Monday, January 30, 2006

Who's the M.A.N.

Well, since the cat's mostly out of the bag (those fuckers always get out of the bag, no matter how quickly you drive to the river)—most notably thanks to this story on—here's some preview art from Monster Attack Network.

First up, our hero, Nate Klinger:
Dashing. Handsome. Fit. More than a little cranky.

Now, Lana Barnes:
Mysterious. Independent. Hot.

Zeke Holder:
To quote Gene Wilder, "What's a dazzling urbanite like you doing in a place like this?"

And, finally, Hugh Tensington:
Because every team needs a doddering Great White Hunter.

If all goes according to plan, I'll be taking a raft of "finished" pages with me to the inaugural New York Comic-Con in late February. Anyone else gonna be there?

Holla at your boy...

Isn't that Special...

If you’re a conscientious professional, Sundance is all about the movies, the latest in independent cinema. So, since I am a conscientious professional, I went to see a bunch of movies. However, since I’m an editor, I didn’t have to write a damned thing about any of them. My mission was strictly an information gathering one. No one said anything about information reporting.

I saw seven movies in the three nights that I was at Sundance. (I was hoping to see more, but the aformentioned tequila derailed my grand design.) Here’s a brief rundown of the most noteworthy.

This Film is Not Yet Rated is a documentary about the MPAA and how, when dispensing ratings, they give preferential treatment to studio films over independent releases. And before you say “big deal” you should realize that how a film is rated, especially when we’re talking about an R vs. an NC-17, bear a direct correlation to its eventual gross. And so, these filmmakers want to know who these people are, who decide their fate, and to what standards they seek to uphold and to which they themselves are held. It’s a little inside baseball, which will bear some impact on its eventual box office performance, but required viewing for anyone even pretending to be in the motion picture business.

Right at Your Door, by first time writer-director Chris Gorak, is a pretty engaging little thriller, and a perfect low-budget execution of a high concept. A series of dirty bombs go off in downtown LA, stranding an out of work musician at home. His wife was on her way to work. He’s got to seal himself inside their house to remain safe from the radioactive fall-out. And then, his wife finds her way home… The second act is a little flabby, but it was really smartly done, an inspiring example of what you can do with a house, two actors, and a whole lot of duct tape.

Now, Special. Wow. Not special at all, In fact, one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a long while. Michael Rappaport stars as a down on his luck meter maid (or meter man, I suppose) who, in looking to turn his life around, signs up to be a subject for a drug trial. This pill is supposed to remove one’s self-doubt. But, since this schmuck is a comic book fan, it turns him into a superhero. Or is it all in his head? To save you the trouble of sitting through almost 2 hours of bad writing and even worse acting (and, to be frank, zero respect for real comic fans), yeah, it’s all in his head. When Rappaport, wearing the dingy white leather suit he dons for crime fighting, has to do battle with the two pharma-CEOs he’s rendered invisible through his super-t’ai chi…

No, I’m not gonna say anymore. I want to keep what’s left of my spirit.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Dance, You Bastards

Sundance, in case you’ve never been, can offer two kinds of experiences. There’s the go-go, party-all-the-time-and-occasionally-see-a-movie, swag-gathering steam-roller. And then there’s the kinda solitary, shuttle-from-screening room-to-screening room-barely-talking-to-anyone-else-for-celestial-cycles-at-a-clip marathon.

Since I’m neither famous nor, nor devastatingly handsome, nor a 22-year-old ski bunny, I’ve never had that first experience. And I’m pretty cool with the second. But this year I landed, for a brief moment, in the first.

A little background: the magazine I work for, the weekly entertainment one, has been a Sundance sponsor for years, since it’s inception, I believe. And, as such, we have a pretty big presence out here. Our logo is all over the place, we’ve got a photo studio that famous people drop into, we throw a huge party on opening weekend, blah blah blah. We also send a pretty decent-size contingent of writers, reporters and editors.

So I’m hanging out with Neil, one of our senior writers and, from what I can tell, one of the 14 other black guys in Utah this week. It’s his birthday. So, in honor of his being born, we go out for a few drinks. There was a party for this horror movie, so we hit it. (This is, if you know me, kind of uncharacteristic for me. Not a party-hitter, I.) Had a decent time, at least until the last-call that came 45 minutes after we got there.

Back on the street, we saw this giant sign for something called X-Dance. Apparently, -dance is only second to –gate for the Overused Suffix Award. There’s Sundance, Slamdance, Tromadance, even something called Chefdance (which featured depressed culinary artists cooking to the strains of "Everybody Hurts." At least, that's what I imagined it featured, since I didn't actually go.). Our curiosity piqued, Neil and I went in.

What we saw inside was one of the more interesting anthropological spectacles I’ve ever witnessed.

First off, can I just let the phrase Canadian rap trio roll around in your heads for a bit? Yeah, three white guys in dreadlocks and carefully not-trimmed facial hair trying their best to sound like the Jungle Brothers and failing. (Not that I have anything against white rappers: I digs me some Beastie Boys and will still jump any time The House of Pain tells me to.)

But what was so fascinating was that the audience inside was entirely made up of white snowboard dudes and the bunnies they were trying to score with. It was a hip-hop club without any black people, save Neil, myself, and two other dudes who looked about as astonished as we did.

You just would never have seen anything remotely resembling this 10 years ago. A couple of adventurous white guys in a black club, getting their swerve on, sure. But this was…new, to me, at least.

To commemorate this new find, Neil and I started doing tequila shots. I have since forgotten what happened the rest of that evening. I think there were skis, baked cheetos, and a 4am cab ride involved. (I should really know by now that tequila is just not your friend. No matter what he promises, no matter how many times he says that it'll be different from last time…that fucker just lies.)

Next time I'll talk about the movies. Let me just say, the worst one I saw was about a superhero. Yeah, at Sundance.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

I Loves Me Some Mormons

Heading off to Park City, Utah, for the Sundance Film Festival. Don't know if I'll get to do any blogging while I'm there, not with so many depressing foreign documentaries to see. If I can, I will. If not, see you cats and kittens on January 28th...

Crime of Convenience

Like most writers, I've got a list of things that, when they occur in the movie/TV show/comic that I'm ingesting, they just tick me off to no end. (The reason: a writer who's actually getting paid to write—and, what's more, having his work distributed to the masses—shouldn't be so damned lazy.) And I ran into my least favorite tick in the season premiere of 24.

(I'm coming to this now, and not, say, the day after it aired, because my life doesn't have the same windows of free-time opportunity that it used to, not with the two kids, full-time day job, part-time night job at the keyboard, and a wife that would like to, every now and again, exchange words with the man she married. So, forgive me if sitting through 240 minutes of 24 takes a while.)

Where was I? Ah, yes. The tick. It sticks in my craw something fierce when a character does something that's both out of character and totally illogical simply to further the story. The offender? If you'll remember, Jack Bauer has kidnapped the son of his very attractive landlord and dragged him along on his newest shoot-after-the-questions-are-asked-but-before-you-get-any-answers quest for justice. Jack's tracked the bad guys to a small Los Angeles airport and, rather than carry this 15-year-old teen baggage with him any longer, he calls for said hottie mom to meet him at the airport to pick up her spawn.

She does. Child hand-off occurs without incident. Jack heads into the airport to kick asses and take names. Mother and son are about to drive off when the teen, suddenly possessed of a keen eye for terrorist activity thanks to his 45 minutes spent with Jack, spots a van full of surly guys with luggage hopping out of a black van. (Nevermind that, technically, guys with luggage shouldn't look out of place airport.) But I'll spot them this kid's newfound malfeasance detector.

Now, since 24 first started it has been a show that utilizes the bleeding edge of technology. Satellite feeds. Thermal imaging. Radio-locator beacons. Blah blah blah. If not for the spy-tech, Jack would never have saved the world this time, and the time before last, and the time before that. Back to the kid, seeing bad shit about to go down in the building Jack just ran into. He feels the need to warn Jack. Keep in mind, we've already established that Jack has a cell phone and the hottie mom has a cell phone. So, what does the kid do? Does he give Jack a holler on the ol' celly? No.

He runs into the airport. Like a dick.

Why does he do this? Because the producers need him in there, need him to eventually become bait for Jack. And us, the audience, are left scratching our heads at the dumbest TV kid since, well, the last teenager on 24, Jack's daughter.

There must've been another way to get that kid into the airport without throwing character logic to the four winds. Or, hell, tell the story without the kid in the crosshairs. But the way it played out? Kind of insulting.

Of course, we'll have forgotten about it by the tenth episode when, as is the norm for 24, we reach the point where everything that's happened before doesn't matter.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Crapslinger

A lot of stuff crosses my desk as a senior editor at a weekly entertainment magazine. Most of it is crap. This...thing you see to my left is just the latest example of said crap, a direct-to-DVD “film” starring Eddie Griffin as a con man who enters rap lyrics into a Dublin poetry contest and wins…and brings the flava to those who don’t cook with any*. Someone. Actually. Made. This. Movie.

Now, in the 10 years or so that I've been writing screenplays, most of them have sucked. I freely admit it. They all haven't sucked the same way (which I take as a sign of progress), but I'm actually pretty glad that I was never able to get them in front of anyone who could make them into movies. There are still kernels of good ideas in those horrible scripts—except maybe the one about the domesticated Yeti superhero; that's probably a wash—but they were bad. They needed to be bad. Because I needed to get the bad out of my system to make room for the good. There's a quote from animator Chuck Jones that I'm gonna mangle, but it goes something like "Every artist has 10,000 bad drawings in him before he gets to his first good one. The trick is to get through those 10,000 as quickly as possible."

So those early bad scripts were crucial. But none of them—with the possible exception of that Yeti superhero one (did I mention that he fought crime out of an ice-cream truck?)—were as bad as Irish Jam.

The fact that movies like that get made gives me hope.

* One might think, judging by the last two images I've posted here, that I've got it in for the Irish. Not true. I love the Irish, even when it's not St. Patrick's Day (though, living in Woodside, Queens—a bastion of Irish immigration—for three years and enduring the scorched-earth that is St. Patty's day there, I'm left with no real desire to celebrate it again. Ever.). My wife is of partial Irish descent, along with English and Scottish. And, despite all that's going against her, she can cook.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Say My Name...

I was, as previous posts have indicated, a huge Star Trek fan. (Not so much anymore, since, 1: They ain’t making no more and 2: That last push was pretty bad.) So, back in the early 90s, I tuned in with a somewhat guarded interest when Babylon 5 premiered. Hey, more sci-fi, right? How bad could it be?

Turned out that it wasn’t too bad at all. And while I can completely appreciate what J. Michael Straczynski was trying to do with his 5-year plan (and even more impressed that he actually got to pull it off in this increasingly quick-to-cancel TV enviornment), I stopped watching. Lots of reasons, but one of them, for sure, was that I hated the character names.

Laugh if you want, but how you choose to name a character is, for a long term project like a TV series, a crucial set of decisions.They are the talons with which your show hooks into the viewers’ collective memory. And Star Trek set the gold standard for TV sci-fi character names. Kirk. Spock. McCoy. Picard. Riker. Data. Crusher. Worf. No more than two syllables. Hard sounds. They provide an instant memory tag.

(They aren’t quite as elegant as, say, the names of the Cheers cast, which work on so many levels it’s scary. They’re not only easy to recall, but they actually describe the characters in one deft stroke. Sam Malone: Sam Alone. Diane Chambers: a walled-up personality. Woody: dense but warm. Frasier Crane: lives entirely in his head, his cranium. Man, just brilliant.)

Back to Babylon 5. Names like Jeffrey Sinclair (now, I know a few Jeffreys, and they’re all good folks, but “Jeff” isn’t really the guy you wanna follow into interstellar combat), Michael Garibaldi (named, I believe, for a fish), Laurel Takashima (not that you can’t go ethnic, but when you do, go Sulu)… They just didn’t register for me. And so I moved on.

When starting to dig into Monster Attack Network, the first thing we tackled was nailing down the names. They needed to be quick, easy reads for the characters, as well as having some style, while also avoiding the standard pitfall of “I’m writing my first comic so I’m gonna give my hero the coolest name I can think of. Of course, it’s a name that would never find itself on a real person. So, welcome to the world of Josiah Danger.” (Personally, I blame Wolverine for this. "Logan" has been at the head of every too-cool-for-its-own-good name trail of the past 20 years.)

For our hero, we settled on Nate Klinger. Implies a certain Germanic heritage. Also the idea that he’s the kind of man who clings to something—for us, that thing was a certain code of conduct. He holds these truths to be self-evident…

Speaking of holding, our hero’s No. 2 is Ezekiel Holder. Also goes by Zeke. “Ezekiel” gives you a hint of a Bible belt upbringing, his parents the kind of people who name their children after biblical characters. “Holder” for a couple of reasons. In the book, he’s the chief reconstruction engineer—the guy who holds things together. Holder is also my grandmother’s maiden name. So there.

Our heroine, Lana Barnes, is a native of the island of Lapuatu. So, I spent long relatively fruitless hours searching through Hawaiian name guides. Most of them are incomplete, but Lana seemed like a name you could relate to pretty easily but still get an exotic feel from. Barnes, well, to spill too much about that would ruin the book.

Hugh Tensington. The great white hunter who lives on an island frequented by giant monsters and never actually leaves the office to hunt. Hugh, because he tells this huge tall tales of exploits that might never have happened and Tensington because it has the root of “tense” in there. And it sounds stuffy and British.

And Terry Callow, the Trump-esque land developer. Callow. Hollow. Shallow. Yeah, that works for a guy who keeps knocking things down to build anew…but likes the knocking down better.

Herbert Marshall McLuhan said that “the name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers.” In other words, be responsible when naming your characters. It matters. Take it from Mr. McLuhan: You know he got his ass kicked in elementary school with a name like Herbert.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Uncork This

Before I took my current post at the weekly entertainment magazine where I work, editing our film critics Bowen and Risa, and before I started (and then abandoned, like a really cute orphan) the comics coverage, I edited the DVD section. I took it over from the one-armed editor back in 2001. (I refer to him as such because it is the easiest way to refer to him. To ignore his one-armed-ness would be like choosing not to describe a person as Asian, even though it's probably one of the first things that would come to mind upon meeting him/her. Yet, I digress.)

Back then, we were still including laserdiscs in our coverage. It was on my watch that we started covering DVDs at all, and on my watch that we stopped covering VHS entirely. So I've got something of a familiarity with the DVD market. I watched it grow up, to a certain degree, watched as it became the revenue stream that Hollywood has leaned upon as the theatrical market start to slide. And now the meteoric growth of DVD has begun to plateau. Hollywood is scared. They must be, because only someone scared would think up something like Wedding Crashers: Uncorked Edition.

Eight and a half minutes of scenes that were rightfully deleted, that add nothing to the overall experience besides length. And this is the sort of thing that's plastered all over the add copy. This is what's supposed to get horny young men to rush out and pop their own corks. Nothing but a tease.

And it'd be okay, I suppose, except that filmmakers like James Cameron and Peter Jackson and Terry Gilliam have shown us the potential of DVD as a way to present alternate versions of films that carry weight in and of themselves. There is an opportunity for cinematic reinvention (provided that one, unlike George Lucas, also take the opportunity for cinematic archiving) unparalled in modern media.

Instead, the studios use it as a last grab for cash, a desperate attempt to squeeze more blood from a technology that they themselves are trying to kill by jumping too fast on the next ride coming down the innovation pike. (Better, more informed writers, like Bill Hunt over at The Digital Bits, can tell you why the Blu-Ray/HD-DVD format wars are threatening to strand consumers.)

And you and I are stuck with crap that just doesn't deliver, like a pizzeria on Christmas.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Geek Flag at Full Mast

I’m a wee bit of a geek. There are scores of ways to prove this, though the one most readily at hand is the fact that behind me, on my TV, sits a paused episode of Battlestar Galactica. The fifth episode in two days. By the way, I’m at work.

I’ve been a geek for a good long while, ever since my father took me to see Star Wars when I was five. It kindled in me a love for science fiction that has not dimmed. (Despite the fact that, for all its lasers, space fighters, and lightsabers, Star Wars isn’t science fiction. There is no science is Star Wars—and, yes, I’m wholly disregarding that midichlorian bullshit. In truth, it’s Historical Religious Fiction. The Force is the axis upon which the Star Wars Universe turns, and the Force ain’t science. It’s hope. It’s faith. And while the two can peacefully coexist, let’s not go confusing one for the other. Like certain heads of state.)

When I was a junior in college, one of my writing professors suggested that I enter this writing-for-TV competition sponsored by Gary David Goldberg’s Ubu Productions (“Sit, Ubu, sit. Good dog.”) I wrote an episode of the only TV show I watched on a regular basis: Star Trek: The Next Generation. Remember, geek.

They must not have gotten many submissions, or the other students who entered wrote episodes of Late Night with David Letterman, because I won. (I say this because, upon re-reading that episode again recently, it’s not very good. Then again, I was 20. No one knows anything when they’re 20. Unless you were of “the greatest generation.” They knew how to defeat world-threatening evil.)

I spent the summer between my junior and senior years in Los Angeles, on the Paramount lot, as a writing intern on Brooklyn Bridge (the show that Ubu was producing at the time) and Star Trek. My time on Brooklyn Bridge was relatively uneventful: By the time I got there, they already had all the scripts they were going to need for the season. So there was little for a writing intern to do besides hang out on the set and eat muffins. Or bagels. Or the occasional carrot stick if all the muffins and bagels were gone.

And, as has been said by other, smarter people—like William Goldman—the first day you spend on a live soundstage is amazing. Every other day is boring as shit. The only day that really held any excitement was the one where Gary decided he wanted to take a picture with me on the set. They stopped shooting for a minute and Gary and I walked to the center of the set, a kitchen, if I remember correctly. The lights were hot, the crew was getting itchy to move on, the actors were watching. And then, Marion Ross—who was playing the family matriarch—said “Oh, look at the poor dear, he’s gonna faint.” Mrs. Cunningham was razzing me. Cool.

After a month, I moved over to Star Trek. Dream come true. When I got there, one of the production secretaries was my “handler,” and I told her, point blank, “I want to get a picture of myself in the captain’s chair. Is that gonna be possible?” She wasn’t sure, but she’d find out.

Now, there was much more to do on Star Trek. This was 1992. The Next Generation was going gangbusters, and they were launching Deep Space Nine. Heady days on the final frontier. I sat in on production meetings, a few pitches, a lot of story-breaking sessions, but what I did most was read scripts. See, Star Trek was, at the time, the rare TV show that accepted unsolicited submissions. Anyone could write a script and send it in for consideration. And there were days were it seemed like anyone did. Nothing made me want to be a better writer more than reading so many bad specs.

All in all, it was a fantastic summer. Met some terrific people, some of whom are still close friends today. Learned an awful lot. Was mistaken for someone else by Steve Guttenberg, who greeted me with a hale and hearty handshake while just walking the lot. Was hit by a bike-riding Scott Baio, who creamed me while taking a corner at high speed. Charles, apparently, is also in charge of the right of way.

Only visited the Next Generation set once. On my second to last day, I asked about “the chair” again. I was told that Patrick Stewart was very possessive of the chair, and didn’t really like other people sitting in it. But there were some VIPs taking a tour, and I could tag along. We walked through the corridor-and-a-half they used for every hallway on the Enterprise. Passed Sick Bay. Breezed through the Bridge. I waved hello to the chair.

On our way out, I spied something off to my left. It was a set that was due to be struck. Only half a set, really, because they only needed it for one angle in the show it was for. The lights weren’t on, but I knew exactly what it was.

The bridge of the Starship Enterprise. James T. Friggin' Kirk’s Enterprise.

They did this episode, I can’t remember the name (I’m not that much of a geek), and I don’t feel like looking it up, but it was the one where they unfroze Scotty from some transporter buffer. He was feeling lonely, out of time, so he went to the Holodeck and created the place he felt most comfortable, the bridge of the NCC-1701. (Why an engineer wouldn’t have felt more comfortable in, I don’t know, engineering, was never adequately addressed.)

Before anyone could stop me, I walked over and sat in the Captain’s Chair. In Kirk’s Chair. (Don’t give me that “It wasn’t really his chair, that one is in the Smithsonian” hooey. In a land where everything is fake, one thing is as real as the next.)

I am a geek. Oh, yes. And I left the ass-groove to prove it.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Mad Respect...

Goes to Ken Lowery, who gives Monster Attack Network (the final title for the aformentioned Monster Island) a giant-size shout out on Ringwood.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Hard Time

Comic books are a mongrel medium. They’re not purely literature, though words are, more often than not, a crucial part. They’re not entirely visual, but without the images, then they just wouldn’t be comics. It’s a mutt.

For us, the reason why writing one was so friggin’ hard was that we’d never thought about that before. Writing comics (at least writing a full script, as we did, instead of a mere plot) demands that you retain control of both of those worlds, the textual and the visual.

Screenwriting, prose writing, poetry, frankly, every other kind of writing is different. You look to use the word to evoke something in the mind of the reader. How that reader turns those words into images is up to him or her.

But comics dictate that the writer decide exactly what the reader will see*. Writing comics is the discipline of choosing moments in time, the right moments that will most effectively tell the story. (In screenwriting, the director—your penultimate reader—is the one who decides how to most effectively tell the story. It’s not up to the writer to say “This needs to be a 3/4 shot from the rear, because that’s how we’ll get the most emotional resonance.” Put that in a script and see if anyone ever calls you back.)

And choosing those moments is hard, especially if you’ve never done it before. Neither Adam nor I had ever thought about the conceptual work it would take to simply get a character across the room to open a door. How many panels for the walk? Two? One to turn the knob? Another for the door opening? And yet another to see who’s behind it? That’s a whole page of a comic book, lost on a mundane movement. In a screenplay, you can just write: “Yakima walks across the room and opens the door. He didn’t expect the hormonal grizzly on the other side.” In comics, that’s a whole other proposition.

Then, figuring out how many panels would comfortably fit on a page, how many word balloons would fit in a panel, how many words you could fit in a balloon, keeping track of where the spreads fall, establishing a rhythm, a pace, that suited each scene, learning how to use the size of panels to convey speed... This is stuff that just washes over you as a reader, because the worth-his-salt-and-hence-already-published writer knows what he's doing.

The first few weeks of writing Monster Island hurt my brain real bad. Remember that scene in Rocky III (really, the best of all the Rockys, I don't care what you say. The Goldfinger of Rockys.) when Apollo, Rocky's new trainer, has the Italian Stallion start swimming “so he can learn to use muscles he never knew he had?” Bingo.

I told a friend that the experience was a little like playing Seven Minutes in Heaven (you remember this high-pressure high school game, right? Locked in a closet with a member of the opposite sex? Jeez…back in time with you, then. You clearly don't have enough shame in your life.): I’m in the dark. I’m a little giddy, but also a little afraid of embarassment. I know that what I want is around here somewhere. If I keep stumbling around, hopefully I’ll find it.

* For the purposes of this post, I am ignoring the artist’s vast contributions to comic book genesis. The artist is, in a way, the first and most important reader: How he interprets the words on the page will have a massive impact on how every subsequent reader will experience the story. But that’s for another time.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Not-So-Secret History of Monster Island

My friend Adam and I went to elementary school together. Then junior high, then high school. Different colleges, but we stayed in the same crappy band until graduation. I went to work in magazines, he went to work for MTV. We both really wanted to be screenwriters but found ourselves on career paths that allowed us to see the objective, but wouldn’t let us merge to the exit (“Can’t. Get. Left.”).

He eventually moved to LA and, as all people do when they move to LA, met someone who dangled an intriguing opportunity: she was a producer who had a deal with an animation company and they were looking for material. So I rooted around in my Ideas folder and found this snippet:

“There's an island, somewhere in the Pacific, that's a gleaming metropolitan paradise. Lapuatu has all the best a city-nation could offer: the finest restaurants, a thriving nightlife, respected museums, luxury beach resorts, impressive live performances, etc. The people are beautiful and friendly. The economy is good. It is, in a word, perfect.

Except for the giant monsters.”

Didn’t have much more than that. I just liked the idea of a place that was so beautiful, so idyllic, that people would stay there despite all the bad stuff that happens on a regular basis. Like Sunnydale. Or California. (Why those poor sods stay in Tornado Alley is something else entirely. My guess: they're broke.)

Adam and I then sparked to the concept of the people who would make such an island possible. The clean-up crew. The guys who, day in and day out, keep a place like this running. Then, we decided to make it a workplace sitcom. Like Cheers, but set in the office of the Lapuatu Urgency Network. Complete with the wacky love triangle between the hero, the girl, and the Godzooki-like monster who so resented the other monsters who always picked on him he decided to play for the other team. We called it Monster Island.

We never got to pitch it to the producer. Because, more often than not, that’s just how things wind up in Hollywood. Unrealized.

But that same summer, I went to the 2005 San Diego Comic Con, with an inkling that it might be my last year going as a journalist. Had a brew-ha-ha and a moo-ha-ha (beer and a burger) with Larry Young. Ran a few ideas across his frontal lobe. He sparked to a couple, and settled on a revamped, big-budget-y, widescreen, action-oriented Monster Island. (I kind of always saw it as an action movie, because that’s pretty much my wheelhouse.)

Larry saw it as a 96-page original graphic novel. Awesome. Shouldn’t be too hard to bang out; it’s just as long as a screenplay, and we’ve written those.

Ha fucking ha.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Building Strong Writer Bones

I am a writer. (And an editor, which is really just a writer who can be pickier about assignments.) I write all kinds of things: reviews, articles, captions, headlines, screenplays, Christmas cards, occasionally thank-you notes and, now, blogs.

But the hardest thing I’ve ever written was a comic book.

See, I’ve been reading comic books for more than twenty years; ever since my father made the ill-conceived decision to buy me a Savage Sword of Conan comic, complete with gratuitous violence and mostly naked women. Since then, I’ve been a constant reader (not counting those four years in the early ‘90s when Marvel pissed me off and went X-Men fucknuts). And, like every constant reader who can’t draw, I wanted to write comics. Badly.

While I was working at Starlog magazine, it was sort of a given that the exit strategy was to go to DC Comics as a young editor. It had happened to the three people who’d previously held my job, so I figured it was only a matter of time til I got behind the walls that Superman built and was able to try my hand.

It never happened. (And, come to think of it, it was never adequately explained to me why.) So I took a job at a weekly entertainment magazine...let's call it Fun Periodically (so I don't get into too much trouble with the folks who sign my check. Hi guys!). Some consolation prize, I know.

When I came to FP, I found some like-minded brethren and eventually launched our comic book review section. Before long, I was dipping my piggies in the comic book professional pool: lunches and dinners with editors and publishers, drinks with artists and writers (including one night that would’ve made my high-school dweeb head explode, where I sat at a small restaurant table with Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Bill Sienkewicz, and Kyle Baker), the heady smells of the San Diego Comic Con.

The more people I met, the more frequently I was asked the question: “So, ever think about writing comics?” And my answer was, invariably, “Yeah, since I was 12. But as long as I review them, I can’t write them.” Stupid professional ethics.

But last year I decided to make a change. Maybe it was fatherhood, maybe it was lethargy, maybe it was some misguided need for a challenge. Regardless, I stopped reviewing. And took up publisher Larry Young on his offer (as he was the first guy to ask me that question).

And quickly found out that writing comics is harder than it looks. Exponentially harder. In the words of screenwriter John Rogers: “nut-crushingly hard.” As my writing partner and longtime friend Adam (who has a similar history with comics) and I quickly learned, familiarity doesn’t breed facility.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Casual Racism Tuesdays

So I’m watching Bones. I kinda like the show, even if it is a little too episode-of-the-week-y for me. (I blame CSI and Law and Order for ruining the idea of subtextual character development. Bones is such an X-Files clone that you’d think the creators, while cataloging old Files episodes, would’ve realized that Mulder and Scully actually evolved, albeit incrementally, each installment.) Anyway, years of watching Buffy and Angel have left me a little predisposed to David Boreanaz. So I watch Bones.

This particular episode is about a hip-hop artist who is found mummified inside the walls of a popular nightclub. And then the investigation blah blah blah.

But here’s where the show kind of offended me: Every chance they get, Forensic Doctor Hottie comments on how she likes hip-hop. But she doesn’t like it because she likes it, she likes it because of its intrinsic anthropological value. Because of what it says beneath the surface, the assertion of the alpha male through taunts, the basic tribal call-and-response, etc. And so we have a white character who can only like black music by observing it through the lens of study, through the guise of information gathering.

And what, exactly is wrong with the surface? What is wrong with liking something for the way it makes you feel? Yes, you can analyze comedy until the borscht-belt cows come home, but we like comedies because they make us laugh. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that you like hip-hop because it makes you wanna shake your ass. The fact that Dr. Hottie couldn’t, the fact that she is, essentially, the Great White Hunter in Darkest Africa tickled by what the Natives Do Amongst Themselves amounts to a lazy racism.

The sad thing is that the production staff at Bones was probably pleased with themselves for doing such a “diverse” show. Look, ma…black actors and everything! Too bad no one bothered to give the script the other think it had coming.