Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Ultimate Nerd Debate: Star Wars versus Star Trek

This is how much of a nerd I really am and also, I think, why I really don’t belong in any other industry…

So for the Christmas holiday, My two brothers, their wives and children, my wife, son, and myself all converged on Mama and Papa’s house for about five days. Fortunately, we all get along very well. But, my brothers and I have to debate the nerdies things. We always do and hey, why not share it with you.

A quick history before we get into ti for real—the three of us grew up die-hard Star Wars fans. The very idea that the Star Trek franchise could touch Star Wars was foreign to us as children. But a funny thing has happened since 1999 saw the release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. The scales have started to shift.

So I threw out the wild claim that I thought it likely that if you ranked all the Star Wars (theatrical releases only, and we excluded the animated Clone Wars film since that was really a part of a TV series) films and all the Star Trek films on a 4-star system, and then averaged them, that Star Trek might actually come out ahead. My brother Craig thought it a ridiculous claim but my brother Arne wasn’t so sure.

So, yeah, we’re that nerdy. We sat there, just the three of us, and ranked all of the films in both series carefully. Now I’ve put it into numbers. One point for every half-star a film earned in our rating. The maximum number of points then is 8 and the lowest possible score was 0 for absolutely nothing to offer the world.

Here’s how we figured it…

Star Wars

8 points for revolutionizing the way films were made. While not great pacing or dialogue or acting, one can’t deny the cultural impact of this film. Full marks.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

8 points for doing the unthinkable, while not revolutionizing the industry the way the original did, the craftsmanship is improved on all levels and weaves a more complex and intricate tale. Full marks again! Star Wars is off to a near unbeatable start!

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

5 points or two and a half stars. One of us thought it should get a full three stars but the other two felt it wasn’t that good. A lot of missed opportunities, clunky storytelling mistakes, and too many contradictions to what had been established in the previous two films. While still enjoyable, just not nearly as good as the first two films.

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

3 points. Most of those are attributed to the second most exciting lightsaber duel in all of the Star Wars movies (the first is in Empire, in case you didn’t know). There are some other interesting things going on, but really this one falls flat from start to finish.

Star Wars: Attack of the Clones

1 point. Again, some disagreement here again. But we wound up at only a half star as two of genuinely couldn’t remember an enjoyable moment in the whole film. I know that I cringed through every “romantic” scene and found that Obi Wan was simply walking through a plot without ever having any impact upon it.

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

5 points. Again, disagreement, but the compromise was that this was about as good as Return of the Jedi and that it tried to rescue the previous two films before it, although it did fail. Character act wildly impractically and all because the plot dictated it. Just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

We totaled up 30 points over six films. Now, on to Star Trek…

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

6 points. I thought it deserved more as a it’s a good work of science fiction, but it’s not a great Star Trek movie. I can’t argue with that. It’s got some great bits and is cerebral to a fault. Still, a good movie.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

7 points. I argued that this deserved full marks, but was argued down. Agreement that this movie has the best script, direction, and acting of the bunch. Also, it’s story is the most personal to Kirk.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

5 points. I felt this should be lower as my feeling is that it betrays almost everything established and great about Star Trek II, but both brothers argued against me. They seem to like it, and I don’t know why. But, we settled on two and a half starts. Watchable, but not great.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

6 points for enjoyment. Though dated now, this was just a fun movie that Star Trek fans and normal folks alike could enjoy from start to finish. A solid showing for sure.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

1 point. The low point of the franchise for sure. It still had a decent sub-plot with Bones, so it got a half star for that.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

7 points. About on par with Wrath of Khan. Intricate plotting and great character moments. Also, a unique kind of story for Star Trek while still feeling like a Star Trek movie. Very high marks, but still not full marks.

Star Trek: Generations

5 points. It’s a terrible task to try and make a movie bridging the gap between the two generations of crews, but they did some things right here by going for entertaining rather than, you know, logical. The plot devices don’t really work if you look at them closely, but who cares! We wanted to see Kirk and Picard fight the bad guy. A pretty fun movie overall but far from great.

Star Trek: First Contact

6 points. The Borg kill a lot of things here and the movie flows nicely and is exciting. It’s fun from start to finish and has some nice character moments for Picard. A solid movie we felt.

Star Trek: Insurrection

3 points. The worst thing to say about this one is that it’s forgettable. It feels like an episode of the TV series. It’s not terrible but it’s not really all that good either.

Star Trek: Nemesis

2 points. I’m probably one of the few people on the planet that liked this movie. But considering how many problems both my brothers had with it, I could only move up from the 0 points Arne wanted to give it to 2 points, or one star. Ouch.

Star Trek

7 points for the new relaunch. The characters are acting great and dramatic, it’s fun and punchy and fast-paced. We docked it a half star because of a few plot holes that don’t really make sense. But overall, this and Wrath of Khan were the clear two favorites.

And we wound up with 55 points for Star Trek over 11 films.

Doing the math, dividing 30 by six and dividing 55 by 11…

Star Wars’s average rating was 5.

Star Trek’s average rating was…

…also 5.

So, there it is, we mathematically proved that the two franchises are exactly equal in quality. The debate is over. And will never be discussed in nerd circles ever again! We did all guess, that the next Star Trek film may put that franchise over the top. Highly likely considering how good this reboot was.

And now that the debate is finally settled I found that I was left just looking at that average rating and found myself a bit sad that the average rating of something I loved so much as a child was only two and a half stars.

I think it’s time to find new hobbies…


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Breaking Into Comics as an EDITOR

There’s getting that first editing job (I’m assuming folks are interested in staff positions not freelance editing work) and then there’s how you get the skills to stay in as an editor. Two different topics to me. So, for the purposes of this blog, I’ll tackle step one and we’ll do step two another time. On to how to get started in editing comics…

My own story about breaking into comics as an editor goes back over ten years. I first started with the college approach—

#1 – The Internship. So, there I was, wrapping up my junior year of college in 1997 and my brother Craig had told me about internships at Marvel. I was going to school in Tennessee. Well, what the heck, I tried for it. No pay, no place to live, whatever, I’m young. So I got an interview after I applied. I really did harass the poor woman in charge and now I can’t even remember her last name. Her first name was Christine. Anyway, I flew to New York for the interview, was over dressed, and got the gig.

I spent one full summer making copies and running errands for Bobbie Chase and Tom Brevoort. Bobbie was nice and would occasionally speak with me. Tom was Tom. He spoke to me once because he had to, and even then, he tried not to do so. But here’s what I did. I hustled. Even when not in their offices. No, I don’t mean that I ran down the halls. I mean that when I had free time, I’d make myself useful elsewhere or at least ask questions. I tried to learn as much as I could about making comics and get to know as many people in comics as possible. I pitched ideas to the two guys who would let me (thank you Kelly Corvese and Tim Touhy). I got an article picked up for what was then MARVEL VISIONS, but no more work than that as a writer. Another mention or two in some books, but the summer ended. No positions were available and I had to finish school anyway.

After that, I wasn’t finished trying to get into editing comics. I graduated with a degree in Philosophy (no, that’s not part of the advice) and worked for a while. Oddly enough, I do recommend having work experience anywhere else before going into the comic book field. It will help put things in perspective for you. But I didn’t want to work at Borders for the rest of my life, so I went back to school. This time I went to Webster University in St. Louis. I was getting my masters in Media Communications (not a bad major if you want to get into comics, as it turns out).

#2 – The Academic Approach. So there I am, in a two-year program trying to get thesis paper written. I decided to do my thesis on the marketing and advertising of comics. Not an easy thing to do since no one in the industry does any market research whatsoever. I think by the end of the two years I knew more about who was actually reading their comics than Marvel or DC Comics did. Anyway, since there wasn’t a lot of research on the subject, I started making phone calls, trying to interview people directly.

Calling someone up and saying you want to interview them for a college paper is a nice introduction. People are more at ease and more willing to give you valuable information. Through these calls I reconnected with some people I met at Marvel, met several people at DC Comics in different departments, and many freelancers including my beloved BWS;). That led me to…

#3 – The interview. So, after talking with Mike Carlin, then DC Comics’s Executive Editor, I asked if I could meet him in person. He said yes and invited me to the offices. Well, crap, now I had to get on a plane again and I hate flying. Okay, commit, Schimdt! So I went. And when I did, I hit…

#4 – Be Prepared. Before leaving and on the plane, I made a list of everyone I knew in New York and called and emailed them all to set up meetings. I turned the one meeting into about 20 in the course of two days.

I met at both Marvel and DC. Met as many people as I could. Still, no job interview until Bill Rosemann at Marvel pulled me into Bill Jemas’s office. Jemas sat me down and asked me some pointed questions like, “What do you think of Grant Morrison’s (then current) run on the X-MEN?”

#5 – Be honest. I did not care for Morrison’s run on X-MEN at that point. Jemas was impressed that I easily spoke my mind but I think also wanted to teach me a lesson and so asked, “And what is it he’s doing wrong…”

#6 – Know Story. Well, I had spent years at this point dissecting both story and art and film, and so on. I had read books on the subjects and had even taught comics classes back at Webster University, so I was to whatever degree, prepared with an at least semi-intelligent answer. So I told him that Morrison had (to this point in the run—about six or seven issues, I think) failed to properly set up the drastic changes in the core characters. I was reserving final judgment until a reveal could be turned over that would explain Xavier murdering someone and Cyclops cheating on his wife. These things seemed contrary to the characters to me. And therefore I found it difficult to invest emotionally in the stories being told. I guess that worked…

#8 – Live light. I got the call a couple weeks later to do a round of interviews. Again, research paid off. I moved to New York City to work at Marvel with two suitcases to my name and that was it. I was in.

#9 – Don’t Do Drugs. Yeah, there’s a drug test when you go to work for Warner Bros. or Disney, or Marvel. So, yeah, don’t do those.

#10 – Once you’re there, listen to everything around you.

So, to sum up: Study what you love. You want to work in comics? Study them academically. Pull them apart and see what makes them work and what doesn’t. I found it useful to study other media and compare and figure out what comics do that no other medium can. I studied a lot. I read a lot about story and about art and about how art tells a story. That’s a huge part of editing comics.

Networking is a huge part of getting into comics. Meet people and make those personal connections whenever possible.

Make comics. I didn’t mention this above, but I made my own never-to-see-the-light-of-day comics throughout this whole process. And I learned from every one of them. And shhhhh, don’t tell my bosses, but I still learn from every script I write.

And do your research about who you might meet and be prepared to be honest. Be yourself. Try not to be nervous if you can help it. Even if you are, most of us get it. We were you once.

If you’re really interested in learning a lot more about networking and the comics industry as a whole, I do recommend taking the Comics Experience Introduction to Writing Course. Many editors have taken it and have all found it very useful. The Art course is good too, but for whatever reason, most editors seem to come from a writing back ground first. It really would be worth your time if you want to edit.

This blog brought to you by the fine people on Twitter who requested it! Thanks, guys. You know who you are. Let me know if you want to hear more about editing. I always assume no one cares about the editors…


Monday, December 21, 2009

AVATAR review (no spoilers)

So here’s the deal with AVATAR—James Cameron won the Academy Award for best director and best picture last time he came out with a wide release in 1997 with TITANIC. He’s remembered by many a sci fi fan and comic book fans for creating TERMINATOR and TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY. He wrote and directed ALIENS and TRUE LIES along with several other movies. He’s taken ten years to complete AVATAR and it’s easy to see why when you see the film.

What he manages to accomplish in AVATAR is at times absolutely breath-taking. There are certain shots in the film that will probably stay with me for years. But they’re not the ones you’d expect. They’re not the big moments or set-pieces of the film. They’re in between the big and loud stuff.

The story analysis is easy. It’s a simple story—one of the simplest and most classic stories you can imagine. Boy goes on a journey, finds a different people, befriends them, knows his old people are going to harm his new friends, and so he turns against his old friends to join the new people in a fight against his own kind. Yeah, that’s it. You get it in the first ten minutes and it doesn’t throw you any curve balls.

The characters are the ones you’d expect, especially if you’re a fan of Cameron’s earlier work, borrowing most heavily from ALIENS. It almost feels like a remake of that film—almost. While none of them are likely to stick with you, they all play their roles well. One character has a decision moment about half way through the film that is not set up well, but honestly, I don’t think anyone in the audience I saw it with cares.

There are a few plot holes that are easy to spot if you bother turning that much of your brain on, but they are just glossed over and are not so big that I couldn’t just fill in some blanks. I’m pretty sure there is a deleted scene in the back half of the movie where a couple of quick “I”s are dotted and “t”s are crossed. Probably taken out to keep the momentum of the film going. All in all, these aren’t a problem.

Now let’s talk about what really works and why I think Cameron is going to be destined to go down in Hollywood history as a great craftsman but not as a visionary director like Hitchcock or even Speilberg. The thing is, Cameron is almost too much of a craftsman. Every scene in the film sets up its counter-part later in the movie. They are all telegraphed easily. That doesn’t stop them from being rewarding for the same reason. Cameron sets them up so well, that when the payoff comes, you’re wanting it and he’s able to deliver with an exciting execution.

And the visuals in the movie are nothing short of awesome. Yes, there are big visual reveals and twists, but it’s the quieter scenes that really surprise the viewer because that’s where we’re expecting to just drudge through to get to the next telegraphed and often cliché moment. There are some genuine treats in these scenes.

What the film is lacking is a heart or even a real opinion about, well, anything. The bad guys are capitalist scumbags who are willing to commit genocide on a peace-loving people to make a buck. And almost no one seems to think this is a bad idea. They’re just heartless cardboard cutouts. Not a one of them has a moment of doubt any further than what is needed to carry the plot further, which means not much and when it does happen, that’s the character moment I referred to earlier that doesn’t make any sense. But ultimately, these are your bad guys? Really. How come everyone in the audience knows to hate them but no one in the movie does? They don’t even bother to hide what they’re doing.

And for as long and intricate as the movie is and the setting provides, AVATAR is rife with missed opportunities to explore real questions or make a statement of any value. And I think that’s going to go a long way for it to make an absolute killing at the box office. But they talk about a “deity” but never god. They talk about “hope” but never “faith”, and they ask a lot of questions about what it might mean to be able to communicate in different ways, but never explore these ideas beyond the point where they give us a cool action beat.

The main creatures are able to bond physically and mentally with other creatures on the planet. To be able to communicate in a more intimate way than a mother does with the unborn child. That’s a huge thing. And when a human is able to do it, you’d wonder how that would impact the human’s realm of experience. Wouldn’t making love pale in comparison when the level of intimacy is compared? But that’s never brought up. That’s only one example of a missed opportunity. There are many.

What Cameron does give is an action movie to the core. He gets you in fast, gets you to care just enough about the people to care about the situation and then he starts blowing everything up and it’s fun. I hate to come off sounding like I didn’t like it. I did. I don’t sit through most three hour movies, but Cameron has the disadvantage of being, well, James Cameron. While not a huge fan of TITANIC, I think he managed to almost reinvent the science fiction and action genres simultaneously with the one-two-punch of ALIENS and TERMINATOR. And then he delivered arguable the best big-budget sequel of all time with TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY. And that’s what he is compared to now.

AVATAR is thrilling and visually impressive. The leaps made in special effects alone will make it a note-worthy film for years to come. But the characters are one-dimensional, the plot and structure very predictable, and it doesn’t explore any new territory. The characters in this film are poor-man versions of his more colorful characters in ALIENS. The big one-liners don’t play as well as they do in any of his other films. There is nothing quotable in the movie, and you can tell that there are supposed to be some big lines in there.

The acting is flat for the most part. Sam Worthington carries the role, but doesn’t add much more to it. The aliens are hard to critique but I did stop thinking about how cool they were and how they managed to come across like actual characters—that’s a huge achievement that goes to Cameron, the actors, and the effects crew. Sigourney Weaver gives the best performance of the bunch and is a lot of fun to have in the film.

All in all, impressive and expensive, but not destined to be Cameron’s greatest film. I’d say not even destined to be his greatest contribution to special effects. That said, I had a lot of fun with the movie once, ten minutes in, I realized that AVATAR isn’t meant to redefine a genre. It isn’t attempting to tell a complicated story. It’s not attempting to be a character driven drama. It’s not attempting to say anything about anything. It only wants to entertain and stun visually. And it succeeds extraordinarily well on those terms.

Yeah, go see it. And I’d go see it on IMAX 3D if you can. Because much of what is impressive about the film will be diminished on your screen at home. This is one for the theaters.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Great News Today!

Two cool bits of news today!

MTV Splash page awarded G.I. JOE: COBRA SPECIAL the one-shot of the year award. A book that is one of the best things I've ever had the good fortune to be associated with. This is awesome news. You can read about it here and see PARKER, also from IDW one another award too! Here's the link: Click Here!

And in other cool news, the STAR TREK: ALIEN SPOTLIGHT: CARDASSIANS one-shot that I co-wrote with my brother Arne got a very nice write-up on the biggest Star Trek website there is. And that's a tough crowd those ST fans! Here's the link to that!

And now I'm exhausted and must rest. But I'm going to sleep with a smile on my face. Feels good to be a proud poppa!


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Fans Get Personal! ...and here's why (I think)

(Sorry this one is so long...)

As I’ve no doubt mentioned to the point of annoying you guys, IDW launched a new ongoing series of TRANSFORMERS last month. Issue #2 is out now and has been really turning some initial haters around on line.

But what’s interesting to me is this: it’s the hard-core fans who have the most problems with the new book. That makes a certain amount of sense to me. So, the core fan sites have a lot of negativity on them. Also not surprising. And I’ve been doing a lot of out reach in interviews and taking questions directly from those fans. As far as I can tell, I’ve been nothing but polite, though sometimes playing a bit coy. I’ve also been honest.

Now, to be fair, that has greatly reduced the negativity, but I am still surprised that some fans are taking their opinions out on the creators and me on a personal level. Sure, it has to do with anonymity. Because they don’t have to speak to us directly, they can be as mean spirited as they want. And perhaps some are trying to get the creators and myself to engage them directly. That won’t happen. It’s a no-win scenario for any creator or editor to engage an irate fan in a public forum. If I’m polite, I’m weak. If I lash out, I’m a conceited jerk. No win, no way.

But what’s interesting is that they’ve convinced each other that sales are down or that there has been a huge backlash. It’s interesting because it means they haven’t done the research. They are (in all likelihood) going to other hard-core fan sites and seeing similar reactions from very like-minded people.

I don’t think they have any real access to sales information. ICV2 puts out an approximation, but it’s often off. No, I have no idea why that is, but it’s true. Even so, I thought this provided an opportunity to talk about the fan community in generalized terms. The hard-core fan base usually represents anywhere from 10-20% of the overall fan base. In this case, TRANSFORMERS fans who are also comic fans. Now, that’s a big percentage, to be sure. Something as the editor I’d be foolish to ignore.

But what it also means is that most of the fan base for this property probably goes into the store and decides that day if they’re going to buy and read the book. Or they’re silent. I know most things I’m a fan of I don’t get all that into. I like LOST, but I don’t go on message boards and I don’t really even talk about it with friends. I like it and I like it for an hour a week. That’s enough for me. There are other things I can talk about seemingly until the end of time—Jack Kirby’s Fourth World comes to mind (because it is always on my mind).

So, when editors and marketing people are trying to figure out how successful a new project is, they need to poll a much larger section of the population than just those fan sites. So, on the day TRANSFORMERS #1 hit stores, I called several major retailers to get an idea of how it (and a few other IDW titles) were performing for them. How well their customers seemed to take to the books. I also went on fringe websites like more generalized comic book websites, science fiction websites, toy websites (in this case, appropriate), and the like to see if anyone was talking.

If I had looked only at the core fan sites, I’d probably be convinced that the launch was an abysmal failure. But I didn’t do that. I did the research and found that at least for the first issue, much of the fringe fans were returning and from what online reviews looked like at other sites (and some of the core sites too) and what retailers were being told by their customers, the launch has been a success. And the orders are there to corroborate that analysis.

All this is just to get to this one point. If you’re a hard-core fan of a comic series or character, we’re listening to you. We’d be pretty foolish not to do so. But we aren’t taking everything reported by the hard-core fan as the word of god. There are other fans to account for as well. They’re not lesser fans, they’re just more casual, but it’s those fans who help the character or series really grow as they’re a much larger portion of the audience. What the hard-core fan sites do for editors, publishers, and creators is extremely important. They act as a kind of compass. Not an infallible one, mind you, but they often point in the direction of potential problems for a series.

It’s then up to the creators and editors of a series to see if those concerns are founded. Does the story actually wind up covering these concerns? Will they bother the fringe fans? Will dealing with them completely slow down the story? Things like that. We have to evaluate and make judgments on how and when to tackle any of these things.

Every fan plays a vital role in continued existence and relevance of their favorite characters and stories. And those of us fortunate enough to work on those stories and characters are paying close attention. And that leads me back to the negativity. Why take it to that personal level?

The answer: because it’s just that to the hard-core fan—it’s personal. Many of them have become so wrapped up in the characters and stories (which is great to be transported like that by a work of fiction!) that they identify with the entire thing on a personal level. Man, isn’t that the goal of every creator? So when I see that the fans are upset, it bothers me, I’m not going to lie. I wish they weren’t, but that’s also a really good sign that they’re still connected—that they still care and that they’re paying attention. All of that is a good thing.

While I don’t appreciate name-calling, I get it. I understand those comments aren’t probably directed at me personally. That can be hard to read at times. I’ve developed a pretty thick skin in my time working in comics, but it can be hard. Sometimes my wife tells me to walk away from the computer if she can tell it’s getting to me. But I do—and I believe most editors and creators do—truly appreciate the level of emotion that the core-fans put into their favorite characters. It keeps us honest and (like the great baseball player—no relation to me—Mike Schmidt said) it keeps us on our toes.

At the end of the day, it’s all the fans—hard-core and casual alike—that we make the comics we make. Doesn’t matter if I’m working on Transformers, G.I. Joe, Star Trek, X-Men, Annihilation, Ms. Marvel, Madrox, or any future book that I hope to handle, we (creators and editors) are doing this stuff because we love it and we HOPE you love it too.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Breaking into Comics Tip #2: What Alec Taught Me

I was talking with some younger creators the other day about breaking in and I noticed that a lot of artists and writers tend to really only attack or pitch one company or even one editor at a time. And I had to stop for a second, take a deep breath, and say—WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?!

And you know what? They answered. It seems that some creators think that if they talk with too many people then they’ll wind up screwing someone over if they’re offered two gigs. Well, I’m here to tell you as an editor, if I’m talking with you and eventually offer you a gig and you tell me, “I’m sorry, but I just got offered a gig with (fill in the blank here) and I accepted it,” then I am only MORE interested in hiring you later.

I want to work with creators who are in demand around the industry. All editors do! And believe me, I totally respect and appreciate that you don’t want to pitch something to multiple places because it seems some how underhanded, but don’t be foolish. You’re nice and I like that, but you’ve got to make things happen. And if I’m too slow, that’s on me, not you.

So if you’re talking with one editor—go find another! And another! And another! You can NEVER be talking with too many people. Always be networking! It’s like Alec Baldwin’s character in “Glengarry Glen Ross”—ABC: Always Be Closing. Only here it’s ABN: Always Be Networking!

All that said, you can be upfront with folks and let them know you’re shopping your idea around or that you have other things in the pipeline, but that carries the risk of sounding like you’re trying to inflate yourself, so I’m not even sure you need to do that. But you can. I mean, it could inflate someone’s impression of you! Ha ha.

So anyway, always be networking. Always be positive and upbeat. And you’ll get break in too!


Thursday, December 10, 2009

How to Color Comics by Chris Sotomayor

Comic Book Resources put up an article with Chris Sototayor and myself today on how to color comics. It's a great way to promote the coloring class that starts next month and I thought you all might enjoy reading it.

Just click here to give it a read. If you like it, pass it around to your friends!

Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Star Trek: Alien Spotlight – Cardassians comes out tomorrow!

Hitting shelves in comic shops everywhere (except the west coast—they have to wait until next week) tomorrow is STAR TREK: ALIEN SPOTLIGHT – CARDASSIANS written by… well, by me—and my brother Arne.

I have to say, probably because Arne has been such a great influence as a storyteller, I’m extremely proud of this comic book. It’s a one-shot that, I’ll admit, is pretty set in continuity from the TV show STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE.

And working with Arn was great. He’s a real die hard STAR TREK fan and was able to add all these great nuances to the characters that I just would have missed left on my own.

Arne is a storyteller in his own right. He lives on the other side of the country from me as a video game animator. But he’s always been involved and story and has been one of my go-to guys as a sounding board for different ideas for years (along with our other brother Craig).

Pulling Arn in to co-write this was a great move and he really deserves a lot of credit. The main character in the book we actually created together nearly 10 years ago when Arne ran a STAR TREK roll playing game that I was a member of. We created the character and I liked him so much, I knew I’d want to use him if I ever got the chance.

Fortunately, the good people at CBS/Paramount also liked him. So, that’s how the issue came about. And working with Agustin on the art was amazing! He’s one of my favorite rising talents!

So, if you’re reading this, go check it out tomorrow! And let me know what you think!



Monday, December 7, 2009

Asimov's Continuity

As I mentioned in a previous post, I will on occasion be talking about what I’m reading these days. In this case, it’s not a comic book. I just finished two of Isaac Asimov’s novels and a couple of his short stories.

I had already read his original “Foundation” Trilogy and decided to try the fourth book in the series. The original three books were written early in Asimov’s career, starting with “Foundation,” published in 1950, if memory serves. The immense popularity of the series meant that fans for 25 years continued asking Asimov to write more.

Finally, in 1982, “Foundation’s Edge” was published. This is the book I just finished and something really remarkable happened in it. Not only was it a riveting read but it also manages to merge his “Foundation” universe with his Robot Universe.

Asimov is best known for three “universes” that he created. The Foundation one, the Robot one and the Empire one. Three distinct kinds of stories set in three different universes. Asimov’s three “Empire” novels were all published in the early 1950s as well. And his first Robot stories were published around the same time (mid-40s, I think was his first published Robot story).

Anyway, the point I’m getting at is that this book did something with continuity (a comic book buzz word if ever there was one!) that I found really interesting.

“Foundation’s Edge” managed to merge two continuities together in such a way that as a reader, I did not feel that I missed anything by not having read Asimov’s Robot novels or short stories before hand. I did read most of the short stories about 15 years ago, but there was nothing in them that I needed to know for reading “Foundation’s Edge.” Nor did it feel like they were being forced together in a strange way.

As an aside, I found myself thinking about DC Comics acquiring the rights to Wildstorm or the Charlton characters. And it occurs to me that there is a way to bring the Wildstorm Universe into the DC Universe without causing much confusion or alienating readers. It’s not my place to go into it here, but I think it could be done if DC and Wildstorm agreed that that was something they wanted to do.

After finishing Asimov’s novel, I did a little research online and found some of Asimov’s statements about merging the two universe (ultimately, he merged all three) and he admits that certain facts and dates will not line up properly and that there are some inconsistencies, but he overlooks it as he is aware that they are all fiction.

One of the things that I admire about Asimov’s work and seemingly his approach to it, is that it appears to be a living and breathing thing to him—constantly evolving and growing. In his book “The Stars, Like Dust” (the first “Empire” novel chronologically, though the second one written) he has an afterward. The novel was published in 1950 but the afterward was written in 1982 and explains that science has evolved since the 1950s and that our scientific knowledge in the 1980s makes one of the planets in the book a most unlikely kind of planet to find—he’s got the atmosphere all wrong.

What’s remarkable to me about this afterward is that Asimov thought enough of his readers and of his work to put it in the book in subsequent printings. He didn’t finish the book in 1950, he didn’t finish it in 1982. He never finished it—never stopped thinking about it, learning about the science that he researched so heavily to produce the work in the first place. And he has the humility and professionalism to own up to something that is wrong. But he also has the professionalism to own up to it, but leave the work alone. He did not rewrite the book as the new evidence would suggest he do. He recognized that it was the best it could be at the time of its writing. (Totally on an aside here, but I really wish George Lucas would learn this lesson—sigh).

Asimov’s approach to continuity is that it is something that can bend and change and grow and that it should not get in the way of telling a great story, which “Foundation’s Edge” really is. I can remember hundreds of conversations about continuity while editing at Marvel Comics. And I have them here at IDW. And yes, it is important. But it is important to remember that continuity comes from story, and that story does not come from continuity. Continuity is there to serve and grow from the story. And in the case of ongoing stories or universes, continuity will change and evolve. It has to, because these are not real events and, if for no other reason, simple mistakes will be made. But continuity must always come second to story.

As a counter-point to the above, continuity can bend, but it can also break, and so I am not suggesting that major events in the lives of characters just be arbitrarily ignored, but a great story that comes from character, can find a way to maneuver through continuity—and if it can’t, then it is either not a great story, or the continuity is too cumbersome.

And maybe it’s the comic book geek in me, but seeing the two continuities merge in “Foundation’s Edge” has made me pick up more of Asimov’s books. I’m now reading the “Empire” novels and will read the few Robot novels and stories I haven’t read to catch up to where I am in the “Foundation” series before I read the next “Foundation” book. Yeah, I’m a geek like that. And I learned to be a geek like that from comics.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Breaking Into Comics Podcasts!

Courtesy of last writing classes George O'Connor, iFanboy (always a friend to Comics Experience) has put up another podcast on the topic of breaking into comics and it features CB Cebulski, Ron Perazza and Stephen Christy. Good tips and insight in this one. If you're interested in working in comics, these are all three good guys to listen too.

They offer insight for both Marvel and DC Comics and Arhaia Studios Press. It's a well-rounded discussion for indy books and the mainstream. Josh Flannagan does the interviewing and I have to say, he knows how to ask inviting questions and get surprisingly honest responses from people. Check out the interview he did with me not too long ago covering some of the same territory. Man, he got me to just spill all the beans...

Here's the first podcast: http: Click Here.

And here's Josh's Podcast with me on being a Senior Editor at IDW Publishing, breaking into comics, working at Marvel, working on GI Joe, Transformers, editing the first Annihilation series, and all kinds of other stuff: Click Here.

Hope this is interesting stuff to you guys.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

We Won!

Out of over 200 licensees at the Hasbro awards and only 10 actual awards given, I'm happy to say that IDW Publishing won the award for Best Publisher of the Year from Hasbro. It's definitely an award that means something to us and to me personally since I oversee the two Haasbro properties that IDW publishes (Transformers and G.I. Joe). We were nominated along with much larger companies like Harper-Collins and we actually won.

It's a pretty great thing to be recognized by the people you work with as doing outstanding work and it's a big deal to win this kind of an award especially because of what it says about our ability to have productive and creative partnerships with other companies.

It's great to be called out by someone you're working hard with and it's a great award for other people we might want to do business with to see. Within the industry, it's a really nice feather in our cap. I guess I just have my work cut out for me next year!

On top of that, Ted and I had a great time hanging out with a lot of creative and helpful Hasbro people and meeting new ones as well as other licensees whom we hope to be able to do business with in the future.

It feels good. Now, on to the Eisners!


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Spud Awards

I’m on a plane as write this off to Providence, RI where Hasbro’s annual awards show and licensing summit is going to be held. I’m traveling with Ted Adams, CEO of IDW Publishing.

I went to this event last year with IDW’s editor-in-chief and publisher Chris Ryall. It’s a pretty interesting event in that Hasbro appears to take it quite seriously. I must admit, my first thought was that it was a political thing for them and a way to thank all of their licensee’s.

If you don’t know, a licensee is someone (or an entity like IDW) who pays another person or entity (Hasbro, in this case) for certain rights and usages. IDW currently holds the comic book publishing rights for both TRANSFORMERS and G.I. JOE properties, which are owned by Hasbro.

This awards show brings all of Hasbro’s licensees together and an independent group within Hasbro has pulled together a list of nominees for a variety of categories. It’s Hasbro’s version of the Academy Awards. The more I hear about the set-up of how it’s done, the more legitimate it seems.

This year, IDW is nominated in two categories—publisher of the year and most innovative product. I suspect that we’re nominated for publisher of the year because of the successful relaunch of the G.I. JOE comic book franchise. All of the G.I. JOE books are being remarkably well received by fans, retailers, and Hasbro itself. Also, we’ve just started our soft relaunch of the TRANSFORMERS comics.

My guess is that we’re nominated for most innovative product primarily due to the stand-alone issue G.I. JOE: COBRA SPECIAL, in which we had a great time playing with the comic book medium, telling a tale about two twin brothers in a set of mirror images. The frst 11 pages mirror the last 11 pages in layout, composition, color, and even lettering placement. It’s not the frist time something like this has been attempted—most notably in WATCHMEN #5, but to my knowledge it is the first time it has been taken to this level. WATCHMEN #5 was a mirror image in panel layout only. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming that what we did is more innovative, I’m just saying we took it to the next steps.

Anyway, maybe the awards show is predetermined and done purely for political basis. I don’t know. But what I do know, is that if we win in either category we actually get a crystal spud (they are the spud awards, after all). And the idea of a crystal Mr. Potato Head just brings a smile to my face.

So, here’s hoping we take home some bling-‘taters!


Thursday, November 26, 2009


It’s Thanksgiving today and I’m taking a break from the blog for a few days but thought I’d quickly check in and say a few things relating to comics that I’m thankful for:

Comics themselves. Who knows who or how the medium was really created, but I wonder what my life would be like without it. Comics as a whole have been a wonderful edition to my life, something I can enjoy in passing but also enjoy studying and reading over and over again.

My job in comics. I love editing comics and writing them, but what I love about editing is working with creative people. I get so much energy and inspiration from the creators I work with, that my life and work is a happier one from them.

Writing comics. I love writing comics. I’m still a young writer and I’m learning so much with each new script, and I love learning, so I’m happy for writing comic scripts.

Friendships through comics. (This list is in no particular order, so don’t feel bad if you’re a friend and you’re reading this down on the list!) Looking back on my wedding just over five years ago, I’m amazed by how many comics professionals came to my wedding and how many who couldn’t, sent their best wishes. That was a really fantastic experience. And then again, when I decided to leave a job where I was in a position to hire a lot of people, I didn’t know what to expect from freelancers (were they really just my friends because I could give them work?) Turns out that in 99 out of 100 cases, they were friends because we were friends. And that was truly amazing to me.

I’m thankful for Comics Experience, a teaching/learning program where I get to meet, interact, and exchange ideas with the next generation of comics creators. I’m thankful for the students and the experiences I’ve had with Comics Experience.

All in all, I can’t complain about anything at all in my life. I’m very lucky, especially in today’s economy, to have not only a job, but a job (or three) that I genuinely enjoy.

I wonder if there’s a comics spirit somewhere. If there is, I hope he/she/it is thankful for some of the work I’ve done in the medium. That would be cool…


Monday, November 23, 2009

The First Comic I Ever Read

“The World’s Finest” #258 was the first comic I remember ever reading. As I said in one of my earlier entries here, I’ll occasionally be talking about my love affair with comics. I’ll be honest, other than the fact that Neal Adams did the cover for the issue and that I believe Denny O’Neil wrote the lead story, I don’t remember a whole heck of a lot about the issue.

I do think Batman did turn into a bat creature and fight Superman as the cover implies. And let’s face it, that’s the kind of awesome craziness you just don’t fine in many other places than comics.

My early memory of the issue is that I think my older brother Craig owned it and he’d let me read it and I thought it was awesome. Neal also drew the cover to a phonograph record collection of Batman stories that we wore out a couple of times over. I found the cover to it altered here to read “Bat Blog.” I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the tile of the actual record back in the mid-seventies.

I didn’t realize until much later in life how influential Adams’ artwork was on me and my love of comics. I certainly enjoyed his work, but also the work of many artists who were inspired by him. Later, I would be fortunate enough to get to work with Neal. While I was at Marvel, I called him up cold and asked if he’d do a cover for me. Much to mu surprise, he said yes. Then I had to go fine one! After that, he did several more for me while I was there and we almost got a six-issue series off the ground, but it wound up falling through. Ah, well.

Also, of interesting note is that “The World’s Finest” #258 was written by Denny O’Neil who I would also have some really great dealings with later in my life. When I was teaching college courses for Webster University in St. Louis, I called O’Neil and asked him if he’d consider flying in to talk with my class. Turned out his wife had graduated from Webster and so they were happy to come. I spent a couple of days hanging out with the O’Neils and talking shop.

He flat out told me not to get into comics. I told him that if the industry was dead in ten years as he predicted, that I’d find another passion at that time. He was nice enough to hook me up with a face-to-face interview with Mike Carlin, then DC Comics Executive Editor and get me an interview at Marvel as well (he and Marvel Editor-In-Chief had co-created Azrael for DC Comics a couple of years prior).

Even though I had interned at Marvel, Denny got me back in the door again. It was that trip to New York that led to my getting hired at Marvel as an assistant editor back in 2002.

So, just a little weird how that turned out. First comic I remember reading, and eventually, I wound up with great experiences with both of the comic’s creators. I’ve heard hundreds of similar stories about the comics industry. It seems to me that our little nook of the entertainment industry is just far enough a field, even now, that it’s a darn nice place to work. The comics industry has a lot of good people in it and I’m lucky to be working with them.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Coloring Comics with Chris Sotomayor Coming In January! Sign up Today!

Comics Experience is offering its first online coloring class for would-be colorists, people interested in editorial work, artists of all kinds, and professional colorists looking to refresh and hone their skills further.

The class is being co-taught by Chris Sotomayor—colorist supreme for almost every major company in the industry—and Andy Schmidt, Comics Experience founder and comics editor.

Why am I writing this like a press release? Let’s cut to it—the class is going to be awesome! Chris is an extremely engaging speaker and you’ll be able to follow along with him at all times through the class. You’ll watch as he explains what he’s doing, you’ll be able to ask questions in real time, and you’ll be given professional pages to work on your self.

And what’s better, is that Chris and I are going to be there with you every step of the way, teaching a method of coloring that’s proven to be effective for hundreds of colorists. If you’ve ever had an interest in comics coloring, this is the best way to get started—either to pick up coloring work with publishers or to just work on your own art.

If you’ve a penciler, this course will help illuminate some of the mysteries of coloring and get you ready to more exactly speak with and work with your colorists. And don’t forget all the behind-the-scenes stuff you’ll get too.

Okay, enough selling for me today. Honestly, the class speaks for itself. Give it a try or sign up a friend or loved one as a gift for the holidays!

Jump on over to the courses page and join in the fun!


PS. I've attached some Chris's coloring work to this article. Hope it shows a fraction of his talent!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wow! I’m in USA Today!”

USA Today published an article this morning featuring interviews with TRANSFORMERS writer Mike Costa and artist Don Figueroa and myself. Issue #1 of the new ongoing series hits shelves today and I hope makes a huge splash, but really, all I want to say is this, “Hey! Look at me! I’m in USA Today!”

Here’s a link to the article itself, which contains content you might enjoy reading as opposed to, well, this particular post…

Now go buy the book! TRANSFORMERS #1 is on sale now! Get it before it’s gone!


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Delicate Balance—Publishers, Retailers, and Fans

I’ve recently been dealing with one of the most frustrating aspects of the comics industry—marketing. IDW with Hasbro is launching a new TRANSFORMERS ongoing series, which you’d think would be pretty big news (and it certainly is!), except that the comics industry is a tough place. There’s new stuff all the time. So, there’s an assumption on the part of many publishers that we should keep secret our plans and events and such to blow the fans away when they read it.

Great idea. In an ideal world, I’d be right there with you. But this is Earth, where few things are ever ideal. And the reality is, the only way to blow a reader away is if he or she actually reads the book in question. Now comes in the marketing.

As a publisher, I don’t just have to convince the reader to buy the book. I also have to convince retailers to order the book in larger quantities. So, really, I have to sell the book to retailers BEFORE I sell it to the readers.

This means that I’m constantly trying to have two conversations at the same time—one with the readers (and potential readers) and another with the retailers. Why are they different conversations? Pretty simple. I need to convince the readers that they want to READ it! Right, that’s obvious. But at the same time, I also need to convince the retailers that they can SELL it.

Many (not all) retailers started their businesses as fans. That means that they will frequent the same websites as fans for information about the books coming up. Diamond Distributors also allows most of its information that (in my opinion) should be given only to retailers, to go directly to the fans. So, that means I’m trying to have the two conversations mentioned above at the same time, in the same forum. Retailers can read what I’m trying to communicate to fans and fans can read what I’m trying to communicate to retailers.

Why is that a problem? Well, I’d like to tell retailers certain things to help them sell the books I’m working on or publishing. But, at the same time, the reader is going to get agitated if I say too much about the content. It’s a delicate balance and a hard one to get right. So, in the case of TRANSFORMERS, I’m really pushing it to retailers for the most part. But I went too far and almost ignored the fans. Like I said, a delicate balance.

But the news is out there now. Ironhide, a major TRANSFORMERS character is getting killed in the first issue. Really, that’s to help the retailers sell the comic. On the flip side, if that event just sold the comic, the readers would be pretty darn angry that we just killed a favorite character as a stunt. So, as the editor, it’s my job to make sure it’s not a stunt (it’s not).

A good publisher is communicating with both retailers and fans at the same time so that its retailer partners have the tools to sell the books the publisher is shipping to them, and simultaneously, is communicating with the readers so that they want to buy the books before they even step foot in the comics shop that week. When marketing is clicking, you’ve got retailers pushing the comics and you’ve got fans pulling the comics.

It’s not a new strategy. Heck, when I was getting my masters back in 2000 in media communications, I took many a marketing class and that’s one of the first things you learn. But the point is, in the comics industry, unlike most others, what is normally two separate conversations is actually just one big one. It makes giving retailers the proper tools to sell the comics difficult and it makes pumping up the fans difficult too.

That all said, it’s not impossible to navigate. It’s just difficult. With more and more publishers making cutbacks, marketing is usually one of the first things to go. And as such, it’s sometime up to individual editors to reach out to the buying audience directly, and for the most part, we’re not trained to do that effectively.

Anyway, it’s been on my mind recently, so I just thought I’d share my observations.


P.S. I'd like to thank Atomic Comics, Jim Hanley's Universe, Midtown Comics, and St. Mark's Comics for the use of their images (which, honestly, I didn't ask for, but I figured they wouldn't mind the promotion). They've all been great places to shop over the years!