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