Sunday, December 27, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens: My review of the billion dollar baby

Look, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the biggest and most successful movie in history. Only Episode VIII can dethrone it, so yeah, I decided to review it.  ALSO SPOILERS. BIG FAT SPOILERS.
My favorite movie of all-time - and the film I consider the greatest movie ever made - was created by George Lucas and stars Harrison Ford. But this isn't about Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones, this is about that OTHER franchise... so let me preface this. I was maybe in 6th grade when I discovered Star Wars. This was in 1995, my dad had boxes of old VHS tapes and one day I happened to pick out and pop in Star Wars: A New Hope.

Looking back it could have been the marketing push that really prompted me to watch the movie as we were on the cusp of the resurgence of everything Star Wars. Prior to my discovery of Star Wars, the superheroes of DC and Marvel were (and still are) my primary interest. But when that wave of everything Star Wars hit (ultimately leading up to the releases of the Special Editions) I was ENTHRALLED. I had the Kenner figures, the Micro Machines, I was Han Solo for Halloween in 6th grade... I was HOOKED.

I remember much of 7th grade (and 1997-1998) being about Star Wars PC games, specifically the X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter series and eventually Shadows of the Empire. Shadows is still my favorite Star Wars story, Han Solo was replaced by Dash Rendar as my favorite Star Wars character (yes, you can argue that Rendar was just a proxy Han, but whatever). So yes, I loved Star Wars. It was ALWAYS secondary to the superheroes, but I was totally all-in.  (I still collect Han Solo figures... mostly because they never made another Dash Rendar).

Then the prequels happened. I hung on for a while... I still played fantastic games like Jedi Knight and what not... but it was losing its appeal. After Episode II, I was left so indifferent to Star Wars that I just didn't care (I didn't even bother to see Episode III in theaters). So when everyone was having their religious experiences when The Force Awakens trailer hit, I was still left feeling empty about this franchise and I kept saying "this movie has to deliver."

Did it? Well, yes and no.

I'm not going to analyze every little detail. Nope. We've seen enough of that. Rather, I'll just say what I did and didn't like and a bit about why... like this:

The Yay!

1) The new heroes. Poe, Rey and Finn. They are great.

I really liked Poe for the relatively brief amount of time he was actually in the movie, but I also like my morally infallible heroes. Poe is also the embodiment of everyone who ever played X-Wing. He's a good man, an ace pilot and while I really wonder what role he'll really play in the overall saga, I thought he was fine. He's the prototypical character I tend to like, so I obviously gravitated towards him.

Finn was the embodiment of so much rolled into one great character. I personally liked the idea of a defecting Stormtrooper because many of the Expanded Universe characters were defecting Imperials. It makes sense and it's cool to see the First Order's grip isn't as tight as they believe. I thought my friend Jamal Igle did a really nice job explaining why he loved Finn, so I'll just leave that here:

I love Rey. I'm not going to waste time on the Mary Sue nonsense. What a stupid argument. Rey is the quintessential Star Wars character. She's BOTH Episode IV Luke and Obi-Wan rolled into one, so I totally understand the fan theories. "She's good at everything." What's your point? That's half of what made her so endearing. She was a great character and portrayed perfectly by Daisy Ridley. I liked everything about her and I thought her resourcefulness was refreshing.

2) BB-8. I'll be the first to admit, this little droid was a lot of fun. It's that simple.

3) The visuals. J.J. Abrams proved one thing with Star Trek... the guy can do space. Visually, the film is stunning. Absolutely stunning. The special effects look great and yes, felt like Star Wars.

4) Jakku. I really liked Jakku. The visuals of it, the characters (especially Unkar Plutt, the scrap merchant played by Simon Pegg). It really felt like a place that had been ravaged and left to deal with the consequences of that Battle between the Empire and Rebellion.

5) The Force stuff. The whole Jedi thing was never why I really loved Star Wars. I loved Star Wars because of the vision and expansiveness of the universe. I always liked the bounty hunters, smugglers and the real scrappy "real life" characters. That more than any other reason is why I'm really looking forward to Rogue One. But the way the Force was handled in this film - especially with Rey and the "awakening" was really neat. The lightsaber battle was great.

6) The final scene. Just wow. Great storytelling, great visuals, great acting. That final scene is really something else.

7) The mystery and questions surrounding well... everything... even the plot holes.

8) Han the character... see #1 in "Meh"

The Meh:

1) Boy does it pain me to say this... Han Solo. Look, Harrison Ford is hands down my favorite actor of all-time and this isn't a critique on his second most iconic character (Indy is more iconic). He was perfect in every way, he slipped right back into the role he notoriously hates like it was 1977 all over again and I loved it. But Han's story, and where Han has been over the past 30 years is just downright depressing. The Force has literally destroyed his life. Han is a shell of what he once was. His marriage has fallen apart. His son has turned to the dark side. He lost his ship (though conveniently finds it for the movie). You know, that irked me the most about Han.. the prototypical space cowboy... the rogue.. the swagger... the suave... lost his ship. YEARS before this movie takes place. 

2) The First Order. So is this a cult? It's not the Empire...  they have the look but they didn't have the feel of the Empire to me. If they were really trying to rebuild the Empire and Imperial rule, we should have at least seen them conquer a planet or two, rather than just destroying one.

3) General Hux. Someone has serious Tarkin-envy. Or is it Thrawn-envy?

4) Leia, C-3P0 and R2-D2. "Meh." 

Between Meh and Nope:

1) Kylo Ren. I'm more indifferent to him than anything. He was almost too petulant. Comic writer extraordinaire Gail Simone was fascinated by him, and it seems people like him or hate him. But Gail said his mentality was basically that of a school shooter. That is a VERY good assessment for sure, but Kylo just didn't resonate with me. Maybe he will as he builds a little more conviction in the upcoming films, but he just didn't seem real imposing. I know that's part of the story, but at the same time it just didn't work for me. I did like how he was a little more "loose" than Vader. He made jokes, he was very "matter of fact" about things... so I thought that worked in his favor.

2) Snoke. Awful name aside... is he Darth Plagueis? That's really the only way I see this going. Which is interesting, but I didn't get the same sense of fear and general evil I got from Palpatine.

The Nope:

1) Han's death, or more specifically the way he died. Nope. Nope. Nope. I hated it. It was pathetic and it felt forced. Had he set off the detonator before falling into the abyss... then yeah, sure. Han deserved to go out in a blaze of glory, even as his death came at the hands of his estranged son. Look, I knew Han was going to die. That's the ONLY reason Harrison Ford agreed to do this movie. Ford was getting what he always wanted and could finally be rid of the character he hates. But Han's death means NOTHING. When Obi-Wan died, he "became more powerful than you could ever imagine." A Force Ghost... guiding Luke to Yoda, keeping Luke on the light side. Obi-Wan's death was meaningful. You can argue the "but Kylo Ren needed to do it, yadda yadda," no he didn't. He killed his dad in cold-blood, not because he needed to be "set free." That will be the confrontation with Luke. If you really read into it, and the relationship with Kylo and Rey... Kylo Ren wasn't abandoned by Han, he was abandoned by Luke, likely for Rey. 

2) Captain Phasma. Great job, marketing team. Seriously, she was completely inconsequential. Still, what a great look.

3) The rehashing of Episode IV. Yes, okay; Ring theory. Yes, okay; the originals borrowed stuff too. The Force Awakens borrows so much from A New Hope that after a while it's off-putting. The entire thing starts to feel uninspired. So many of the story beats are redone that everything feels almost TOO familiar. I made a joke calling this movie "Star Wars: Into Darkness" because yes, it borrows heavily and twists predictably... which leads to...

5) The overall plot. There are some plotholes in this movie. Some of them big enough to drive a truck through. It's choppy  in a lot of places and there are a TON of head scratchers (Oh! Poe, you're alive! How perfect!). But more than anything the rehash of Episode IV... and you know "let's build a BIGGER Death Star, with a very specific weakness, that can be destroyed by combining the way the first two Death Stars were destroyed." The Supreme Leader ain't wise. 

6) The fan service and nostalgia. A little bit here and there is fine... but there was almost too much here, so much so that it was distracting. But it's almost brilliant that the film plays on the viewer's nostalgia so much that you don't see the faults because it "feels like Star Wars" or "it's more Star Wars than the prequels."

7) The sense of failure. When Return of the Jedi ends, you feel satisfied. The journey complete, Darth Vader redeemed, the Empire crushed. The Force Awakens takes all of that and rubs it in a giant pile of feces. The war has never ended. Han failed at life, Luke failed at being a Jedi master... I mean I hope Episode VIII shows Cloud City evolve from mining colony to Fhloston Paradise so at least Lando enjoyed the victory. But holy crap, the galaxy might have been better off with the Empire. The heroes of the original trilogy are essentially massive failures and there's just an overall sense of sadness. This article actually does a really great job and echoes many of my feelings:

8) Experience over Film. This is a bit odd, so I'll try to explain. I saw The Force Awakens in a relatively empty theater (believe it or not). This is how I prefer to watch movies, because I want to take in the story, I want to take in the characters. I want the FILM. When you're in a packed theater of people equally anticipating the same thing, your opinion of something is going to be swayed by people cheering uncontrollably the moment they see the "Lucasfilm" logo. It was abundantly clear, oh, around the time of #ForceFriday, that The Force Awakens was not going to be a "film." This was going to be an experience, and frankly, the "Star Wars Experience" outweighs "Star Wars the film" and the critical reviews back up that claim. Also, the insane fervor over spoilers also supports that claim, no one cared about their movie being spoiled, they cared about their "experience" being spoiled. THIS is why the movie is shattering box office records... because of the experience that people want to feel again and again.

So overall: I liked The Force Awakens. I didn't love it. Best movie of the year? No. Not even close. (That title belongs to Mad Max: Fury Road which sits comfortably in my Top 5 favorite films of all-time).

I went in feeling indifferent about Star Wars, and left feeling slightly less indifferent mostly because of the potential of the next stories. Individually as a film, it's okay. Setting up the larger saga with the new characters, it's great in that it offers plenty to debate. The best thing to come of it all for me, I recently bought the entire X-Wing collection from now THOSE games are PURE Star Wars. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't interested in what's to come, or that I didn't like the movie. But it terms of full-fledged 7th grade-like Star Wars love? I think that ship has sailed.

I said it was about a 7/10. And yes, that's where I stand. It's a fun movie, it's enjoyable and it does feel like Star Wars, but Empire Strikes Back or even A New Hope it is not. But for a lot of people, that's enough and that's awesome, and I love that so many of my friends that LOVE Star Wars were so happy with the final product. But for some like me (and I do love Star Wars overall), it lacked (or used too much of) the same magic that inspired the originals.

My fan theories: 

(The only one that matters:) Rey is Luke's daughter. I think the Kenobi theory is neat, but the way she and Leia are with each other, the way she and Luke look at each other, the vision with the lightsaber. But there are also striking parallels between Kylo Ren and Rey with themes of abandonment and identity that suggest they are indeed related.

Snoke is Darth Plagueis. There's really no other explanation for him.

My favorite fan theory: There is a theory I saw floating around on reddit (I think) that suggested that Snoke was preparing Kylo Ren as a vessel to being back Darth Revan. If you don't know who or what Darth Revan is go here: Yes, he's considered part of the "Legends" but yes, Disney has not told BioWare whether or not Knights of the Old Republic is canon or not.  (I think the Knights of Ren are Revan worshippers).

Oh, and one last thing. Stop with the "please make Poe and Finn lovers" stuff. To me, the point of their friendship wasn't any potential romance, but the fact that out there in the larger galaxy, there are no color lines. People come together to achieve a common goal with mutual respect and the need to rely on one another.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

I'm sick of Star Wars

I'm sick of Star Wars. Sick of it.

Look, I'm glad it's coming back. I'm glad people are excited, I love seeing the excitement on my good friend and co-worker James Wortman's face whenever something Star Wars comes up. It's fun, it's great.

Star Wars was never religion to me. I never had what I can only equate what some people have to being a religious experience because of Star Wars. I was really into it at one point. Around the time of the last major push, right before the Special Editions. I was also really into Star Trek at one point. Collected the toys, played the games... all that stuff.

Looking back, of the original three movies, only one of them is really exceptional. Empire Strikes Back is the perfect sequel on top of being a great film. A New Hope is fun, but it's heavily flawed and much of what has been built around it actually convolutes the plot quite a bit. Return of the Jedi is fun, The Ewoks never bothered me and it's a satisfying conclusion to that original trilogy. Though really, Han and Chewie NOT flying the Falcon in the finale? C'mon.

Frankly, Shadows of the Empire remains my favorite Star Wars story and I absolutely loved how they created a cross-media project, the movie without a movie. Now as an adult, I look at what Lucasfilm pulled off with Shadows and it's just insanely brilliant. If there is one thing I hope remains canon in Disney's new universe, it's Shadows (it still has not been determined where it stands).

But here's the thing about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This puppy has to deliver. It has to deliver big time. The rollout has been pretty good, the only major hiccup being the lackluster Star Wars: Battlefront - gorgeous game, real shallow, frustrating and repetitive. Oh and pay $60 for half a game and $50 for the rest! Ugh.

The marketing for the movie has been brilliant, I mean where the hell is Luke Skywalker?! The secrecy around the bigger plot moments has been pretty solid, I mean do we HAVE to watch Han and Chewie die? Are Rey and Kylo Ren the Solo twins from the expanded universe?! All these questions are neat, they help generate the excitement surrounding the movie. But it's not enough to totally rope me back in... yet.

What happened with me and Star Wars? The prequels happened, obviously. I'm not going to waste time bashing them or whatever. I can get past the tweaks to the Special Editions (Han shot first though), but I can't get past those prequels. They are just awful, awful movies. And I am proud to say I am a defender of about 85% of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

I was fully ingrained in a lot of Star Wars stuff... I  did religiously play the games - Kyle Katarn is my homeboy and I was an ace X-Wing/Tie Fighter pilot. And honestly, I  generally enjoyed most of what came out around those movies... The original Star Wars Battlefronts, Bounty Hunter, Republic Commando, etc. Yes, the prequels had their bright spots - Darth Freakin' Maul, Sam Jackson Jedi, Yoda fighting... all that was cool. But overall, my Star Wars fandom died with those movies. I never really got into the Clone Wars cartoon, mostly because it reeked of prequels. 

One of the things I honestly didn't like about the prequels and Star Wars in the early '00s was how everything starting skewing Jedi. I get it, it's the major element of the universe, the movies are about the Skywalkers... but I always gravitated to Han Solo, Dash Rendar, Boba Fett and pre-Jedi Kyle Katarn. I loved the idea that there was more out there than just The Force and the prequels really moved away from that. It does look like some of that is being brought back.

Since the awakening (get it?), I've been really enjoying the new canon via the comics from Marvel. They are some great books all around. I've only bought two figures - a Stormtrooper because I think the new armor is real sleek, and Captain Phasma because she just looks bad ass. I got Battlefront... mostly disappointed with it... but I'm not alone.  I've been playing the mobile games on and off too, (Uprising and Galaxy of Heroes) they are neat. I also have bought all 3 hardcovers of the original Marvel comics... because they are great adaptations and the remastered coloring looks great.

So I'm kind of on the fringe. Maybe I just don't want to be disappointed. Who knows. Maybe the movie will blow me away and throw me back into the cockpit of the Millenium Falcon. Maybe I'll just be indifferent. 

Either way, I know James Wortman will be the happiest boy.

Hello from the other side....

Been doing a great many things... too many things. More to come in subsequent posts.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Saving Comics - or - how to REALLY expand readership and increase sales

Okay. Let me preface this. Because this is the Internet and comments, opinions etc., can be misinterpreted. I am a comic creator (obviously), I'm also an avid comic reader and I've been a part-time retailer for almost 15 years. I've seen a lot and experienced a lot when it comes to the business and economics of comics. Now, let me also make abundantly clear - I am 150% for diversity and representation in both characters and creators, I am 150% for pushing the envelope editorially and trying new ideas - I want great stories for my money.   In order for comics to sustain their viability, not only do buying habits have to remain consistent with seasoned readers, but NEW readers have to be brought into stores. And I'm not talking about just buying the latest Funko Pop or media-covered title - I'm talking people with a genuine interest to read comics.

Fact is, for the massive popularity the movies, TV and other media have brought these characters, sales are sluggish. You can gussy that statement up all you want - but compared to the 60s, 70s, and even the 90s, comic sales aren't that great. Toys, collectibles, apparel and accessories are great but comics needs readers.

Fandom is big these days, it's also big money. There are major cons every weekend, cosplay is huge, there is an insane variety of collectibles, social media erupts (regularly) about comics and comic-related news... but where are the NEW non-Star Wars related sales and readers? How many of those Star Wars readers are new readers? The new Star Wars books are all the new, official canon but sales doesn't crack more than 205,000? Really?

Is this a marketing problem on behalf of the publishers? I don't know. A few weeks ago at a con, I was floored but the amount of attendees that said "I don't read comics" or "I don't read comics anymore." This was a wide-range of attendee as well, including a few in full comic character cosplay.

Marvel and DC are the gateways to other comics and publishers, so I'm focusing on them.

So what's the issue? Well, aside from the obvious - the movies, TV and video games need to do a better job promoting comic stores and comic books - I think there is a way to maintain the seasoned, regular readers while reaching out to new readers and taking risks. 

Speaking of taking risks, no one takes greater risks when it comes to comics than the retailers. Marvel and DC's near-constant reboots aren't risks. But retailers having to constantly order these "new, flashy books with tons of media coverage" is a HUGE risk. Older readers will get to the point where they will just drop a title outright, new readers will come for issue 1, maybe issue 2 but issue 3 is a crapshoot.

Basically, I believe that Marvel and DC especially, should have 3 separate lines of books. Yes, I've been one to call for slate-cleaning reboots every 25-30 years, but this is a newer idea that I'm behind.

The first line should be the all-ages kid-friendly stuff. This includes books based on cartoons, and books that are just generally aimed at kids - light-hearted plots and fun action. That's pretty simple. There are also examples like the Flash and Arrow comics, I love the TV shows and the universe that's been created, so I absolutely LOVE having comics set in those universes. THAT'S a no-brainer.

The second line should be exactly what DC and Marvel are doing with DCYou and "All-New, All-Different". Push the established norms. Diversify characters and creators, make stories and characters accessible to readers yearning for these things. It's just good business sense. Don't do it because it's "trendy" or because it gives you the greatest media coverage, do it because there are great stories to tell from the widest range of voices and styles.

The third line is what I call the "bottom line." The third line is something that comics SORELY needs. Look, when someone who doesn't normally read comics goes to see The Avengers or Ant-Man or the latest movie, there's a chance they may head to a comic store or a bookstore where graphic novels are sold. So you want an Avengers book with the characters you just saw in the movies? Sure, you can dig through back issues, but where do you start? It's much easier, and much more sensical for a line of books that feature the classic interpretations of the characters in new stories and settings - or even re-imagined versions of classic stories. The kicker? These issues would be self-contained or no more than 3 issue arcs. Classic interpretations.

My reasoning for this third line is two-fold. 1) It gives older readers exactly what they ask for - "just Superman being Superman," if you will. 2) It gives new readers easy access points to stories with zero baggage just a basic understanding of who the characters are. It's much easier to make a sale on a book like this to a brand new reader. When "Age of Ultron" hit theaters, Marvel put out "Avengers: Operation Hydra." It was a one-shot featuring the movie team in action. It was that simple and I thought it was BRILLIANT. If someone comes into the store and says "do you have any Avengers?" and you ask "do you read the current books?" and their answer is "no", this one-shot is a no-brainer. "Okay, well check this book out, it features the Avengers in action and you don't need a flow chart or a degree in continuity to follow it."

These types of books exist - "Adventures of Superman", "Sensation Comics" and "Legends of the Dark Knight" are great examples. And yes, some mainline books like Batgirl, Green Arrow, SHIELD and Moon Knight don't really need this treatment because they don't necessarily have to follow editorial mandates are certain continuities. Bryan Hitch's "JLA" has the right idea. I like the way that book is handled - free from continuity, it's basically "here's a Justice League story." I hope you get the idea.

Some indy creators get it. Since we primarily sell at cons or directly, we're much more inclined to do trades, or create characters and feature them in one and done stories (usually with an over-reaching plot), because our release schedules are constantly variable.

Don't get me wrong, I really dig a lot of the DCYou continuity, but I think it'd be wise to have a line of books that doesn't adhere to these storylines. One and done adventures that are gateways for new readers looking for the most basic interpretations of classic characters.

This might satisfy older readers complaining about change and how "books aren't for them anymore." From a purely business standpoint, you can't alienate eager and new readers looking for diverse voices and representation, but from a retail standpoint, you can't alienate the readers who have been showing up for 10-20 years. It doesn't have to be a double-edged sword. Comics are for everyone and publishers CAN make something for everyone.

Look at the upcoming Spider-Man books. One the one hand, you've got the new direction for "Amazing Spider-Man." It's very different. But on that same coin you have "Spidey" which I liken to an Archie-styled reboot for Spider-Man. Marvel is taking webhead back to high school in "classic and iconic" fashion. This is has been done before sure, but right now? It's the perfect jumping point for new readers just looking for classic Spider-Man.

I really think Marvel and DC can do more to satisfy the needs of everyone. Seriously. We're talking the widest range of available stories to satisfy, INTRODUCE and KEEP the widest range of readers and buyers.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Fall convention schedule (so far)

I haven't updated the blog here as much as I'd like to, but for a good reason.

There's been this thing going on at my day job that I've had a pretty heavy involvement in, and it's been really neat.

That, and whatever free time I have is usually devoted to writing. I've completed the scripts first three chapters of The Atomic Thunderbolt - which I am really excited about - and I needed to start plotting out the second Patriot-1 book a little bit.

Anyways, I did want to drop a quick update with my Fall Convention Schedule as it stands thus far.

The fun begins on September 19 and 20 at the XL Center in Hartford. I'll be in Artist's Alley for the Hartford Comic Con. I'm excited, there's a great guest list so hopefully it should be a fun show.

The weekend after that - September 25-27, is Baltimore Comic Con. By far my favorite con. It's HEAVILY comics focused and it's just generally a good show.

After that, there's a bit of a break, because I'd like to stay married, but then it's the biggest comic con on the year (yes, it is bigger than San Diego) - New York Comic Con from October 8-11, 2015.

I have a love/hate relationship with NYCC - but I'm excited for this year's show.

After that, it's up in the air. There is the Albany Comic Con on October 9 - it's probably the best small show on the East Coast, I haven't done it in years, but I'm thinking about it.

I'm also thinking about Rhode Island in November, ChaseCon (A small and new show in Saratoga in October), and a couple others in November and December. But we'll see.

The reality of doing cons is cost. Sometimes I can get a discounted table, but I haven't done anything for any major publishers, so it's really difficult to the weight benefit-cost analysis. Most of the time I will do shows that are driving distance only. Baltimore is an exception because I love that show, but having to drop $150-$300 a night on a hotel, ON TOP of table costs just isn't always feasible. It's an added bonus if I can do a show and be home at night in time to put my kids to bed.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Not comic-related but kind of, has to do with ideas and things.

I originally posted this on my private Facebook... but I'm going to share with whoever comes by here.

July 19, 2015

Lengthy, rare, late night post, it's kind of vague because names aren't important, the story is, but I read something tonight from a guy I kind of know that really hit me. Like really moved me in the kind of inspiring, heartwrenching, "wow" ways that you can't make up.

To me, it started when I had this idea... I was kind of down on things and myself professionally in general, nothing serious, just a lot of things that would be thrown my way and never work out. Things... projects that come my way... always start and I get behind it, lead it and they collapse. Not by my own doing, but just by the nature of certain things. The most infamous one to me was a cartoon I did. It was something I had always wanted to do, I was so proud of it, and it was gone 24 hours after it was posted. Dead. Living now as an Internet urban legend (okay, not really). I was defeated. Around the same time, Patriot-1 was coming - and that was a great personal accomplishment and "moving toward the end game" accomplishment that softened the blow. But professionally in the general day-to-day, I just got kind of down - until I saw an opportunity.

I'd gotten to the point where nothing seemed too crazy, it'd probably just die anyway like everything else seems to so I went for it, all in. I don't like being restrained by what I'm "supposed" to do, and sometimes I have no support, sometimes I do. But I don't like complacency and I often think bigger and better can always be done.

There's this guy out there who is kind of famous, plays another guy on TV that actually means something to me. Anyway, this guy wanted to do a thing and it seemed complicated. But I wanted to do whatever the hell I could to try and help this guy do this thing - because I saw the kind of stuff this guy does for other people and thought he deserves it. So I eventually talked to the guy, met the guy, set-up a thing with the guy. Then I did something I hadn't done for five years because the guy wanted to do something, and then he almost didn't, but I made sure everything was in place so he could. That's where the thing that the first guy mentioned in the thing he wrote happened - just because I had this idea to help this guy do this thing he wanted to do. (Sorry for vagueishness).

Then it started to snowball because of the very first guy I mentioned. The guy who wrote the thing that prompted this post - he actually had the same crazy idea I did, the support just wasn't there, but eventually we got on the same wavelength. And this thing he wrote that prompted this... is a tribute to his father who recently passed, and he mentions something that kind of started with that crazy idea. What he discovered literally made my jaw drop. Literally made me tear up. It had to do with making sure that I got the TV guy to a place. Had he canceled or if it didn't work out at the last minute, it wouldn't have happened. It's incredibly moving and it really made me step back for a moment and realize how this one small thing, this one crazy idea that I had, suddenly has become something completely bigger.

These guys likely won't ever read this, and I don't want to tag them because that's not the point, and they still wouldn't see it because I'm only sharing this with my friends.

The point is, as I sit here, writing my comics, wondering about what steps I should take to try and do the things I want to do the most - I'm just floored that one small, crazy idea by some nobody who just wanted to help a guy do a thing has taken on a new, insanely meaningful life.

All those professional things I did, the things that would just die... The cartoon... all of it, they seem so small and trivial now. Maybe they always were... but this thing that's happened... it's amazing how one small action or idea, can suddenly have a huge impact on other people. And part of me sits here and thinks "what if I hadn't pursued that crazy idea."

If you know me well enough, you probably know who/what I'm talking about. Please leave it at that. Don't put it in the comments or ask me or anything because the WHO doesn't matter. It really doesn't.

And maybe I'm just thinking too much into it... but as I write all this vague nonsense, to me personally, this has become something else. Not an accomplishment, not an achievement... I wouldn't call it either of those things at all.

It's just... the next time you have a crazy idea, that sounds unattainable and sounds that it can't be done... go for it. Do it. Make it happen, some way, some how. Because even if you feel like you won't be recognized or you won't get the credit you deserve, you never know what kind of impact that crazy idea may have on another person even if it's something that becomes completely coincidental or unexpected. Someone else may take credit, but it's always your risk to take.

And that's my takeaway from this. That's what's keeping me up thinking and reflecting. You have some wild idea?

Go for it. The impact may end up being greater than you could have ever imagined.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

'Thank you, Mark' or how I learned to stop worrying and love the process

There's this great interview with Mark Waid about process that I've been thinking about the past day or so.

It's here, it's a great read:

Mark is hands down my favorite, and the most influential writer for me. Tom Clancy is up there, but Mark has written some of my favorite stories that solidified my love of comics and desire to tell stories. "The Return of Barry Allen" remains one of my favorite stories ever, and his run on Captain America is fantastic.

I've met him a handful of times, he likely doesn't remember, but I did give him a copy of Patriot-1 last year at Baltimore Comic-Con because I do believe you should give your work to those that inspire you. He's always very gracious and gives people the time of day. His politics and beliefs line up with mine, so following him on Twitter is always a joy. Also, he stands up for fellow creators, especially when they are bullied or harassed - a good example to follow. (He's doing it as I type this).

My process changes every time I write. I have no set way of writing and I never have and it's especially variable with three little kids. And I often question my process. I always have in my various incarnations as a writer. There's that "self-doubt" that writers speak of, and I often question myself and whether or not I'm doing it "right."

This has especially been the case with my past two projects.

Right now, I've been in the middle of plotting out and scripting my next Kickstarter project. A revival of the golden age hero The Atomic Thunderbolt. It's been milling for a couple of years, and I'm finally ready to move forward with it. It's a neat story set between World War II and the Cold War and The Atomic Thunderbolt is my favorite Golden Age one-hit wonder.

As I try to structure ideas in a composition notebook, it always starts out structured, breaking down the action on each page - even panels. Then it degrades into a rapid fire note scribble because I need to flesh out ideas that work and don't work. This notebook is never far. During the day, I take it to the gym with me and jot down the ideas between sets.

Then I can take it to script. Sometimes I go right to script and make it up as I go. I also thought this was just downright wrong, but there is no rule book on process, you have to just do what works.

But even at the script phase comes that doubt and wondering if my process works.

It's been prevalent lately. Maybe I feel the added pressure of having an award-winning book. An accomplishment I'm proud of and I want to hold myself to certain standards.

Then I read Mark's interview. It came during one of those self-doubt moments. And it's lit a fire.

There's so much quality advice in that interview. Being an admirer of Mark's, I've always wondered how he works and how the scripts churn. And best of all, there's so much I can relate to.

My wife and I bought our first house last year, I have an office space, a nice basement with toys, movies, collectibles, comics etc... but it's still the disorganized room. I can't work down there. So I literally sit at the kitchen table. I can jot down ideas all day, but the real writing comes at night, when my wife and kids are asleep and the cat is begging for treats.

Reading Mark's interview, I thought to myself "the process isn't important, the writing and the story is all that matters."

When he gets stuck he builds a LEGO set or something predetermined where you just have to follow directions. I turn to video games and movies, it's always helped for me and it's also good to immerse yourself in a fictional world to find the inspirations for your own.

I was just fascinated by the interview and the process of a writer whose work I greatly admire. It made me think about the similarities in my own process and how I need to stop worrying about doing things "right." The stories just have to be told and getting there is an adventure, whether you have a set path to your ending, or you just make it up as you go along.

So thank you, Mark, for continuing to inspire me.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Patriot-1 now available

Posted this on my Facebook page, wanted to double it up here:

Today is June 17. It's a day I've been waiting for and it's a really big day because it is the day that Patriot-1 is officially available in comic stores. This is a big deal and a huge accomplishment for me and that little imprint of mine, TJ Comics.

It's been nearly a year since the Kickstarter and the version that is released today for mass release is the SPEC OPS edition, making the Kickstarter editions now out of print highly limited. First, I have to thank everyone who supported the Kickstarter, without you, today may not have been a reality.
But nonetheless, Patriot-1 has received rave reviews and continues to build a great reputation. It won a 2015 IPPY Award for Outstanding Graphic Novel, which frankly is a HUGE deal to me and it's received praise from friends, co-workers and fellow comic creators.

Most importantly, I have to thank my art team Dexter Wee and Donna Gregory, who really brought the book to life. They should be making comics at the next level, they worked flawlessly together and with me and I couldn't have made this book happen without them. And of course, my editor and friend Keith Dallas, who supported and helped guide the project from the beginning.

I'd thank my wife for being supportive, but she won't see this. :)

But my dad will, and I especially have to thank him and my mom for supporting the book and all my insane creative endeavors. Also, my brother, who knows nothing about the business of comics but ALWAYS asks me the hard business-oriented questions.

I'm working on the script for my next graphic novel now and then after that, the sequel to Patriot-1. I'm also working to try and get the book into Barnes & Noble.

If you want to get the book there are a few options:

Print Copies:

Your comic store can still order it using the order code: APR151740

SPEC OPS Edition

TJ Comics store (signed with some extras):…/13095174-patriot-1-spec-ops-…


Limited Kickstarter Edition

TJ Comics Store (signed with some extras):…/10385544-patriot-1-limited-k…


Digital Copies (with extra concept art):

Thank you for bearing with me and for all of the support!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Some more tips to maximize your con sales

Okay so who am I to write any of this? 

I'll tell you. I'm an IPPY Award winning writer/creator and publisher. I've been a regular civilian, a member of the press and a pro at cons. I've done big cons and small cons, I've had great shows and bad shows. I've also had good and bad placement at cons, I've been in small press booths and artist's alleys and I've sat arms length from legends like Joe Rubenstein and Phil Jimenez.

I have an imprint, TJ Comics ( and I've written an handful of creator owned books including Patriot-1, ExtraOrdinary and Steel Creek, with more on the way. I ran a successful Kickstarter for Patriot-1 and I love comics.

Sure, I haven't written for Marvel or DC yet (seriously, call me guys), but I've been making comics for the better part of a decade.

I LOVED Derpygurlnyc’s list of dos and don’ts at cons and it really applies to all artists and writers. You should read her post. It's pretty on point. I don't really want to totally reiterate a lot of what she said, but I do want to add to it. As a writer, this is going to be a bit more geared towards writers and publishers, but it applies across the board. 

Have a banner. Writer, artist, publisher, letterer, no matter how you identify yourself you have to have a banner of some kind that identifies what your table is. It doesn’t have to be you per se, but it should be what you are selling, be it a book, imprint... or you. Not having a trade show banner at a trade show defeats the purpose. They are ridiculously important.

Get a stand to prop your book(s) up. It seems like a no brainer, but it isn't always. The wise sage Greg Pak once blogged about this and what a difference it makes, and he’s absolutely right. I didn't start doing it until last year myself and I immediately noticed a difference. If you have a table at a con, you have a 6 foot bookstore, treat it as such.

Be respectful to your neighbors, hell, even partner with them. The first thing I do when I arrive at my table for the first time is introduce myself to the people on my left and right. They are in the same boat as you (unless they are a big time creator with a line already wrapping around the aisle - but they were once where you are). See what they are selling, what they have to offer and partner with them if you are so inclined to attract attention to your general vicinity. Onrie Kompan touched on this is his follow-up to derpygurlny's article.

Be positive. Another big item that Onrie touched on. Maintain a positive attitude, it can be difficult sometimes - I'm guilty of it - but it's important to stay upbeat. It's also important to keep the creators around you in the same frame of mind. Look, sometimes cons can be disheartening and discouraging, but you have to stay above it all. Adapt, join forces with your neighbors to do something to make your aisle more active and the place to be. You don't want to lose the sale because of a shitty attitude. And hey, you never know when the next person you're talking to is a talent scout from a major publisher or a legit Hollywood producer... just putting that out there.

Encourage people to flip through your book. 9 times out of 10, when someone literally stops or slows down to look at your booth/table, they are interested in whatever they see. It’s usually obvious to tell what they are looking at, so always make eye contact and encourage them to flip through the book. You'll be able to make your pitch, the potential customer will actually see the book and you might even get a sale. At the very least, give them a card or some kind of gimmick with your book's info on it.

Have some variety. Currently, I have a military/spy graphic novel (which is my flagship title), a superhero book and an Eastwood-esque Western. The superhero book and the western I do low, on-demand print runs to have them at cons. My next graphic novel is zombie/horror satire. Yes, it's an expensive endeavor, but you also don't want to be a one-trick pony. You can also have multiple price points on your books. I have two editions of Patriot-1, one is a limited edition so it's a bit more expensive. But Patriot-1 at a minimum is $20. The western is 2 issues for $6 or $4 each. The superhero book is $5. Prints are $10. I have multiple price points and they remain flexible, but there is variety. If you only have one book, that's fine, see the next point.

Have a business plan and a plan for the future. I'm moving away from single issues as my primary line of products for my overall business plan. Graphic novels are more feasible and cost effective. However, I do like to have single issues I print specifically for cons. But I also make sure I have the next issues in production before I sell the one I have for cons. The first issue of my superhero book is in production (the one I have now is a "zero" issue). The next two issues of my western are done, they just need to be lettered. A book not by me but published under my imprint is coming as a graphic novel.

My first comic was that aforementioned zombie/horror satire, it stalled after three issues because the artist started working at Marvel. After a couple years and a couple artists that didn't work out, I decided to stop selling the three issues and rewrite the book as a graphic novel with one brand new artist. 

Whether you have an imprint like I do or not, you're running a small business and you need to have a plan. You need to offer something new every year you do a particular show.

Sell prints, support your artists. If you aren't an artist and just a writer like me, consider making and selling prints of covers or commissioned artwork from your book's artist (so long as they are cool with it, of course). A lot of con-goers collect artwork, especially this day and age and it's important to have something to offer. Also, see the "Have Deals Ready" point below. Also sell prints to support your artist if you feel so inclined. I employ a lot of international artists that can't make it to cons in the states, so I try to work out agreements where I kick back a portion of the sales on prints, because they are all part of my team.

Cosplayers are not the enemy. I've heard it for years now. "Cosplayers are taking away from the comics" or "they only care about pictures with cosplayers." I love cosplayers, honestly. The only time I'm really bothered by them is when they are clogging up the flow to my table by taking multiple pictures. In my experience, I've always been able to just politely ask them to move to the side and they obliged. Also, do you have an original character? You realize a cosplayer could be a strong marketing tool for the future, right? Give them a promo image or something of that nature, encourage them to cosplay as your character - you never know.

Take some time to explore. This may sound counter-productive, but it's very important to take 10-20 minutes and walk the floor, particularly in artist's alley. Get out there and meet people. I've made some great friends doing that and we often compare notes and sales and trade advice. Go meet fellow creators, ask them how their con is going, check out their work, you might even find something that inspires you. We are a community and we are strongest when we band together. Sure, we're essentially competing with each other, but we've also got to support one another.

Try something different. I can't draw, but I love to. So I started doing "sketches by a writer" this year for fun. I got the idea from Vito Delsante and its honestly kind of fun. That, and I plan to donate a majority of the sale to the Hero Initiative. It's different, but I'm not afraid of trying new things and putting myself out there. I have a snarky sign explaining the thing, it draws some attention.

Give stuff away. Have something a person can take with them, even if they don't buy your main product(s). For example, I do bookmarks - they are cheap and easy and you can literally use them like a business card. You can also find a range of options for magnets, shot glasses and other promotional items that are relatively cheap and not only promote yourself, but your work as well.

Have deals ready. Buy the book, get a print for 50% off. Buy the book get a free extra. Buy this book get that book for less. $4 per issue, or 10 for all 3... etc. Be ready to wheel and deal, don't live and die by the cover price. You want to maximize your effort, time and sales, but you also want a repeat customer. Another thing I do, particularly because I wrote a military-centric book, is give veterans and active duty a discount on it. It's a small thing that I ultimately feel good about at the end of the day, and sometimes that's what counts.

Social media is your friend. To reiterate derpygurlny's point about social media, use Twitter, use Facebook, use Instagram. It's free marketing and it's an easy way to let people know where you are via the almighty hashtag.

Believe in your project. Look, I might offend some people out there with this statement (of course I will, it's the Internet), but quality varies a great deal in indie comics. You can have high-quality, top shelf, major publisher quality work in both writing and art, or you can have something that is not quite ready for prime time. I'm not trying to discourage anyone from making comics and art and living your passion, actually quite the opposite. YOU are selling your book. Not Diamond, not a retailer, not comiXology... YOU. You must sell it with the same passion and drive that led you to create it. We aren't in it for the money, we're in it for the love of story and art and if that comes across to a potential customer, they are more likely to give your book a chance. YOU have to be the book's biggest fan, and you have to sell yourself and your idea and sometimes that outweighs everything else.

Have fun. Seriously. Fucking have fun. You're making comics so you're already awesome.