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.

Paranormality

I’ve probably written about this before, but since I was a wee nip I’ve been interested in the paranormal. I’ve studied most of the major fields of paranormal research over the years including UFO’s, cryptids, hauntings, and things that defy classification like teleportation and people that appeared out of no where. I don’t honestly believe in most of this stuff any more but I’m still fascinated by it. It is our modern society’s folklore and has taken the place of elves, witches, and bogey men.

My interest in the paranormal has sort of waned since the internet made it all more mainstream, but I still have all this data floating around in my head. From the Kecksburg UFO to the Green Children of Woolpit, it’s all still here. I even find the occasional new bit of info I didn’t know about like the Black Knight satellite that has supposedly orbited the Earth for 13,000 years. The question arises though. What do I do with all this?

That’s where Mailbox Rocketship comes in. Mostly the series is about a group of friends in high school, but it takes place in a world where all of these things are fact. Springheeled Jack will be making an appearance. Bigfoot might show up. The current page even features Black Knight over one of the Poles. I’m even finding a way to work in outdated scientific concepts like the Odic Force and Elan Vitale in as scientific fact.

So what does all this mean and what’s the point I’m trying to get at? NOTHING you learn in your life is ever useless and there’s no such a thing as wasted time. It’ll all come in handy somewhere down the road. Even stuff like 1973 Pascagoula Abduction.

A Blind Spot the size of “The Simpsons”

Hi. I’m Kevin Hayman. You might remember me from such blogs as “Why Trees are the Devil” and “No! Screw YOU!”

About ten years ago I stopped watching The Simpsons. I think it was the episode where they went to Africa and a giraffe was hiding in a prairie dog hole where I realized that they’d gone way off the rails. I stopped watching the new episodes, our local stations stopped playing it in syndication, and the show faded from my mind.

This week, FXX started the Simpsons Marathon and I’ve been watching when I’m home. Several things jumped out at me. First, the early seasons were far more cartoony in motion and expression. Second, the show was as funny as I hoped it was. Third, my writing was influence so much by The Simpsons that I’m surprised Matt Groening, Bill Oakley, and Josh Weinstein haven’t shown up at my house to beat me senseless.

It really sort of boggles my mind. I watched the show for years every time it was on. I can tell you numerous shows Troy McClure starred in. I still yell “I’ve had it with you people holding me back! I’m going to Clown College!” at random (and inappropriate) times. The show isn’t just an influence. It’s in my genes somewhere. It’s a part of my lizard comedy writing brain. And yet, I never list it as an influence on me and that bothers me. I think part of the reason is the way I felt so betrayed by the show. I felt like it let me down when it went down hill. I realize the people that make the show owe me nothing, but it’s hard to watch someone you love suffer like that. So what did I do? I left. Not only did I leave, I blocked it all out on some level because it hurt to much to look back.

So now here we are all these years later and the wounds have healed. I can open the shoe box full of photos of the good times and I can laugh again. I can appreciate what me and The Simpsons had and I can proudly say that I was heavily influenced in my comedy writing by the show. Now if you’ll leave the room, I’d like to be alone with the sandwich for a minute.
*Are you gonna eat it?

Yes.

Dream Writing

webcomicsbannerOne of the best things that can happen to you as a writer is when you have a dream that writes the story for you. My friend Barry Linck can attest to this with me. He recently had a dream that’s getting turned into a new storyline. Now it’s happened to me.

So I have a ton of stuff that needs to be covered in the current storyline of EA. Big revelation time. The problem was it was all sort of just talking. It didn’t really work the way I was hoping. None the less, I couldn’t figure out any way to rewrite it so I just sort of left it and hoped inspiration would hit me. It hadn’t. I had page 2 done and was starting to get worried. I went to bed.
Last night I had a dream that was filled with emotion and drama and exposition. It took Terry and tore him apart as a person and left him in a state where he would have to rebuild who he was. It then continued on to what happened next in the Everywhen and his and Delores’ return to the real world. The series took on a completely different light. A lot of what Terry was going to be doing was reactionary. Now he’s proactive and I couldn’t be more happy about it.

So yeah. I don’t know how it happens, I don’t know where the ideas come from, but now I know what I’m doing and it’s all thanks to a dream I had.

Writing by Not Writing

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One of the things that has continually astounded people is the fact that I don’t actually write scripts. I seldom plot things out very solidly either. It sort of hinders me. Once it’s written down then that’s what you have to do. I don’t work that way. The current storyline in Errant Apprentice was mapped out plot-wise but all the details were vague. Mostly lists of what might need to happen. When I got to those issues though didn’t stick to them to hard. I don’t write from dialogue and plot. I write from mood and character.

Back during Kota’s World I learned that if I set a plot out and stuck the characters in it as written, they would often change the what was happening.
“This isn’t us.” They would say. “Let us show you what we would really do.”
I learned to trust those character. They know how they react. Because of that, I’ve learned to just come up with the situation and then let them act it out themselves. The characters carry the thing and to try anything other than that is backwards to me.

I’m not saying that this works for everyone. I know a lot of artists that write a full script and do thumbnails and redo thumbnails and then do the page and then redo the page. That’s fine and a wonderful way to do it. I’ll take my improvisational writing any day of the week though.

 

The Writing Bug

As I’ve said before here in Bloggity, I don’t really write much, but when I do get the drive to I need to act on it immediately. That being said, the bug bit this morning.

I’ve had all these ideas floating around in my head for a modern weird fiction story. The problem I’ve run into over the years is that I’ve tried to hard to use Lovecraft’s verbiage. The trick is to capture the feeling but with your own words and I think I’m finally doing that.
I’m also having to modify his story structure into something more impacting. I’m still using the basic ideo of hinting that something horrible happened and that horrible things have continued to happen, but there’s much more of a personal tragedy element in this.

The story borrows from several of Lovecraft’s ideas without using any of his established mythos. There are elements of Rats in the Walls and a little bit of Long’s The Hounds of Tindalos, but nothing really specific from either. Just sort of a general feeling or vibe but with a much more personal journey.

Far too often when I try to write these things the genre and “monster” take over. I lose site of the characters, which is usually my strong point. I’m not making that mistake this time. Anyway, back to work for me!

Character Hate

The most disturbing thing to me as a writer and creator of stories is the hate some people experience toward a character. Case in point:

Back when I was doing Kota’s World I had this character that Keith was involved with named Destiny. She had to leave for a while for various reasons. During that time I had a bit of inspiration for a new female lead. Cassi. Cassi was everything Destiny wasn’t. She was open, friendly, goofy as hell, a nerd, and interested in Keith because she liked him for who he was. Destiny had designs on what Keith could become and the prestige that came with that. Cassi was there because she cared.

And someone hated her.

One of my readers really liked Destiny. He liked all my villains and he seemed to have gotten offended by Cassi moving in on Destiny’s turf. He made a post in the comments on Drunk Duck that told exactly what he wanted to happen to Cassi. It was all violent and all of it involved her dying the most gruesome ways imaginable. I had to step in and tell him he was going way too far. He apologized and has quietly disappeared.

I’ve always wondered about that mindset. I read comics and books and when there’s a character I don’t like, well, it’s not my story. Is it? I just read and see where they’re going. Maybe there’s a bigger plan. Maybe that character servers a purpose later. Maybe it’s like why I created Cassi.

I had gotten extremely fed up with Kota’s World on some level and probably would have gone ahead and ended it with what I had originally written. It was gonna be depressing and Keith was going to die. The end. Then, Cassi popped into my head almost fully formed. I designed her to be eclectic and slightly mad. She breathed new life in the series and EVERYONE noticed. Suddenly things started to work and the ending changed completely. Cassi didn’t just save Keith. She saved Kota’s World.

And this guy hated her.

Maybe I’m hanging on to it out of bitterness, but I like to remember the entire incident to remind myself that not everyone is going to like my work.

So long, and thanks. . .

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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. . .

Thoughts on Writing

Despite having two webcomics and various blog outlets I’m not much of a writer. Writing is the meticulous construction of thoughts and worlds using grammar and spelling in an attempt to not look like and idiot. Comics let me tell my stories without words sometimes. Think of all the meaning that’s conveyed in just a look or an expression. No think about how you would have to verbally explain that. That’s where I get tongue/finger-tied.

In fact, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that the less I say the better a page turns out sometimes. I can spend an age having Terry explain what he’s feeling, or I can have him look crestfallen and become quiet. A look says so much more sometimes.

The biggest point of confusion for folks so far seems to be Mailbox Rocketship as far as story goes. Some folks are confused on just what’s happening. So’s Keith. Imagine for a second that you’re a normal kid who, after a short illness, found you no longer needed sleep. You also suddenly discovered you had super powers. Maybe your friend lives in the school and you don’t know why. Keith is just as clueless as anybody about what’s happening to him and why. That’s the fun part of writing for me, really. The mystery.

There’s something else I’ve realized. All the craziness, like the magic in EA an the oddness of Mailbox, that’s just set dressing. I’m not trying to tell a story about those worlds. I’m telling human stories of the people in those worlds. Terry and Delores could work anywhere. He could be an average white guy in our world and Delores could be black and they would still be rather charmingly awkward around each other and not sure about where they stand.
Keith could have no powers and Cassi could have brown hair and it could be a regular high school and they would have the same dynamic and I’d still get to tell a very fun story about a guy who can’t tell a girl how he feels.

I also never really learned how to write a story down. I keep notes on my stuff a lot, but soooo much of it is in my head. The few times I’ve actually tried to script something it becomes ridiculously verbal and it kills the spontaneity and fun. I tend to think in animation. The story happens in my head and I watch it. All my comics are and have ever been are storyboards for the cartoons in my head.

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.