Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Act Three Project Update

As you know, I've been working on a secret project over the last week -- now revealed as a short prose story for the 2010 Witchblade Annual that comes out next month -- so there hasn't been much time to work on what I've been calling the Act Three Project, the personal project I'll be working on next year on top of my other assignments. Hopefully I'll be posting short story pitches for the two concepts that I've posted art for here on the blog. There's also a chance I'll be adding a third option, but I haven't quite come to a decision about that, just yet. I'll try and make up my mind about it one way or another before this weekend, but either way, keep an eye out later this week for some more posts about the Act Three project.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Upcoming Project News: Witchblade Annual 2010

Happy to announce one of the secret projects I've been working on -- a short story for this year's WITCHBLADE Annual from Top Cow. It's a prose story in the style of the old Pulp magazines I love so much, and I've also done some Pulp-y illustrations to go with the story. Definitely a challenge, but tapping into that old style of bare-knuckle writing was a lot of fun, and it's been a long time since I've written anything with an honest-to-god fight scene in it.

The Annual is slated to hit shelves some time in December, and along with my story, there's a great 'Witchblades Past' tale by Ron Marz and Tony Shasteen, some pinups, and a fabulous Tom Feister cover (which I've posted above).

I was thrilled to be asked to participate, so a big thank you to Ron Marz, Filip Sablik, and Phil Smith for making it happen. Here's hoping everyone likes the story as much as I liked doing it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sneak Peak: Skeleton Tree logo

As I mentioned earlier, one of the possibilities for the personal project I'm planning on doing next year is to publish it myself, digitally at first, and then in a limited print edition, if possible. I've been considering setting up an imprint through an established company for a while now, but with the advent of digital publishing, it's easier than ever to do it on my own. So I'm in the process now of forming a company that can handle my personal comic book projects, along with a few creative odds and ends that I'm considering putting out there myself. It's still in the early stages, but I threw this logo together for fun earlier today and thought I'd give you a sneak peek. More news as things develop.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


And here's a sneak peek at some concept art from THE OCTOBER GIRL, the second of the two personal projects I've been developing. I'll post short pitches for this and for the NIGHT FOLK project and see which one of them people like better. Look for those later this week.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

On The Nightstand: The Mostly eBook Edition

A pretty eclectic batch of books on the nightstand right now, and for the first time the majority of them are ebooks. It took me a while to embrace the whole idea of reading on an electronic device, but since I picked up an iPad in order to play with some of the new comic book reading apps, it was only a matter of time before I found myself downloading books onto it as well. What can I say? I'm a book junkie.

And while I have a number of complaints about ebooks -- careless formatting, a ridiculous number of typos in some books -- my main issue has been the limited number of titles available, even from the more widely adopted Kindle store. Most of these issues will work themselves out over time, but in the meantime, I've been reading a few things that ARE available that I never got around to reading in print editions...

First up, RIVERWORLD by Philip Jose Farmer. Never got around to reading it, though I was a big fan of sweeping Science Fiction epics that dealt with metaphysical questions when I was a kid (DUNE being one of my favorite books, after all). And as a Doc Savage junkie, I've read all of Farmer's new Doc books put out by Bantam. I liked those, but never read any of his own work. RIVERWORLD (a new edition that includes the first novels in the RIVERWORLD series) hits a lot of notes that I like and asks some big questions about religion and the afterlife, wrapping them all up in an interesting Sci-Fi package. I enjoyed this one a great deal, though the prose would probably be considered a little wooden by current standards. And I'll probably pick up the other books in the series once I'm caught up with some of my other reading.

And as an Anglophile, I'm surprised I've never read John Wyndham's THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS (which is better known as the basis for the classic film, VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED). I've read several Wyndham novels over the years, including the classic DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, and loved the admittedly dated, low-key, but always entertaining feel of them. They're terrifying without hitting you over the head with blood and guts. His books are hard to find over here, and I've never gotten around to ordering a copy of this from the UK, but now it's available (along with DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS) as an ebook in the States. There's an unfortunate recurring typo in this edition (no doubt from a faulty conversion of a printed copy into digital text), but it's a good old-fashioned gripping read despite the annoyance the muddled text.

I've got another 20 or 30 ebooks sitting on my iPad waiting to be read, including Mark Gatiss' Lucifer Box novels and a stack of Arthur Machen books I've always wanted to read but could never find (Machen influenced both Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard so how could I NOT want to read him), but I wanted to mention one of the actual printed books that's on my nightstand, the new collection of Manly Wade Wellman's John the Balladeer stories, WHO FEARS THE DEVIL.

The John the Balladeer stories are legendary in Horror writing circles, but nearly impossible to find. I'd been hearing about these stories for years before I came across a reprint edition of some of them in a used bookstore here in Saratoga. I snatched it up and tore through the stories as soon as I got home, and there's a reason why they're legendary. I'm not sure I've read anything like them before, and in a funny way, they're very similar to my Fade stories. I've tried to hunt down the other John stories that weren't reprinted in that collection, but without much success. Luckily, there's a new collection of them from Planet Stories. I can't honestly say that the mix of backwoods magic and folklore is going to be for everyone, but these stories really take my breath away. Well worth checking out, even if they don't set your mind on fire the way they do for me.

One last thing, I know most people come to this blog to check out glimpses of artwork and news on new projects, so I hope you don't mind indulging me yapping about what I'm reading. Long before I was ever interested in writing or drawing comics, I was a book junkie, so I like to talk about books. I've posted these On The Nightstand pieces pretty sporadically, but I'm going to try and do one every Sunday, schedule permitting, and I'd encourage you all to talk about what's on your own nightstand in the comments section. Consider it a kind of Book Junkies Anonymous, but with more coffee.

And I'd be very curious to hear how many of you are reading books or comics on an electronic device. One of the possibilities for my personal graphic novel project will be to publish it electronically (at least at first), so I'm interested in what people think about the experience of reading on the computer, iPad, Kindle, or whatever device you're reading on.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Short(ish) Autobiographical Interlude

Newsarama blogger David Pepose asked me on Twitter about my obsession with Captain Britain. My response was, "How much time do you have?". To explain it properly, I have to drag in a lot of other bits and pieces of my childhood, like Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes, and I have a feeling the 140 character tweet limit might pose a bit of a problem. Like most creative people, I get more than a little long-winded when I get talking about my creative obsessions. But here's a short(ish) version...

I've told this story so many times I'm not entirely sure if it's true or not, but as I remember it, I wasn't allowed to watch a lot of television when I was a kid. My father worked in (and now teaches) broadcast journalism, but he and my mother were pretty strict about watching TV on school nights. As a result, I never saw the shows my friends at school were all talking about, like Knight Rider, The A-Team, and Manimal. Alright, I admit it, Manimal sounded pretty cool to me when I was a kid. Never actually saw an episode, which might have been for the best.

What I WAS allowed to watch were shows like Masterpiece Theater and Mystery! on PBS. As a result, while my friends were all watching Travellers (does anyone remember that show?), I was watching Alec Guinness in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes adaptations. Somewhere along the way I inevitably became what you would have to call an Anglophile. I'd already been an avid fan of Doctor Who since I was 6 or so, and I'd read all the Holmes stories nearly as soon as I'd learned to read, so it was only natural. Now, throw in the fact that I was a comic book fan as well, and you just might see where this is all heading.

(I could talk about how being exposed to so much British television (and the specific programs that made it across the Pond, which tended to be the best of the best) effected my creative interests, and it DID, but that's another story entirely. But I should point out that there's no question that this is where my obsession with drawing people in overcoats came from. Seriously, nearly everything I've ever drawn involved somebody in a cool overcoat.)

Now let me just say, while my parents never entirely approved of the whole comic book reading thing, they did seem eager to encourage my constant drawing as a child, and when I started drawing a lot of comic book characters, one of them went out and bought me a copy of How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way. Still have that copy actually, and I still refer to it constantly when I need some technical advice (particularly with perspectives... there's a great section on how to draw perspectives). And hidden in the pages and pages of examples and drawing lessons, there's a section 'how to draw an actual comic book page' that features Captain America, Red Skull and a character I'd never heard of before...Captain Britain.

As a young but dedicated Anglophile, just the idea of a proper British superhero was incredibly exciting. I had no idea who he was, what his powers were, or ANYTHING about him, so I naturally assumed he was a combination of all my favorite things, like Holmes, the Doctor, and whichever character from the Legion of Super Heroes seemed the coolest to me that month. And since you couldn't find a Captain Britain comic in the States, I had no choice but to come up with my own version of who he was and the kind of adventures he would be involved in.

I've thought a lot about what causes Anglophilia since then, and I've come to believe it's the same impulse that has driven kids to embrace Manga when they won't give American comics a second glance. We're naturally attracted to the exotic, the different, the thing that isn't like everything else out there. Personally I think that's a wonderful impulse, especially in the creative environment so prevalent in the States, where people like things to fit into neat, tiny boxes.

Years later, in middle school, I discovered a stack of imported Captain Britain comics in a comic shop. These were the Alan Davis Captain Britain issues, when CB actually got his own title for a little while. I bought every one of them, read them again and again, and copied nearly every drawing of Captain Britain in those issues. To this day, whenever I draw a fighting sequence, I find myself emulating poses from those Captain Britain stories. And along with the cool art, there were these wonderful mentions of previous adventures (which I learned later were references to the classic Davis/Alan Moore run) and all of it just sounded so damn British, and so damn cool.

I was hooked, and if I had one goal in life other than to write and draw comics of my own, it was to finally read those Moore and Davis issues, something I wouldn't be able to do until well after my comic book career had started and Marvel finally collected those CB stories into a nice trade.

Now, I've always been more of a DC guy (much to the shame of my Marvel reading friends), but since that first exposure to Captain Britain, I've made an exception to my reading habits for anything CB appears in. And when I had the chance to pitch a project to Marvel in the wake of my Nightcrawler mini-series, there was only one character I had any real interest in -- Captain Britain. As I mentioned in my WHAT IF? post, that project fell apart, but not after I'd had a chance to combine everything I'd liked about the character as I had imagined him as a kid with the way he'd been portrayed by Alan Davis, Alan Moore, and a host of others done the years.

He's still a character I'd work on at the drop of a hat, the only Marvel character I can say that about. Captain Britain is up there with the Doctor and Holmes for me, an idiosyncratic piece of my childhood that led to me working in comics and helped develop the kinds of stories I wanted to tell.

And c'mon... that lion on his original costume... that's just cool.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sneak Peek: NIGHT FOLK

Here's a sneak peek at a concept piece for NIGHT FOLK, one of the personal projects I mentioned a little while back here and on Twitter. I'll be posting art from this and another project called THE OCTOBER GIRL, along with blurbs about both of the stories, and asking for feedback on which project I should work on in-between my other comic book assignments. Look for art from OCTOBER GIRL in the next few days, but in the meantime, hope you like this piece.

Monday, November 8, 2010

WHAT IF?: Captain Britain

The theme last week on the ComicTwart blog was WHAT IF?, where the artists all drew something from a project they'd do if they ran Marvel Comics. It was such a great theme I couldn't help but try my hand at a piece along the same lines, featuring one of my favorite Marvel characters, Captain Britain.

As I mentioned in my long post yesterday, I spent a lot of time early in my career pitching projects that I could write to anyone who would listen, and the closest I ever came to getting one off the ground was a Captain Britain mini-series at Marvel, with Guy Davis on board as the artist. This was right as Marvel had put Grant Morrison on the X-Men, and they were open to a lot of new directions for their stable of characters. And Guy and I had planned out a pretty radical new direction for Brian Braddock.

Unfortunately, our editor was suddenly let go before we started work on the first issue and the project got dropped, but Guy had already turned in a radical redesign of CB's costume that would have played in perfectly with our plans for the character, which included him finding Excalibur and becoming tied directly to the Arthur legend.

Years later, Paul Cornell played with some of the same ideas in his much-missed Captain Britain and MI:13 series, but I'd still love a chance to write the story I'd developed for Guy. The chances of that ever happening are slim to none, but in honor of the ComicTwart gang, here's my own rendition of Guy's Captain Britain redesign.

The gloves look way cooler when Guy draws them.

p.s. And this is the second time I've been involved with a redesign on Captain Britain. The first was for the TimeSlip project spear-headed by my old friend, Jim Krueger. When he asked me to submit an alternate universe redesign of any Marvel character I wanted, there was only one character I wanted to do -- Captain Britain.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Career in Three Acts: A Kind of Declaration

As any writer knows, the best (or at least most accessible) stories follow a three act structure. There are a wide range of opinions about what those three acts need to have to make a good story, but for me the three acts at their most basic boil down to "Introduction", "Development", and "Conclusion".

And as most writers also know, real life is rarely story-shaped. Real events almost never fit into a neat, tidy, three-act structure that will satisfy an audience.

But looking at my career so far, it does seem to have at least two acts, as well as a short prologue.

I started out writing and drawing at Caliber Comics, doing stories for NEGATIVE BURN and occasionally providing art for other writers' projects like DOMINIQUE. I've come to think of this as my Prologue. Act One began when I moved up to doing art at companies like DC, Marvel, and Dark Horse, starting with a fill-in on STARMAN, running through working on HELLBOY and drawing NIGHTCRAWLER at Marvel, and eventually leading to me getting hired on as a staff artist at Crossgen. This period of my career ran about 8 or 9 years and ended with Crossgen declaring bankruptcy and me leaving comics. End of Act One.

I spent a lot of energy during this part of my career trying to convince people to let me write something. I was annoyingly persistent about it, even in the face of constant rejection. It was partly pure ego, but also a feeling that I had something to say. But after a couple of years as a writer/artist at the start of this whole story, I'd become known as an artist alone, and while I got close to launching a few projects I could write myself, I never quite got the chance.

After Crossgen, I stayed away from the industry for a few years, licking my wounds and starting the long, strange process of learning how to write prose. I thought if I couldn't write a comic, maybe I could write a novel. Talk about pure ego.

Then, as I've said before, life intervened and I found myself drawing comics again, first at Wildstorm, and then at IDW. I came back with a different attitude towards the industry and to drawing in general. The idea that drawing was a job had finally gotten through my thick skull and I put more effort into getting the work done. What can I say? I'm a slow learner.

Suddenly, Act Two of my career was underway and I was busier than ever, going from amazing project to amazing project until I found myself drawing my dream book, DOCTOR WHO. I was still pitching story ideas, but most of my writing energy was spent developing what eventually became the FADE novel, which I'm working on as we speak. Learning WHAT to write was just as hard, if not harder, than learning HOW to write, and in the end I went back to my earliest stories at Caliber, dusted them off, and started re-developing a few that had gotten lost in the shuffle when I started working as an artist for DC.

(A side-note: The Evan Fade character was actually one of the first characters I ever created back in the early days of my career. I'd even written a Fade story for issue 2 of my WALK THROUGH OCTOBER mini-series at Caliber, but sales on the first one were so weak we never got another. Eventually I did get a chance to do that story, with only minimal changes, for the relaunch of the NEGATIVE BURN anthology a few years ago.)

Most creative people don't get a second act. We come on the scene, do our thing, and either become stars of various sizes or disappear back into obscurity. I count myself pretty damn lucky to have had a second act at all, especially considering some of the huge mistakes I made in my first act. And boy, did I make some mistakes.

Act Two has been going on for about 6 years now, and in a funny way, drawing DOCTOR WHO got me thinking about a third and final act for my career. When I finished the "Fugitive" storyline with Tony Lee (issues #3-6), I joked that I wasn't sure how I could possibly top it as an assignment. I've been a Doctor Who fan since I was 6 years old, and as I see it, after getting a chance to work with that character, my only options were to draw more WHO or start writing and drawing my own material again. Anything else would feel like a step backwards.

In the end I got to draw more WHO, even getting a chance to write and draw my own WHO story for IDW's DOCTOR WHO ANNUAL, and while I'm slated to return for even more issues next year (and have promised to draw DOCTOR WHO any time they want me on the book), I am starting to lay the groundwork now for what's going to come after that.

As pretentious as it might sound, I've decided to give myself a third act, and it involves picking up the threads from my prologue and tying them up in a neat little bow. When I started working in this industry, I didn't really have a plan, but after drawing comics off and on for 17 years, I think it might be time to actually come up with one. For me that means returning to the kind of stories I got into comics to do and building a foundation for more writing in the future, leading up to the FADE novel and hopefully beyond.

I've still got a number of projects on tap for Act Two (including re-teaming with my long-time friend and former Crossgen collaborator, Ron Marz), but I've started laying the groundwork for Act Three, beginning with developing a personal project I'll be working on on top of or during the downtime between my other assignments. In the coming weeks, I'll be posting the ideas I've been developing over the last few months and getting your feedback on them. For now I'm calling it the "Act Three Project", and I'll need your help picking which idea to carry to fruition, but in the meantime, all I can say is that it's going to be an interesting (and very busy) year.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Upcoming Appearances: To Kill a Saturday

My friend and fellow comic book creator Ron Marz and I will be taking part in a day-long reading of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD this Saturday (Nov. 6th) to help raise money for Literacy NY of the Greater Capitol Region. The event is being held at the Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza and starts at 9:00 AM and features a host of local celebrities, journalists, and area luminaries.

Ron is scheduled to read at 7:40 PM, and I'll be reading at 8:20 PM (provided we haven't gotten to the end by then). If you're in the area, stop on by, and if you're interested in donating to Literacy of the Greater Capitol Region, visit their website: http://www.literacynycap.org/donations.cfm.

Cheers to Times Union blogger Kevin Marshall, who is setting this whole thing up.