Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Starts and stops

There's one pitfall to creating comics that probably won't make any money and are funding straight out of pocket without a corporate budget - starts and stops. I've had a few of these. Some of them are just because I start the project, it loses steam or I focus on something else, or I decide to stop paying an artist for the title or an artist gets other work.

This is the case with my first two books, Mack Turner: Slayer of the Dead and Steel Creek (formerly Legends of Steel Creek). Both started strong and with a lot of steam.

Mack Turner was the first. One of TJ Comics' launch titles. I actually created the character around 2007 when I was trying to find the funding to purchase the comic book rights to Ghostbusters (that was muddy).

When I launched TJ Comics, I found a great artist who was willing to do everything (pencils, inks, colors) and created a style that immediately bolstered the imprint from a "webcomic publisher for fun" to a full-blown publishing house. The quality was on par with the big companies and I was really excited. We burned through the first 2 issues and then everything started to seriously slow down. Why? Simply because the artist got work with Marvel. It's hard to argue or compete. After all, my intention was for him to be discovered. We got through issue 3, but it's been stuck there for a good 2 years. I never wanted to be that guy that had delays in titles, BUT I've come to learn that is the reality behind creator-owned and indie comics at this level.

The second half of the story (issues 4, 5 and 6) are written. I actually hired another artist with a somewhat similar style who completed issue 4 but I ran into roadblocks with his inking and finding a colorist so I decided not to move forward with the book. Luckily, the original artist expressed interest in finishing the book with the caveat that it would take him a while. I've seen some of issue 4 from him, and I can continue to wait... even though I'm anxious. Seriously, he's a great talent though and has done color work on some of Marvel's biggest books.

I've recently decided to revive Steel Creek. The evolution of this book is storied to say the least. Steel Creek is actually a prequel my senior final in college, a screenplay entitled "Legends of the West." Was never really a fan of that title, but it was serviceable at the time. The entire thing was my homage to Clint Eastwood and an entire genre that has always spoken to me. The events that take place in Steel Creek are actually mentioned in that screenplay as well. At one point, I had also wrote the sequel to "Legends of the West," so there's a whole trilogy at work here.

Steel Creek actually began as prose short stories on a website. I thought I'd write them, post them and collect them as a book later on. It started strong, but the long-form prose just didn't hold my interest or satisfy me creatively. The only answer was a comic.

I found a phenomenal artist, Ger Curti, who loved the idea of doing an Eastwood-style Western. We initially started the book as a weekly webcomic. One page a week and that went for about a year. But truth be told, I couldn't afford to keep doing it as Ger's work absolutely warranted a higher rate. So I collected a "Volume One" made up of three chapters and printed it up to sell at conventions. It did well and I was aiming to continue the work, but then the whole New York Comic Con 2011 happened and I nearly shut down the imprint.

As I've mentioned before, after NYCC 2011, I put everything on hold and focused solely on re-writing and moving forward with Patriot-1.

At one point, I wanted Steel Creek to be this kind of elaborate, seemingly never-ending story. But looking at it now, I know where it's going and how to get there and I've redone the plot and am preparing to move forward. I'm not sure if Ger will return. He's expressed interest, but once again funding might be an issue so I may have to find a similar artist to finish out the story. That's ultimately up to him.

I've also rebranded Steel Creek. It was originally called "Legends of Steel Creek,"  because it was tied to that original screenplay. The title has been changed simply to "Steel Creek" and I really think it's much more simple and powerful.

The first chapter of the story is available at for $1.99 in PDF format. If you check it out, you'll be directly supporting the continuation of the book.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Must be nice...

I tell people that my upcoming graphic novel, Patriot-1, is the story I've been telling my whole life. Playing with G.I. Joes, or creating my own characters with those same G.I. Joes, there was always one character that was representative of the main hero. Later, as I became a writer, that character still existed in some form. In 2006, it finally took the shape of the tentatively-named U.S.Avenger before evolving in the more realistic, less cheesy Patriot-1.

I've told many more stories in the 7 years since. Westerns, zombie romps, the superhero fare and more starts and stops than I can count. Oh, and there's that little detail that the past (almost) 4 years have been spent writing about professional wrestling sports entertainment in some form or another for my day job.

But Patriot-1 remains the single most important story for me as a writer. Years of development, three artists attached, four rewrites, 2 publisher rejections of it in previous forms - this story is the true tale of being a writer, especially in a world where everyone and anyone can be a "writer."

I was trained as a screenwriter. I still consider myself a screenwriter and I have the bachelor's degree that says I am a screenwriter. I haven't written a full-fledged screenplay in a couple of years mostly because of the shift in focus to my one true love - comics. But that doesn't mean I don't ever have the itch... (especially whenever Marvel puts out a movie) to write for film and TV and pursue that avenue.

But if there was one thing I learned as an intern in Los Angeles during college, it was that I had to forge a different path. As a creative type, I have to do things my way or I fall into a depression of sorts. My parents call it "being stubborn," my wife calls it "being Kevin," but it's a condition. I couldn't do the assistant thing, I couldn't do the struggling Hollywood thing... I had to do it my way. More power to you if that's the path you chose. But as much as I loved Los Angeles and that life, I needed something more. And with a beautiful wife supporting me, two one year old babies climbing all over me and parents who are happy to see me doing what makes me happy so long as I have a regular job and good health insurance... I've done it my way. Right or wrong, it was the only way to satisfy the creativity beast.

Patriot-1  is coming in the spring. Possibly sooner digitally. I got a little personal a moment ago because it directly relates to what I'm trying to say here. Patriot-1 is a cinematic experience. Those aren't my words. Those are the words of my editor, a friend who has read it and two of the three artists that had been attached. The editor even told me once, "it reads like a screenplay."

In my personal opinion, Patriot-1 is one of those books that readers would say "when does this movie come out." People would talk passionately about who plays the characters and what not because it is written that way and it is presented like a full-fledged action movie.

That was my intention. Yes. I think Patriot-1 has potential to go that far. That's how much I believe in this project, story and characters. After all, I do my own lettering to ensure the best wordsmithing. I'm 99.9% sure it will be self-published in some fashion under my TJ Comics imprint, but those who know my comics know I put quality first.

So when I see news like this: Robert Kirkman's Exorcism Drama 'Outcast' Lands at Cinemax I want to lose my effing mind. Not because I think Kirkman is a bad writer, quite the contrary... but because he's had one bonafide cross-media hit in The Walking Dead and then this Outcast and previously Thief of Thieves get picked up by major networks BEFORE THEY ARE EVEN RELEASED.

I mean, good for Robert Kirkman. He's written some stuff I've absolutely loved like the earlier Invincible stuff and Marvel's The Destroyer MAX series. His Marvel Team-Up book is criminally underrated and I like that he has forged the creator-owned path. But even with that, like any writer, all of his stuff isn't totally my bag. That's fine, that's how it is for everyone.

Yet I just can't wrap my head around this notion that a comic book series gets optioned before it's even released and tested amongst the rabid niche of comic book readers. The Walking Dead is one of the industry's best selling books right now, but single issue sales are nothing compared to what Chris Claremont and John Byrne's X-Men used to sell.

I'm sure Kirkman pitched the comic as a TV series to studio execs... that's how it's supposed to work, but seeing as how this is the third one, I'm not sure I believe it. Does his name have that much clout because of The Walking Dead? There are so many other creator-owned books out there ripe for this sort of attention, but obviously Kirkman knows the right people, has an exceptional talent agent that needs to contact me or is just a really good schmoozer.

Seriously though, Patriot-1 is already film or TV ready. The first 40 pages of the book contain no less than 20 pages of pure adrenaline-filled action. I kid you not.

While I do hope it reaches cross-media franchise levels, the least I could hope is getting some gigs writing my favorite characters for Marvel or DC.

So Hollywood friends and friends of friends... let's chat.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Asgardian Epiphany

I saw Thor: The Dark World last night and I can honestly say I enjoyed the hell out of it. The movie was visually gorgeous and I didn't expect to laugh nearly as much as I did.

I wasn't laughing at the movie - though it is an absolutely insane film for all the stuff that happens in it - I was laughing at the well timed humor, usually from Kat Dennings.

I agree with the biggest criticism of the film - Malekith, the villain, was kind of weak. He was cool looking and very Star Trek-esque in villiany, but yes, it wasn't the film's strong point. But after both end credits scenes rolled... (spoiler alert: I am in LOVE with Guardians of the Galaxy right now), I realized something with Thor 2.

Marvel has told us who the bad guy is in their entire franchise. It's Thanos. We get it, he's not coming for a while. But to the point, everyone else, with the exception of Loki, is filler. Killian from Iron Man 3 was more a plot device for Tony's evolution, Malekith actually advances the plots of Loki and Thanos, and Winter Soldier will no doubt advance the character evolution of Captain America.

The coming villains are important to each character, but in the overall scheme they don't matter. And that's what really occurred to me after seeing Thor.

I told a co-worker that I genuinely hadn't had that much fun at the movies in a long time. The movie felt like a comic book. It was dramatic, action-packed, funny and entertaining. This viewing also came with the knowledge of the Marvel/Netflix deal.

See the thing about the Marvel movies that I love is that they aren't trying to reinvent the genre, they are taking the genre and expanding on it, and taking everyone for a fun ride. They aren't going to win Academy Awards, but the box office will always reflect their success and there will always be those who have their issues with them. But the fact of the matter is at the end of the day, the Marvel movies are fun.

They don't take themselves too seriously, but when they do, the results have a direct effect on the character.

Call it formulaic, call it a cash-grab. I call it just a good time at the movies and that was what I got out of Thor 2.

I liked Man of Steel and I'm very middle of the road on The Dark Knight Trilogy. But those movies take themselves WAY too seriously. I think audiences are past that. The comic book film genre has evolved to the point where the fantastic rules out and being completely based in realism isn't necessarily what's going to drive audiences.

Don't get me wrong, Batman needed it after Schumacher and Superman definitely didn't hurt from having a more serious tone... but the genre has moved beyond it.

Thor: The Dark World is a lot of fun. It's a good comic book flick and it's definitely an entertaining movie - and at the end of the day that's what really matters.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Molding an entire universe all my own

I'm a big proponent of creator-owned material. There's something about molding your vision and doing it the way you want it to be done. You have an intrinsic freedom to tell your story they way you want to tell it. There are creators who THRIVE in this environment - Robert Kirkman, Jamal Igle, Greg Rucka to name a few. There are also creators so fed up with the editorial of corporate comics that they just go out and try to find their own projects to tell the stories they wish to tell.

This is what makes comics a true art-form.

Every comic I've penned is creator owned. Mack Turner: Slayer of the Dead is my vision of zombies, Steel Creek is an homage to Clint Eastwood and the Westerns that inspired my time studying film at Ithaca College. Patriot-1 is the story I've always wanted to tell - the story about a soldier who simply represents the basic ideals and moral righteousness of an entire nation.

My next graphic novel does indeed utilize a public domain character. But it's one that fascinates me, as I've mentioned. However, the story surrounding this character is entirely original and it will play directly into the universe that's being created now.

Excuse the rather bland logo mock-up... but ExtraOrdinary is something I've wanted to do for a long, long time. I love superheroes and superhero comics, and I'd love to take a crack at some of my favorites... Superman, Moon Knight, Batman and Captain America. But writing for Marvel and DC means you must conform to continuity and editorial planning across the board. That's totally fine and the way it should be, they are very popular, multi-million dollar characters.

But they don't have to be the be-all, end-all of the genre. There's plenty of room for new superheroes so long a you have a good story and you don't re-tread old and overused themes.

To me, Mike Mignola's Hellboy - a book in which I've just now begun to read religiously - is the perfect creator owned story. The same goes for one of my all-time favorites, Dave Stevens' Rocketeer. The original Rocketeer books are so good, and so beautiful, that even now IDW Publishing's current runs simply feel like a tribute.  As they should.

ExtraOrdinary is my superhero universe. I've got a specific handful of superheroes that are all super-powered for a specific reason. It's not just going to run amok with hundreds or thousands of heroes. There's only about 8. One of which is actually a legacy version of the public domain character. Yes, the next graphic novel will stand alone just as much as it will be tied to ExtraOrdinary.

In order to pull this off in a new way, I have to do something different. The beauty of this is the freedom I enjoy. These are my characters, my universe and most importantly, my use of the comic book art form.

ExtraOrdinary isn't going to be a typical team book, it's going to be more of a brand. I think I want to tell the stories in a different style. Instead of 22 page issues devoted to a team story or an individual hero, the stories are going to be told however they need to be told. 12 pages here, 6 pages here... However the story needs to be told for the benefit and evolution of these characters. But the main thread is that each of these stories are connected to the overall plot and motivation for this universe.

Moreover, I want to tell superhero stories in the realm of exploring more of a "why are these heroes here." There's also the socio-political ramifications of such heroes that I don't feel are touched on enough in the genre.

The best part is... I can do whatever I want with them. And that's really where creator-owned material ultimately thrives.

I've got a talented young artist on board. Thus far, he's blown me away with capturing the things that are spilling out of my head. One of them being the Superman of this universe... The Challenger, whom I share with you now. (And yes, there is a VERY specific reason he is called "The Challenger")


ExtraOrdinary is a fun experiment kicking off in 2014... which evidently is going to be a HUGE year for me and comics. Keep up with it all at and the TJ Comics Facebook Page.