Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The most in thirty years

It started snowing here in Las Vegas mid afternoon today and it's been going strong all day. By 3 PM there was enough to make a good snowball. By 6 there was enough accumulation to build a snowman. By morning we should have a good six to eight inches of it on the Strip.
        The Las Vegas airport is closed. Drivers who've never in their lives had to drive in snow are crashing into each other in truly impressive numbers. So far there've been no reports of cannibalism -- at least no widespread cannibalism (Okay fine! I ate a foot! A single human foot! But it was me or her and the old biddy had had a good long life, and it's not as if she ever went anywhere on foot anyway! She took that giant boat of a rusty old Plymouth with her everywhere, and still can!).

Of course this only further proves what our top (non-politically aligned) scientists, like Al Gore, have been saying all along. Man caused global warming is about to crush human civilization for all time and at last rescue our long dying planet from the pestilence of our infestation. If only we'd gone socialist sooner. Thank Gaea our financial crisis has wrested our top industries out of greedy capitalists hands and forced a sane legislature to start nationalizing everything.

Still, it's awful pretty.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

This Week's Fine Fellow is...

Jenette Kahn. She's had so many careers that, even limiting myself to those careers that were gloriously, unconditionally successful, I couldn't begin to list them all. So I'll confine myself to a few select areas wherein I've had direct interaction with her.
        Once upon a time Jenette ran DC Comics, as publisher and various other titles (if memory serves). She was still in that position (she'd announced her retirement by then, but wasn't quite out the door) when I first pitched Fables to DC/Vertigo. Jenette immediately made herself a champion of the series and is one of the those most directly responsible for the fact that DC accepted the series without too much fuss. So I owe Jenette.
        Following DC she set out for Hollywood to embark on another career. In partnership with Adam Richman (Hi, Adam), she formed Double Nickel Entertainment, becoming a big shot Hollywood mogul. Except that she's too nice. I haven't met too many big time Hollywood moguls, but they're supposed to be self-impressed spoiled, tantrum-throwing dictators, so I don't think Jenette is doing it right. She's much too generous, kind and interested in getting the most from the people she works with, actually treating them well in order to accomplish it.
        Almost as soon as her production company was formed, Jenette partnered up with Jim Henson Pictures in the first attempt to bring Fables to the big screen. That project didn't work out, for various reasons having nothing to do with Double Nickel or Lisa Henson, who's the boss of Jim Henson Pictures.
        If you want to see what Jenette and Double Nickel is able to bring to the big screen, go see the new (opening soon) Clint Eastwood movie Gran Torino. That's a Double Nickel production. How cool is it that the first major release from the production company is already being talked about as a candidate for multiple Oscars next year? Way to go, Jenette.
        She doesn't remember (or claims not to recall) how we first met. In 1984 or perhaps '85, DC Comics held their annual Christmas party at a trendy New York spot called The Automat, designed after those ubiquitous automat restaurants that used to dot the city, back in the old black and white movie days. I wasn't working with DC back then, but I was working with Comico, doing a series called the Elementals. But DC and Comico had good relations at the time and so we were invited up from Philadelphia to join the party. It was snowing hard that evening and so those of us who took the train up from Philly were dressed for the weather. To be specific, I was wearing big, heavy ex-Army snow-stomper boots, which weren't the best shoes for the dance floor. Yes, I danced that night. It only happens when I'm supremely drunk and I was indeed truly blasted that night. At some point I was actually dancing with Jenette and, unknown to me, stomping all over her feet with my big old Army boots. I learned of this when Paul Levitz kindly and discretely escorted me off of the dance stage, sagely advising me that, "Perhaps it would be a good idea if you stayed off of the dance floor for the rest of the evening." That's right. Paul Levitz (Hi, Paul) banned me from dancing. It must have been a permanent thing, because I haven't danced since (and won't).
        One digression of note: At the same Christmas party, DC had hired two lovely young women whose job was to dance with reluctant employees and freelancers. One was dressed as Santa and the other dressed as one of Santa's elves. Later in the evening they switched to being dressed as a devil and angel. Throughout the evening, at several times, I noticed them literally dragging folks out onto the dance floor. That's right. Knowing they worked with people who were, to be kind, a bit more than socially inept, DC hired mercy dancers. One of the Comico folks from Philly, Dan Smeddy (the funniest human being who ever has and ever will exist) was scolded for hogging the (far too lovely to be real) mercy dancers all night. And he was indeed hogging them. By the end of the night he was the one literally having to drag them onto the dance floor. Later that night, after insisting I could make my way on foot to the train station (all of the other Comico people had left hours earlier) I blanked out for a bit and woke up in Chinatown, which is clear across town from the Automat or the train station, which was only a few short blocks away from the Automat. To this day I have no idea how I got there, or what I planned to do there.
        Anyway, back to Jenette. She graciously claims not to recall that I stomped all over her feet that night, until I had to be banned from the dance floor. Shortly after that DC stopped having public Christmas parties. Coincidence? I doubt it. But the very first time I came into the DC offices, following the beginning of the Fables series, Jenette was wearing a cast on one foot. Coincidence? I doubt it.
        But let's move on. Jenette Kahn is, for all of the reasons I've outlined above, and for many more reasons too numerous to list, a truly Fine Fellow.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Forthcoming Stuff...

I've just sold a prose short story -- meaning they've just emailed me to notify me of their acceptance of it -- to intrepid science fiction editors Gardner Dozois (pictured far left) and Jonathan Strahan (pictured near left). The story is called Fearless Space Pirates of the Outer Rings and will be included in the anthology called The New Space Opera 2, sometime in 2009. It's a collection of all new space opera stories, which you might have gleaned from the book title. The first New Space Opera anthology, also edited by Dozois and Strahan, was published in June of 2007 by Eos, and features a small galaxy of fine authors. I suspect you can still find it at
        My story you can steadfastly fit into the sub, sub-genre that my old Army buddy John Baker used to describe as (wry, dismissive voice here), "Oh it's another one of those books about musclebound spacemen with lasers and swords." Yes, John old pal, that's exactly what it is, and proudly so.

Friday, December 12, 2008

What's going on with this crazy pen?

Well, you'll just have to pick up the Great Fables Crossover to find out. And what about the letters on each side of the pen? Same answer. When will the Great Fables Crossover take place? It starts early next year beginning with issue # 83 of Fables.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Fables on TV?

This deal has been in the works for some time and I've been asked to keep my yap shut about it for that time, which is fine with me, because, in my all too brief encounters with anything Hollywood, I've come to believe that nothing can actually get made in that town and so everything we see on the tube or in the movie houses are just one vast shared hallucination. I didn't expect anything to come of this latest deal to get Fables made into a TV series. That was going to happen a few times before and it was also going to be a major feature before but never got there. So, here I am perfectly content to keep silent about this latest "but this time I think it really might work out" foray into other media, comfortable within my enclave of skepticism, when all of a sudden, this morning in fact, the Hollywood Reporter has broken the news.
        So here's what we know: According to the report, a Fables pilot episode is likely to be made for possible pick-up by ABC as a TV series. Long time writing partners Stu Zicherman and Raven Metzner are penning the pilot screenplay. That's them pictured above. Mr. Zicherman is on the left and Mr. Metzner is on the right. But this photo is at least two years old, so they may look different by now. David Semel (not pictured) will direct the pilot episode, which will be produced by Warner Bros. TV.
        Here's another thing I've learned: According to always dapper and pleasant Ivan Cohen at DC Comics, who is one of their fine young cadre of "let's get this funnybook made into a movie or a TV show" officials, they've received several passes on the first screenplay in the offices and, "This latest rewrite is marvelous."
        Here's my involvement: None. I had nothing to do with writing the pilot. I've not been consulted on the pilot. There have yet to be discussions on whether or not I'll be involved with the series.
        Now that the cat is officially out of the bag, I'll try to keep you updated as things move along -- or come grinding to a halt.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

This Week's Fine Fellow is...

I've known Brad Thomte for twenty years, give or take. In that time he's been an Air Force zoomie, a funnybook letterer -- among other jobs he lettered the Pantheon series I did with Lone Star Press -- sales boss for a game distributer, and various other things. He was also the worst poker player in our regular Austin game, which of course made him very welcome in those poker games. But Brad liked poker and got better at it, until he won the last ever annual Austin Maverick (winner-take-all) Poker Championship. No, we didn't cancel the tournament just because Brad won it, but because all of the old gang was scattering, moving away from Austin.
        Inspired primarily from the war stories I told (incessantly some complained) about my year of playing poker in Las Vegas, Brad decided to pack up the wife and the cats and the various other household vermin and move to Vegas to become a professional poker dealer. He did that, enrolled in a dealer's school, and did so well there that, upon graduation, the owner/teacher immediately made him one of the school's instructors. Eventually, with a few distractions along the way (Vegas can be a very distracting town) he became a poker dealer at a small, out-of-the-way casino.
        That was just the beginning. Here's the dirty little secret about Las Vegas -- okay, one of the dirty little secrets -- The town and its chief industry (gambling of course, though they prefer to call it by the less hot-button term of gaming) is populated by something decidedly less than the brightest and best that our great nation has to offer. I won't go so far as to say that the Vegas gaming industry is staffed mostly by scoundrels, drifters, losers and self-deceiving idiots, but I could float that argument, if forced to.
        Here's the typical Las Vegas Cinderella story: Melvin Dunderbum lives in Boondocks, Nebraska and hates the tedium of his life and his boring job. Mel knows that if he could just get to one of the dreams-come-true towns, he could really make something of himself. He's not quite self deceptive enough to believe he could become a movie star, if only he got himself to Hollywood, so he fixes his imagination on American dream-town numero dose: Vegas. Mel likes poker (but feel free to substitute blackjack, craps or any other standard game here) and is pretty good in his local game. He knows he could beat the system out there, not like those other losers. He gets his stake together, divorces his wife (or brings her along -- as I said, there are a million variations of this tale), packs up the twelve year old Chevrolet and heads to Vegas.
        Mel checks into one of the shabby little rent-by-the-month motel rooms in the downtown area, because he's smart and doesn't plan to waste his stake on fine accommodations. There's plenty of time to move into better digs once he's made his fortune. And then, before even settling in, Mel hits the casinos and finds his poker game.
        And he gets his ass handed to him -- time and time again.
        In a month or two Mel has blown through his stake, losing it in increments to the compassionless, bloodthirsty sharks who ceaselessly patrol the rich hunting grounds of Vegas poker tables, looking for tourists to fleece.
        At this point Mel thinks seriously about admitting defeat, packing up, tucking tail, and heading back home. In fact most Mels, or Bobs, or Wallys are just smart enough to do so. But our particular Mel isn't beaten yet. He thinks, "Okay, I was a little over my head, out of my depth, and naive when I first came out here, but now I've learned my lesson. Now I know the score. And now my poker game has gotten tight. I can win in this town, as soon as I raise another stake." See what just happened? We've just seen the first major weeding out of the real losers and dummies from the general losers and dummies. Those that have at least a wee bit of sense have gone home. The rest stay.
        So now Mel hits on a plan. "Why am I paying good money to stay in a motel room, when I have a perfectly good twelve year old Chevrolet to sleep in? That saves me enough money to put a second stake together, and now that I finally know how to play this game, I'm surely going to make it here now." So Mel checks out of his shabby motel room, starts sleeping in his car, and hits the tables again.
        And he loses his ass again.
        And now we go through our second round of weeding out, this time separating the truly incandescent dummies and losers from the merely great dummies and losers. A new round of defeated dreamers finally admit defeat and slink home at this point. But our Mel is more intrepid than that. "Okay," he says, "It was hard won knowledge, but I've finally figured out this game. All I need is one last stake to make my third and final go at the tables."
        So Mel sells his twelve year old Chevrolet to one of the many scavenger "Get instant cash for your car!" car lots that populate the most desperate areas of this town, like the uncountable packs of jackals that shadow any herd of tasty meat animals. He has one last small stake of cash and this time he really knows what he's doing.
        And you know what happens. He loses it again.
        And now poor Mel is homeless and broke. Does he go home now, at long last? No way. He gets a nowhere job -- perhaps as a night security guard for the same shabby motel he can no longer afford to live in -- and slowly builds up another stake. But this time he uses the money to enter one of the fairly inexpensive dealing schools in town. This time he decides to become a poker (or blackjack or craps or whatever) dealer, so that, even though he's acknowledged by this point that he's a no good degenerate gambler, he can still participate in the great game, and from time to time still play in it.
        And that, my friends, is the talent pool that the Las Vegas gaming industry draws upon to run the great machine. They aren't exactly the cream of the crop. Is this a gross generalization? Of course it is. Any generalization is by definition wrong in many particulars. But keep this in mind: During my year in Vegas, to see if I could actually make it as a professional poker player, the most common excuse I heard for a dealer not being able to make it to his assigned shift was, "I couldn't make bail last night."
        This is what I communicated to the boys and girls back in Austin, following my year in Vegas, "It's such a pool of morons out there, that anyone with even halfway competent skills and a reasonable work ethic will rise up through the ranks and run that town in a year or two."
        And Brad Thomte, to get back to the subject of this essay, was more than halfway competent and his work ethic is just fine -- much better than mine for the most part.
        Starting as a lowly extra-board dealer for one of the smallest poker rooms in the city, Brad steadily rose through the ranks, with a few distractions along the way (this can be a very distracting town), until now, as of December 1, 2008, Brad runs the most prestigious poker room in Las Vegas. Brad has just been made poker room manager (that's above the level of pit boss) of Binions, which is the universally-acknowledged long-time king of poker in Vegas, and therefore in the world. Binions is the place that started the World Poker Series and it's the one place that still gets calls in the middle of the night from folks in Norway and Singapore and Vladivostok to make an official ruling on some disputed action in their home games.
        Basically Brad runs poker in the world.
        He's done some other things, and had some other accomplishments of note, such as being one of the on-air personalities of the Ultimate Poker Challenge, one of the many TV poker shows that haunted every up-the-channel station for a time. And some of you will also recognize Brad as the model for Fables' own Bluebeard. Brad is determined to land the role of Bluebeard, if and when a Fables TV series is ever produced. But all of that pales compared to the fact that he now runs the Binions poker room.
        Basically Brad runs poker in the world.
        And that is just one of the reasons why my friend Brad is not only not another poor Mel Dunderbum, but he's also a truly a Fine Fellow.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Coventry Covers # 1

For the very first Coventry cover I wanted something that would stand out starkly on the comics racks, compared to every other comics cover out there. So I went with lots of negative space -- the white part of the cover. That way the logo and small frog painting would simply pop out at the casual viewer.
        Coventry had just about everything going against it. It was going to be a black and white comic book at a time when black and white books were retailer poison. This was well after the big black and white comic boom (started, for the most part, by the surprising success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), when any piece of crap in vaguely comic book form was ordered heavily and sold well -- not because of any value in the story, but because of the frenzy surrounding the latest funnybook trend. Black and white comics were hot, HOT, HOT. Anything in that format was selling big time! When the bubble inevitably burst many retailers, caught with thousands of unsalable crap-books, rather than blame their own excess, blamed any publisher who ever did, ever will, or ever thought of publishing a black and white comic book. Many retailers flat out refused to carry any black and white comic, period. So Coventry had that going against it.
        It was also coming out from a small and not too popular publisher -- Fantagraphics -- and from a cartoonist (moi) who, though he might have had some limited success in the past with Elementals, wasn't exactly a household name, even in a comics reading household.
        And it wasn't going to be a superhero book.
        With all of those strikes against the book, even before issue one was published, I thought I'd better come up with something truly dynamic for the first issue's cover. Since I couldn't hope to compete with the great comic cover artists working at the time, and since a real "action" cover would get lost in the sea of all-out-action covers every week, I decided to go a different way, creating a very static and unusual image.
        Mostly it worked. Judging strictly from anecdotal evidence -- there's no money at any level of the funnybook publishing field for detailed readership research -- it did exactly what it was intended to do, looking nothing like any other comic on the stands that week. Many claimed to pick it up strictly because the cover caught their eye.
        Oddly enough, in order to do the cover my way, I had to work out a deal with Fantagraphics where I wasn't paid for the covers. Well, of course I was paid for the covers, but not separate from the pay for providing the full issue of the book. With Ironwood, I got paid a separate (small, tiny, wee) fee for the cover of each issue. As a result, whichever underpaid brand new "this is my first job out of school" editor they had running the Eros comics imprint that week would try to "art direct" the covers as they came in. They would look at any given cover as a separate artifact from the book it was intended to accompany.
        Since I wasn't about to take any art directing from anyone where Coventry was concerned -- especially not from the "all book learning, but not an iota of experience" Eros editor idiot du jour, it was necessary to work out a pay structure where the cover had no particular status apart from the entire issue -- all of which was "hands off -- if you want to fiddle with this story in any way, then you better be prepared to pay a ton extra for that privilege." Fantagraphics couldn't afford to pay well, so they had to agree to let me to do what I wanted, which included a cover that was almost entirely composed of negative space (though they did squawk about it at the time, until they started getting in the initial retailer and reader reaction, at which time everything was fine).
        Someone once said -- and I apologize for not recalling who, since he deserves the credit -- that "a magazine can't survive the mistakes of more than one person." He (whoever he was) was talking about a slick monthly magazine -- like a fashion mag or something in that species -- but I think it equally applies here. I believe that is true in comic books and it's a lesson the publishers will never learn. One person has to be in charge, and though he will certainly make mistakes, they will be his mistakes and a story can survive those. What a story can't survive is a dozen or more people all second-guessing each other, until what finally comes out is a bunch of bland, unreadable pablum.
        I think that's at the heart of many of the terrible comics today -- including many of those I've produced recently for (and from) the DCU. Everything is second guessed from dozens of sources, and ultimately, though my name was in the credits, those were committee comics, and it showed -- especially since the committee handing down changes couldn't (or wouldn't) keep track of its own decisions, handing down contradictory instructions day by day.
Here's a slightly expurgated version of an actual conversation:

Editor: Bill, why did you put those members of the Suicide Squad through the Boom Tube and on the prison planet?

Bill: Because that's what I was told had to happen. That was one of the essential details that was handed down to me.

Editor: Who said that?

Bill: Everyone did, at that big meeting in New York, when we all had lunch while going over the things that had to occur in the first or second issue. You were there.

Editor: Yeah, maybe, but it interferes with something that's going on in another book.

Bill: Not my problem. This is one of the many last-minute changes that were handed to me, mere days after everyone up there swore this would be a series without any last-minute changes.

Editor: Well, what were you planning on doing with those characters there?

Bill: I have no idea. As I said, this came from you guys in New York. I assumed, since they had to be sent there, that you guys had some idea of why and what they would be doing.

And so on. I could relate dozens of similar conversations with many different editors. I trust I've made my point. Comics that are the result of a single guiding vision -- preferably of the poor sucker actually tasked with telling the story -- aren't guaranteed to be good. They just have a fighting chance of it. Committee Comics are broken from conception.
        Back to the first Coventry cover: This is one of the few pieces that I can still look at today and be fully satisfied. It came out exactly as I imagined it. I like the small painted frog enough that I keep using it -- here for example, as the art bullet for any blog item that wouldn't otherwise have anything visual to go with it. I do like that frog.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Peter Pan

Since it now looks as if it will be a long time coming before Peter Pan gets to join the cast of Fables -- if ever -- I decided I might as well finally share this character design drawing with you, since it won't likely ever see publication elsewhere. Some of you might recall seeing the character design sketches I did to accompany the original Fables proposal. They were published in the back of the second Fables collection. This depiction of Peter Pan as the Adversary was among them when I first submitted the proposal to DC/Vertigo. It depicts Peter as not only the Adversary, but as the Emperor too. Unlike Geppetto, Peter never would have been content with simply being the anonymous power behind the throne -- behind thousands of thrones.
        In showing Peter among select members of his corrupt and sybaritic court, I was trying for a hint of the look of a young Christopher Plummer, playing the evil emperor Commodus in the 1964 Fall of the Roman Empire (of which the hit movie Gladiator -- at least in the first third -- was nearly a shot-by-shot remake). Plummer captured and portrayed a truly creepy villain. Joaquin Phoenix, for all of his skills and talents, couldn't come close to Plummer's note-perfect portrayal of the same character. Then again, Richard Harris, giant of a man that he was, couldn't match Alec Guinness in the role of Marcus Aurelius. Gladiator had two strikes against it from the get go.
        But back to Peter: Actually, I'm not sure I have anything more to say about this subject or this sketch for now, so I guess I'll let you go early today.

Robin # 122 (Part One)

In the cliffhanger ending of Robin # 121, the Boy Wonder had just gotten bushwhacked by the new villain Johnny Warren -- who would later become Johnny Warlock. We'll just call him Johnny to cut out any confusion.
        After whacking Robin in the back of his head with a sawed off shotgun, the script for 121 called for (paraphrasing here, since I don't have the script in front of me -- but it's a pretty accurate paraphrase) "Johnny lifts the half-unconscious Robin up by his hair." Now, at the time I thought it would be obvious to the artist that this meant that Robin would still mostly be down on the floor, but lifted partially (and painfully) up off of the floor by his hair.
        Unfortunately the artist Rick Mays interpreted my panel description literally and had Johnny lift Robin completely off of the floor -- at arm's length, mind you -- by his hair.
        First digression: For all new and would-be comics writers. There is an eternal balancing act when writing a script for someone else to draw. Do you provide too much information for any given panel in a script, and run the very real risk of overloading the artist with too many detailed instructions and, worse yet, risk insulting him by explaining obvious things such as, "Of course Robin can't be lifted entirely off of the floor by Johnny, who after all only has human level strength and lifting someone from the floor at arm's length is simply a physical impossibility," or do you provide just the bare minimum of panel direction and trust that the artist, who is supposed to be one of the storytellers in this undertaking, will know what to do and how best to do it? This has been debated for a long time among comics writers, with no clear solution in sight. Compelling arguments have been made for either side. I tend to fall into the camp of asking for much more than I expect to get, under the reasoning that, if the artist only provides you half of what you ask for, then you still get a lot. I came to this practice having been a comics artist myself. I know first hand how lazy we can be. This can backfire though -- and does. What if the half that the artist gives you doesn't include the essential information that you absolutely really needed? That's why some writers swear by the policy of only asking for that one essential thing in any given panel, because that way the artist has no other distractions or options of what to draw. See? I told you their side of the argument had some muscle to it.
        Back to our essay: In the opening scene of Robin # 122, titled Bad to the Bone, Johnny still has Robin held at arm's length, inches off of the floor. And he's showing not a bit of strain doing this. Not only is Johnny a strong one, he seems to have some extraordinary endurance too.
        Oh my, how the critics howled at this -- and rightly so (dammit).
        Our second digression: I blame Stan Lee and the early years of Marvel Comics. He was entirely too successful, in his over-the-top carnival huckster way, in convincing funnybook readers that they (we -- as a kid I bought into it fully) were an important part of the comics creating process -- that we were in fact one big happy family. Every single reader came to believe it. We were in fact taught to look for mistakes and given non-reward rewards for finding mistakes -- the famous Marvel Comics no-prizes. This conditioning was so successful it's hard-wired in to nearly every comics reader today. We look for mistakes in every single issue of every single book and point them out with such glee that the simple joys of actually getting lost in the story aren't available to us any longer. That's the price we've paid for what Stan wrought back in the day. Yes, some mistakes are so obvious they can't be ignored. The Johnny holding Robin up off of the floor business was a true blunder. But the pathology goes much deeper than that. We are a readership now that thinks our job is to dissect each issue, looking for even the most ephemeral mistakes. And we still think special status is conferred on us for pointing such things out. What's the solution? There isn't one. The damage has been done and it's part of the comics readers' DNA now.
        Back to Robin: Then Robin gets the drop on Johnny, escapes and disarms him, exactly as every reader knew would happen. But there is one thing I wanted to do with this scene which I still think works. I wanted to show that Robin doesn't at all -- on any level -- get off on the violence of his chosen profession. He's a truly good person, who only wants to make a better, safer world. While fighting off Johnny, Robin makes a calm and reasoned plea for Johnny to surrender. Since the outcome is inevitable -- since no street thug can possibly hope to outfight someone trained by Batman -- why not avoid the beating altogether?
        Robin didn't beg. He didn't lecture or preach. He simply reasoned with the man in as calm a way as the situation would allow.
        Reading this over again I still think the scene works. And I think it reveals right from the start an important aspect of the character -- at least my take on the character -- for my entire run on the series.
        But of course Robin's calm matter-of-fact demeanor only makes Johnny more furious. This is something I learned in my Military Police days. Being overly polite and courteous to some thugs only makes them crazy (well, crazier). Why is this? I'm not sure, unless it's because they are trying to provoke passion and anger and an overreaction -- trying to drag us into the only arena in which they live and can understand the world -- and how dare we not comply with their demands?
        What follows is a scene between Robin and Batman where I revealed another important core aspect of Tim's character: no one can ever be as hard on Robin as Robin can. He's the type who will always agonize over how he should have done better. If he saved four lives, he'll blame himself for not saving the fifth. He'll be the last to try to take credit for his victories and always be the first to take the blame for his defeats. But -- and this is a vital but -- that doesn't then translate into Robin becoming a defeatist morose whiner. There are already far too many of those in superhero comics. Even though Robin does have his down moments -- and I showed more than a few in my two-plus years writing his series -- his core character would always resurface. Blaming himself for his many perceived faults doesn't mean he gives up, it means in the future he has to work harder and do better. His work ethic and sense of responsibility is vast. That's the essential Robin I set out to portray. In hindsight I think I succeeded to a degree, but not nearly as much as I'd hoped.
        Then again, it's not for me to decide. That judgement is absolutely the responsibility of the readers, in their half of the eternal writer-reader collaboration.

Monday, December 1, 2008

More bad elves...

When I was writing the afore-mentioned unfinished novel, I was posting the finished chapters online, on the old Clockwork Storybook site (long defunct).
        One of the fellows reading said posts posited that my elves looked to be a weird cross between American Indians and Scottish highlanders. That seemed a fair observation.
        The couple on the far left are a rare species of elf called Herne Elves, for what I imagine are obvious reasons.

That there's a bad elf...

The gentleman on the right has killed twelve men in battle. How do we know this? Well, that's what the title says, true, but it's all about the braids in his hair. Years ago, in an unfinished novel, I posited a highly warlike culture among elves, and one of the ways in which they show their battlefield accomplishments is by adding a braid in their hair for every opponent they've killed in battle. Of course with the more successful of these long-lived warriors they might run out of hair long before they run out of dead enemies that need honoring. So they have attachments that show one braid equals ten dead enemies, or a hundred dead enemies, and so on.
        This fellow is wearing one braid with a ten-dead-opponents sigil, plus two single-opponent braids. Therefore he's claiming twelve enemies killed in battle. Tough little guy, huh?
        Matthew Sturges, my friend and longtime writing partner (and future Fine Fellow here -- bet on it) borrowed, with my blessing, this practice for one of the characters in his excellent novel Midwinter, which was published once in very limited release some years ago, but a substantially new version of which is due out in a major release from Pyr Press later this year. He also borrowed my notion that the reason the queen of fairy is often called Titania and other times called Mab is because they are two separate individuals, one of which is queen of the seelie court (Titania) and the other queen of the unseelie court (Mab). In fact Matt was so busy borrowing ideas I left lying around that I was able to lift his wallet without getting caught. Okay, that was a joke. Not a big joke, mind you, or even a funny one, but a joke nonetheless. One day we'll try to add up all of the good ideas I've borrowed from Matt. It's the nature of our business. When it's done above board and openly, it's a sign of the generosity and general goodwill among folks in our racket. When it's done clandestinely, surreptitiously and without permission, it's a sign that a new Harry Potter novel is about to be published.
        Okay, now that was a much better joke.
        But seriously, folks, the reason I point this out is to mark a bit of territory, so that later, when my own prose work comes out using the same ideas, I'll have this item to point to, to demonstrate that I don't steal all of my best ideas from Matt -- just most of them.
        My sketchbooks in this period of time show many examples of tough, warlike elves, so this must have been when I was beginning to work up ideas for that as yet unfinished novel (which I won't name here, since it needs substantial reworking before -- if ever -- it sees the light of day). The notion of very tough elves -- as opposed to the prissy, twee, fancy-pants, emo versions in so many other fantasy worlds -- is not new to me. Not by a long shot. My first exposure to the idea was with Ralph Bakshi's cult favorite animated feature Wizards. It's a very flawed, but still remarkable, film.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sketchbook Stuff

Okay, so the reason I'm posting so much sketchbook stuff today is that I had to learn to scan and import images this afternoon, and in the process thereof, convert said images to jpegs, so that I could park them somewhere on my computer and have them available to attach to emails. This may seem like a simple undertaking to most people, but I am among the least computer-intuitive creatures alive and learning how to do this sort of thing doesn't at all come easy to me.
        But there were an important couple of images I had to scan and have ready to send off to DC Comics tomorrow, for a new project in the works -- about which more later. And my usual do-everything-for-me-computer-friend was at work today (Hi, Brad). So, with a little bit of help and guidance from him, snuck in over the phone between important grownup man in a grownup job duties, I had to mostly suss out how to do this myself.
        Once those two actual bits of business were taken care of, I didn't want to lose this new hard won skill set, so I broke out one of my sketchbooks and started scanning pages, to retain by repetition this bold new ability in my old-dog-can't-learn-new-tricks sort of life.
        I don't think I have anything to say about any of the actual images on this page of doodles, other than I may want to someday find a use for the funny little gobliny creature in the lower part of the page.

Sketchbook Stuff

I'm not sure I have anything to comment about this sketchbook page of doodles. These are all done originally in pencils of course. Then, back when I was producing a good deal of comic art -- back in the Ironwood and Coventry days -- I would warm up my inking hand by first inking a few of the sketches in one of my sketchbooks. That's how the majority of them came to be inked, and that's where I tried out new inking a pencilling styles.

This Week's Fine Fellow is...

New York Times Bestselling author Marjorie M Liu is this week's Fine Fellow, most likely because I'm reading one of her books just now and so she's currently on my mind.
        I met her only a short time ago, at the 2008 World's Fantasy Convention in Calgary (lovely town), where she was kind enough to give me several of her books (comped by her publisher to give out to her fans at the show) to read. She introduced herself as a Fables fan at the bar -- which is where most of the convention took place, in the sense that all of the real business of matching writers to publishers, editors and agents is done there. Okay, she reminded me then that we'd also met a bit more briefly at this year's San Diego show, when she came over to introduce herself, but I have a good excuse for not remembering her from that occasion. The San Diego show is a huge affair and I meet hundreds of people there for the first time on any given year. And I try to be on my best public behavior there, which means that breathtakingly beautiful women actually have a strike against them, as far as my remembering them is concerned. This is because, as I said, I'm trying hard to behave. The more heart-stopping you are, the more likely to be quickly scrubbed out of the old memory banks. Besides, Mark Buckingham is the big, shameless flirt at the San Diego show now. He has to be seen to be believed. And oh my, oh dear, oh lordy how he can exude innocence, harmlessness and bashful sincerity -- a talent I could never quite develop with any finesse. Even if I tried to compete, he'd leave me in his dust.
        Sothenanyway, I met Marjorie at the Calgary World's Fantasy Convention and she gave me some of her books to read. I'm in the middle of her first one right now and find myself in awe of her ability to put words together in sparse but entirely engaging and evocative sentences. Look at this line from only the second paragraph in her novel: The world trickled light. If I could craft a sentence so simple and yet so compelling, I'd really have some confidence, now that I seem to be intent on entering the prose fiction trade.
        The book is called Tiger Eye, and it's about what happens when a young woman gets caught up in a world of supernatural danger and intrigue after innocently (she thought at the time) purchasing a demon-filled Chinese riddle box at Beijing's famous Dirt Market.
        Tiger Eye is the first of her Dirk and Steele series, all of which are described (by her or the publisher -- I'm not sure) as paranormal romance thrillers. I'm pretty confident I'll be reading the other books in the series, which include, Book Two: Shadow Touch; Book Three: The Red Heart of Jade; Book Four: Dark Dreamers; Book Five: Eye of Heaven -- and so on, totaling seven books so far in this series, plus books in two or three other series she's started. She's very prolific.
        Confession time: I doubt I would ever have picked up one of Marjorie's books, had I not met her in person. The reason is they're categorized as Romances, which is where they are shelved in bookstores. Though I have no justification for avoiding it, the romance section is an area in bookstores I seldom wander into. Her novels also have traditional-looking romance book covers, which are occasionally a bit off-putting to us mighty manly men. Then again, who knows? I don't carry many biases where good storytelling is concerned. I'm willing to find it anywhere, as too many of my friends will attest, when I try to drag them to wonderful movies that they aren't eager to go to, simply because they fall under the chick-flick rubric. So, in any case, I'm glad I did meet Marjorie Liu in person, because it would have been a shame to miss out on the work of an author this talented due to whatever degree of cultural prejudices I might still possess. I trust you who read this won't make the same mistake.
        Marjorie writes, and as long as she does, I'll continue to read. I believe this more than qualifies her as a truly Fine Fellow.
        If you want to learn more about her -- and there's tons more to learn -- go to her website at:

Sketchbook Stuff

Many of the members of the so-called Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood, a movement that came along decidedly post Raphael by the way, kept drawing this one woman named Jane Morris. Some used her as the model for whatever painting they were doing, while she simply shows up in the sketchbooks and discardia of others. When I finally ran across an actual photograph of Miss Jane Morris, I understood why, and had to copy it for myself. Captivating woman.
        At this time I was just beginning to get a wildness to my brushstroke that I liked and continued to pursue and develop. If I can ever recapture it someday -- it faded when I stopped drawing as much as I was doing back then -- I'm going to try to introduce it to my comics work. Assuming I can ever get around to drawing comics again.

Sketchbook Stuff

In the very same sketchbook, which was started at least two years before I began to think about the series Pantheon -- so this would have been around 1989 or '90, but don't hold me to that because my time sense is a bit spotty in some areas -- I also drew this character whom I called Fortress America. In fact, I had the name Fortress America first and tried to design an image to fit, unlike in the case of Dynasty, where I had the image in mind first and eventually found a name and an identity to fit. An armored character who has the word 'fortress' as part of his name has to be big and solid, and I think this fellow fit the bill nicely.
        As you can begin to see, with this and the previous post, when I began to think about the series Pantheon, I went shopping among my old notes and sketchbooks for characters to people it with. If you're going to write or draw comics, or both, you have to keep notebooks and/or sketchbooks. This seems a no-brainer, but it took me a while to figure that much out.

Sketchbook Stuff

This is my first run at drawing the character Dynasty, who would later star in the 13 issue maxi series Pantheon, published by Lone Star Press. I'm still quite fond of this design and by this time I was beginning to get results I liked with the inking brush. Of course, by this time I had no idea who the character was or that she'd be named Dynasty. I only had an image in my mind of the dragon symbol wrapped around one leg, before showing up on her chest, where most self-respecting superhero symbols appear.
        I think it's sort of humorous that several critics of the Pantheon series went out of their way to point out what they considered a mistake in the character design, because the woman was clearly (East) Indian, but the dragon design was obviously Asian. Apparently, according to these critics, I don't know one culture from another. So let's get this straight: American superheroes can adopt all sorts of symbology from other cultures, but non-American superheroes are required to stick within the culture of their origin -- period. Got it. Understood.
        Do I work in a silly profession, or what?
        By the way, the character to the left of Dynasty was going to be a superhero called Unicorn -- part of the super team called The Bestiary. But the Bestiary never actually made an appearance in Pantheon. I intended them to, but simply ran out of room. Though they were referred to once or twice in other character's dialogue, they ended up on the funnybook equivalent of the cutting room floor. That happens.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Robin # 121

In 2003, after Fables got up and running at Vertigo, I began actively looking for a DCU series to write, my reasoning being that with two regular books a month to script my recent (and some might say legendary by then) financial woes would be ended and I could actually start socking some money away -- which had always been a rarity for me.
        I made some calls, talked to some editors, floated a few ideas -- standard job-seeking behavior in the funnybook field. Eventually I got a call from a fine fellow named Michael Wright who was one of the Bat-Editors. Specifically he edited the Robin series and wondered if I might be interested in taking it over and (hopefully) punching some new life into it.
        I was interested and told him so immediately. But, as I explained to him, it had been some time since I had read any of the Robin comics and so I would need to do some serious catching up before making my final decision.
        First digression: I made the mistake of repeating the line directly above in some of my pre-Robin # 121 online interviews, when the word had gotten out that I would be taking over the series. I clearly mentioned that, in preparing for the series, I had to reread many of the books I had read in the past, and read for the first time many issues that I hadn't read before being faced with the prospect of taking over the series. Now, to a reasonable person, this would seem like a fair and prudent, and even professional, thing to do, to make sure one is up-to-speed on an important subject, before making a decision involving said subject, right? But I had not anticipated the current (then -- just as it largely is now) internet culture, which specializes in taking things boldly and blatantly out of context, added to the general culture by then of what I (and others) called the new Indignation Industry, where special status is conferred on all victims, and members of victims groups. And apparently anyone who screamed and cried enough received the coveted status of victimhood, without any actual victimization needing to be demonstrated. So no sooner had I mentioned the fact that I had to read up on past Robin issues, before deciding to take over the series, than someone on the internet, unhappy with my take on the character of Tim Drake, remolded that statement as, "Willingham even admitted he didn't bother to read any Robin issues before taking over the series." And that fabricated statement got repeated over and over again, until it became the official history.
        So, since part of the stated purpose of this journal is to point out my many career mistakes to those newly starting out their comics careers, with an eye towards helping you avoid some of the blunders I've made, let me mention now an increasingly universal truth that so many have had to learn at their peril: For the most part the internet is a garbage dump and a wasteland, and like any garbage dump, it's ruled by the biggest, meanest and most disease-ridden rats, who've made it their special home.
        So, be careful what you say and how you say it.
        Am I indicting all people who post on the internet? No, of course not. I'm merely pointing out the well-proven axiom that, in any venue, throughout human history, the unreasonable people will always trump the reasonable ones -- if you let them. And the internet seems tailor made to let them have their way, unfettered.
        Then what's the solution? That's simple enough. The internet isn't one vast venue, it's thousands (millions by now I suppose) of separate venues. Therefore, chose the places where good behavior is enforced and stay far away from those places where it isn't (such as the vast cesspool of the official DC message boards). Try to set the record straight when and where you can, but don't make a fetish of it, since the weasel-contingent is always going to have their say somewhere. By entering the professional comics book field, you've willingly entered the public arena, where a certain amount of shit is going to be thrown at you as a matter of course. Try to console yourself with the knowledge that these shitcasters will never accomplish anything of worth with their wretched lives, will always be the dependents of those who actually do make the world, and will always resent it and lash out in indignation.
        Now, back to our essay: Michael Wright sent me the last fifty issues of Robin, to catch up on, including the photocopies and as-yet-unillustrated scripts of those issues which hadn't been published yet. I did my homework, found that I liked the character and could come up with some interesting (to me at least) ideas, and told Michael that I'd take the job.
        My initial plans for the Robin series were pretty basic: 1) Build up a more healthy rogues gallery of new villains for Robin, so he isn't constantly in the position of having to borrow whatever well-known Batman villain isn't being used in the other Batbooks that month. 2) Tell the adventures of someone in the process of learning the superhero trade from the greatest expert in the (DC) world.
        Our second digression: This second plan turned out to be something of a sticking point for many of the die-hard Robin readers -- at least the more vocal contingent (see the first digression above for some important context). It seems they much preferred a Robin who was already a seasoned hero on his own -- one who metaphorically sprang fully grown from the forehead of Zeus, dressed, armed and ready for battle. They wanted a Robin who didn't need constant help, advice and training from Batman. As a result they chafed and squirmed at my intentional depiction of a Robin who, though obviously talented and well on his way, was still very much a boy in training. In this respect I simply had to disagree with these vocal critics and do the stories I thought best. A Robin being trained by Batman interested me greatly. I had many tales to tell about such a character. In my mind, a Robin who had already learned all he needed to should give up the name and identity, choose a new identity (like Nightwing did) and move on, making room for another Robin in the Batcave. As it turned out, in later issues, this is what would happen, though not exactly as one might envision it.
        Returning again to our essay: But there was one big condition on taking over the Robin job. It had already been decided by then that the character Spoiler was going to die. I had to figure that into my plans for the series. No problem. Having just read a veritable deluge of Robin stories, Spoiler didn't stand out as a particularly interesting character. Put those stones down, this is just my opinion. You can disagree. I wasn't exactly happy to kill off Spoiler, but it didn't bother me either. Unknown to me at the time, I had yet to think of the one development that would make Spoiler truly interesting to me -- but too late to save her. By editorial dictate, she was doomed.
        Take a look at this wonderful first-issue (my first issue at least) cover from Jason Pearson. It absolutely captured what I wanted my first issue to be all about. Why Pearson doesn't have awards and accolades and parades in his honor is beyond me.
        The title of Robin # 121 was Johnny Got His Gun. I wrote it. Rick Mays pencilled it. Aaron Sowd inked it. Right off the bat I decided to get the ball rolling by introducing what was to be one of Robin's new villains, the truly evil Johnny Warlock. He's the fellow on the cover holding a shotgun to Robin's head.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Speaking of Ironwood...

Okay, no one was speaking of Ironwood. But anyway, this was an illustration I did to accompany an Ironwood prose story for a short-lived independent funnybook called Mythography (great name). Compositionally this has many problems, but I was getting control of my inking brushwork (Windsor Newton Series 7 or nothing) and I sort of like how the beer stein and bread came out.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Here's something interesting...

Since it looks likely this blog is shaking down to being a candid (meaning I admit my many blunders) examination of my career so far, you might want to take note of the following blog I found today, wherein someone else is doing much the same thing -- taking a detailed look at what is arguably the anchor-point of my current career.
        David Bird, residing in the truly lovely city of Victoria, British Columbia (which is just about as far west as one can get in Western Canada) is running an issue by issue examination of Fables on his blog. The articles are called, appropriately enough, Issue by Issue: Bill Willingham's Fables. Each separate article makes a fairly in-depth examination of a single issue of Fables, beginning with the first one.
        He started doing this just over a month ago and, by his own calculation, it will take him a good two years -- posting at the desired rate of one article per week -- to catch up to the current issue. As of his posting two days ago, he's up to the middle issue of the second story arc (Animal Farm).
        So far this looks to be a fair and insightful exploration of Fables. Bird's comments are mostly on point, his criticisms valid, and his questions helpful.
        You can find David Bird's blog at:
        If I was at all handy with a computer I would have actually posted a link you can click on, but I'm not, so I didn't.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

So what have we learned so far?

1) Be careful about the publishers you work with, but finish the jobs you do take on time.

2) Surround yourself with talented people who can make up for your deficiencies in same.

3) Don't let yourself get talked into restarting your creator-owned series again at # 1.

A Huntress page...

In late '93 my comics illustrating career was pretty much on the skids. The fairly critically and sales successful Elementals had come and gone, after a reasonable run of fifty-plus issues (broken into two volumes of 25 or so issues each).
        First digression: Advice to new cartoonists: When you're producing a run of funnybooks, don't let the publisher talk you into finding an excuse to start again at issue # 1, under the justification that it will bump up sales. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't, but the hassle of trying to sort out, for the rest of your years, which Elementals # 1 was the first # 1, and so on, aren't worth it.
        Back to the essay: If I recall correctly, I was still writing and illustrating (and lettering and everything elseing) Ironwood for Fantagraphics' Eros line. But I was finishing an installment of Ironwood less often with each succeeding issue, and the overall sales weren't exactly ripping up the charts.
        Marvel was a closed shop to me by then, following several frustrating years worth of aborted attempts to launch new projects there, as a writer or artist, or both, but always running afoul of the smug, childish and cliquish editorial culture that flourished there at the time -- behaviors for which I never had any tolerance, and was perhaps a bit too vocal in criticizing.
        Second digression: This seems to be no longer the case at Marvel. Based entirely on my admittedly limited interactions with them of late, an admirable level of professionalism and courtesy seems to be the standard there now, rather than the exception.
        Returning again to our essay: DC was mostly a closed shop to me then too, but not due to a lack of professionalism on their parts, but this time based almost entirely on my past failures to deliver assigned pages (I'd worked strictly as a hired-gun artist for them up to then) in a timely manner -- or at all in a few cases.
        But DC had been willing to give me work in the past and hadn't entirely gotten to the point where editors refused even to take my calls. However, more than one editor, upon learning that it was me on the line, began any conversation by saying, "You better not be looking for work!" Unfortunately I was looking for work, needing to find a pencilling job or face the unenviable prospect of getting honest work outside of the funnybook field. So, in late '93 I was calling around the DC offices looking for a book to draw.
        Neal Pozner was editing a series called Showcase '93 at that time. The title was doing double duty, describing both that Showcase was a place to feature new talent and to feature stories about second and third-string DCU characters that had no regular books of their own. Even though I wasn't exactly new talent by then,  Neal had never worked with me before and let me draw a two-part Huntress story that would appear (I believe) in issues # 9 and 10.
        Right away Neal heard from other DC staffers that he'd made a terrible mistake and was likely insane for taking a chance on me. He grew justifyably worried, based on those war stories of my past failings. But he'd already assigned the job and was too encumbered with human decency to withdraw the offer.
        I did the work, buckled down, determined to mend fences, rebuild bridges -- pick your metaphor. There were two hitches in the job though. One was simply fun and silly and one wasn't. First, it was a story about Huntress following a vicious gunrunner to a white-supremacist enclave in the mountains of Idaho. This wasn't a case of hot pursuit, where the hero would have no time to plot and plan. Huntress had a few days to prepare for the mission and then followed the villain out to Idaho, from Gotham, on a later flight. Anticipating this, trying to do a good job with the script and thoroughly think through its implications, I decided to design a cold-weather costume for the Huntress. After all, she was supposed to be a female equivalent of Batman (though operating on more of a budget) and ranked in his general ballpark as far as wit, cunning and intelligence, right? Any moron knowing she was going to a mountainous, snowy environment would outfit herself differently than the standard skimpy little-more-than-a-bathing-suit job that she usually wore in Gotham, right?
        The problems was, if DC let me design a new winter outfit for her, they'd have to pay me a fee for doing so, above and beyond my page rate, and perhaps even open the door for a later legal claim on my part that I owned part of the character, having helped visually design her. That sort of nonsense just wasn't in the sales-meager Showcase's shoestring budget. No matter what the consequences for the story, Huntress simply had to stay in her skimpy costume.
        So I ended up drawing many panels of Huntress in the snow, obviously shivering her bottom off with the cold, trying to keep wrapped up in her cape, and not exactly making a case for the notion that she was a wise and clever superhero.
        That was the fun -- or at least silly -- one of the two problems.
        The other hitch wasn't nearly as entertaining. After I'd completed all of the art for both installments (40 pages in total), which included an extended guest appearance from Batman in the final 20 pages, someone at DC realized that this story would come out after their big event where the original Batman gets his back broken and would be temporarily replaced by a guy named Azarael in a vastly different version of the Batman suit -- which was quite well suited for cold weather operations, by the way, so even this new guy upstart hero had more sense than poor dim Huntress.
        So I had to go back and redraw any of the far too many pages in which Batman appeared. No problem, right? Just change a few costume details and we're golden. But there was a pretty big problem, because the new Batman was a bulky figure, entirely different in shape from the original figure, with lots of extra spiky things sticking out all over. I couldn't simply change a few costume details, I had to completely redraw each of the many panels featuring Batman.
        For that reason DC had to pay me a fairly substantial redrawing fee, beyond my page rate. This didn't win me any new friends up there, when that's exactly what I was trying to do with this job. They couldn't understand why I wasn't thrilled to be one of the first artists to draw the thrilling new Batman. Shouldn't that have been reward enough?
        In any case, the problems were worked out and a redrawing fee was eventually agreed upon by both parties. And even with the extra work involved, I still managed to get the job in early. Neal Pozner couldn't have been happier and made a point to tell me, "I don't care what anyone else says. I'll give you work anytime you want it."
        Mission accomplished. My failing career received the new jumpstart I was looking for.
        Shortly afterwards Neal, that truly good man, died of complications resulting from his long (unknown to me at the time) battle with AIDS.
        I maintain a lingering fondness for this Huntress story, despite the minor (in hindsight) hiccups along the way. Terry Austin inked me on this job, which was quite an honor for me. I'd been his fan for some years. To this day I can still look back at my artwork for this story and not completely recoil in horror -- which is rare for me on any past work. As you might begin to guess by now, I'm not the biggest fan of my own comics artwork.
        Terry and I never got a chance to work together again, which is too bad, because I think something in our styles meshed together well. Then again, his skills and talent went a long way towards covering up my many sins of bad anatomy and worse composition. He's darn good at fixing things.
        Following this job it would be some long years before DC and I got back on track with each other.

How does one nominate a Fine Fellow?

This was asked in the comments down below and I thought it best to answer it in its own post, since the Fine Fellow awards are vitally important. The official way to nominate someone -- even yourself -- for the Fine Fellow award is to find some way to do it. Be creative. Style, panache and bravura count for a lot.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A page from my first comics work...

Some of you who know my career too well might argue that those D&D ads in the back of Epic Magazine and Marvel Comics were my first comics work, but you'd be wrong. More about that someday... maybe.
        My first professional comics work was with First Comics, an upstart comics publisher based in Evanston Illinois. They published a comic -- their flagship comic -- called Warp, based upon an odd stage play, made only vaguely interesting by the Neal Adams production drawings and costume designs.
        One of the characters in Warp was named Valeria the Insect Queen. In issues 8 and 9 (or maybe 9 and 10 -- I'm going by highly faulty memory here) of the comic they gave her her own backup story and allowed me the opportunity to draw it. Here is one page of the results. I believe this is the last page of the two-part story.
        I'd like to say I have mixed emotions about this page and about that job, but I can't. I've no lingering fondness for it and can only look at this page and the others from that job in a steady state of full-cringe. My artistic influences of the period controlled me to the extent that, though I can't go so far as to say they constituted plagiarism, I also can't say I was doing my own work. A talented young man named Bruce Patterson inked this job (though it may have been Pattersen, and then again it may have been someone else entirely -- I've tried so hard to forget these years that it's not easy now to resurrect them), and he covered up many of my sins.
        You can see in the upper part of the third panel that a character is missing. I'm not sure who or why. I barely recall the story. But in the old days of comic production -- the pre computer days -- corrections were often made by photocopying art and then literally pasting the copy down on a page. That is how we moved visual elements around on a page back then. My guess is that a photocopied paste-up of the missing character fell off of the original art page, when the glue dried and dissipated over the years.
        At the same time I was producing these pages, I was drawing the first ever Elementals 20-page story that would eventually be printed as the backup to the short-lived Texas Comics' Justice Machine Annual # 1 (and only, as it turned out). That work is less horrifying to me now, only because it was my own work for the most part. The terrible mistakes I made on the Elementals stuff were at least my own mistakes and not someone else's.
        But this Warp backup job counts as my first comic book work, even though I was doing Elementals at the same time, because it was published first. I would go on to do several additional backups in Warp, none of which are worth trying to find.
        First Comics doesn't exist anymore, nor does Texas Comics, Noble Comics (the first of the independent comics companies that tried to publish my work and died before being able to do so), or Comico. All of the small independent companies I worked for, or tried to work for, in the early years of my career are gone now. There's a lesson here for someone. DC, are you listening?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

This Week's Fine Fellow is...

Every Sunday, as often as I can remember to do it, we're going to post the Fine Fellow of the Week award. This carries on a tradition begun back in my TSR days (they were the publishers of Dungeons and Dragons way back before the company was bought out far too many times, until eventually it seems to have been passed around more often than one of Huggy Bear's -- ahem -- business associates). Those of us who worked in the downtown building, which was where all of the creative side of the D&D business was done, would elect a Fine Fellow every week. Ballot box stuffing was not only allowed, but encouraged.
     So, because I'm all about maintaining personal traditions, we're going to continue the practice here. Note that the Fine Fellow can be either male or female, and actually doesn't even need to be human (a precedent set by Time Magazine when they selected the personal computer as their Man of the Year). Our Fine Fellow can even be fictional.
     In the future, feel free to propose candidates for the weekly Fine Fellow award. You can vote for yourself, you can make any argument in support of your choice that you can imagine (and the most imaginative arguments will be given the most consideration), and if you can find a way to stuff the ballot box in our digital age, then by all means do so.
    This week our inaugural Fine Fellow can be no one else but the merely marvelous Mark Buckingham. Call him Bucky, if you like, not because he fearlessly backed up Captain America back in the big one, only to fall prey to the evil machinations of Baron Zemo (although I wouldn't put it past the always-surprising Mr. Buckingham, esquire), but because it's a nickname he seems to like.
    For those of you who're fans of my long-running Fables funnybook series, he needs no introduction. For everyone else, Bucky is a comic book artist of amazing talent, and smart as a whip. He's introduced so many good ideas to the Fables series that I couldn't begin to list them here. It wouldn't be at all unreasonable for readers to simply assume that any good idea in Fables was quite likely one of his. And Bucky is nice -- arguably the nicest man in comics (although Gene Ha and Zander Cannon could also wrangle a few well-deserved votes in that category -- but they are perhaps Fine Fellow candidates for another time).
    Mark Buckingham, my partner in crime, my friend, and one of the small handful of people I most admire in this world, is an artist without peer, who lives in Spain with his alarmingly lovely wife Irma. He is, in every important respect, a truly fine fellow.

And yes, I am fully aware that this was posted on Saturday, but this was the moment I had a spare moment to attend to this, and seriously, Bucky is such an exemplary Fine Fellow, that he deserves the extra day in office.

I'm not certain, but...

I think this may have been my first published comic book cover (this is a detail shot -- the entire cover was a wrap-around, with more characters on the back, and had room for the titles and such). It was for Issue One of the Elementals, published by Comico in 1983. In hindsight, it was pretty deplorable, but I suppose I didn't think so at the time.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Long ago I used to draw as well as write funnybooks...

But I started out fairly slow and got slower as the years progressed. Here's a page from one of my sketchbooks. I like the woman's t-shirt design. This was drawn back when I was beginning to become more interested in how real clothes drape and fold on a human body, and therefore less interested in drawing people in skin tight costumes, making me more and more unfit for superhero work. There may be a story in Joey Sato's Discount Backcountry Ranger Corps someday, but then again, maybe not.

This isn't much of a justification, but...

Once upon a time every other single person in the whole wide world had a blog. Now I do too. So there.