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.