Friday, October 31, 2014

What’s the Big Idea?

By Paul Kupperberg

Here’s the way the conversation usually goes:

Them: “Oh, you’re a writer? Are you famous?”

Me: “If you have to ask, I think you’ve answered your own question.”

Them: “Well, what do you write?”

Me: “All sorts of things. Novels, kids books, comic books.”

Them: “Really? Where do you get your ideas?”

Depending on who’s asking, I have a variety of answers, ranging from the snarky, “I subscribe to an idea service; every month they send me two dozen ideas and I pay them for the ones I use,” to the truthful (but not very helpful), “It’s my job.”

The actual writing is only a part of a writer’s job. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s the easy part, it’s still only a part of the process, because before you write you have to have something to write about. Fortunately, having been at my job for a goodly number of years, I’ve gotten pretty good at the whole “getting ideas” thing which come, to me at least, in two distinct flavors: the complete, ready-to-write idea and the broad concept.

The complete, ready-to-write kind are, as you would imagine, the best kind. Those are the ideas which come--pop!--into your head, fully developed, with a beginning, middle, and end already in place. Sometimes, it just feels like all you’re doing is copying something you’ve already read or seen. These are, needless to say, the kind of ideas that don’t come near as often as you wish they would. I can only think of a handful of instances where this has happened to me, one time being in the early 1980s when, in search of an idea for a sword and sorcery concept for a DC Comics series, I came up with--pop!--Arion, Lord of Atlantis, about a sorcerer in the Atlantean end days.

That’s not to say Arion came completely out of nowhere. Knowing the editor of the Warlord comic was looking for a back-up feature to replace one that was spinning off into its own title, I had been noodling with S&S ideas for a while. As a result, Atlantis, sorcery, and a soupcon of Larry Niven’s classic The Magic Goes Away had been percolating in the back of my mind for a while, but I hadn’t really made any sort of effort to turn those ingredients into a concrete idea. Well, not consciously at any rate. So, when the big picture idea came to me--pop!--while I was in the process of doing something totally unrelated to writing or sorcery, it felt like I had given birth without having to go through the messy process of labor.

The broad concepts, the so-called the germ of the idea, is much more common and can come from anywhere and anything. In just the last week, some random lines from different movies I was watching jumped out at me as being perfect story titles. What stories they would title weren’t clear at the moment of impact, but pretty soon one of them joined forces with a little project that I’ve been working at sporadically over the last few months, that of using pieces of sculpture and paintings created by my late grandmother as the inspiration for short stories. The other will, eventually, find a home somewhere.

Another broad concept came to me listening to an interview with Ben Bradlee, newspaperman and friend of President Kennedy, on CSPAN. Bradlee spoke of a conversation he’d once had with JFK about this post-presidency and, without even thinking about it, I grabbed a pen and paper and jotted down the quote. That, in turn, became the beginnings of a short story that will, when I find the time, finish sometime in the near future.

I’ve found ideas lurking in conversations, in newspaper and magazine articles, in other people’s stories, and in looking out at inspiring views. I’ve had these ideas while actually searching for them for in the course of an assignment, and I’ve had them without any place in which to use them. I’ve been awakened from a sound sleep with them, and I’ve had them drifting off to sleep. Not all of them are gems, though, but the really good ideas are the ones you don’t forget, even if you get them when you’re half a sleep or don’t get a chance to write them down. The ones that slip away probably weren’t worth remembering in the first place.

Where do I get my ideas? I guess the truth is I get them anywhere and everywhere.

Where do get yours?
© Paul Kupperberg

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Found Treasures 3: Space Giordano

Still more from Rob Jones' collection of photocopies of early-1960s Charlton Comics covers by Dick Giordano. This time, we rocket into space for some truly out of this world art.
Space Adventures #51 (May 1963)

Space Adventures #54 (November 1963)

Space War #22 (May 1963)

Space War #25 (November 1963)

Space War #24 (March 1964)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Anatomy of a Neo Story-Part 3

By Paul Kupperberg

Andrew Mitchell's first impression sketches of "Digger" and friends
When the call went out for stories for the upcoming Charlton Noir, I thought I would try my hand at something with a supernatural slant...and a little bit of the funny. I’ve written several short stories for R. Allen Leider’s Hellfire Lounge anthologies featuring Leo Persky, a reporter for the Weekly World News (the fake news tabloid where I was so happily employed until its untimely demise in 2007) and enjoyed crossing the supernatural with my own snarky sense of humor and wanted to give it a go in the pages of a comic book story. The result was “Digger” Graves, Paranormal P.I. I wrote about the genesis of the strip in Part 1 and Part 2, and, a month after I first discussed the idea with Neo editor Roger McKenzie via Facebook P.M., I delivered the finished script.

Me: Attached is the script for my contribution to Charlton Noir, Digger Graves, Paranormal P.I. When you get a chance, take a look at the work of Arrowhead Andrew Mitchell; he could be good on this.

Roger: Andrew's in The Charlton Arrow #3, PK. He's on our radar, my friend! I'll see if he's interested.

Andrew was. The next day he P.M.’ed me: “Roger may have contacted you already but I liked your Digger Graves story and am on board to illustrate it. Excited to work on this!”

The team was in place. Now it was all in Andrew's hands. I asked him to share some of his thoughts on the story and his creative process in working on the story:
"Digger" refined.
“Roger McKenzie contacted me with news that he had a 10 page story for me to draw from Paul Kupperberg. I had recently turned in a two page story for Charlton Arrow #3 and two pinup illustrations for Charlton Pulp so I thought ‘I guess I passed the audition.’ I was excited to draw a Kupperberg script and the fact that it was a horror/P.I. story for Charlton Noir #1 sounded perfect. I always liked art by guys who left a lot of ink on the page (Eisner, Wrightson, etc.) and this looked like a good opportunity for that.
Gorthgot, a demon in search of redemption

The splash page in doodles and a demon.

 “After the first read of the script, I did sketches of Digger Graves (son of Dr. Graves) and Gorthgot the demon, wanting to get my immediate impressions down. I sketch directly in ink with no pencil so I can be the most expressive (something I picked up from Sienkiewicz or Crumb? I can’t recall.) With the next read I drew up secondary characters, some environments and more careful takes on the protagonists (like correcting Graves’ hat and jacket and softening Gorthgot.) 

“I’m hoping that these sketches hint at the fun to come with the finished story.”

They do! 
First draft of the splash page.

Next: Laying it all out.

© Paul Kupperberg
Art © Andrew Mitchell

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Charlton Neo Spotlight on Sandy Carruthers

By Dan Johnson


Canadian artist Sandy Carruthers has been wowing comic book fans for close to thirty years. He is a veteran talent that Charlton Neo was honored to have come on board to help writer Roger McKenzie relaunch Spookman in The Charlton Arrow, and we’re even more delighted that his second feature for us, Spirit Talker, will be premiering in Charlton Wild Frontier very soon. Recently I got the chance to sit down with Carruthers to discuss his career, his love of comics in general and the difference between American and Canadian superheroes.


Dan Johnson: What got you into art and comics in particular? 


Sandy Carruthers: Essentially, I have to say my very first exposure to comics was when I was four and saw Batman on TV. It led me to a crazy appetite for comics. My Dad would always bring home books for me. He introduced me to MAD, Superman, Classics Illustrated, Charlton, and Heavy Metal, when I was old enough. He never read them, but saw I had an interest, and would ply me constantly. A science fiction reader, I think he understood the fascination, and realized it was more than a reading thing. Especially when I started drawing all the time.

Johnson: Who were some of your earliest influences from the world of comics?

Carruthers: I would say my earliest influences were Joe Kubert, Jack Kirby, Jim Aparo, Curt Swan, Steve Ditko, Jack Davis, Mort Drucker, Russ Heath, Bernie Wrightson, etc., etc. I consumed it all. Later, it was Toth, Moebius, Corben, Eisner and, of course, Adams.

Johnson: What about artists outside of comics?

Carruthers: Outside of comics, I liked album and movie cover art: The Brothers Hildebrandt, Drew Struzan, Ken Kelly, Frank Frazetta, even Storm Thorgerson [who did] Pink Floyd albums.

Johnson: You studied at the Joe Kubert School via a correspondence course in its early years. Who were some of the instructors that you interacted with through the school?

Carruthers: The  instructor who critiqued my pages, I believe, was either Adam or Andy Kubert, though I wasn’t sure because it really did look like Joe’s style. Excellent course though. Really gave me clear direction with my stuff.

Johnson: For a time you also did editorial cartoons. Tell us about that experience.

Carruthers: I did editorial cartoons for ten years for the local paper here on Prince Edward Island. I had to produce three a week, and it had to relate to local news. It was challenging, as I was working full-time, and I enjoyed it, but I had to stop because it was burning me out, and I really wanted to focus on comic book art only.

Johnson: How did you come to work at Malibu Comics?

Carruthers: At the time, the B&W comics were the new rage, and a lot of publishers were springing up every where. I heard through the grapevine about Eternity Comics and how they were looking for stories for their anthology Shattered Earth. I submitted, and they accepted my story! This was way back in the mid ‘80’s. This led to more work from them. They were a great group of people to work with.

Johnson: While at Malibu, you worked on Men in Black. While doing that, did you ever have an idea it would become the hit film franchise that it did?

Carruthers: Never in a zillion years.

Johnson: You also worked on Captain Canuck, one of the most important characters to come out of Canada. How did you land that job?

Carruthers: I contacted Richard Comely when I heard he was reviving the character. I was a huge fan of George Freeman’s art and collected all of the titles when I was a kid, so it was a dream come true when Comely brought me on board to illustrate the newspaper strip. Cool, though, but man, it was a crazy deadline driven project!

Johnson: American superheroes and Canadian superheroes: What’s the biggest difference between the two?

Carruthers: Interesting question. When I see Canadian characters like Wolverine, I don’t see a lot of difference. I’d say the dangers would be different up here in Canada. Because our country is predominantly nature, the real threats would come from protecting our natural resources, I suppose. We’re small in population, but we’ve got a good tough attitude. It comes from surviving these winters.

Johnson: You’ve also worked on the web comic, Canadiana. Tell us about that series.

Carruthers: Canadiana was a collaborative effort with myself, Mark Shainblum, and Jeff Alward. I created her at a time I felt Canada needed a new strong hero figure. The series went on for awhile, but it essentially stopped due to our lives getting too busy. Her story can be found here: http://canadiana.comicdish.com. Mark and I have been talking about a Canadiana revival, and I’m thinking it’s not too far out there to think she may return. Time will tell.

Johnson: You’ve had the chance to work in print and on the web. What do you see as being the greatest advantage of both outlets and what do you see is the greatest drawback of both?

Carruthers: I like print. I find web dissatisfying because it lacks the tactile nature. I see its merit, but I just don’t feel it’s for me personally. I like process, and I get that satisfaction from print.

Johnson: How did you come to work for Charlton Neo?

Carruthers: I stumbled across Fester’s Arrow fan page when it was just starting. I was hooked right away. The Charlton Arrow fan page is one of the best pages on Facebook. It’s an awesome group of devoted fans who love Charlton and everything about it. When opportunity came up to draw for it, I couldn’t resist. When Charlton Neo was born I was there, and I hope will remain for a good long time!

Johnson: What projects are you working on right now for the company?

Carruthers: Currently, I’m waiting for a new script for Spookman for Charlton Action. I’m really jazzed working with a legend like Roger McKenzie on this. I’m hoping Charlton Wild Frontier’s Spirit Talker gets good buzz, because I’d love to do more with this character.

Johnson: Are you working on anything outside of Charlton Neo you would like to promote?

Carruthers: I just finished a short story for a selfie with April Baird and Sylvie Ouellet called “Tales of Poe” which is coming out next month, otherwise  I’m not doing anything outside Neo at this point, as I have to currently balance this work with my full-time position as instructor here at Holland College, and there are only so many hours in a day! Eventually, I hope to be doing comics full-time, but for now I’m happy with the workload as it stands. I love everything about the medium: the research, the design and execution, and I wish to keep developing as an artist toward this goal. It’s nice too, in this day and age to have real-time connection to both fellow creators and readers. It gives the process a pulse that makes it really satisfying. It’s a great time to be producing comics!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Talking Romance with Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez is one of the acknowledged masters of comic book art and, like many top talents in the field, he got his start at Charlton Comics. Beginning in the mid-1960s and into the 1970s, Jose drew stories for a variety of Charlton romance titles and his art appeared on countless covers...all of them using art re-purposed from the stories themselves. His cover for Paul Kupperberg's Secret Romances #1 will, in fact, be the first time he's ever drawn an image specifically to appear as a cover for a "Charlton" romance comic!

Jacque Nodell conducted an interview with Jose about his time at Charlton which appeared in the November 5, 2010 installment of her excellent blog celebrating the lost (but hopefully reviving!) romance genre, Sequential Crush. It's with Jacque's kind permission that we represent that conversation here...but once you're done reading, we most definitely recommend you click on through to Sequential Crush and browse some of the other fascinating posts. Dare we say...you'll love it?
* * *

Detail from JLGL's cover for the forthcoming Paul Kupperberg's Secret Romances #1.
How did you get involved drawing romance comics for Charlton in the late ‘60s?

A friend who was an artist himself introduced me to an Argentinean agent taking art samples for Charlton. This was in Buenos Aires around 1965, and I was working in a small advertising company. Before that, I had just a handful of comics already published in short-lived comic companies (my first one I was 14 years old) but it was very hard to get paid and impossible to make a living. So, I guess my first really “professional” jobs were those done for Charlton after they saw my samples.

Did you draw the romance characters from models or other sources? What sorts of things inspired you when illustrating the romance comics?

Before the romance stories, my experience (or lack of it) was with western and war stories. So, when challenged to do romantic stuff I immediately looked at Juliet Jones by Stan Drake to learn how to do it. In those years we also had photo-novel magazines (like the foto-romanzo or fumetti in Italy) and they were very useful to design the characters and for the romantic scenes. Doing a good kiss without a good reference was very hard, honest. Besides, I was lucky to have two kindly girl friends that helped me with fashion advice and suggestions and even posed for me. That period was full of learning experiences – there is no better way to learn to draw than from a living model.
Love Diary #58 (October 1968)
Did you ever look at the romance comics being published by DC or Marvel to see what they were up to?

I had no idea of anything done by DC or any other company, including Charlton. I didn’t even see my own work published. The only one was in 1974, a Jonnie Love story, I think. Thanks to you I’m seeing those (and getting ashamed of them) for the first time. What I remember looking at were English love stories published by Fleetway. Also, and very important for me, was an Argentinean artist working for Charlton and on British comics -- Ernesto Garcia Seijas. I looked closely at everything he was doing -- he was working with the same agent so I got to see his original art. I’m sure you found him already in some of the books you reviewed. His work was the best.

Concerning the process of creating the romance comics; did you write any stories or have any input on the plots?

Oh no, I was guilty of the art only. Besides, I didn’t speak English yet (technically, I still don’t).

How much freedom did you have to mold the stories based on your artistic vision?
Splash page from Love Diary #74 (December 1970)

Complete freedom. The only thing I got from the agent was suggestions about how to do a “typical American girl!” He told me for instance, Natalie Wood was a good example. It was funny though because Natalie was Russian or of Russian parents.

Did you always ink your own work on the romance comics?

Yes, we would never have imagined splitting art chores in Argentina in those days. That was something I discovered here. Nowadays I guess, many South American artists (and elsewhere) have adopted this system. Without doubt it’s good to keep deadlines and strongly embrace the publishing companies. Personally, even if I was lucky to have superb artists inking my stuff, I’d prefer to do it myself.

How much did you keep the audience of young women in mind when you were illustrating the romance comics?

I was aware to whom the stories were intended, but never lost sleep over it. My real problem then was to do it right and that meant a daily struggle with each drawing. Wrong anatomy is going to be noticed, whether the reader is a girl or a boy. Lucky for me, I had those two girls I told you about who criticized my work in an intelligent way, and from a girl’s point of view. So, I was kept in line.

Were there any times when you felt that as a male you couldn’t convey these stories intended for a primarily female audience?

I never thought about it at the time. Now I'm more conscious (or more professional) when illustrating a story, but I don't think in terms of gender -- I mean a masculine or feminine audience, but in terms of age. I'm aware of the generational gap between my potential readers and myself, so I’m obliged to keep myself up to date.

Overall, did you enjoy illustrating the romance comics?

Yes, even with my lack of experience, I enjoyed every minute of it. It was an incredible learning experience I was going through. Even now, I consider romance stories the most difficult genre to illustrate properly.

Did you ever receive any feedback from the romance comic book fans?

Not that I was aware of -- remember I didn’t even have a chance to see them published. Anyway, my first fan was a girl :), but that because of a pirate character I did in the early '70s. It was for the Argentinean market but years later was reprinted in Europe.

Do you remember any stories or covers in particular that you liked or were especially happy with?

Well, I never did any of the covers. They used the first splash page from the story as such. And honestly, I don’t remember the stories. I suppose I was happy with the last three or four I did for them because I was more confident in my work.
The splash page for a JLGL story from For Lovers Only #68 (December 1972)...
...And the cover created from that interior art.
Do you feel that the time you spent illustrating romance comics prepared you for the superhero work you began to illustrate in the 1970s? In what ways?

I think so. I can say that before the romance comics I was an amateur artist, and I graduated to a professional thanks to them. Besides, when visiting the DC offices for the first time, I discovered that Dick Giordano had been Charlton’s editor and knew my work -- it was like a presentation card for me.

What projects are you working on currently?

Mostly DC character art for licensing, but I take any chance to do comic books if I can get them with a flexible deadline.

Anything else you would like to share with the readers of Sequential Crush?

I believe in diversity and I would like to see more romantic comic books besides the well known superheroes. There’s a market out there for this genre (and many more) and Hollywood is aware of it. The Twilight Saga is a good example, isn’t it? Gothic Romance, but romance anyway.
© Jacque Nodell

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Anatomy of A Neo Story-Part 2

By Paul Kupperberg

If you recall, in Part 1 of “Anatomy of A Neo Story,” I explained how the germ of the idea for a new series for the upcoming Charlton Noir book came about. If you don’t, click on this link to read all about it. We’ll wait for you.

Okay, so there I was with an idea: “Son of Dr. Graves, supernatural investigator.” But beyond knowing who his father is and what he does for a living, who is Douglas “Digger” Graves? How old was he? Considering his dad could be anywhere from 50 to 500 (who knows with these supernatural types!), he could be almost any age. Where was his base of operations? Did he have magic powers himself? Was he a suave, ascot wearing sophisticate like his old man? A studious nerd? An absentminded professor? A Philip Marlowe-type tough guy? A mysterious man of few words?

Well, considering this was going to be a story set in 2015 and not 1960, I decided to forego all of the above. I mean, I could have made any of them work just fine in the context of a hard-boiled, neon-splashed night series, but we’ve seen them all. Hell, I’ve written most of them. And this was a series for Charlton Neo. Neo means new, so leave the old stereotypes behind and think in terms of more modern tropes.

Once I decided to go that route, I didn’t have to go any further than my own life to find what I was looking for. My 18 year old son is a musician, a drummer heavily involved in the East Coast indie music scene. He is, by his own admission, somewhat of a hipster. He doesn’t affect the jazz hat or the soul patch, but for a kid born and raised in snooty suburban Fairfield County, Connecticut he’s turned into a real East Village/Williamsburg, Brooklyn-haunting young man about town.

With a type in mind, I started to build my “Digger” Graves. Twenty-something. Dresses in black jeans, t-shirts, sport jacket, Doc Martens, and pork pie hat. Lives in the Village and is everything his father isn’t. Dr. Graves investigates the supernatural as a scholar; Digger does it as a private investigator, one with a special “sight” that allows him to see the things the rest of us don’t even know exists. But not for regular folk like you and me. “Digger” is a paranormal P.I. for the paranormal.

And as soon as that all clicked into place, I knew I had him, right down to his attitude and his voice. So I started to write. What follows are the opening pages of the 10-page debut installment of “Digger” Graves, Paranormal P.I.

Page 1

1.            FULL-PAGE SPLASH. NIGHT. EXTERIOR. NEW YORK’S EAST VILLAGE. It’s a damp, misty night, the streets wet and shiny, reflecting the garish neon of the storefronts--bars, some hip and trendy, others low-rent dives, coffee houses, trendy boutiques and restaurants, head shops, art galleries, etc. It’s just another Saturday night in the East Village, the streets are full of people, alone, in pairs, in small groups, mostly young, college age and 20-somethings, suburbanites, city kids, hipsters, walking along, talking, on their cells, just doing whatever people do on dates, hanging with friends, etc.
            But scattered among the normal people are other beings, the dead, the demonic, the supernatural. The dead are decaying, in the remnants of rotting clothes from time periods stretching back a hundred years, some are carrying the shackles and burdens of their damnations, like Marley’s Ghost from “The Christmas Carol,” others just look lost and confused. The demons seem to be stalking the normals on the street, particularly those who appear to have troubles and are weighed down by sorrow. They dead and supernatural are invisible to the normals, but share the streets.
            In the foreground, walking along the street towards the garishly neon-lighted but otherwise plain storefront neighborhood, no-fills tavern BAR, is DOUG “DIGGER” GRAVES, our hero. He’s a 20-something hipster: tall, thin, one of those little soul patches under his lip, a couple of days stubble, wearing a porkpie hat, dark glasses, a rumpled black sport coat over a t-shirt, skinny black jeans, and scuffed Doc Martens.

1 CAPTION:      You know the movie where the kid says he sees dead people?
2 CAPTION:      Welcome to MY life. And I don’t know what that little poser was whining about. If ALL I saw was dead people, I’d be a happy camper.
3 CAPTION:      I mean, it’s not so bad during the day. Sure, the dead wander around at all hours, but they’re usually pretty confused and mostly harmless, like tourists waiting for a bus on the wrong street corner.
4 CAPTION:      After the sun goes down is when the truly creepy and crawly hit the streets. The kind of horror I like to call the family business.
5 CAPTION:      My name’s Douglas Graves, but you can call me...
6 LOGO:      “DIGGER” GRAVES, Paranormal P.I.

7 TITLE:      “I” Of The Beholder

8 CREDITS:      Script: PAUL KUPPERBERG / Art: THE ARTIST / Lettering: A. MACHINE / Coloring: MORT TODD

Page 2

1.            INTERIOR. NIGHT. BAR. Like the exterior, it’s pretty much a no-frills, dark and dingy, old school neighborhood tavern, except instead for the clientele, which is largely the dead and the demonic, vampires, werewolves, sorcerers, as well as some humans hooked into the magic scene like GRAVES.

1 GORTHGOT (off-panel):      Mr. Graves? Over here...

2.            Half-rising from the booth in the rear of the crowded BAR is GORTHGOT, a big, bulky, demon of considerable uglitude, waving his hand to get GRAVES’ attention. GRAVES is walking towards him.

2 GORTHGOT:      ...Back here! I got a booth.
3 GRAVES:      Yeah, chill, man. You’re kind’a hard to miss, Gorthgot.

3.            GRAVES is sliding into the booth opposite the now seated GORTHGOT, who’s looking around anxiously, a massive flagon of beer in front of him.

4 GORTHGOT:      Shhh! Don’t go shouting my name everywhere, dude. Names have POWER.
5 GRAVES:      Uh-huh. Nobody around here’s interested in tapping your chi...or even your chai.
6 GRAVES:      ‘Sup, G?

4.            GORTHGOT is leaning conspiratorially across the table. GRAVES is smiling up at the waitress, the pale skinned vampire JEZEBEL, ordering a beer from her.

7 GORTHGOT:      Okay, so I’m almost done with my redemptive service as a demon and...
8 JEZEBEL:      ‘Scuse me. Hey, Digger. What’ll you have?
9 GRAVES:      Hey, Jezebel. Lemme get a Blackwell’s on tap.

5.            GORTHGOT is waving his hand in front of GRAVES’ face as GRAVES watches JEZEBEL’S enticing rear as she walks away.

10 GORTHGOT:      Hey! I’m talking here...redemptive service, remember?
11 GRAVES:      Uh-huh. I’m listening.
12 GORTHGOT:      So, okay. Once I’ve done my time, I can make the transformation back into regular person again.

Next: Sure, but who’s gonna draw the darned thing?
 © Paul Kupperberg

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Found Treasures 2: Giordano's Lost Loves

Some more of Rob Jones' recently uncovered treasure trove of photocopies of Dick Giordano's Charlton Comics covers. Last time, we looked at some of Dick's Western covers. This time around, it's all about the love!
First Kiss #36 (February 1964)

Love Diary #32 (March 1964)

Romantic Secrets #50 (June 1964) Possibly penciled by Pat Masulli

Romantic Secrets #47 (November 1963)

Teen-Age Confidential #19 (August 1963) Possibly inked by Vince Colletta

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Magic Words

By Roger McKenzie

So there I sat, staring at an empty composition book, wondering what the hell I’d gotten myself into. It had been a long time since I’d done anything like this. Maybe too long. Maybe I didn’t have it anymore. Whatever “it” was.

Still, I’d decided to give writing comic books one more run. And I’d allowed our founding father, Fester Faceplant, to talk me into doing a new Spookman story for the first issue of his (then) fanzine, The Charlton Arrow. That was a year and a half, and as it turned out, quite a few stories ago.

But I still remember the feeling of sitting there, staring at all those blank pages. And thinking back…remembering far too few of the good times I’d had writing comics. And far too many of the bad.

Now there’s something you gotta understand about me. I’m not a good list keeper. I suck at designing elaborate projection models, spreadsheets, and intricate, “floor plans” of story arcs describing in minute detail where the story/character’s going to be 12 issues down the road. Most of the time I’m not real sure what’s going to happen on the next page. Much less a year from now.

But that is the fun of writing comic books for me. The journey. Never really knowing what’s around the next curve. Or when the road’s suddenly going to veer this way or that. Where the story is going to take me!

Which brings me back to those blank pages. And that monster known as self-doubt who had built quite a stronghold in my mind. And liked to whisper all the what if things. “What if you can’t do this? What if your story’s no good? What if nobody likes it?” Sure, I had lots of doubts as I stared at those blank pages wondering what I was going to write.

But I had my magic words, too. Thankfully, I hadn’t forgotten them. I think whenever creators do forget them, the magic leaves comic books. And takes all the fun right along with it. Since that day, and with the incredible grassroots success of not only Spookman (due in no small part, by the way, of artist Sandy Carruthers!), but of The Charlton Arrow and Charlton Neo as well, what I hear fans tell us quite often is that we have brought the fun back.

It’s sad to think that the fun had ever left. But it had. Overwhelmed, it seems, by “corporate comics” in a steady downward spiral of “superhero sludge.”

So, anyway, I thought I’d share my “magic words” with the aspiring newbies out there. And perhaps even a few pros that may have gotten worn down by the system over the years. Those words are, quite simply:

“Wouldn’t it be cool if—?”   

Because, you see, when comic books lose their coolness...their sense of wonder...adventure...excitement...humor...their fun...they aren’t comic books anymore.

They’re simply  drudgery...
© Roger McKenzie

Monday, October 20, 2014

Another Thing He Learned Along The Way: I Hear...Voices!

By Paul Kupperberg

I was reading an interview with a writer whose work I like who does a lot of series characters. At one point he said that he was writing new books about characters he hadn’t written in seven or eight years, or, in one case, one he hasn’t written since the decades-ago beginning of his career. He said he was happy to discover that when he sat down to write them after the long absence, he could still “find" their voices. That is, write the character the way they were written previously, in the same (general) style and voice, allowing, of course, for his growth as a writer and the characters chronological growth since their last appearances.

Style, is one thing. We can talk about that another time.

Today, we’re going to talk voice.

Not as in “the sounds that come out of your mouth,” the physical pitch and sound of your speaking voice, but the manner in which that physical voice expresses itself.

When you answer the telephone and hear a voice you recognize, part of the recognition process is the sound you’re hearing; another is what you’re hearing. Even if you have a bad connection, you will likely still recognize the person on the other end by the way in which they communicate their message: some people speak slowly and deliberately; others at a fever pitch, stumbling over their words in the rush to get them out; there are those who pepper their speech with clichés and some who use a lot of pauses and verbal ticks to give them time to think, “Uh,” “Like,” “Y’know.” I cringe whenever I have to speak to a certain guy because I know when I ask him how he’s doing, as society requires I do, curse its conventions!, he will reply “Same shit, different day.” He speaks in clichés and pomposity. I would recognize it anywhere and I have used his speech pattern for characters I’ve written. His speech pattern is a shorthand way of saying he’s a pompous ass. The character, not the guy. Well…

So all characters should have a speech pattern. They shouldn’t all sound alike and it takes very little to create a speech pattern that, like my pompous ass of a friend, acts as a kind of shorthand to identify the type of character s/he is. A lazy, good ol’ boy drops his “g”s and don’t use hardly no big words at all, unlike his brother, the physicist, who speaks utilizing a larger vocabulary and an awareness of grammar that is indicative of his higher education and social status. Everyone knows the “Dese, dems, dose” speech pattern of Brooklynites and common street thug or the “Hiya, honey,” swagger of the whore. You can also use speech patterns to play against type, a thug who speaks like a Harvard philosophy professor or a hooker who sounds like a suburban soccer mom.

Writers also have voices, or at least they should if they’re worth anything. Young writers have older writer’s voices that they borrow and, if they have any talent, build upon to find their own voice. Older writers work a long time to hold on to whatever voice they ultimately find and keep it fresh and nurture it to maturity along with their lives and their writing.

A writer’s voice is one you will know when you hear. Just like you can point to a person who orders a “cuppa cawfee” at the diner as being a New Yorker, you should be able to recognize a writer by his voice. Many have tried to write like Hemingway, but only Hemingway ever could. His voice is unmistakable. And, once again, do not mistake voice for style. Short, clipped sentences, terse descriptions and multi-layered dialogue was his style.

His voice was that of the raging, wounded bull rendered impotent by the crush of the world and events. (I’ll bet you thought he was all about the macho; macho was just the cover-up for the impotence…a common theme, along with castration, in his work. And the man ended his life deep-throating a shotgun; that’s not tough. That’s morally and emotionally wounded.)

Thomas Wolfe; longing and regret.

F. Scott Fitzgerald; style, always style, over substance and in spite of sorrow.

Jack London; brute force intellect overcoming but never overwhelming nature.

Philip Roth; the intellectualization of emotion and the exploration of death.

I can go on.

It’s the same way you can recognize a Billy Joel song from its first few notes, or a piece by Mozart. They write music in their voices, the way a writer writes prose or poetry (you won’t confuse Charles Bukowski with Emily Dickinson anytime soon). It takes a bit more effort to recognize the author of a written passage from how it’s written than it does “New York State of Mind” from the first six notes, but read enough of a writer’s work and you will eventually start to “hear” it as you read, a subtle thing that tells you this is Stephen King, this is Pete Hamill, this is David McCulloch (yes, non-fiction writers have voices, too).

Your own voice is out there, buried somewhere under a huge pile of words, millions and millions of them. All the false starts, the bad ideas, the rejected manuscripts, the half-finished pieces abandoned after you’ve gotten lost fumbling for a direction, the first published work and the published work that follows for the next ten or fifteen or twenty years, minimum. The newbie writer is an infant, learning to speak, on paper. Every word, every sentence, every paragraph is us crawling and attempting to stand, landing in bruised egos and with a sore ass from falling on it so often and so hard. Every short story is a rite of passage, from childhood to adolescence, to young adulthood. But you’ve learned some coordination and can start to stand on your own two feet more and more. You even start to think the occasional line or paragraph doesn’t entirely suck.

And then, one day, you read what you’ve just written and realize that you recognize this as being yours. That you have, at least on that page or on that day’s writing, transcended the act of writing and stumbled onto the art and, as important, the craft of it. Writing from within and expressing that in a voice and tone that anyone reading it can identify as yours and yours alone.

Give yourself another five years and you’ll be able to do it all the time, just the way every time you open your mouth, you speak in the same voice.

Hear what I’m talking about?
© Paul Kupperberg

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Back In The Day

By Roger McKenzie

Back in the day it was called “making a name for yourself.” These days it’s called “branding.” But it’s the same thing, and often a hard thing to accomplish for newbies hoping to get their shot to break into the professional comic book business.

Unlike many comic book companies, Charlton Neo has an open submission policy. This is both good news and bad news. While it means your work will get looked at, it also means there’s a LOT of submissions. And it’s easy to get lost in the crowd.

So the question is, then, how does a “newbie” make his or her work stand out? How does a comic book hopeful make a name for himself with the editors at Charlton Neo?

1. Do Your Homework! Check the types of comics we do. Look at our webpage. Check out our Facebook pages, Charlton Neo Comics and The Charlton Arrow. A majority of our creators and all of our editorial staff post there frequently. You can get a very good feel for the type of material we’ve published…the caliber of story and art we’re looking for. That will help you focus on ideas or art that are more likely to catch our eye. Since we are anthology-driven, just about any genre is a fit for us. Not just superhero. See if there’s a genre niche or void you can fill!

2. Present your work as professionally as possible. In many cases this will be our first look at you. So make sure you “hit us with your best shot!” Even if your first submission doesn’t quite make it, a professional looking submission still “brands” you as someone who is serious about learning the craft. We’re much more likely to be able to offer you some pointers and encouragement if you are genuinely, sincerely hungry to do comic books!

3. Writers should “pitch” a short synopsis of their story idea. Just a few paragraphs. Pencil artists should send us a few pages of digital sample art. And sequential art is of paramount importance. We need to see if you can tell a story panel by panel. Inkers should send in a few sample inked pages and the original pages so we can clearly see how you embellished the pencils.

4. Put you best foot forward. Not every idea you have or drawing you make is gold, so you need to mine your work for those precious nuggets. Ask anyone who has ever done portfolio review at a convention; they all have stories of artists who lay their portfolios down with an apologetic, “This isn’t my best stuff” or “I did these a few years ago but my work’s much better now.” Showing an editor or art director your work is a job interview. You wouldn’t apply for an office job with an incomplete or outdated resume, would you? The same applies to writers: When submitting to a publisher, show us your best ideas, not every idea. An artist’s ability can usually be judged from a few pages of pencils or inks, but a writer’s talent can’t be discerned at a glance. Asking an editor to wade through an avalanche of ideas isn’t only unfair, it’s just not going to happen. That phone book thick pile of pitches, outlines, and scripts aren’t going to impress an editor so much as depress them. Pick your best drawings/ideas and pitch those. Keep it brief but make it your best!

5. Include a brief cover letter. List any comic book credits you may have. Any work in the business you’ve done. Follow these few simple steps and even if your submission isn’t quite what we’re looking for, and in probably 95 % of the time it won’t be, you’ve still conducted yourself with professionalism. And when your next submission comes in we’ll remember you as one of the serious newbies. You’ll have “made a name for yourself” as someone to watch!

6. Learn to accept rejection. As passionate as you may be about your story or series, not every idea is going to sell. In fact, most will not. Even established professional creators face rejection, probably more often than they have their ideas accepted...sure as heck more often than they like to think about. Even when an editor asks a writer for ideas for a specific title or series, the pro will send in three or four pitch ideas for the editor to choose from...all of which the editor might reject and ask to see more. The hardest truth of all, however, is that not everyone has the creative chops to make it at the professional level. That assessment is nothing personal; think of it in terms of music. Just because you enjoy playing the guitar and have been at it for years as a hobby doesn’t mean you expect to be hired to play with Clapton.

7. And remember, all of us were “newbies” at one time, too. We know exactly what it’s like trying to break into comic books. The hard work, study, and dealing with rejection that are involved in the tricky business of making a name for yourself. Oh. There was another saying back in the day, too. “Winners never quit and quitters never win.”
© Roger McKenzie