New Year's Resolutions for 2009

The holiday season has it's many hassles. There's the traffic and the travel and the running around from one house to the next to spread "cheer." There's plenty of expenses, the presents, the plane tickets, the dinners, the booze. There's the disappointments. Maybe you didn't get what you asked for or maybe that perfect gift for someone turned out not to be so perfect. Maybe you're not spending the holidays with whom you had hoped. Perhaps your tolerance for Christmas Carols and Holiday Specials is no longer as high as it used to be. Yeah, this time of year isn't perfect.

But, for all its faults, there is a power to this time of year and I think I recognize it more and more. The trinty of holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas (or Hanukkah), and New Years really provide a necessary bookend for the past year and a launching pad into the next. Taking time to appreciate each of these holidays is good for the soul.

Thanksgiving comes first, logically, and is a great time to take reflection on the past year, take account of all that's good in your life, and say that most powerful of two word prayers: "Thank you." I said my thanks in an earlier blog post.

Countless books have been written on the true meaning of Christmas, and I don't intend to make any great contribution to those tomes here. For me, Christmas is about translating that Thanksgiving gratitude into gifts and other tokens of appreciation to those you love. Sometimes the gift is a present. Sometimes the gift is simply your presence.

And finally, the holidays end with New Year's, which when used properly, is a time to spring yourself forward with renewed purpose and direction. (It can be that, and include a night of binge drinking, champagne toasts, and bad decisions as well...I'm a realist.) While there's a lot of skepticism regarding New Year's resolutions, with many people giving them up before even trying, I think establishing goals at the start of the year is still a valuable exercise. Wiser men then I have observed that goals are simple dreams with a time frame put on them, and resolutions are merely steps of action that may lead you to those dreams.

That said, here are my creative and comic related resolutions for 2009.

  • Give back 10%. I've realized that entertaining through story, art, and digital media is one of my purposes in life, one of the reasons I am here on this planet. I also recognize that whatever gifts I possess that allow me to do what I do creatively and do it well are true blessings. I am coming to believe strongly in the power of giving, and that the more you give, the more you receive. I'm blessed in this economy to have a full-time job that I enjoy. The fact that doing what I love (my creative projects) has started to generate a bit of income for me above and beyond my regular salary is phenomenal. While I certainly have bills to pay and debts to reduce, I want to honor the blessing of my creativity by pledging to give 10% of all proceeds generated by my creative works from now on to an appropriate charity or cause I believe in. I plan on sharing those causes with you in future pages of this blog.
  • Don't cricize others and accept criticism with grace. I think I'm well on my way down this path. I've discovered (or rediscovered, as it were) that criticism of others gets you no where. Those receiving criticism inevitably get defensive and become resentful. I'm resolving to only provide encouragement, praise, and when necessary positive critique towards others. On the flip side, I'm also going to try to accept the criticism of others with grace. I have those tendencies of defensiveness and resentfullness when on the receiving end of tough criticism. But I am resolving to listen to the criticism of myself or my work, distill from it the key suggestions that I agree will better myself or my craft, and to thank the person for spending those precious minutes of life that he or she will never have back on me.
  • Network, Network, Network. While talent is crucial for success in any creative industry, I am realizing just how important it is to network and make connections in the industry. In the past, I've been reluctant to approach people I might want to meet who could give me advice or help me out. I've spent the last few months reaching back out to friends I've lost touch with over the years or acquainances I'd like to get to know better. I'm resolving to continue that trend professionally, and extend my network of friends in the industry this year. I truly believe that most people in this world want to give help if asked, and I need to put that belief into practice.
  • Read every day, Write every day, Draw every week. My decision to work with other artists on comic projects has been an eye-opening experience. I love doing this stuff. I love collaborating. Working with others has made me a stronger writer. The better the art they have provided, the better I wanted to be as a writer. It's a great positive relationship to have. So, I'm resolving to become a better writer this year. Writers write every day, and thus, so shall I. And they also read every day, and so shall I. I still have aspirations as an artist, and enjoy drawing, but at present I'm getting more results and enjoyment from writing. However, I am resolving to keep my pencils sharp, and will commit to blocking out at least some time each week to continue to develop my art.

Four creative resolutions. Perhaps I'll revisit these and add more in the months to come. If I can live up to these resolutions, however, I have no doubt 2009 will be a break out year for me.


ICE #8: Cover Sketches

I've asked ICE: Interrogation Control Element artist Damian Couceiro to draw a kick-ass cover image for the series in addition to the ten submission pages he's already knocked out. I gave him a few ideas about what to include in the image, but also encouraged him to try some things out that he thought might work.

This morning, he sent three potential cover images to me and I really liked what I saw. One of the images, with a few slight tweaks, is pretty much exactly what I'm looking for.

Here are the two other cover sketches that weren't quite what I was looking for at this time, but still both a testament to Damian's strong design sense.

This first one strikes me as a very powerful image, and has great symbolism. I may hang onto this idea, because I think it's very strong.


This second cover sketch is actually very similar to what will hopefully be a great finished cover. All of the elements are the same as the cover I'm requesting- the protagonist Trip Higgins looking somber, a terrorist up to no good, a guy getting water boarded, and the American flag waving in the background. The composition on this cover just wasn't quite as fluid as the third design.


Hopefully, I'll be able to share the finished cover soon.


Creator's Toolkit #9: First Drafts Are Sh*t

It's the end of the year, and I'm going to do a little patting of myself on the back. Though I've been preoccupied with the hoopla of the holidays these past few weeks, I've managed to be very productive (although my blog updates have taken a bit of a backseat this month.)

Last week, I finished the first draft of a feature length screenplay. I'm proud of that accomplishment. Writing a complete film story from start to finish is quite the challenge, so the fact that I have a ninety-plus page draft finished and in my body of work is something I feel really good about.

However, I'm more proud of my approach to the question of "what now?" with the script. As I said, I have a first draft. And as Hemingway famously quipped, "The first draft of anything is sh*t." So I've taken what I hope will be some proactive steps to move my script from "sh*t" to something far better.

First, I've let the script sit for a week. I haven't read it, or started combing through it line by line looking for small fixes. Everybody needs a little time away...(so sayeth Chicago.)

Second, I've let a few select friends and family members read the script. I let my sister read it because she's right in the ballpark of my target market, and I couldn't help but sit in the other room and smile as I heard her giggling while reading it. (Good sign. It's a comedy.) I also made copies for two of my friends. One of whom has spent a lot of time studying both screenwriting and story structure, as well as comedy. We were snowed in last weekend and we spent a few very helpful hours workshopping it. He enjoys working on story and will send me back the copy annotated with his thoughts, questions, ideas and crits. I also gave another copy to pretty much the funniest person I know, and a good writer in his own right, though someone less familiar with screenwriting. I'm looking forward to his feedback as well.

Third, my friend loaned me his well-worn copy of Story, by Robert McKee. This has been on my must read list for years now. And in the past four days, I've blown through this exceptional book. While specifically written for screenwriters, this is essential reading for anyone who fashions his- or herself a storyteller. I'm glad I came to this brilliant piece of instructive writing at this point in time, AFTER having finished a screenplay. I'll be able to use Story to help mold and refine my script, putting the principles of story structure McKee espouses directly to use on a work ready for it. Highest possible recommendation.

What's next on my march toward a second draft? My next step is to block out a couple of hours time and work through my draft on my own. For this next draft I'm going to be looking at the work, trying to push the script to be as enjoyable for the audience (not the writer, aka myself) as possible. I'm also going to be working on eliminating all cliches from the screenplay (or as many as possible) and flagging the scenes and sections that need the most work. There are a few characters I need to round out a bit more, but I'm confident all of this can be done. I'll mark up my copy of the script as I work through it.

Then, I'll combine my notes with the notes of those friends of mine I've asked to read it and from that, hopefully churn out a slightly less sh*tty draft number two.


Tears of the Dragon #7: Colored Page Preview

Here's a full colored page of Tears of the Dragon. I'm loving this project!
(Art: Koko Amboro, Colors: Paul Little)



In the Trades #2: The Gift of Comics

Recently my buddies from college, most of whom still live in the Washington, D.C. area, did a really nice thing for me. Knowing I've had an abysmally difficult time the past few weeks on the homefront, they insisted I make a trip down to D.C. on them this past weekend. They took care of my flight, a ticket to the Georgetown Hoya's game against Memphis (a big win), and brought me to a big open bar Christmas party. It was exactly the kind of thing I needed and a hell of an early Christmas present.

Wanting to show my gratitude, I decided to give my boys all the gift of comics this Christmas. Now, not a single one of my friends are big comics readers today, and most probably don't own a single comic. Still I was confident I could find something for each of them. I had a good time picking out a graphic novel appropriate for each of my boys. Here are the books I picked up:

  • Guns- He was the easiest. He actually collected comics for a while, and as long as the art is strong, and the story is decent, he'll give a book a read. I bought him Wanted by Mark Millar, as I know he liked the movie. Of course, the movie and the comic are incredibly different, but that's a whole other post.
  • Suff- Not a comics reader, and not much into fantasy or scifi. He's a cop and our favorite show back in the day was NYPD Blue. So, I picked up Fell Vol1: Feral City by Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith for him. I think he'll dig the interrogation scenes and the messed up cases Det. Richard Fell gets into.
  • Dipps- Probably the most difficult. Super heroes aren't his bag. I took a chance on this pick, (because I hadn't read it, only heard good things) and got him Girls Vol 1: Conception by the Luna Brothers. I've already heard back from him...he says he's hooked.
  • Jimmy Twos- Another difficult one and a wild-card because I hadn't read this book yet either. Twos works in Capital Hill for a U.S. Congressman, so I thought something political would be up his alley. Since I'm a huge fan of his other work, I rolled the dice on Ex Machina Vol 1: The First Hundred Days by Brian K. Vaughn and Tony Harris for him.
  • Repps- Again, Repps isn't a comics reader. But Y: The Last Man Vol 1: Unmanned by Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra is so good, I could have given that to anyone and be confident they'd enjoy it.
  • Longball- The Boys Vol 1: Get Some by Garth Ennis and Darrick Robinson. No question about it. The perfect book for someone who probably hasn't read comics in years and would get a kick out of the shock value style of the envelope pushing Mr. Ennis.
  • Tuna- An easy one. I've been mowing through the Queen & Country series thanks to my local library's wonderful GN collection. Tuna works for the National Security Agency. While he much prefers non-fiction to fiction, I think he'll enjoy Rucka's series that is strongly grounded in the real world. So I grabbed Queen & Country Definitive Edition Vol.1 by Greg Rucka for him.
And there you have it. My comic gifts this Christmas. (And I fully realize my friends all have names like bad mobsters. But what're you gonna do about it?)


December Projects Update

Where does the time go? Seems like just the other day I was typing out the November update, prepping for Thanksgiving, and here we are in December with Christmas just around the bend. Here's just a quick update on my projects.

Super Seed
  • Updates continue at www.superseedcomic.com. I was pleasantly surprised to see (and somewhat shocked) that Project Wonderful adspace on the Super Seed site reached a high bid value of $5 a day recently. Sure, it dropped down to more modest levels shortly thereafter, but it's been enjoyable seeing the site's popularity continue to slowly grow.
  • As I mentioned in November, production on Super Seed is in a holding period as I focus on getting other projects off the ground.
  • I got some good feedback on my Super Seed Movie Treatment and will schedule some time to do a rewrite in the coming months.
  • Fingers still crossed. Last month at this time, I was hoping I'd hear something from publishers in a week or two. This month, I'll be shocked if I don't hear something in a week or two. (Hopefully, next month I'll have big CT news to talk about.)
  • I spent some time working with a good friend of mine and Flash wizard, storyboarding a trailer for CounterTERROR. I'm hoping to debut that bad boy soon as well.
Tears of the Dragon
  • I expect to have all 8 colored pages in hand come mid-January, hopefully earlier. Getting new colored pages from Paul Little in my inbox is one of the highlights of my week.
  • I put some time into doing some character development work, really fleshing out the major characters of the book. Doing so is a great exercise, and really gets the wheels turning and the story ideas flowing.
  • I've asked artist Koko Amboro to do another pin-up for Tears while we're waiting for the colors to get finished and the publisher shopping to commence.

  • By now, you've seen some inked previews of Damian Couceiro's gorgeous ICE pages. If you haven't, check them out here and here.
  • After working with an editor, I came to the conclusion that the first 8 pages did not have enough of a punch storywise to hook the reader. My synopsis and pitch talked a big game, but I really didn't include enough of the story I'm planning on telling in the initial 8. Luckily, there was a relatively painless fix. I decided to slip in a two page sequence of a deadly prison break, which will establish the main antagonist into pages 5-6, pushing the other pages back two. Luckily, Damian was amenable to the change, and was willing to draw the additional two pages. On the whole, I think the story gets off to a much better start because of them.
  • I spent some time on a plane this past weekend working through all of the major beats of the ICE story. Right now, it's probably looking like a 5-6 issue mini-series, but one that certainly could be extended into an ongoing. I've been adjusting my creative process to really see the entire story and have that plotted and planned firmly before writing word one of a script. The now ten pages of work done by Damian actually serve as a great prelude to the main story. I could potentially see those ten pages being hosted on the net as an online preview of sorts, to a main story that would come in floppies.
  • Still no movement on the colorist. Because Damian's inks are so strong (and because of the realities of the great expense associated with color) I may consider just doing this book in black and white. I'm also going to play around a bit with grey tones. So, this is still a question mark.

Original Graphic Novel Project
  • Oh, enthusiasm! What a double-edge sword you are. Last month in the update, I announced I was working on a graphic novel project and was raring to go. I had to pull back the reigns on this one, well, because the story I was planning on telling wasn't much of a story and simply would not work well as a comic. I almost ditched the thing entirely, and for the most part did. But something has started to emerge from the ashes of that original work. Sure, it's inspired by the same theme, but a vastly different (and hopefully much, much better piece.) And by different I mean different characters, first to third person story telling, it's now actually a comedy, the list goes on and on...
  • While I've loaded up on art supplies, I won't draw a single panel until I'm confident the script is very good. If for some reason I'm off the mark (and that's been known to happen a lot recently) and it never becomes very good, well, I'll shelve it. But that's going to entail multiple re-writes, reviews by friends and editors, and a whole lot of work. But what the hell, I got the time on my hands.
Creating Comics Class
  • I'm working now on the syllabus and the materials for my Creating Comics After-School program I'll be kicking off the end of January. I'm looking forward to working with kids on comics. Should be a blast.

And now you're caught up! Fingers crossed for a BIG January.


ICE #7: More Preview Pages

I'll just let these stunning Damian Couceiro pages speak for themselves.




Creating Comics #4: One class ends...

Last Tuesday I had my final Creating Comics! class. As I mentioned previously, I started teaching a 6-week course on comic book script writing. Despite getting off to a rocky start, due largely to confusion regarding the content of the course (comics meaning comic books and strips, not comics meaning comedians) it was a great experience overall. There are some things I'd certainly like to do better next time. I definitely spend more time focusing on story structure, as that's been a big personal focus of mine as of late. But overall, for a pilot course, I'm happy with how it went.

Teaching the class came at a much needed time for me, and getting away from life and just talking comics with an interesting groups was a much needed respite. I'm sad to see the class end. However...

I'm happy to announce that come the last week in January, I'll be able to scratch my comics teaching itch once more. I'll be teaching a class once a week at a local after school program for students grades 6-8. I'm very excited about this, considering that was the age at which I first started making comics myself. So, right now I'm pulling together my syllabus for Creating Comics! Middle School Edition! More on this, sure to follow.



On the Racks #1: Warlock

Surprising to believe I'm in my ninth month of blogging on this site and I've yet to write about or review a mainstream comic. Well, now is a good time to start.

Check out Warlock #1 by Bluewater Comics. It's based on the cult Lionsgate film of the same name. But more importantly, the artist on Warlock is none other than Jacob Bear.

You may remember Jacob as my early collaborator on CounterTERROR. Jacob designed CT's killer logo and many of his layouts made it into the final cut of the finished pages drawn by Stefano Cardoselli. Drawing Warlock was one of the reasons Jacob had to bow out of drawing CT, which is certainly understandable.

Jacob's been trying to break into the industry for a while now, so it's nice to see him on commercial property like Warlock.


Written by Nick Lyons, art by Jacob Bear, covers by Bear and Matt Bellisle.

A new story from the cult film Warlock from Lionsgate. The Warlock is on a mission to destroy a book that contains a spell which imprisoned six other Warlocks. If the book manages to be destroyed, the dangerous Warlocks would be released back into the world free to cause chaos and destruction. It's up to a rag-tag group of people to prevent the Warlock from carrying out his plan.

32 pages, $3.99.


ICE #6: Two-Page Inked Preview

As promised...some freshly inked pages of ICE: Interrogation Control Element by artist extraordinaire, Damian Couceiro. I've developed some MAJOR breakthroughs regarding this story, and what I hoped would be an intriguing psychological/political drama, is turning into a blockbuster of a story. Hope you all will be along for the ride.