Sunday, February 5, 2017

How I Got To This Point As A Writer, A Repost From Tumblr

About four years ago, I wrote three posts on Tumblr about my writing journey from folded over minicomics in 1989 to my pro-writing of an ongoing comic in 2011.

I re-present them here, after the break!

PART 1: 1989-1997
Before you read any of this, let me say: this isn’t really going to be any kind of how to. How to write is the shortest tutorial on Earth:

1. Get an idea.
2. Get something to record your idea in story form.
3. Put the words down until the story is done.
4. Write “the end".

That’s pretty much all there is to it, and I know I’m not the first to say so. But how did I start? What was my path from first thing written to today? I’ve been asked this question a few times now, and I figured I might as well answer in depth. Keeps me writing while I take a break from fiction.(Get some popcorn.)

I started with homemade comics. In elementary school, I ‘d fold copier paper in half, staple, and just make something up. They weren’t the best things ever, but it was a lot of fun, and the first stuff I ever wrote. What? There was no interwebz at the time.

By High School, I had moved on to different things; independent movies opened my eyes to different storytelling techniques, and I wrote screenplays and stage plays, short and long, full of conversations. I liked writing scenes of talking in general, looking for the cadences of speech. I began to start listening more than I talked. (I talked a lot back then. I still do, but at least now I can occasionally quiet myself to hear.) I also started paying attention to reactions when I went to the movies. The timing of the laughter.

Cheap education.

After high school, I had time on my hands and found something new… fan fiction.

I actually discovered it by way of finding online message boards to talk comics; Alvaro’s ComicBoards was what I found first, and they had a board dedicated to the 2099 UG fanfic group… a continuation of Marvel’s old 2099 futureverse. I wanted to take part (because writing for an audience appealed to me) and pitched something that would allow me to write AROUND continuity, both official and otherwise.

“The Prowler: 2099 UG” was born for a few “issues,“ consisting of 10 pages or so of prose each. I did a couple of crossovers, too… Fun times. Trying to match the tone of other writers in those came in handy later. Nothing you learn is ever truly wasted!

After a couple of months of that, someone floated the idea of doing a “DC 2099” and I fell in with that crowd. We created a DC futureverse… and I felt prescient. In 1997, BATMAN DCF was born. He was younger, cracked jokes, had a full face mask, a flying Batmobile, and a large red bat on his chest…

…I know what you’re thinking -- that I thought Paul Dini and Bruce Timm TOTALLY ripped me off, right? (Oh wait, of *course* they didn’t. I’m not an idiot. They came to the ideas on their own, same way I did. But the similarities were funny!)

Not to say I didn’t suspect something was stolen from me once; I posted a scene online once for a peer critique and saw the first half of that scene appear word for word in a film. (Could have been a coincidence there, too — but it did teach me to be careful about what and where I post things online, just in case. No, I won’t reveal the movie. It was a cheesy comedy I’m embarrassed to have seen.)

I kept up with fanfic… lots of different types. It was my hobby and an outlet; I wrote dozens of issues of BATMAN: DCF (up until 2002, sometimes weekly.) I expanded from there; writing titles for other fanfic groups with weird launch themes. I remember doing a golden age story teaming up Namor, Aquaman, and the Human Torch. I remember a version of Daredevil I was so proud of that shared nothing with the Marvel Universe beyond a general theme that I considered retitling the piece and putting it out as a novella. (Providing I can find it all.)

I used this time to learn more about storytelling and pacing for an audience by throwing everything against the wall and releasing it into the wild. And I got a response. I got *letters* from *fans*… and that kept me working hard.

My favorite was a long note from a soldier about to deploy and was bringing my stories to read again. Hearing that something I wrote means anything to someone never gets old.

But even so, I wasn’t involved with fanfic for too much longer (mine was less fan and more fic, taking few enough elements from the original source that I could probably shed them and lose very little. Again, something I’ve considered on several of the projects!) Around 2001, I stopped…

PART 2: 2001-2005
Around 2001, I stopped. And I fell in with a new crowd: fellow posters at Chuck Dixon’s Dixonverse message board (another place for me to discuss comics — I was all over the place! I needed to discuss with someone, this was well before Facebook or Twitter… and I didn’t live anywhere near a shop. Still don’t!)

In any case, at the time - and I’ve told this story before - we were discussing the things in mainstream comics that we didn’t enjoy, and someone suggested putting our money where our mouths were.

We banded together to create the Shooting Star Comics Anthology, an 80 page black and white giant… we began working on it in December ‘01. It was in our hands come August of ‘02.

Unlike the rest of the crew, I had no original character (aside from the knockoff stuff I’d done in my elementary school foldovers.) So I dug up a story I’d written with some horror parody. I started noodling around with a design until I came up with the floppy haired visage of … a character I didn’t have a name for.

He looked like a Nick. So I called him Nick. And his last name became a pun. Nickel and dime — Nick Landime.

His voice was more or less mine, and his circumstances were more or less those of Bugs Bunny. Here’s Nick, here’s a situation, here we go.

It was straight up comedy in eight pages.

It didn’t fit in well with the other stories in the book, but that didn’t stop Nick from returning. Glowing with joy over our first anthology, Shooting Star became a company and the anthology continued. Nick returned in issue #2 in a four page story (that leaned a little more dramatic, but hey… it was an experiment.)

He didn’t appear again in a full story until issue #6 (the final issue of the SSC quarterly anthology.) This one was possibly my favorite overall; “Hawaiian Nick.“ The idea was inspired by Jeff Parker’s cover for the second Shooting Star anthology, wherein Nick looked more polynesian or asian than anything. Hey, you take your inspiration where you can.

Nick argued with Psychic Bill, a floating head. Pele was involved (the goddess, not the soccer player.) It was bizarre, but I loved it.

In 2005, Nick got to star in his own one-shot comic book: Nick Landime vs. the World Crime League. I stand by the story. My art… well, I drew 25 pages in one month. While working a 40+ hour a week day job. In retail. During the holiday shopping season.

It was rushed, if I’m being kind, and I dearly want to redraw it one day… but that’s beside the point. It was my first full-length comic book.

At the time, Shooting Star was publishing Children of the Grave, a miniseries by Tom Waltz and Casey Maloney. Tom got copies of the other Shooting Star books — including Nick. He got a kick out of it, and that made a big difference in things later….

(While all this was happening I got my first paycheck from writing. A teacher up at the local college taught a filmmaking class, which I had taken. He paid me a token sum to rewrite a script he had bought. I doubt it was ever made, but if it was, it would’ve been on cable at 4 am. Still, first check. Bam. Sure, this happened earlier, but so much was happening at once, we gotta shuffle for pacing, and this is a good breaking off point.)

Next, more comics!

PART 3: 2007-2011
Back to comics.

Tom Waltz had found his way over to editing at IDW (he grabbed their attention due, in part, to their interest in Children of the Grave.) One of the books under his watch was the anthology Gene Simmons: House of Horrors. He let me pitch some stories, and liked one enough to give it a go ahead.

“The Wish Thief” was my first paid comics work – and it was a horror story. (I made sure to run it by my brother the horror geek, and he liked it, so I knew I was safe.) It had a “Tales from the Crypt” style twist and some dark humor. The script was done in a couple of hours. The art… took… forever.

I went through a difficult move, and that slowed me down, but that’s neither here nor there.

But it was awesome to finish. (Finishing stories! That’s what it all comes down to.)

After I’d finished the script for the Wish Thief, Chuck Dixon (whose message board, you’ll recall, I’d frequented) gave me a chance on writing a short (humorous) story for his and Gary Kwapisz’s Civil War Adventures graphic novel. I worked up a short story of mistaken identity that was, again, different from the other things I’d worked on.

Two stories!

I didn’t work again in comics for over a year.

I did try to keep up with an online comic strip – The Down Side, something I’d done off and on since 2002 – and I managed to go a couple of months before my day job began to take its toll. I never worked far enough ahead, and that came back to bite me. Eventually, I just scaled back.

On Christmas Day 2008, I went to the emergency room. Kidney stones. Pain. I was in some very, very bad shape. The doctor told me scary things with scary words. I was as close to death as I’d ever been.

When I got home, I thought about comics again. I did a monthlong online return to Nick Landime, and reached out to Tom - the only editor I knew! - to see if there was anything I could try out for. Turns out, there was.


A new toy, similar in a way to pokemon and its ilk. Microscopic monsters and the teens that interacted with them. I wrote that (and the only thing I remember from it is that I thought it was silly that the licensor thought kids wouldn’t get a Scarface reference. “Say hello to my little friend” has joined pop culture at this point!)

But I digress. Shortly after I finished, Tom asked if I was a fan of the A-Team.


The movie was coming out in June, and they wanted a couple of trades on the stands before then. Short window to write it all, can I do it? Y'dang right. I got to work with Chuck Dixon directly at this point for the first time. We split the four books down the middle; he wrote Hannibal (using one joke I threw at him) and Face. I wrote Murdock and BA (though the story about the missile and the pothole came from Chuck, an anecdote that he had read about).

So much fun. I wish the movie hadn’t opened against the World Cup. That cut the foreign receipts. I would’ve loved to have worked on a team proper story… but them’s the breaks!

After wrapping the A-Team, Tom floated me the idea of writing GHOSTBUSTERS: INFESTATION. I had been inquiring about working on the property since he’d taken it on; even pitched a story… in 2009, before I’d even started on A-Team.

You can bet I was all over that.

While I was waiting for approval on Ghostbusters, I floated a Simpsons idea to Chuck. He loved it and took it to Bongo… we co-wrote “Through A Mug Darkly,” where Homer wakes in a world where beer had never existed.

I got to put words in Homer’s mouth, man. That was a trip. It was my lone experience at Bongo, but it was positive. The story was written before Ghostbusters Infestation, but showed up a couple of months afterward.

Such is the twisty and turny nature of publishing schedules, I guess.

Ghostbusters: Infestation got a HUGE positive response. That lead to me pitching the ongoing… which lead to everything else. TMNT work, Mars Attacks crossover, and eventually Scarlet Spider.

Looking back, it’s pretty much a case of practice and then luck. Luck that the people most receptive to my work saw it and decided to nurture it.

Same as it goes for anything, I guess.

And you know, I did leave a few things out of this story. Things that were never published (okay, I’ll spill on one of those: I adapted A Princess of Mars in 64 pages and it never saw the light of day. But I was paid!) Some things that went out without my name on them. Some crazy situations that require more backstory to fully get the meaning of what happened, and that backstory isn’t all mine to tell.\

PART 4: The Present (in brief)
It's been three four years since I wrote that post on Tumblr. A lot has happened since, but I've continued on in comics.

I am, and shall remain, grateful for all the support from colleagues and fans.

And it's shaping up to be a busy year...