically anywhere he wanted, his massive telekinetic powers that dwarfed those of Professor X and Jean Grey combined, and his uncanny tactical mind that always seemed to make the right choices, combat-ically speaking.

But what a lot of the naysayers don’t realize is that even though [That Artist] created the look of Cable, he didn’t create Cable.  That was a gal by the name of Louise Simonson, picking up where a little-known X-MEN writer named Chris Claremont left off.  Claremont introduced us to Nathan Summers, the mutant wünderkind offspring of Scott Summers (Cyclops) and Madelyne Pryor (the Jean Grey clone) in the pages of UNCANNY X-MEN. The kid was sent into the far-flung future to be cured of a techno-organic virus (which eventually claimed his left arm) and to be raised there in safety.  Growns-up Nathan shows back up in NEW MUTANTS #87, calling himself Cable, and proceeds to whip the ever-loving crap out of a villain named Stryfe, who he’s come to stop from creating the future that Cable grew up in.  Cable recruits some of the young mutants for soldiers in his war, along with a few merc types, and forms X-Force, a team that goes on to crush Stryfe and stop the mega-villain Apocalypse from ruining the Earth’s day by destroying it.

I like the book’s (and character’s) paranoia, the sense of impending doom that always hung over the stories.  You got the sense that if the Cable Company didn’t set things to rights, there would be nothing to set to rights.  Cable already knew what was going to happen to the world–he’d just come from living in the midst of a war zone and freedom-fighting his entire life.  I like those types of “future-warning” characters (Kyle Reese, anyone?) and attempts by present-day heroes to wipe out an undesirable future.  The whole time-travel, undoing-what’s-already-been- done thing gives me a calculus headache that sixty kilos of street-cut of Goody’s or BC powders couldn’t dent, but I still love it, and Cable had it in spades.

To be honest, I haven’t kept up with the future-soldier in years, partly because of caving in to comic-book peer pressure  and partly because I really don’t collect comic books anymore, unless I can get them in trade paperback collected editions or omnibus editions.  There’s some whole new story about Cable fleeing to the future to protect a messianic mutant child that could tip the balance… waitaminute.  Maybe I might head down to the local shop, you know…just to see.

So yes: I declare my love for this book, and that’s something even The Artist Formerly Known As Rob Liefeld can’t tarnish.

2.  POWER PACK

POWER PACK came out at a time when I was heavily into the kids’ action-adventure movies that defined my generation–CLOAK AND DAGGER, THE GOONIES, EXPLORERS.  The common denominator in all these films were the kids: they acted on their own, with no adult supervision, and had the adventures of a lifetime–and if they weren’t careful, they might just learn something (as Bill Cosby once said of his obese creation.)

The story was of four kids–all siblings–Alex, Julie, Jack, and Katie Power–who lived with their parents in Virginia Beach, VA.  Their dad was a physicist who was working on an antimatter converter to make a pure, clean, abundant energy source.  An alien whose planet was destroyed by a similar experiment with antimatter, tried to warn the Powers, but was mortally wounded by enemy aliens in the attempt.  The alien–Whitey, a humanoid-horse guy–passed his powers on to the Power kids to finish his mission. The enemy aliens, the Snarks–a reptilian race–wanted the secret to Dr. Power’s antimatter experiments, and kidnapped the kids’ parents.  The kids, with the help of Whitey’s intelligent starship named Friday (I’m guessing a tip of the hat to Heinlein), stopped the experiment and saved their parents, using costumes created by Friday.

Reasons I loved the book:

POWER PACK was the ultimate example of the last comic that was created FOR KIDS, back before the industry whored itself out to “mature audiences.”  You know what, comics industry?  Even when you create something specifically for kids, the kid in ALL of us can enjoy it.  Just ask Steven Spielberg.

The kids kept their identities secret from their parents.

They HAD parents, lived with BOTH of them, and were loved and cared for BY THEM.  Jim and Maggie Power provided stability and support, and the kids didn’t have a “horribly tragic background” to make them heroes.

They dealt with “kid stuff,” like loose teeth and bullies, yet they also faced serious issues: sexual abuse, death of parents, kidnapping and missing children, child abuse, homelessness, and even murder.

They made up their own codenames: Gee, Lightspeed, Mass Master, and Energizer.  And all the names SOUNDED like a kid made them up.

Two supremely talented women created the book: Louise Simonson and June Brigman.  Simonson’s writing was always great, and she knew her inner kid as well as anyone out there, and Brigman’s artwork was spectacular, bringing out the kids’ emotions while still keeping the art comic-booky.   AND they’re both Georgia girls, which may account for some of their innate awesomeness.

All the stuff I like about the book are all the things that make it a guilty pleasure comic–by TODAY’s standards, at least.  I STILL love the book, and I know it’s been collected in at least three trades, but the series ran 62 issues, and I want ’em ALL.

Above all, it was fun–something a comic book hasn’t been, since, well… POWER PACK.

1. CAPTAIN CARROT AND HIS AMAZING ZOO CREW!

 I will not defend this book, other than to present you with the Heroes and Villains of the book.  And for those of you who don’t give a single chuckle or, at  the very least, a wry smile, I would consult a doctor to see if your pulse is still there, and the religious leader of your choice to check up on the existence of your soul.

HEROES

Captain Carrot: Rodney Rabbit, a rabbit of Gnu York; a rabbit. The leader of the team; After consuming one of his “cosmic carrots” he gains superpowers for roughly 24 hours–super-strength, endurance, heightened hearing and vision senses and a super-powerful leap.

Alley-Kat-Abra: Felina Furr of Mew Orleans; a cat. A martial arts instructor and student of the mystical arts, Felina uses her “Magic Wanda”  to cast various types of spells.

Pig-Iron: Peter Porkchops of Piggsburgh; a pig. Struck by a meteor fragment, the diminutive Peter fell (along with the meteorite) into a vat of molten metal in the steel mill where he worked. The consequent chemical reaction transformed his now-enormous body into living steel, with strength and invulnerability to match.

Rubberduck: Byrd Rentals of Follywood, Califurnia; a duck. Byrd, a movie star, was given the power to stretch his body into any shape and length when a meteor fragment struck his hot tub. Byrd Rentals’ name is a parody of Burt Reynolds.

Yankee Poodle: Rova Barkitt, also of Follywood; a poodle. Rova, who worked as a gossip columnist, was interviewing Byrd when they were both struck by meteor fragments. Rova gained the ability to project a repelling force (in the form of blue stars) with one hand and an attraction force (in the form of red-and-white stripes) with the other. Rova Barkitt’s name is a parody of gossip columnist Rona Barrett.

Fastback: Timmy Joe Terrapin of the Okey-Dokey Swamp (Okeefenokee) in the American south; a turtle. While trying to catch a bus to Kornsas City, Timmy was struck by a meteor fragment and gained the ability to move at superspeed in his family.

Little Cheese: Chester Cheese, a student at Follywood High School; a mouse. Chester had the ability to shrink from the comparable size of his teammates to a size of only a few centimeters

American Eagle: Replaced Little Cheese on the reconstituted Zoo Crew after the latter’s death. In his civilian life, the Eagle is Johnny Jingo, “the talk radio host with two right wings”. He is the only member who does not have powers, though he does use gadgets similar to those used by Batman.

VILLAINS

A.C.R.O.S.T.I.C. : A Cabal Recently Organized Solely To Instigate Crimes (and other variants designed to fit that particular acrostic), a secretive organization that plots to overthrow the American government.

Brother Hood: A.C.R.O.S.T.I.C.’s shadowy leader, named for his black hood. He turns out to be “Feathers” Fillmore, Mallard Fillmore’s criminally-adept brother.

Dr. Hoot: an owl who uses various scientific gadgets to commit crimes.

Cold Turkey: A turkey with weather control and “cold ray” devices; he calls his hoodlums “Snowbirds.”

Jailhouse Roc: a giant flying vulture who had been in jail since the late 1950s until released to work for A.C.R.O.S.T.I.C.

Armordillo: A villain from the “Lone Stork State” of Taxes with “nine-banded armor” and razor-sharp claws.

Kongaroo: A massive kangaroo from Aukstralia who is transformed into a giant by A.C.R.O.S.T.I.C.

Rash Al Paca: An analogue of DC’s Ra’s al Ghul; he is working with the anti-mammal movement in the storyline The Final Ark to flood the world.

Salamandroid: A heat-based villain and creation of Dr. Hoot; a member of the anti-mammal movement in The Final Ark.

* * * * * * * *

So here is my challenge to you, my dare:  If YOU can come up with a better TOP 5, please do.  Post them in the COMMENTS for this entry.  And if you DISAGREE with me, throw it up in a COMMENT and let us ALL hear about it.

I’ll be doing these Top 5 lists from time to time, all with various subjects, so keep checking back!