NaNoWriMo

I’ve had a terrible record with National Novel Writing Month for the last four years. My first book fell by the side of the road due to work in 2012. Honestly, I don’t think I knew where I was going with it any way. I’d gotten some interesting character stuff going, but I couldn’t write a convincing space battle to save my life.

My second attempt in 2013 ended after the first day as my father started to grow ill. That illness would culminate in four months of hospitalization and wouldn’t really end until his death in September of last year. With that still hanging over my head I decided that 2014 was NOT the year to try and take a stab at writing again.

This year I feel different. I want to write. I want to do something that doesn’t involve me drawing and coloring for three hours afterward. Plus, I had an idea. Several years ago I came up with a short film. It was a horror/comedy about a guy who moves onto his boat after being thrown out of the house by his girlfriend and eventually running into the Lovecraft Mythos. Do I think it’ll work as a book? Yeah. Yeah I do. I think this will work because I’m going to approach it as a comedy first and a horror story second. I think it’s going to work because I don’t have to get actors and money and make up. Lastly, I think it’ll work because I said so.

Maybe that last sentence sounds cocky. It’s supposed to. If I approach this with a mindset of “maybe I can finish and maybe it’ll be good” then I’ll never get anywhere. So get ready for a Lovecraftian story filtered through Douglas Adams.

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So long, and thanks. . .

douglasbanner

Today would have been the 61st birthday of Douglas Adams. While in the past I’ve discussed the man and his work on here, I think it only appropriate to do so again. Specifically how he relates to me and my world view.

It’s hard to imagine that there was a time where I didn’t know what a Vogon was or what the Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything was. Before my Sophomore year of high school if you had asked me for said answer I probably would have said “Live fast, die young, and leave a good looking corpse”. Just to be flippant, you understand. Then Mike loaned me the third book in the series. Don’t judge, it’s all he had. I tore through the book and savored every detail. The story was odd, but entertaining and I fell in love with the humor. I read the fourth after that and dug up the first and second on my own and read them. The effect on who I am was astonishing.

My way of looking at humor changed with those books. It’s hard to explain how exactly, but I suddenly truly understood the importance of words and phrasing. I saw how you could take lofty concepts and make them accessible to the normal man.

The most important thing that changed was my world view. I’d studied science in school like we all did, but reading Hitchhiker’s made it personal. The universe wasn’t just something out there. I was a part of it. I was a very tiny little part of a vast macrocosm, but that didn’t mean my place was any less important than it had been. It taught me that my view of the world wasn’t necessarily the correct one and that understanding other views wasn’t just important, it was fun.

I wanted to know more about this man, and the great thing was he wrote about himself and loved to tell stories. Through those stories and making of specials and television interviews and articles I felt like I had come to know this man. I understood his sadness and his thinking. And then he died very unexpectedly.

The last Adams book to be released was “The Salmon of Doubt” and it was a bitter sweet experience. It was loaded with his writings on a number or subjects and it was the last I’d ever hear from him. I treasure the book like a last letter from a friend.

Today, I understand that Douglas wasn’t a perfect writer. He wasn’t the be all and end all of science fiction and comedy. What he was though was a passionate genius, a reclusive mad man, and a force of nature that will continue to touch more lives than he ever expected. So long, Douglas, and thanks. . .

Under the Influence

Every artist and writer is standing on the shoulders of those that came before them whether they admit it or not. We are all a pastiche of our idols and heroes and we owe them a great debt. I’m no different. Over the years I’ve learned from my betters and continue to learn to this day. I’d like to take a minute to talk about some of those heroes of mine and give them the lip service they deserve. (Ew!) Let’s start with artists.

Jim Lee
There probably doesn’t seem to be any direct connection between my art and that of Jim Lee, but it’s there. Jim impressed me with his attention to detail and the fact that even the stupidest costumes and character designed looked fantastic under his hand. I started learning comics and characters by redrawing his work. I redrew dozens of the X-Men cards he did in the 90’s and actually recreated some of this pages from his run on said series. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t replicate his details. His almost OCD attention to minor things in every panel was maddening. What I did learn was poses, anatomy, and style. To this day he’s still one of my favorites and “Batman: Hush” is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

Akira Toriyama
Creator of “Dragon Ball” and “Dragon Ball Z”. Say what you want about the writing of the series and the pacing, but his character design is lovely. Usually. He has a very simple style that is expressive and flexible and you can see it evolve as the series progressed. The childlike bubbly design from Dragon Ball gave way to the angular and more muscled look of Z and the Dragon Quest games. I took away from Mr. Toriyama a love of exaggerated and expressive faces that people still call me out on to this day.

Ben Edlund
Ben’s going to turn up on this list once more for writing, but let’s talk about his art. When “The Tick” was first published back in the 90’s it was in black and white. Ben knew how to use positive and negative space in ways that impress me even now when I go back and read it, which I do on a regular basis. His character designs are phenomenal. He could do ridiculously hulking with his heroes, scrawny like The Running Guy, pudgy with Arthur, and don’t even get me started on creatures like Thrakazog. The most amazing thing about it was the sense of mass that everything had. Every single object and person felt physically there despite the cartoonish feeling of the designs. I knew that’s how I wanted my characters to feel. Still kinda working on that though.

Berkley Breathed
If there’s one other person who influenced the way I draw faces, it’s Berkley Breathed. Berkley created Bloom County back in the early 80’s and it was one of the few comics I read in the paper when I was young. Something about his art grabbed me in a way that none of the others did. Maybe it was the facial expressions, maybe it was the loose but definite lines. Maybe it was the storybook quality of the art mixed with the biting political humor. I don’t know. All I know is that as much as people point out the anime influence in my work, they should put Terry’s eyes next to Binkley’s eyes in Bloom County and maybe things would make even more sense.

Writing is a different story all together. I admire people from across mediums and genres and I think that will become quite obvious. If there’s one thing most of them have in common though, it’s comedy.

Douglas Adams
Let’s just go ahead and get the biggest one out of the way. I owe damned near everything about the way I think about comedy writing to Douglas Adams. He used words the way a master architect used brick, plaster, and mortar. He was a genius with a wide variety of interests and his writing showed me that funny, horrifying, and thought provoking could all come from the same sentence. He meandered and threw in asides and he taught me that you can even take the silly seriously.

Robert Jordan
It’s hard to read a series of books for 21 years and not take something away from them. Sometimes I outright parodied him in Kota’s World. Sometimes it’s more subtle. Many times it boiled down to getting similar ideas from reading the same books he did. Jordan taught me that a real living world was as important as a story and characters. It also taught me that bad things happen to good people. The good people don’t let it stop them though. I also learned to go easy on the descriptions.

Ben Edlund
Ben Edlund’s writing is inspired. He simultaneously skewers and the superhero genre while placing it on a pedestal. The most impressive thing about his work? His characters don’t feel written. They feel like they’re just doing what they do and that’s something only the best writers can accomplish. The way I know I’m on the right track with a story is by putting a situation in front of the characters and letting them write their own way out and that’s how “The Tick” felt to me.

John Cleese/Graham Chapman
I list these two instead of all of Monty Python for a reason. When Cleese left Python before the last season started you could tell the episodes he hadn’t had any input on. They wandered, they made little sense, and they were just too silly. By contrast, you can tell Cleese wasn’t working with Chapman during Faulty Towers because it was lacking those odd, left field moments from when they wrote together. The two needed each other an that’s why I group them together. And why just them? Because I learned from their sketches that there needs to be an underlying rule to comedy. You can have incredibly silly things going on, but there should be some kind of internal logic in the sketch. Look at the Cheese Shop or the Dead Parrot sketch. They’re both incredibly silly, but there’s something happening. The worlds they are in have a structure that the Spam sketch lacks.

Best Brains
I’m including the entire writing staff of MST3k for a good reason. Snark, but snark with love and respect. These guys watched and destroyed some of the worst movies ever made, but when you boil it down, the only reason to keep doing it is an underlying love of cinema. I learned to tear things apart with snark and humor, even the things I loved, and still love them when I came out the other side. I still riff on the original Star Wars Trilogy when I watch it.

Paul Zindel
I don’t talk about Mr. Zindel much, but I think that’s because is influence on me stretches back further than any other. When I was a wee nip we read “The Pigman” and then I read “Pardon Me, You’re Stepping on My Eyeball!” on my own. They were the only two books by him the school had and the only ones I could ever find.
I learned two things from these books that have stayed with me. I learned that when you feel like an outcast, you’re not the only one and I learned that the world wasn’t all sunshine and roses. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time though. Thank you, Mr. Zindel.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Crap II: Electric Boogaloo

So a friend, Nick Nitro asked a question about my last Hitchhiker’s post. He asked

I guess my real question is, what WAS the point of the books, you think?

Because I know you and I have very different thoughts on the film and television show. I’m intrigued on your thoughts on the point of it all.

Well, here are some thoughts on that.

I think the point of the books was to make money hand over fist. And they did. If there’s a problem with the books it’s that Adams really was a collaborative creator and loved feedback and an audience. The books stuck him alone in a room for hours and by the third and fourth books you can really see the fire’s starting to burn low on Hitchhiker’s for him. The third book was a modified Doctor Who script he had done and the fourth book was truly intended to be his final word on the series. The fifth book just felt like a big middle finger to the world from a man who was very depressed at the time.

Adams never was comfortable with the success of Hitchhiker’s according to his friends. The fandom terrified him on some level. He wanted to move on to other things. The tragedy is that the world wouldn’t let him. Dirk Gently is not nearly as famous. Most people don’t even know about “Last Chance to See”. The man had broad interests and hobbies and friends he loved to spend time with and there he was, stuck in his room with a word processor having to write these books. The bitterness really comes through in “Mostly Harmless”.

I think the point of it all was to be funny and have a good time with his friends. I think he did it all to get something out there and entertain people. Even the books. Otherwise he wouldn’t have done them. Even if he missed deadline after deadline, Adams still gave us those fantastic books, radio series, and television series. I think he did it so he could do what he loved. That, in a nutshell, was the point to me.

EDIT: If the point wasn’t made clear, and it probably wasn’t, I do actually love the first four books in the Hitchhiker’s Trilogy like most people love their children.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Crap

Recently I’ve been on a Hitchhiker’s/Adams kick. I’ve been listening to the original radio series which is one of the most inspired and silly things I’ve ever listened to. I’ve given the books a miss since I’ve read them so many times I never need to read them again. I’ve practically got the plot and jokes memorized. I recently watched the television series as well. It’s not great, but it’s fun. Then I tried to watch the movie. I couldn’t finish this time.

To quote Adams in reference to another project, the film is “on the lower end of brilliant down toward not terribly good”. It’s less a film and more a tribute. It’s like the took Hitchhiker’s and starched, then ironed on the jokes out. It has the feeling of a fan film, but one where they thought they could do a better job than the original author. This was made by people who obviously loved the books, but somehow missed the entire point of the project. They brushed against a few of the truly funny jokes and managed to miss entire sections of humor. The Guide narration was also botched to me. Stephen Fry was a perfect choice but all of his material felt rushed.
There are a few things that I thought were a good idea in the film. I enjoyed the guide entries. I thought Sam Rockwell was amazing as Zaphod, though he lacked the underlying plotting and intelligence from all the other versions. This Zaphod was actually stupid. Not his fault. Alan Rickman was a great choice for the voice of Marvin and I loved the design. The Vogons looked great. In fact, I enjoyed the visuals of the film, but the actual structure that supported all of it was flawed from the get go.

In the end, yes it was a lovely tribute to an amazing man, but as a film is had a lot of major problems. Even Adams had gone on record as saying it was unfilmable.