Monthly Archives: June 2012

What a long strange trip it’s been (part 4 Virtue)

So here I was the summer of 1993, less than a year out of college and I was putting together a comic for an independent publisher called Virtue Publications.  The major problem was that most of the creators that were working with Virtue were either writer artist teams or sole writer/artists.  I was a writer with no artist.  I had the pictures in my head but no way to get them down on paper.  But I figured if I took my time and waited patiently either an artist that could do my work would pop up with Virtue or I would find one of my own.  I worked with the editor of the anthology title Ventures of the Virulent on the script for my story.

As a side note anyone who has ever had to give my constructive criticism will know I suck at it.  I am a very defensive person when it comes to my work and can get very angry at times.  It took my many years to learn to get criticism in writing, read it, walk away for a day and then work on edits.  That one day to digest the criticism usually helps me see what they are right about.

Virtue was planning it’s big launch at the first ever Philly Comic Fest in Oct of 1993.  They had a booth at the convention and were going to be giving away ashcan copies of the stories that were to appear in the first issue of Ventures of the Virulent that would be coming out in January 1994.  They hoped that by generating a little buzz they could improve sales.  I figured it would be a good time.  I could hang out at the booth and check out the convention at the same time.  I had saved up from my day job for months and bought a plane ticket, rented a hotel suite and got my passes to the convention.

I flew down Thursday night Oct. 7th 1993.  After checking into my hotel and getting a good nights sleep a arrived at the Convention Center the next day for the opening for the Comic Fest.  Looking back from history this comic convention was important for a number of reasons.  First it was the most attended Comics convention ever at the time.  Official attendance was put at 32,600 people over four days.  It was the sight of the infamous Peter David/Todd McFarlane debate, and comments by the noted Author Harlan Ellison which would piss certain people off for months to come.

Most importantly for me though was the first face to face meeting of the creators of the books of Virtue Publications.  Publisher and creator of the Bubba Chronicles Chris Crosby, Editor-in-Chief Phil Clarke Jr, Creator of the Legend of Jareth Blaze John Holiwski & Artist for the Adventures of Fanboy Curtis Ellzey.  I also noticed a double size booth across from the Virtue booth that only had a black backdrop with large poster size paintings hung around with amazing fantasy art.  At the tables in front of this art were decks of cards laid out in two piles.  When I sat down I was then taught to play Magic: The Gathering by Richard Garfield himself.

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Inspirations & Mentors

One of the things that I have always thought that was seriously lacking in the modern world was mentors and apprenticeships.  Being able to work for a master of a trade and learn your craft from them.  the passing down of skills that could make you a success in the world.

I have learned as I have grown older that Mentors and Apprentices don’t always take on the forms that we recognize.  For those that do not know me I am many things two of which are a practicing Pagan (Druid) and a Meade Maker.  The crafts for both of which I learned my earliest lessons in from an ex-girlfriend of many years ago named Sara.  At the time I would not have called her a mentor and their are many things that I have learn in both areas since my break up with her, but in the purest sense she was truly a mentor to me.

Today I came across a story in a blog by the Author Mark Evanier where he related the story of the first meeting of Author Ray Bradbury and EC Comics & MAD Magazine Editor Al Fledstien, who adapted many of Bradbury’s short stories into comics.  The meeting occurred at the 2002 San Diego Comic Con during a panel Mark hosted with Ray and DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz.  Mark had planned to have the two meet for the first time but needed to steer the conversation toward comics.  When asked about his history with Comic-Con and it’s growth Ray decided to talk about his personal history with comics.
RAY BRADBURY: When I was nine years old, Buck Rogers came into the world. October, 1929. I was immediately in love with that comic strip and I started to collect it every day of my life for three months. I stopped collecting that because the kids in the fifth grade made fun of me. That was 1929, the beginning of the Depression. I listened to these kids and I tore up the comic strips. It’s the worst thing I ever did because three days later I broke into tears and I said to myself, why I am crying? Who died? And the answer was me. I killed myself. I’d torn up the future. I listened to these stupid people. So I said, how do I cure this? I went back and collected Buck Rogers strips for the next seven years, every day, and never listened to one more stupid sonofabitch after that. And that’s why I’m here. I collected Prince Valiant and all the various comic strips, and Tarzan drawn by Harold Foster in 1932. Incredible work. And when I published my first book in 1947, I sent a copy of the book to Harold Foster with a note saying, “You’re one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, and I love your work and I love you.”

Now to most people this would be a sweet story about the inspiration of one of the greatest American writers of all time, but several weeks ago I read a story in a book called ‘The Barbizon Diaries’ by James A Owens.
I’d agreed to do a signing at Comicon for one of my favorite galleries, Every Picture Tells A Story.  About an hour into the signing, the owner, Lee, came over to where I was sitting with the other authors and told me someone wanted to buy my book.   I responded with a puzzled look (be cause that was, after all, why I was sitting in his booth), and he smiled and pointed to the other end of their floorspace.   “It’s Ray Bradbury.”   I jumped out of my chair and flew over to him.   “Ray!” I said. “It’s
James Owen!”   He took my hand (with his left) and shook it.   “James! But you do comics! This is a book.” (I’ve sent him copies of StarChild for years — to which he always responded with a counter-gift of his latest book.)   “Now I’m doing books, too!” I told him.   “It’s a beautiful book!” Ray told me. “I want to buy it ! Right now!”   “I have one for you,” I said, and hopped back to my chair where I had a copy with a dragon drawing already done. I signed it to “Uncle Ray ”, and handed it to him.    “It’s such a beautiful book,” he said again. “Your drawings are wonderful! I can’t wait to read it!”    “I hope you like it,” I told him. “You’re one of the reasons it exists. Thank you for the inspiration.”

Once again I can hear my reader saying this is a great story, but what does that have to do with anything.  That is going to require the telling of one more story.  This one of a much more personal nature.  In the fall of 1993 I was visiting my family in central New Hampshire.  My older brother and I drove over to the mall in North Conway because they were having a small comic book show.  Dealers from around the area had set up in the food court to sell comics.  My brother had just graduated from Massachusetts College of Art.  His interest in comics was based on the art and he found a book that had some of the greatest art that either of us had ever seen.  It was called Starchild #0, it talked of myths and legends and stories as great things that change the fabric of the world.  And it changed the way I looked at Stories.  I have had the amazing joy of corresponding with James A. Owen several times in the last year or so and even though we have never met face to face, I consider him a great inspiration on my work and life.

And now I see I am part of a great tapestry of inspiration that stretches from James Owen, to Ray Bradbury and to Harold Foster, and I would suspect back to Edgar Rice Burroughs and from him I suppose Rudyard Kipling.  I have to wonder if somewhere there is a battered copy of The All-Story magazine from Oct 1912 with a hand written note saying  Rudyard, You’re one of the reasons it exists. Thank you for the inspiration.  Edgar.

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What a long strange trip it’s been (part3 Entering Virtue)

I was originally planning on this week begin the first in an occational series of interviews with established creators who have gone ahead and done work through creator controlled channels.  Unfortunatly the creator that I had lined up for the interview has had some delays that have prevented the interview from happening, but this is only a delay and not a cancellation.  We will get to this as soon as we can.

So this week I will pick up where I left off last week.  It was the mid nineties, I was spending a lot of time on-line through AOL talking to the editor and publisher of a soon to be released comic called Ventures of the Virulent, by Virtue Publishing.  I didn’t have a story that I could submit to the though.

So I took a look at all of the characters that I had.  My detective Vigilante character, who I had toyed with the idea of passing the vigilante identity from one person to another so that I was three slightly differant versions of the character.  I had my blind mystic paranormal investigater called the Mask, his friend called Tarot a mute sorceresor who communicates through a magic tarot deck.  I tossed all of the characters in a blender and out came the Guardians of Light, the basic premise was that a Native American mystic had communed with the spirit of death and learned that in order to prevent a crack in the universe from opening every thousand years the life force of six people needed to be sacrifised with the purest forms of the four elements.  This is possibly the first real pagan referance in any of my work.  He then sent out invitations to the six characters to ask then to volunteer to sacrifise their lives.

Looking back on this piece I see the potential that I had placed in the story, I tried to deal with the stages of grief, AIDS, homosexuality (not with the same character, the HIV+ character was straight) all in all it had tons of potential to it, but I did not have the skills needed to bring that potential to life.  The story was mostly formula superhero stuff, with some pretty hack dialouge.

The most important part was at the end of the story as they stood before death to preform the final ritual it was revealed that one of them could not take part.  The character I had developed of a immortal who was living in the tunnels under the city of Boston.  His weapons were the forces of nature.  The first time we meet him he breaks up a mugging by throwing a handful of birdseed at his opponants and they are suddenly covered in pidgeons.  It is revealed at the end of the story that this character is not only not human, but he is the incarnation of Deaths opposite the spirit of Life.  The other six complete the ceremony and the spirit of Life goes off with the spirit of Death.

The concept was to then begin a monthly or bi-monthly comic called “The Storyteller” centering around the spirit of Life’s herald called the storyteller, it would allow me to tell stories in any time using any mythology or historical events that I wanted focusing on this group of humaniod personifications that I had developed.

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What a long strang trip it’s been (part 2)

Last we left I was mourning over the crap of a novel that I had tried to write, most of it was forced.  The characters development was minimal, the plot line was force and artificial.  My dialogue was poor and most importantly it read like page after page of someone trying to pad their word count.
I still had a dream though and I wanted to be a writer.  I knew that the work that I had produced was not of a quality that I could sell, but the only way to write better is to write.

So I order to try to hone my skills I decide shorter fiction was a better way to go.  I kept a micro-recorder and started dictating ideas into it.  I would keep a journal with Ideas for stories, and write about whatever would come into my head.  But one story was my primary focus.  With the help of my younger brother Brian, who at the time was all of Eleven year old I developed a character called the Mask.  Picture a cross between Robert Langdon and The Shadow.  Overall a pretty cool character and not a bad concept.  I was going for a modern pulp feel to the stories having just gotten into characters like the Shadow and Doc Savage.

Brian would help me with the plot for each story and then I would sit and do the writing.  In all we produced three full stories and outlines and ideas for several more after that.  I had developed a ghost/love story and built up several supporting characters.  Some of them from a more reluctant hero mold, but I was slowly putting together this psuedo-pulp universe for myself.  A don’t remember if any of those stories were ever submitted to anyone but none of them have ever been published.

At the same time I was spending a lot of time on-line on AOL.  It was the first time we had a computer in the house that had internet access.  While browsing I came across a group that was making plans for the release of a line of independent comics.  The guy who was starting it up wanted to release an anthology book with several stories from different creative teams and hopefully then release some of them as monthly books.  The company was called Virtue Publishing.

Problem was I didn’t have a story

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