January 2012


Some wonderful news this week – 27: First Set was selected as one of the 2012 Great Graphic Novels for Teens by the Young Adult Library Services Association, aka YALSA:

YALSA!!

That’s some serious YALSA right there.  YALSA is a group within the ALA, the American Library Association, comprised of a bunch of librarians who do a marvelous job each year of combing through the many new books available for libraries to order and selecting those they think would be most appealing to and appropriate for teens 12-18.  The full list of selections for this year is here: http://www.ala.org/yalsa/booklists/ggnt/2012

First of all, this is a huge honor.  You look at the other works on that list, and it’s clear that 27 is in some spectacular company.  I’m very proud of everyone who worked on the book to get us there – Renzo Podesta, Scott Forbes, Shawn DePasquale on the substance of the book itself, and Jim Valentino and his crew at Shadowline and Image Comics for all their wonderful work getting 27 into the world.

The second thing that is potentially great about this selection – and I’m going to be a little mercenary here, so if you hate it when a dude gets all businesslike then click away now (no, don’t) – is that librarians all over the country and the rest of the English-speaking world use the YALSA list as a strong guide towards what they should buy and stock in their own libraries.  So, while nothing is certain, it could be a nice boost for the series as a whole.  Books these days live and die on things like this, and it can be very important to break out of the (wonderful, but not necessarily gigantic) standard audience of comics readers.  For example, I know that the Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer series from SLG was able to get into the black and continue for several volumes because of its inclusion on this list a few years ago.  So, if we’re lucky (or luckier – we’ve already been damn lucky with this series) then librarians everywhere will be foisting 27 off on unruly teens, and if they love it enough, we’ll be doing 27 for ages.

And speaking of more 27, the collection of the second arc for the series was just listed in Previews.  As I’ve mentioned, Previews is a sort of catalog for the comics industry that lets retailers figure out what they’re going to order for their shops.  The catalog covers books that will be coming out several months down the road.  In the case of 27: Second Set, the current Previews has listings for April.  Anyone can pre-order a book as soon as it’s in Previews.  They can either use the book’s order code, which is FEB120422, or just go to their comic shop and ask for it.  An online link to order it now is here, and that particular shop will sell it to you for like 35% off cover.  Even with shipping that’s a hell of a deal, and you’ll be able to get it right away!

So, if you enjoyed 27: First Set, you like/know me personally, you want to do a good deed for the comics industry, or any other reason that comes to mind, please go ahead and pre-order it.  Many, many important business decisions are made based on the volume of pre-orders, and if we don’t get a substantial number it could be, ah… a problem. 

Anyway, there’s a nice, 27-related post for you.  More soon!

The 27 Club members, larger than life as ever:

For the record, if you’ve read 27 First Set, you know that Jim Morrison isn’t anywhere near Paris these days.  Rock and roll.

Early version of a key element to Strange Attractors, my big, New York-set epic due later this year from Archaia:

Read it, if you can.

(Art by the exceptionally talented Robert Saywitz.)

Around the halfway point of 2011, I started getting offers to write things based on other people’s concepts.  I wouldn’t own the finished product, but I’d be paid for the work to put it together.  It was sort of novel, because although on the one hand I’m paid to write all the time in my day job, I hadn’t really been paid to write fiction before.  There have been three projects so far, and while none have gone all the way through to the end, they’re all different enough from one another that it seems worth writing about my thoughts thus far on the whole concept of writing someone else’s stories for money.

(Note, none of these projects are big company-owned superhero work-for-hire stuff, a la Spider-Man or Batman.  I’ve only barely dipped into those waters, and I’ll save a post on those experiences for another day.)

So, we’ll call these projects A, B and C.  Here’s a very brief summary of what they’re about:

Project A: A science fiction thing about a famous cultural/mythological location.  I was asked to write a treatment for a graphic novel that would hopefully transition to a feature film.  Assuming the treatment went well, I would also write the graphic novel script.

Project B: A graphic novel project commissioned by a client who wanted the story to tie closely into a particular locale.  It also needed to incorporate the various personalities working for the client as characters in the story.

Project C: Treatment to graphic novel about a famous historical personage, now deceased, for a client with rights to tell stories about this person.

Here’s how it’s worked out so far.  Project A seemed like a layup.  The guy who brought me on is an old friend and a fan of my writing, and knew my exact strengths and pitched me based on those.  I wrote a treatment, which the client liked.  It was about 7-8 pages long and approached the central myth in a fashion I thought was refreshing and cool.  It was a story I would enjoy scripting, and it wouldn’t require a ton of extra research (as I know a fair amount about the setting already.)  I presented the treatment, and it was well-received (and I was paid for it – not a lot, but something.)  I had a meeting with the client to discuss – seemed like that went well too.  Then, a bit later, I was given a greenlight to proceed with a revised treatment based on some significant alterations to the story, after which I would write a script for the graphic novel.  The new treatment (because that’s what it would be, really) would be unpaid work, and the page rate on the script was… audacious (in a bad way.)  It was also unclear whether I was expected to ghostwrite this, or if I’d get real credit.  After looking at everything I have to do right now, not just Projects B and C but also my various creator-owned scripts, screenplays, day job, family, occasional social schedule, etc., I decided that I couldn’t spare the time (at least not for that compensation/possible lack of credit) and I passed.  It was a weird feeling, to think that I would turn down someone who wanted to pay me to write their story, but honestly, there was some relief in there as well.  Two writer friends had warned me off working with this company, and one even went so far as to say that if I did the job, I’d be a moron, as they were clearly planning to use the script/graphic novel to get a movie deal (and were positioned to do so – it wasn’t like they were guys off the street; they have a Hollywood pedigree), which wouldn’t involve me.  Anyway, that was Project A.

Project B is set in a city that I really like, despite many reasons not to.  The project was a chance to research the city and figure out a cool story involving many of its iconic locations, like a love letter to a place that really doesn’t get much love these days.  That was the main draw to the project for me.  The story also has to involve the clients’ store, and its founders have to be characters – those were some of the weirder elements – but it’s a challenge I was willing to take on because of the chance to write a book about the city.  This one actually came together really easily.  I did my research and thought about it for a while, then came up with a draft almost in one go.  I did a ten-page, detailed treatment.  It needs to pass three hurdles of review before it’s greenlit to script – the guy who brought me on, a sort of middleman, and then the guys at the store.  So far, the first hurdle has been crossed, and I’m waiting on the other two.  Funny thing about this one is that I don’t get paid unless it goes to script (although it has an excellent page rate).  So, I’m hanging out in the wind a little bit, but I’m not too bothered.  Even if it gets negged, the worst that comes of it is that I spent a few days tooling around this city I love so much, doing “research.”  Not so bad.

**UPDATE – since I posted this, the second hurdle was crossed, so now it’s on to the guys at the shop.  If they like it, we’re off to the races.

Project C is the most challenging.  It’s supposed to be a story about a fairly well-known person, who I actually didn’t know that much about when I got the gig.  So, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research to get a grasp for who this person really was, and how they might function as a character in a story.  The problem is that as far as I can tell, she was about as two-dimensional as a love interest in a Transformers movie.  Like a magazine cover.  I know there’s more – there has to be – and I’m fortunate in that the client has a large archive of information I can access.  I feel like I just haven’t cracked it yet, but I hope that I’ll find a way into the character that will give me a way to hang a story on her.  An interesting thing about this one is that I know another writer who also worked on this project, and had similar issues to mine.  I consider him to be significantly more talented than I am, and if he couldn’t make it work then I don’t know how much of a chance I have.  I haven’t broken the story at all – I have an opening scene, and a few ideas, but nothing more.  I have to deliver a treatment in less than a month, though, so time’s running out.  It’s a real challenge, and it would also pay quite well if it goes father, so I’m hopeful.  We’ll see!

My feeling about work-for-hire is that I’m lucky that it’s happening at all.  The idea of being paid to write is still pretty awesome.  That said, I think I’m also lucky that I don’t need writing money to pay my bills.  It’s certainly great, because it offsets some of the costs of the creator-owned stuff, but I also have the leeway to say no to a project without wondering how I’ll keep a roof over my head.  So, for me, right now, I guess work-for-hire needs to have something more than just money involved for it to make sense.

To put it another way, in the immortal words of Nomi Malone, “I’m a dancer!”

And now, back to work!

December 2011 was absolutely insane for me as far as travel.  I spent most of the first week out of the country for a work thing, then most of the second week in Los Angeles (which I wrote up here) and then most of the fourth week home for the holidays.  Now, I love going places.  If offered a choice between an amazing new TV and hi-fi setup, or the equivalent value in travel, I’d take the trip pretty much every time.  I think new places add richness to life in a way that “stuff” doesn’t.  Personal preference, that’s all.  But man, that was a lot of being out of town for one month.

I didn’t realize quite how intense December’s schedule would be when I scheduled a signing for the first weekend after New Year’s at the amazing Third Eye Comics down in Annapolis, Maryland.  Truth be told, I was a little burned out this past week, and I had to gear up a little to get excited for the event.  I had a signing experience when I was in Los Angeles that wasn’t everything I had hoped it would be, and the idea of slogging down to Annapolis for a repeat of that scenario didn’t sound too appealing.  Now, when I do one of these events, I’m not a prima donna about it, really.  I know that I’m not anything that special in the comics world – there are tons of incredible creators out there, most of whom have bigger followings than I do.  So, I don’t need to be treated like a king, but it’s still time away from home, and expense, etc.  For me, it’s about everyone acknowledging that we’re all in it together and everyone doing their best to make it work out well.

I set up a signing at Third Eye on the advice of Jim Zubkavich of Skullkickers fame – he told me it was one of the very best he’d done, and he couldn’t have been more correct.  The folks at Third Eye went WAY above and beyond.  I might not need to be treated like a king, but I’m human – it’s pretty nice when it happens.  Allow me to explain…

Third Eye isn’t the biggest shop I’ve ever seen, but it’s extremely well-organized and laid out.  The store never feels cramped, even though it contains just about everything you’d ever want as a modern comics buyer.  It also has what I would consider to be the secret weapon for a successful direct market – a guy behind the counter who goes the extra mile to make sure his customers are finding exactly what they want, as well as what they don’t yet know they want.  That’s Steve Anderson, the owner.  He’s extraordinarily enthusiastic and upbeat, and very smart about how he positions himself and his store.  He greeted every person who walked in, often by name.  He stepped out from behind the register many times to hand-sell books to people based on things he knew they liked.  Does it take a little extra energy, and a particular type of person to make an approach like that work?  Of course it does, but from the conversations I had with Steve over the course of the day, it pays massive dividends.  He passed along the numbers he moves on some of his titles, and it’s phenomenal.  There’s no question that, well, giving a shit seems to work.  If we had a few hundred more guys like Steve running around in the DM (and I know he’s not alone in his commitment and skill as a comics retailer, but there can never be enough) the industry would be in phenomenal shape.  Comics don’t sell themselves – not these days.  They’re specialty, almost luxury items, and smart salesmen (like Steve) approach them that way.

So, that’s the type of store you’re dealing with. On to my particular experience there:

I came into the DC area a day earlier for some research on a new project (more on that after the signing writeup), and drove down to Annapolis early Saturday morning.  The weather was incredible all weekend (mid to high 60s, which is weird for early January, but I’ll allow it), and when I got to the store around 9 there were already people lined up waiting.  Considering the shop didn’t open until 11, that was a very solid sign.  Steve had made sweet mix CDs for the first 15 people in line (he tends to do clever stuff like that), but it was still a cool thing to see.

I killed an hour reading the paper, then walked in at 10 to get set up.  I met Steve, his wife Trish Rabbitt and their very able co-worker Torma, all of whom helped to keep things running like clockwork for the whole day.  I didn’t take any pictures, which was dumb, but the signing area was set up with a sweet display of 27: First Set trades and the Second Set floppies.  We added in some Strongman Vol. 1s and some 27 t-shirts I’d brought down with me, and we were good to go.  Spent the next little while shopping, since I’d missed getting to my NYC shop that week and Steve was giving me a killer discount.  Landed some trades I’d been meaning to get for a while (Witch Doctor, Return of Bruce Wayne) and one I hadn’t heard of – Chase, a collection of DC stories drawn by JH Williams III from the 90s that looks incredible.

Doors opened at 11, and wow.  Line stretched through the store, and I was busy signing and talking to people for the next three hours and change.  We had a few dips here and there, but by and large traffic was very steady.  Steve and his team made sure everyone knew what was happening, who I was, and what 27 and Strongman were all about.  It was a great mix of people who were already fans and had brought in their issues or trades for me to sign, plus folks who were hearing about my stuff for the first time.  Totally gratifying and fun. I’d take my books down there in a minute, and I know we’ll do something again once Strange Attractors, Letter 44 and my other 2012 books start to hit.

I could say more, but the whole thing just left me with a really optimistic feeling about the industry.  Just a great rah rah “go comics” sort of day.

Other items – happy new year!  2012 will be epic, I think.  In the week between Christmas and New Year’s, I finally got a greenlight for Letter 44, a project I’ve been working on for nearly a year, and pitched back at NYCC.  I can’t quite announce who it’s with yet, but I’m extremely excited about it.  I’m deep into research, some of the heaviest I’ve done since I wrote The Land of 10,000 Things back in 2000-2003.  I like research, though.  It feels like I’ve enrolled in a self-guided adult education class about weird, hyper-specific things.  In this particular case, I’m researching:

  • Executive branch procedure
  • US government covert action and black-ops
  • Bleeding-edge plans for manned spaceflight

I know something about all of those subjects already, but as I’m going through the research process, I’m learning how much I don’t know.  Still, it’s fun.  Once we’re grown up and sort of set in our lives, reasons and opportunities to gather in-depth knowledge about new subjects are rare.  Life is busy enough just trying to keep the lights on, without tracking down a copy of Executive Order 12333.

I came down to DC a day before the Third Eye signing in order to get some in-person perspective on US government.  That included a visit to NASA Headquarters (just the lobby so far, but still cool), the Capitol, National Mall, and the Air & Space Museum.  I only had a single afternoon, so I’m sure I’ll take another trip, but it was definitely worthwhile.  There’s no substitute for actually going to a place you’re going to write about.  Your observations aren’t going to be the same as anyone else’s.  For example, I was impressed with the scope of DC.  The streets are quite wide and the buildings are generally low, so the sky seems broad and endless (unlike in NYC, for example).  A small thing, but a detail I wouldn’t necessarily have been aware of without the visit.  And of course, Air & Space is absolutely incredible, and I’ll go there every chance I get whether I’m writing Letter 44 or not.  Apparently they’ve just opened up a secondary location down in Virginia with bigger air/spacecraft they can’t fit into the main museum, and I can’t wait to check that out.

I’ve got six serious, active projects right now (by which I mean projects that have other people involved, with deadlines and publishing plans and money in the mix, no matter how few or how little), and I’m in a phase I recognize from times I’ve been in this situation before – one where I’m always, almost unconsciously, evaluating my activities minute-to-minute to decide whether they’re “productive.”  So, I justify writing this blog because I consider it to be productive in that it’s connecting with readers and potential readers – it’s marketing/outreach.  I chose to take a train to DC and back because I would get the 3.5 hours each way to work.  I let myself do something for entertainment purposes only if I decide that I need to balance out work with something “fun,” in the way that you sleep in order to recharge to be able to get things done the next day.  I’ve been turning down social occasions unless I think there’s a secondary purpose to going (which is just awful, I realize.)

In the past, this type of situation has been temporary.  I get through the crunch and I can let go of the reins a little bit and let life just be life.  It feels a little different this time, but I’m hopeful that I’ll get to downshift again.  This is okay for a few months, but I could see the fun factor starting to fade a bit if it goes on too long.

Wow, after the exciting stuff at the beginning, this got a bit depressing, eh?  To end on a high note, here are the six projects I’m working on, in greater or lesser detail depending on where they are:

1. Strange Attractors – OGN about a guy who turns NYC into a sort of engine, and what happens when he turns the key.  Due Q3/Q4 from Archaia.

2. Letter 44 – limited series about the research items I mentioned above.  Coming Q4 from[_________]

3. [Project Jazzhands] – 6-issue series being drawn by [____________]. My first foray into superheroes, sort of.  Inspired by old Stephen King books.

4. [Detroit book] – 5-issue limited series about bringing Detroit back from the brink.  Probably out Q2/Q3 2012.

5. [Untitled Edie Sedgwick project.]  Basically what it sounds like.  Due later this year, I think?

6. [AR] – sci-fi action adventure.  Just about to start scripting, probably 6 issues.  Release date unclear.

So if I turn down an invitation to do something ostensibly fun, now you know why.

This is going to be a hell of a year.

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