Monday, October 12, 2009

Alpha Gods & BWS - A Public Statement

As some of you may be aware, my comic book, Alpha Gods, was originally entitled Young Gods. The title was inspired by the 1991 album of the same name by British hard rock band the Little Angels. You may also be aware that not long before we went to print with the Alpha Gods graphic novel I received an email from one Alex Bialy, apparently "Windsor-Smith Studio Manager", informing me that Barry Windsor-Smith holds the trademark on the name "Young Gods" and asking me to cease using it.
Now, at the time I was a little surprised. I was aware that both Marvel and DC have for many years had groups called the Young Gods, although they've not appeared very often. Despite being a fan of Mr Smith's work on both Iron Man and Machine Man for Marvel Comics, I was not aware of his own comic of the same name. However, out of respect for Mr Smith and his claim of ownership of the name I was quite content to change the title of my comic. To be honest, I'm far happier with the name "Alpha Gods" makes more sense from an in story point of view...and my only disappointment is that it no longer serves quite so well as a tribute to what I firmly believe to be one of the greatest hard rock albums of all time.
So, that, I believed, was that...
...until someone directed me to the latest issue of RPG Review.
It would seem that one of RPG Review's writers had the audacity to use the term "Young Gods" in the title of one of their articles, and so drew the attention of Alex Bialy. RPG Review chose to point out that there was no possible case for trademark infringement here...which was when Mr Bialy, apparently, felt the need to bring my name, and the name of Orang Utan Comics into things...implying that my ideas are unoriginal and implying that, essentially, I had taken the title of my comic from that of Mr Smith's.
This is untrue. I want to make that abundantly clear, and the fact that Mr Bialy feels it necessary to imply such unsubstantiated accusations to an unrelated third party quite simply shocks me.
The actions of Mr Bialy here are deeply unprofessional, and I would hope that Mr Smith would consider disassociating himself from them. They show a deep and fundamental lack of respect for others in what is a very, very small industry. We're all in this together, we all love comics, and should be working together to build a better comics industry.

That said, now I have your attention, I'd like to point out that the first issue of the new Alpha Gods series, Alpha Gods: Betrayal #1 is now available to order from IndyPlanet and as a digital download on DriveThru Comics. Please check it out!

Ian Sharman
Managing Editor
Orang Utan Comics

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Mouse of Ideas

So…Disney are apparently buying Marvel for $4 billion.

I doubt that there’s anyone reading this who hasn’t already heard the news, and who hasn’t already spent the day reading tweets and blog articles speculating as to what this will mean. The news coming from Marvel editorial seems to be that, in terms of the comics themselves, this will mean nothing. Disney will have no input into the editorial direction and publishing policies of Marvel Comics. The general consensus of opinion seems to be that this is a good thing, and I’d probably tend to agree with that.

That said, I would love it if Disney actively tried to make comics a mass market product again.

Stop and think about it for a minute… Marvel publishes comics featuring some of the most recognizable characters in pop culture. Spider-Man, The Hulk, Iron Man…all three have starred in major blockbuster films in recent years, grossing millions, if not billions of dollars worldwide. You’d be hard pressed to find a young boy in the developed world who doesn’t own an item of clothing with one of these characters on it. And yet looking at the sales figures for July 2009 we see that Amazing Spider-Man sells around 72,000 copies an issue…Incredible Hulk sells 92,000 copies an issue…and Invincible Iron Man sells just 50,000 copies an issue. These figures are tiny! These are not the sales of a mass market publication…these are the sales of a niche market publication for a shrinking audience of obsessive collectors.

I'd love to see Marvel's top books selling in the millions again, like they should be. At the very least I'd love to see the big main titles turning up in Disney stores in shopping malls across the world. Even if it was just one spinner rack in every store. I do think that would require a return to the more "all ages" approach of Jim Shooter's Marvel though...but I don’t think that's necessarily a bad thing. I'm just currently reading through New X-Men: Academy X (so that I can the read Young X-Men...and then read X-Infernus...and then read the new New Mutants much catching up!) and I think the tone of that series would be perfect for the mass market. I think that comics can be literate and appealing to adults the same time...appeal to a younger audience. Chris Claremont was a master at that. (And I think comparing Claremont's use of the Hellfire Club...where the sexual undertones were incredibly subtle and would have been missed by most younger readers...with Fraction and Land's over the top overtly fetishistic Red Queen illustrates perfectly the difference between making comics for kids that can be enjoyed by older readers...and making comics for an older audience which are completely inappropriate for kids).

I think it would also need a streamlining of the core you would just have a small number of core X-Men Avengers Spider-Man Iron Man Wolverine book...for the mass market...and then you could have a range of other books that could possibly be direct market only (or even digital only, with adds in the mass market core books for the online digital comics service…and maybe even discount codes in the print comics, or something), that could still tie-in to those core books, and reference what was going on in them...but you'd have to be careful that the core books didn't rely on events in the other books too much (although you'd work in subtle references to encourage your new mass market audience to seek out the other books...effectively drawing new customers to the comic shops…or to your digital comics).

But imagine if you had five core books, for example, and they were all $2 you could pick up all the core Marvel books for $10 each month...suddenly comics are a pocket money purchase again! Not only that but you schedule them so that one book comes out a that there's a new book or two each time the family visits the mall...

Cost is a huge factor in this. When I was a kid an American import comic was 70p…and, yes, I know that the price of everything has gone up since the Dark Ages when I was young…but let’s be serious, at £3 and over per comic, comics are not an impulse buy for most kids. They really don’t have that kind of money just floating about in their pockets. I remember going to the newsagent and getting a stack of comic to read whenever we had a long car journey to go on…no kid can do that when they’re £3 each.

I’m in the industry…not just the comic book industry, but I’ve worked in print and publications for over ten years…I know it’s possibly to print a 24 page comic book cheaply enough to get the cover price down below $2 a comic (and if you’re Disney and you’re using your own retail outlets and pre-existing distribution network then it should be even easier). And that’s without getting into economies of scale (basically that if you’re printing and selling in the millions rather than the thousands then your cost per unit inevitably goes down). And, hey, if you have to go back to lower quality paper, like newsprint, to do that, then do it! The world is not going to end if our comics aren’t printed on high gsm glossy stock! (I was tempted to go on a rant about the people who suggest that we need to cut out the “expensive photoshop colouring” to reduce the cost of comics…but let’s just all agree that those people don’t know what they’re talking about, eh?).

So…anyway…yes…in summary…in my little game of fantasy comic publisher…I’d love to see a small core of maybe five main books, produced cheaply and in large numbers, and distributed widely…to places kids already go. Those books would have the BEST writers and the BEST artists and would be a way of getting kids reading comics again. Rather than replacing the direct market, they would be a gateway to it, and also a gateway to the digital comics. The non-core books would still be viable…and, if anything, they’d end up being read by a LOT more people (and, if they went digital only, the cost of producing them would be drastically cut). For those of us who like our comics on high quality glossy paper, there would still be trade paperback collections. But the important thing is that comics would be available to millions of kids.

Of course...none of this will happen...but it's fun to dream...

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


Cover for FTL #2, art by John Charles

I enjoy anthologies immensely. Collections of short stories, poetry, or graphic fiction are exciting and satisfying. The reader's curve of expectation, of rising tension, is resolved by the end of each tale, and he or she can move on to the next experience.

Of course, how good the anthology is depends on how rewarding the individual stories turn out to be. Was the reader hooked right away, did he or she want to read more, were there surprises, new ideas, interesting twists and turns? Was the conclusion, the finale of the story, emotionally and/or intellectually satisfying? Was the reader left with a hunger for more?

I'm happy to say, that the second issue of Oran Utan Comics new anthology series FTL (Faster Than Light), contains five stories that answer the above questions with a resounding YES!

From the opening introduction, featuring editor in chief Ian Sharman a la Stan Lee, or maybe the Crypt Keeper, welcoming us to his "strange new world," to the closing panel featuring "the Schoolgirl Squad" , FTL #2 delivers.

The first piece is a nice variation on the mad scientist theme, called "Morgan McFee and the End of Tomorrow." Written by Ian Sharman, with art by Melissa Hudson, the story is deceptively simple, hiding some deep real-world truths behind stereotypical comic book action and adventure.

The second tale is Part 1 of a serial called "The Secret Cross." It is written by Steven Saunders and Stephen Lindsey, with pencils by Dominic Vivona. The opening panel takes us back to World War I, to the trenches of Flanders in 1914. The art is historically accurate and evocative, capturing a mood and projecting a sense of threat that follows the action.

The third story is a sharp little piece called "One Last Ballad" by Itai Rosenbaum, with pencils by Gary Heany, inks by Matt Santorelli and gray tones by Nick Dismas.

The fourth entry is an unusual and unique short called "Karachun," by Trey Wickwire, with pencils by Olli Hihnala. This is based on Slavic folktales, ancient beliefs once practiced by the pagan Slavs and still secretly whispered about to this day. It is a welcome change to the usual Celtic and Druid lore found so readily in fantasy, science fiction, and horror these days. The panels look like wood-cuts, and the art is entirely appropriate for the subject.

The fifth presentation is back to the more traditional super hero style, or more like, "Kill Bill" meets "The New Mutants." Written by Ian Sharman, with art by Donnie Punzalen, this is a simply fun. Replete with the usual cheesecake butt shots and crotch shots, even bodice-ripping, the art is Western realistic but the action is actually reminiscent of classic Japanese manga. While this reviewer could use less of the gratuitous sexual poses, I'm well aware that my assessment above is nothing less than a come-hither to potential male readers.

FTL #2 is equal to and in some ways exceeds FTL #1. Both are great reads, and all creators involved should be very proud of their contributions. Moreover, in this era where the big two -- Marvel and DC -- seem to rule the graphic fiction world, it is highly inspirational and gratifying to see an Indy company like Oran Utan Comics producing such sophisticated and enjoyable comic books as ALPHA GODS and FTL.

I highly recommend this anthology series, and this is coming from someone who is a hopeless fangirl of Marvel mutants and super heroes. Sometimes it takes an extra shake of the tree to make us look outside the little treehouse we've been living in!

Reviewed by Rivka Jacobs

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Me on the radio....

While in Bristol for the Bristol International Comic Expo, I had the pleasure of being invited into the BCfm studio to be interviewed by Mark Le-Leivre for his Movies and Music Programme.

In case you missed the show, broadcast live on 9th May, I've got the interview with me right here to download for your listening pleasure.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Gratuitous Self Promotion

So, it's that Eagle Awards time of year again, with any comic book published in 2008 being eligible for nomination. Now, 2008 was quite a while ago now so I thought it might be usueful for me to...heh....remind you of certain comics that were published during 2008...

Such as Contraband...the Eleventh Hour Collector's Edition...Eleventh Hour Vol 1...Marvel Heroes...

You can nominated by visiting here -

So, obviously, go vote for whoever you want to vote for, but, um, here are some suggestions (to be honest, the only ones I'm REALLY bothered about are Favourite Inker, Favourite British Black and White Comicbook and Favourite Artist: Fully-Painted Artwork)...

Favourite Newcomer Writer: Ian Sharman

Favourite Newcomer Artist: Azim Alberali

Favourite Artist: Azim Akberali

Favourite Writer: Cy Dethan

Favourite Writer/Artist: Ian Sharman

Favourite Artist: Pencils: John Charles

Favourite Artist: Inks: Ian Sharman

Favourite Artist: Fully-Painted Artwork: Azim Akberali

Favourite Colourist: John Charles

Favourite Letterer: Ian Sharman

Favourite Editor: Ian Sharman

Favourite Publisher: Orang Utan Comics

Favourite American Colour Comicbook: Dynamo 5

Favourite British Colour Comicbook: Marvel Heroes

Favourite American Black and White Comicbook: ??

Favourite British Black and White Comicbook: Eleventh Hour

Favourite New Comicbook: Eleventh Hour

Favourite Manga: ??

Favourite European Comicbook: ??

Favourite Single Story Publisher During 2008: "Rise And Shine" from Eleventh Hour Vol 1

Favourite Continued Story Published During 2008: Secret Invasion

Favourite Cover Published During 2008: Eleventh Hour Collector's Edition

Favourite Original Graphic Novel Published During 2008: Contraband (Slave Labor)

Favourite Reprint Compilation: Eleventh Hour Collector's Edition

Favourite Magazine about Comics: Comics International

Favourite Comics-Related Book: ??

Favourite Comics-Related Movie or TV Show: Iron Man

Favourite Comics Related Website: Down The Tubes

Favourite Web-Based Comic: Shortpacked

Roll of Honour: Mike Collins

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Into The Light & The Once And Future King

So I have two Elephant Words stories to talk about in this post because I’m a terribly slack blogger…

First up is Into The Light, which is a short tale about the forbidden love between an angel and a demon who meet one day when Jerusalem is changing hands during one of the crusad

es. They can’t be together, despite their love, and, indeed, the very touch of the angel burns the demon’s skin.

Of course, it’s about a lot more than that, it’s about how one can endure the pain of separation for brief moments spent together when that’s all you have. Why? Because the love that you share makes the pain bearable, and the pain of being utterly without each other would be unbearable.

The relationship that the angel and demon have in this story is the ultimate long distance relationship, a subject which is rather close to my heart.

The picture of the dark corridor with the light pouring in at the end was very inspiring. It led me to think about this meeting place between light and dark, and that’s how I started thinking about an angel and a demon meeting there, with the demon watching the angel walk away, back into the light. That led me to the last line…and from there it was a matter of filling in the story in between.

Secondly, we have The Once And Future King. It was my turn to post the picture this week and, I’m afraid, I’ve been rather preoccupied with all sorts of stuff, and so I almost completely forgot to find a picture. So I headed over to one of my favourite stock photo sites from when I was working as a graphic designer ( and, for some reason, entered “sword” into the search field, which led me to this rather interesting picture. Fast forward a week to today and, you guessed it, I almost completely forgot that I actually had to write a story about it!

Thankfully, for once, the idea came quickly to me. I’ve always been interested in Arthurian legend, and so the idea of the warrior king returning to Britain to save us in our darkest hour sprang to mind. And then it hit me…what use would he be? If he turned up in the middle of a modern day battlefield, he’d be shot in an instant.

It’s a simple twist, little more than a pun, really, but I had fun writing it and, hopefully, people will enjoy reading it.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


British indie publisher releases two new titles!

Orang Utan Comics are pleased to announce the release of two new comics which are available to order online right now.

FTL#1 is the first issue of their brand new black and white anthology. Featuring thirty-two pages of beautifully greyscaled art, and new stories by Orang Utan Comics veterans Ian Sharman, Peter Rogers and Trey Wickwire, along with a brand new story from the exceptionally talented Dwight L. MacPherson (The Surreal Adventures of Edgar Allan Poo), FTL is sure to be a hit with comic fans everywhere.

Click here to order FTL #1.

Also released today is the Alpha Gods graphic novel. Previously available to read online in ebook form, in excess of 8,000 views in the three months since its release have persuaded Orang Utan Comics to release the entire 48 page, full colour graphic novel in print.

Click here to order Alpha Gods.

Both titles will be available at the Orang Utan Comics stand at next month’s Bristol International Comic Expo, and also at the London MCM Expo later in the month. You can also order both titles online via the print on demand service, IndyPlanet.

Orang Utan Comics Managing Editor, Ian Sharman, added, “May is going to be a big month for Orang Utan Comics, not only do we have two great new titles to promote, but we’re also looking forward to getting out and meeting our fans.” Indeed, fans will get a chance to put their questions to the Orang Utan Comics crew during their panel at the Bristol International Comic Expo next month. The panel will be held at 4pm in the Park Suite at the Ramada Plaza Hotel in Bristol and the OUC team will be celebrating their second anniversary of creating “comics for a strange new world.”

To find out more about Alpha Gods, read character bios and creator profiles, please visit

For more information on Orang Utan Comics visit them online

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Road Less Travelled - Video Blog!

So, rather than write about this week's Elephant Words story I thought it might be fun to try video blogging for a change. You should probably read the story first, you can read The Road Less Travelled here.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Broken Wings

Take these broken wings
Learn to fly again
Learn to live so free
And when we hear the voices sing
The book of love will open up
And let us in

This week’s Elephant Words story, Broken Wings, was something a little new for me. It’s a first person story that moves from being quite stark and realistic at the start, into a very symbolic and internal piece. 

I’ll admit, I was struggling for what to write. I pretty much knew where I wanted to start, a man alone, waking up, the effects of the vodka having worn off, and his attempts to smother his returning pain with more of the stuff. I think the Russian dolls in the picture sparked something too, as it encouraged me to peel back the layers of this character and examine what was going on underneath.

Beyond that, I really had nothing, and so I decided to take a walk, and as I was walking the story pretty much played itself out in my mind. To be honest, it was partly a way for me to work some stuff out that was going on with me too. I was hurting at the time, but as I went on this strange journey with the character in my story it led me back to what was important, and helped me to realise that it’s where life leads us that’s what really matters, and not necessarily how we get there. At the end of the story we see two people making a fresh start, putting the pain of the past behind them, and understanding that they both have something that is incredibly precious and wonderful – each other’s hearts.

I hope the story manages to be hopeful and uplifting without being overly sentimental.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Little Girl

Okay, I’ll admit it, I took one look at this week’s photo on Elephant Words and thought “cannibals.” I know, I know, I should have looked at it and been inspired to write a story about good, hardy people forging a new life for themselves in a new world, with nothing but their wits and some plain old fashioned gumption to help them. But, instead, I just thought, “Oh my god, they’re going to eat that child!”

So, my story this week, Little Girl, is about a man who leaves Liverpool with his family to start a new life on America’s new frontier. However, he’s ill prepared, the family end up near starving to death, their initial hope for a new start turns to despair and they’re forced to eat the child to survive.


Of course…in my head it went a little differently… In my head, they came from Liverpool and were scousers… For the Americans reading this, a scouser is like a red neck, only with a more annoying accent. I’m sure Liverpool has given the world many great things, like The Beatles…and…um…yeah…there was…no, that was rubbish…and so was Bread, The Liver Birds, Brookside, both Liverpool and Everton FC…and…well…everything else ever to come out of Liverpool. I know, I’m being grossly unfair…but I ended up stuck at University with a scouser who thought I was “brilliant” and insisted on talking to me at length about…something….every time I saw him (who knows what he was actually saying with that accent…probably something about nicking the wheels off a car…).

I can so never go to Liverpool after writing that…

So, originally, “Little Girl” was going to be called “They Do Do That Down There Though Don’t They” and was going to read something like this.

“’Ere, Ken, we ain’t got no food, like!”

“Calm down, ma, calm down, we can always nick us some of dat dere food like.”

“Nick some? From where? Dere ain’t no shops or nothin’ like, where yous gonna nick some food from, like?”

“Well, like, I know, we could always, like, eat the baybi.”

“Eat the baybi? Eat the baybi?!”

“Calm, down, calm down, it’s what dey do down in dat dere London, like.”

“Dey do do dat down dere dough, don’t dey?”

“Dey do do dat down dere. Now drink yer milk.”

“Milk? Yuck.”

“It’s what Ian Rush drinks…”

I really wish it was yesterday and I could just claim this post was an April Fools Day prank…

Friday, March 27, 2009

Between The Lines

For once, this week, I didn’t have any real struggle to come up with something, This week’s picture immediately reminded me of the Mr Big song “Alive and Kickin’” and I knew I wanted to do something along the lines of a girl writing a goodbye letter to her mother as she ran away with her boyfriend.

So, before I go on, pop over to Elephant Words and read Between The Lines.

It was as I started to think about what the girl would write that I realised that there was a lot more going on here. Reading between the lines there was a lot not being said, and this made me ponder how often what we write is very different to what we actually mean.

So I struck upon the idea of writing two letters. One would be the actual letter that the girl was sending to her mother, and the other would be the letter that she’d write if she was truly being 100% honest and saying what was on her mind.

Yes, I know, the actual situation is really a hideous cliché, but it served well enough for the experiment. I’m not sure that I really pulled it off though. I think, perhaps, I should have spent more time on it, made it more originally, and perhaps more subtle. I don’t know.

I’m afraid I’ve found myself going back to one of my greatest frustrations in life with this story – why do girls date @$$holes? It’s something I doubt I’ll ever fully understand.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dissecting Alpha Gods: Part Two: Prologue: Slash & Burn

As we discussed in Part One, the Prologue was actually one of the last parts to be written. Well, actually, that’s not entirely accurate. The six issue series, now known as Alpha Gods: Betrayal was plotted first, and an early draft of issue one was written, then the main chapters of the graphic novel were plotted…and then the prologue was written.

The task before me was to write a six page introduction to the world of the Alpha Gods, so I decided to go back one step further to find out how they first learn that Grigori Industries might be experimenting on Extra Humans. At first it seems like a routine, very easy mission…and then they run into opposition.

Let’s start at the very beginning, with the date that the prologue takes place on – 12th July, 2086. There are no random dates in Alpha Gods, and this is no exception. Those of you that know me well will know that 12th July is my birthday…but why 2086? This is a small homage to one of my favourite cartoons when I was a kid, Thunderbirds 2086. The show was awesome (in my memory…it was probably awful).

Originally the prologue didn’t start with a briefing scene. My first draft opened with a splash page of Paladin and Impact deflecting a hail of bullets during the fire fight from page 3. The narrative for the page essentially ended up with “How did we get ourselves into this mess?” and then we’d flash back to the briefing. At the time the book was with VCS and the editorial advice I had from there was that in a six page story I shouldn’t waste a page on a splash, and should instead start with the briefing scene, and Paladin’s duel with Agent Omega was extended by a page. I’ve written quite a few six page stories since then and, well, let’s just say that with hind sight I disagree with that advice. I feel the story would have felt a lot more dynamic if it had started in media res. At the time I was just starting out and so took the advice I was given and rewrite it. Maybe for the collected edition we’re planning to do once Alpha Gods: Betrayal is complete I’ll ask Ezequiel to redraw the prologue from my original script. (Which would actually be the third time that this story has been drawn, as it was originally illustrated by Randy Valiente in an early version that appeared in Eleventh Hour #1).

Anyway, as it worked out the Prologue proved to be a great way for me to establish Paladin and Impact’s characters, and the relationship between them. In the briefing scene we see that Paladin is alert and attentive, whereas Impact is clearly bored and disinterested. On page two we begin to get a sense of the friction between them…and that the friction isn’t necessarily caused by them disliking each other. I wanted to establish that these characters are teenagers first and foremost, and super heroes secondly. Impact is by far my favourite character in Alpha Gods to write, she’s probably the most like me.

So, finally, on page three, we get to the action. Personally I think that Ezequiel’s done a great job here of cramming a fight between Impact and Paladin and an entire room full of guards into such a small space. Page three ends with a mysterious foot…and we start to get the sense that this mission is a lot less straightforward then it first seemed.

There are obvious questions thrown up here. Why was Agent Omega waiting for them? Did he know they were coming? Was he there by chance? All I can say at this point is that there are answers to these questions, but you won’t find them out until well into Alpha Gods: Betrayal. Sorry.

And so to the duel between Paladin and Agent Omega. Originally, as I said, this took place over a single page, but when the splash page at the start was removed it was extended to two. It was at that point that the little homage to my favourite screen duel wound its way into the script. There’s actually a deeper reason for using this quote than just “Hey, Star Wars is awesome! Let’s throw in a geeky quote for people!” Some people have complained that it takes them out of the story. This is actually quite deliberate. I’m not going to spoil future plot twists, and it’s almost certainly not what you’re thinking it is…but those lines are there for a very good reason.

On the final page, we see that Paladin now has Agent Omega at his mercy, but he lets him live. Why? Um….sorry….but yet again…I can’t say… The point of this was to give you an insight into the writing process and some of the thinking behind the story…but with so many plot twists yet to come, it’s very hard to go into too much depth without spoiling everything.

Of course, that was the point of this story, to tease, to sow seeds and provide pretty much no answers. It was designed to draw you in, intrigue you, make you want to find out more. For a long time this story was the only bit of Alpha Gods out there, originally in Eleventh Hour and later on via myebook. It did it’s job, it got people interested, it made people want to read more.

Originally this story wasn’t going to be in the graphic novel at all. It was meant to just be a little teaser that stood on its own. It was only later that I realised that it was silly to not use it as a Prologue to the book. Personally, I think it works quite well…the book would have a very different feel if it started off with Chapter One. Instead the Prologue allowed me to establish certain core concepts of the Alpha Gods universe before going on to introduce the villains and take a closer look at the individual characters. 

Next time we’ll look at Chapter One and explore the influences behind the creation of one of the main villains, Lester Cravely and some of the mythology behind the series.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Rebel Without A Clue

Typically, just as I decide to use this blog to explore the thinking behind what I'm writing, both in my comics and on Elephant Words, I'm the Monday man at EW, and have almost no time to actually put any thought at all into what I'm writing there!

This week's story was particulalry hard to write, partly because the pic' went up very late Sunday night due to some technical problems, and partly due to the fact that I haven't really been in the frame of mind to write as I was assaulted by my ex-wife's boyfriend last night. But, yeah, let's not go into that, eh?

So, let's at least try and talk about my Elephant Words story this week - Rebel Without A Clue. The pic' either is, or looks incredibly like, the observatory from the film Rebel Without A Cause. It's been a looooong time since I saw the film, so I could be completely wrong there, but that was the immediate association that sprung to mind. I remember thinking the film was excellent, but, I also seem to recall watching it with my grandparents, while my gran struggled to decide who were the goodies and who were the baddies. Bless her. I guess it's hard for someone who sees everything in black and white to appreciate a film which is all about shades of grey.

I've always been amused by the subtle pun version of the film's title, Rebel Without A Clue, which, I think, might have been used in a song or something...I don't know...heh... But my mind immediately turned to those damn middle class emo kids who are depressed about having nothing to be depressed about. Who resent their parents for giving them a stable, loving home, because, you know, it's preventing them from being properly troubled and angst ridden like their ultimate idol, Kurt Cobain. I think for most of my generation, who were teenagers when Cobain was alive, and Nirvana were at their height...the idolisation of Kurt Cobain by today's youth is a complete mystery.

And that's about it, really, that's as much thought as went into writing it. The ending was a bit tricky, I knew I wanted to riff off the classic line from the film "What are you rebelling against?" "What have you got?" but finding the right way to do that wasn't easy. Originally I just had the kid stare blankly at his mum, lost for words, but I didn't feel that was satisfying. So, instead I went for the vague, noncommital, "Just...stuff..." which, for me, kinds of sums up the vague, unfocused rebellion of a generation that seems to think that dressing the same as all of their friends is rebelling.

Kids, stop watching Death Note and watch some James Dean movies, you might learn a thing or two about rebellion...

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Dissecting Alpha Gods: Part One: Origins & Influences

[Note: Part One was written before the name of the series was changed from Young Gods to Alpha Gods]

So, the plan is to start going in depth into some of the thinking behind my writing, so I struck upon the idea of doing a chapter by chapter discussion of the Young Gods OGN which you can now read for free online. Oh, and check out this awesome review of the book here.

But I digress…yes, the plan was to go chapter by chapter, but in thinking about writing about the thinking behind the Prologue, I realised that I really need to start a lot earlier than that, and if I’m really going to explain the thinking behind Young Gods, I need to talk about the very genesis of the idea. I need to go back to the start, and explain how the idea first came about, and how I got from “Hey, I’ve got an idea…” to actually sitting down and writing a comic. Basically, I need to talk about the influences on the creation of Young Gods, before I can talk about Young Gods itself.

The Music

Back in 1991 my dad decided to join one of those mail order  music clubs, and he let me pick the four tapes (yes, tapes…it was 1991…I didn’t get a CD player for another few years) for the introductory discount offer. I was fourteen going on fifteen and knew I wanted to get into hard rock and metal, but my music collection was…well…a little thin, shall we say. All I had to go on in picking my four tapes were tiny little pictures of the covers, and so, knowing nothing about them, what their music sounded like, where they were from, or anything, I picked out a tape that, to my eyes, looked like it might be my kinda’ thing…it was an album by a band I’d never heard of, Little Angels, and the album was called “Young Gods”.

It’s hard to explain just why the album conjured up images in my mind of a super hero team raiding an enemy facility to rescue one of their own, but nevertheless it did. The feel of the album as a whole has deeply influenced the creation of the comic, with the rousing anthem of “Young Gods” itself serving as a backdrop in my mind to the action scenes, and more intimate tracks such as “Feels Like The World Has Come Undone” naturally leading me to write more downbeat moments. The villain of the piece was ultimately hinted at by “Boneyard”, the idea that we should all just have fun while we’re alive because we’re all going to die eventually anyway, naturally led me to create a villain who embodied that kind of hedonistic approach to life.

Those readers who are Little Angels fans may have noticed that the title of each chapter of the OGN is also the title of a track from the album. Sometimes the links between the track titles and the actual content of the chapters are fairly tenuous, and sometimes the thematic links are much closer. Of course, the observant among you may have also noticed that the title of the Prologue is not a track from Young Gods, but is, rather, the title of a Manic Street Preachers song. The fast paced feel of Slash n’ Burn just seemed to fit with the feel of the Prologue for me.

The Comics

Well, as much as one recent review commended Young Gods for being “fresh and original”, like any work of fiction, it’s heavily influenced by what has come before it. Early influences came from the original Gen 13 mini series from Image. I recently found some old notes I’d written about the characters when I first started playing around with ideas for the series in my teens, and one of the characters was a complete rip off of Grunge from Gen 13. My original story ideas were, well, to be honest, pretty much a retelling of that mini series but with my own characters. I was young, and thankfully the ensuing decade and a half saw me move beyond such immature plagiarism. Young Gods has been far more heavily influenced by the many comics I’ve read since. Most notably the Simonson/Blevins run on New Mutants, which I always felt was far more about the relationships between the characters than the action. Also, the early Lobdell/Bachalo issues of Generation X were a big influence. I’ve always been drawn to those kinds of teen books, and in many ways you can see the Paladin/Impact dynamic as being similar to the Sam/Dani dynamic in New Mutants, or the Jono/Paige dynamic in Generation X. Also, every teenage team needs their mysterious dark outsider, in New Mutants that’s Ilyanna, in Generation X it was, to an extent, Penance. In Young Gods it’s Eclipse who, of course, owes more to Ilyanna than Penance, but they all fill the role of exploring those teenage feelings of alienation and the uncertainties surrounding one’s own morality that surface around that time. There are further parallels that can be drawn, of course, but I’ll leave them up to the reader to explore further.

The Claremont/Byrne/Cockrum era of Uncanny X-Men has, of course, been a huge influence. Arguably, it’s been a huge influence on every team super-hero comic to follow it. The theme of a group of heroes protecting a world that fears and hates them is, of course, lifted wholesale from the X-Men. I don’t think I could possibly get away with claiming otherwise. One thing I have done away with is the artificial distinction between mutants and heroes whose powers come from other sources. It makes little sense that the general public in the Marvel Universe would see any difference between the mutant Pyro and the altered human The Human Torch. Instead I imagined a world where mutants, cyborgs, aliens and supernatural beings were a fairly common occurrence, and the inevitable reaction to that by “ordinary” humans is one of fear, mistrust and hatred. The other big deviation from the X-Men model is, of course, that the Young Gods are not a privately funded group of vigilantes; they’re a government sanctioned strike force, set up specifically to police their own kind. In that sense, the team are as much reviled by the extra human community as they are by regular humans. Of course, even that’s not original; having been pretty much the theme of X-Factor from Peter David’s run onwards.

Books and Research

One thing that, I feel, harms the writing of a lot of aspiring comic book writers is that they read a lot of comics, and that’s it. Now, I read a lot of comics, I love comics, but I also read other things. Personally, I feel that if you want to write, and write well, the best thing you can do is start reading non-fiction. If all you read is fiction then all you’re ever going to do is recycle other people’s ideas. Start reading non-fiction and you’ll find yourself having ideas of your own.

A number of books have had a big influence on Young Gods. Obviously, there’s a Biblical influence in there, although, of course, whether the Bible falls into the category of Fiction or Non-Fiction is rather open to debate. In any case, it certainly fits the category of mythology…and that’s something that I’d recommend any aspiring writer (and I class myself as an aspiring writer myself…until someone actually pays me to write something I’m not going to claim otherwise) to explore. It’s very much worth exploring the archetypal stories that the human race has been telling for thousands of years. This is especially true if you’re writing super-heroes, which have, on many occasions, been likened to modern day gods. The Biblical influence on Young Gods is, really, fairly minimal though, obviously we have the Nephilim and the Flood, but the use of the Nephilim led me on to researching the extra-Biblical legends surrounding them. This is where the internet is invaluable as a research tool. Whatever you’re writing, it’s worth doing a Google search for all of the key terms and ideas, research your subject, it will result in your writing being a lot richer, and it will also lead your stories in new directions you might not have otherwise considered. I could have made Malak just some random demonic entity, but making him a Nephilim, and actually researching the subject has, I feel, made him a much more interesting and rounded character. He has motivations beyond just “being evil” and that’s something that will lead to your readers being far more engaged in your story. I hope.

The works of Graham Hancock have also been a big influence on my writing, and that can be found in Young Gods too (although for a clearer example of this, check out my short story The Last Days of Cydonia, from Eleventh Hour Vol 1). There are suggestions in Malak’s backstory of an ancient, advanced civilisation that was destroyed in a great catastrophe. It was also reading Hancock’s work that led me into reading about the Freemasons and the Illuminati, and so another dimension to the Nephilim was added. That they are the secret masters of an underground conspiracy that clandestinely controls everything. We’re very early in the story at the moment, but as we go on you’ll discover that the Nephilim are working in the background, controlling everything that happens. The name of Malak’s base of operations, the Bohemian Club, is a nod to Bohemian Grove…Google it if you’ve never heard of it. Of course, to return to comics, the Bohemian Club also owes a lot to the Hellfire Club from the X-Men, and a quick glance at the title of this blog will indicate my fondness for that idea.

The Structure

When I seriously started work on Young Gods back in 2005, it was originally conceived as a six issue series (with, hopefully, more series to follow). That original six issue series is essentially what will form Young Gods: Betrayal, the six issue series that follows on from the OGN. So…why write the OGN? In early 2006 I joined up with Visionary Comics Studio and took Young Gods there. At the time, their policy was that every series they were developing should begin with an oversized one-shot, a graphic novel. So, it was suggested that I condense the six issue series down into one volume. This was something I really wasn’t keen to do. I hope that once Young Gods: Betrayal is complete you’ll see what an impossible task that would have been. The whole point of Young Gods is that the focus is on the characters and their relationships with one another. Condense the story down too much and those characters have no room to breathe. So, the only option was to write something else… But what? Ultimately I realised that I had all this backstory in my head about how the characters had got to the point that they’re at in the first issue. I decided to riff off of Giant-Size X-Men issue one, and have a series of vignettes introducing all of the major characters, so you’ll see that there’s a chapter focusing on each team member, and each of the major villains. The final piece of the puzzle fell into place when I had the idea of making each chapter title one of the tracks from “Young Gods”. So, while it wasn’t the story I wanted to tell, it was, I felt, an interesting way to introduce the characters and set the plot in motion. Then Visionary asked for a six page story that would work as a teaser for the series as a whole. So I decided to take one step back, and to show the events that led up to the events in the OGN, and that six page story was added to the front of the OGN as the Prologue. Ultimately I left Visionary and took Young Gods with me when we formed orang Utan Comics, but the OGn was already written by then. So, as proud of the OGN as I am…none of that story was ever meant to have been told. Some of it might have been used in flash backs, but it was mostly just in my head to inform the writing of the series. For example, the fact the Alpha had rescued Outrage from an angry mob was something that I’d planned to hint at, as a reason why Outrage stayed with the team despite having an obvious dislike for rigid authority, but I’d never planned to actually show that scene. In the end, it meant I could work in a nice little homage to Dave Cockrum, one of my heroes, so I’m not complaining.

This is why I’m excited now I’m starting to see pages for Young Gods: Betrayal #1 come through from Ezequiel and Mauro, because this is the story I started imagining back in 1991 when I first listened to that Little Angels album.

So, that’s the background stuff out of the way. In the next part I’ll look at the Prologue in more detail.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Every Cloud

I want to give this blog more of a purpose, and I think one of the ways I'm going to do that is to go a little more in depth with everything. Give you all a little more of an insight into the thought process behind what I'm writing, to give you an idea what goes on behind the scenes of my comic work, that sort of thing.

So, that bring me to this week's Elephant Words contribution. For those of you not familiar with Elephant Words, it's a burst fiction website, inpired by the old story of the blind men and the elephant. It explores how we all intepret and are inspired by the same image in different ways. At any one time there are six people contributing to the site, each week we take it in turns to post a new image on a Sunday, and then through the week we all post a short story, poem, or whatever, inspired by that image.

This week's image was photograph of a woman in a pub. Soemtimes I'll struggle to find inspiration in an image, or it will strongly suggest one story and one story only, but this week I found several ideas came to mind. For a while I considered doing a first person piece based on my experiences of being drunk, and the extreme mood swings that one experiences during inebration (from "I love you, you're all wonderful" to "my life's a piece of shit and I want to die" often in a matter of seconds...or maybe that's just me...heh...). I considered, and quickly rejected, some autobiographical tales of drinking experiences from various comic book conventions. Ultimately, though, once the first line "Yes...yes, officer, I have been drinking..." popped into my head, I was fairly locked in on what I was going to write...that kind of led me inevitably to the last line (I'm not going to spoil that for you though), and, although I feel the whole thing is a little predictable, I hope it's still effective.

Anyway, let me link you to this week's story now, before I discuss it a little further - Every Cloud.

The story, really, sprung from a recent conversation about drinking and driving that I had with my girlfriend. It's something that I feel quite strongly about, and really don't undeerstand why people do it. I suppose the challenge for me in writing this story was to try and get into the head of someone who'd do it, and try to understand why. The only time I've ever got behind the wheel of a car with alcohol in my system was after I'd had one small bottle of beer. I was still well under the legal limit and was merely moving my car around the corner to make sure I didn't get a parking fine, but I would NEVER do it again. Despite having had so little to drink, I found that my judgement was already clearly impaired and that so many of the little things one does automatically while driving suddenly needed my full concentration to achieve.

So, that's the story behind this week's story. Feel free to leave me feedback, either here or on the Elephant Words site.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

With A Silent Scream

I actually hesitated for once before hitting "publish" before submitting this week's Elephant Words contribution.

The photo this week was of a hotel room.

I couldn't help but be reminded of one of the lowest moments in my life. I'm not going to talk about it here, but those who know me well will probably know what I'm talking about.
And, so I found myself writing this poem.

The experience was a fairly cathartic one, but I found myself hesitant to share the results with the world at large. Still, I guess that's what being a writer is all about, bearing a part of your soul.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Viva Nu-Vegas!

I had no intention of writing a Slam Ridley story... 

I had loads of ideas...a poem...a song...something sweet and romantic about wanting to run off with the woman I love and maybe get married in Vegas...

But Slam had other ideas.
He's just one of those characters who'll muscle his way into your imagination and insist that you write about him.
So, this week's picture was of Las Vegas.
And, yeah, Slam insisted that this week's story be about him.
Don't blame me, blame Slam.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Young Gods OGN Part One!

Just realised I haven't posted this on here. Not sure how many people are reading this that don't read my LJ, dA, myspace or whatever as well, but just in case you've missed it, I recently released the first part of my Young Gods OGN to read for FREE online. Just click the ebook below to read it...

Myebook - Young Gods: Part One - click here to open my ebook

The Bunker

Okay, it's been a busy week here at Sharman Towers, somehow I managed to letter 49 comic book pages in three days. Not bad going really. However, it did kinda' result in this week's Elephant Words rather sneaking up on me again

Still, better late than never, although this was probably the toughest week for me yet, as this week's picture really didn't spark much inspiration in me at all. Nevertheless, as usual, sitting down to write saw me somehow coming up with something, and so you can read this week's story, The Bunker, here.
Also, I'm running a colouring contest over on my deviantArt if anyone's interested! Details here.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The New World

You'd think, when it's your turn to post the pic' on Elephant Words on a Sunday, that would make things easier. You're the first person to know what the picture is, and you don't have to post your story until the following Saturday. Plenty of time to work on something, right?

Well, yeah, the best laid plans of mice and men and all that...
This week's story was, therefore, written a good couple of hours after I'd usually post my contribution, and as I started typing I really had no idea where I was going with it. That it actually ended up having some kind of form and structure...and a really rather a minor miracle.
So far both pieces I've written based on my own photographs have ended up being autobiographical. I think it's just hard for me to separate the pictures from what was going on in my life when I took them. In fact, I'd said to someone that there were no really strong emotions attached to this week's picture but I discovered in writing this piece that I was wrong. In many ways it follows on directly from the last piece I wrote based on my own photograph, Four Words, which was very much about the ending of one chapter of my life. This week's piece, The New World, is about the beginning of the next chapter, and my first steps into a much larger world (learning the ways of the a professional writer and artist).
As always, your comments are welcome.

Monday, January 26, 2009

I Am Ninja

It's Elephant Words time again, and I find myself the Monday man for the second time, which leads to a very real "Write the first thing that comes into your head" moment. 

Anyway, here's my story this week -
And here's this week's picture -
As always, comments are welcome.