Friday, June 29, 2018

Cosplay Friday: Morrigan and Lilith

I've featured Kassandra Leigh's Morrigan before on Cosplay Friday, but she does some equally impressive work here with Nana Valtiel as her little sister Lilith! Double the Darkstalkers delights for everyone!

As always, you can check out a lot more great Cosplay pictures over on the Tumblr. And while you are admiring some great cosplay here, don’t forget to check out some of the other great stuff on Super Powered Fiction this week!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The 10 authors Super Powered Fiction writers should read

Everyone loves Top 10 lists, right? And as I slowly reveal the Top 10 Wrestlers of 2015 over at The Wrestling Weekday, I thought it would be fun to pull out an old list I wrote. It was over a year ago that I spent some time brainstorming the ten authors I thought writers of super powered fiction should read, but the list still holds strong for me as 2016 dawns.

Not everyone on the list regularly writes super powered beings, but don’t let that scare you away from some great fiction. Some are just great at simple things like dialogue or the combination of amazing wonder with a real world setting. All of them can be great inspirations for any writer of super powered fiction and come with the highest recommendation from this author. Here they are presented in no particular order.

  1. Madeline L’Engle – L’Engle had an amazing ability to ground the most insane idea in reality. A Wrinkle in Time is built around crazy ideas presented with an air of the normal.
  2. Adam Troy Castro – His Sinister Six novels that came at the end of the 90s Marvel novels showed how to juggle a ton of characters in super powered prose, a trait shared by…
  3. Van Allen Plexico – Van’s Sentinels series juggles a huge cast in compelling tales about a unit somewhere between the Avengers and the Defenders. One of the first true independent creators of super powered fiction, Van in many ways built the archetype for how to create a super powered prose universe and I learn from his work every time I read it. 
  4. Stephen King – Several of King’s earliest works very much fall into the super powered fiction category: Carrie, Firestarter, The Dead Zone, etc.
  5. Robert Parker – No one does dialogue as well as Parker. Anyone can learn from reading his stories.
  6. Orson Scott Card – Card has an ability to build big ideas around human stories, both in his solid Ender series and his far stronger Alvin Maker fantasy tales.. I argue it is a tact he learned from…
  7. Robert Heinlein – Heinlein is a master of the art of interweaving his ideas into a human narrative, even if it is one of the future. He’s also great for challenging social contracts decades before the present day.
  8. Diane Duane – Duane’s Spider-Man and Venom trilogy taught me that a superhero like Spider-Man could be a compelling lead in prose at a time when such things weren’t really done. Her trilogy also shows exactly how to use Mary Jane as Peter’s wife and make her compelling, something Marvel Comics writers and editors found so hard they used a demon to end their marriage.
  9. George R. R. Martin & the Wild Card Trust – For obvious reasons, the creatives behind the Wild Cards series all deserve every ounce of praise they receive. Some of the best minds in super powered prose ever.
  10. Octavia Butler – Butler deserves to be on the top of this list for Wild Seed alone, but every novel she wrote is a master class on short, tight narrative. Wild Seed is a major inspiration for the historical metahuman stories still developing in the Quadrant Universe while its sequels build an interesting narrative of secret super powered beings among us.

I still routinely pull out books by all these writers when I need a bit of inspiration. I highly recommend any lovers of great fiction to do the same. 

Monday, June 25, 2018

Disruption is the key! (Kickstart the Week 65)

I usually try to keep the Kickstart the Week feature at least tangentially related to superheroes in some way, but this time I'm moving off into a more meta-aspect of things. For years, Glenn Fleischman presented a hugely influential podcast to yours truly called the New Disruptors. On it, he interviewed people that somehow disrupted the "natural order" of whatever field they were in. He covered everything from tech to music to comics to video games to pretty much every field you can imagine. It's the only show I can think of that featured everyone from Roman Mars to Greg Pak to Sir Mix-a-Lot. Anthony Conte talked about Patreon on the show when it was still just a fledgling few people ever heard of before. It was widely listened to and ultimately influential to a number of great creators over the years, myself included.

Now Glenn is funding a new season of the show on Kickstarter. And with just days to go, it still needs a lot of help. So go out and listen to the archives and realize what you've missed. Or just trust me that you're supporting a truly great piece of podcasting history. Whatever the case, go back the return of The New Disruptors already!

Friday, June 22, 2018

Great art: Amethyst by Jill Thompson & P. Craig Russell

The fine purveyors of the Fire & Water Podcast Network have long focused their attention on previous iterations of Who's Who. But this feature is most excited about their current project: the 1990-1992 super-pin up-friendly loose leaf edition. Today's art comes from the first issue. Jill Thompson and P. Craig Russell make a stupendous team as they bring the Princess of Gemworld to life. By this time, her history was probably too complicated for her to ever truly be a great character again (at least in that continuity) but the young Thompson and the always skilled Russell really knocked it out of the park on this piece.

As always, you can check out a lot more Great Art over on the Tumblr. And after you're done admiring some great art here, don’t forget to check out some of the other great stuff on the site this week!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

How I suddenly realized I'm really dang deep in this self publishing game

A couple weeks back I was invited to sit down and talk self-publishing with a group of writers at a local venue for that sort of thing, The Cottage. It's a superb little venue ran by a writing friend of some years, Robyn Groth. She and I have talked writing quite a bit over the years, albeit it in a general sense. My interests turn to superheroes and self-publishing, while she's on a far more literary track than yours truly. But with her regular writing groups, she frequently received tons of questions about self-publishing, ones she couldn't answer. That's where I came in. Turns out that over the last seven or eight years I've picked up a bunch of knowledge on publishing with my delve into the Quadrant Universe and Metahuman Press over nearly a decade now.

The Cottage looks absolutely nothing like this, but I needed a good comic
house to feature here. DC Comics' House of Mystery by Bernie Wrightson.
You can read the entire notes on the event at the Cottage's website.

I realized after the invite and even more so in the experience that all the time I spent teaching myself design, enough to call myself talented enough. I've mastered the art of the self-proofread, an important tool even with the help of hired proofreaders or editors. I can format a document like the best of them and my knowledge of my far out of date Adobe suite is pretty solid.

I maybe won't ever be the best writer in my field or the greatest editor or the greatest publisher or any of those things. But I damn well have the knowledge to talk about these things.

And on the hardest days I have, it feels good to know that I will always have at least that.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A comic villain come to life: Vader

Image from Marvel's WCW: The Comic.
Big Van Vader died today. If you're not a wrestling fan, you may not know about the alter ego of Leon White. But he was basically the Juggernaut in early 90s professional wrestling. He was a big mean villain of superhuman proportions, the kind of guy that literally plowed through the competition. He appealed to the comic fan in me.

I wrote a lot more about him over at the Wrestling Deep End for anyone interested.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Great art: Mister Miracle and Big Barda by Ian Gibson

Before the critically acclaimed current Tom King / Mitch Gerads Mister Miracle series, another series came out in the late 80s that received its own acclaim. Written by J.M. DeMatteis and drawn by Ian Gibson, the piece here by Gibson was the ad for the series. Nothing seemed quite so fitting for art here this week than a parody of American Gothic (originally by Cedar Rapids own Grant Wood) featuring New Gods.

As always, you can check out a lot more Great Art over on the Tumblr. And after you're done admiring some great art here, don’t forget to check out some of the other great stuff on the site this week!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The late report with WIP Wednesday

Image by Paul Pope. Characters owned by
Glen Brunswick & Dan McDaid.
It seems like the only time I find to get these WIP posts up is late in the evening on Wednesdays. It's been a busy couple of months at the day job and that's really eaten up my time for blogging on top of the regular writing.

Of course, I did get the next installment of Newer Gods up earlier to day. It's yet another strange journey into the Earth-Haney and Brave and the Bold.

I've got two projects floating right now, both still under codenames: INDEPENDENCE and JUGGERNAUT. INDEPENDENCE was previously mentioned by yours truly as a superhero tale for the fine folks at Pro Se Press based on an existing comic property.

This is the first time I've mentioned JUGGERNAUT on the blog (though newsletter subscribers already heard about it.) My plan for next year is a relaunch of Lightweight, Quadrant and this new project as alternating month-by-month narratives. The new book will be my first work heavily set in a real world city, my own city of Cedar Rapids. I wanted to play around with the idea of cosmic forces converging on a smaller scale city in Iowa and what that might mean as a new hero emerges. I think this should prove an interesting experiment for the months ahead.

The new project will again take the shared Quadrant Universe in a different direction than the other books, one I hope will be both familiar and unique. But that's one to talk more about in the future!

Today's image is a Paul Pope cover to the gone far too soon Image book Jersey Gods, created by Glen Brunswick and Dan McDaid. That book was in my research list for JUGGERNAUT, and I rarely seem to have an excuse to share Pope's art here on the blog. If you like it, I highly recommend checking out the series in trade paperback.

And if you're interested in more tidbits from my world of writing, be sure to subscribe to the aforementioned newsletter. A new edition will be shipping out in the next 48 hours or so!

Friday, June 8, 2018

Cosplay Friday: Big Barda

This week has been all about the debut of Newer Gods, so why not celebrate it here with a cosplay of Big Barda herself, specifically the DC Bombshells version of the character. Golden Lasso Girl outdid herself with this one, folks!

As always, you can check out a lot more great Cosplay pictures over on the Tumblr. And while you are admiring some great cosplay here, don’t forget to check out some of the other great stuff on Super Powered Fiction this week!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The war with the Fraud Police never ends (Superior Writing)

A lot of people think a lot of different things about the creative process and the lives of writers. What I think most people don't realize is the often crippling doubt and insecurity that also comes with each new sentence. I've spoken with many writers over the years about that feeling, the worry that you're just not good enough and someday someone will make it clear to you.

In her book The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer calls this feeling the FRAUD POLICE (always in caps.) It is a perfect summation of the way self-doubt can work on your thoughts and actions in the writing process.

The Time Variance Authority
(based on Mark Gruenwald)
by Walter Simonson.
In his continuing Overword series, Michel Fiffe spent a lot of time breaking down the writings of Mark Gruenwald, the late great Marvel editor and writer. He shared a link to an old Marvel Age column by Gruenwald, one that touches on this very subject.

When I was young and I first realized that one guy -Stan Lee- was writing seven or eight comic books every month, I was staggered. Who in the world could think up that many stories so quickly and regularly-- two a week! I'd been writing and drawing my own comics since I could hold a crayon, and I was hard-put to come up with even one story every two months. For practice, I'd sometimes try to think up two stories a week, even if I didn't have a chance to work them all out, and whew! did they stink. I know now some of the "secrets" behind Stan's productivity, but I'm not about to reveal it here -Stan has his own column on page 15- ask him. And I myself am more prolific than some of my writing compatriots, doing two books a month in addition to my "day job". (I sometimes wonder if I'd have the ability to write four books a month if I gave up my day job as executive editor- I'm not anxious to find out.) Anyway, for me, ideas for stories came into my head as they are needed, and they are needed to the tune of two a month (actually three since I'm doing a back-up feature in one of the books I write).

Every once in a while, usually when it's late and I'm up against a deadline and can't afford any "down time", I start questioning the value and meaning of my work. Are my ideas really any good or am I fooling myself? What are my stories saying? Anything? Is writing comics truly a worthwhile pursuit for a grown man? Am I ever going to write anything groundbreaking or am I doomed to tread water in the mainstream till the end of my career? Heavy stuff to lay on one's self, huh? But if one doesn't examine one's own lifework now and then, why should anyone else ever bother to?

Whenever I sit down to write a story, it is my foremost intent that the story I'm about to write will be different from any other story I've written and any other comic story I've read. I've only written some 200 comics but I must have read 200,000 by now (someone please check my calculations- I could be off by a 0). While it's been said that there are maybe only seven different plots in all of literature (someone again check my calculations), there are probably fewer than that in comics literature. I mean, aren't they all some variation on "Hero meets villain, hero fights villain, hero beats villain"? So what I mean by a "different" story is one where there's something novel about it, something that's never been seen in the context of the book I'm writing. Just as an example, I recently had Captain America's long time sparring partner Batroc the Leaper, risk his own neck to help Cap out of a predicament with a hungry shark. That bit made the story for me; I prided myself on that little tidbit of originality. But how original is it? In all the annals of comic literature, has a villain ever helped a hero before? Well, yes. Has any villain ever helped Cap before? Probably, though I can't recall who. Has Batroc ever shown his admiration for his old enemy like this? Nope and that's why I consider this bit and the story woven around it "different" from every other comic I've read. You can see by this example that when striving for something new and different in every story, one must settle for small newnesses and differences.

I try to do other things in my stories besides just making them different. I'm something of a structuralist. I try as much as possible to make all the parts of a given story have some connection to the whole. This, as you know, is not a concern of most comic writers, who have no compunctions about inserting sub-plot sequences that have absolutely no connection to the story in which they're embedded. A structuralist has a hard time putting in these foreshadowings of future storylines that have no payoff in the present. So whenever I construct a story with no structural defects, I feel like I've accomplished something. It's something I do just for me and my sense of craftsmanship. To judge by the fact that I've never received a single fan letter complimenting me on my story structure, I'd say that it's something my readers are not in the least concerned with.

There are other things I try for every time I set out to do a story that I do hope my readers notice and respond to. Namely, I hope that every story I do will have something in it to make the reader laugh, cry, become excited, pique his/her curiosity, be a positive human experience, or affect him/her in some way or another. I believe that much of what passes for entertainment is just contentless, emotionless, souless pablum. I don't think all entertainment has to be profound (I know my stories aren't), but I expect my entertainment to have something in it so it's something more than a complete waste of time.

Writers (and artists) who don't care about the content and quality of their work are called hacks. I desperately do not want to be thought of as a hack, but in my darker hours I wonder if it's possible to become a hack without even knowing it. You think you care about your work either as much as you used to or as much as the job warrants it, but you're only deluing yourself! Here's my rationale: I must care about my work because if I didn't care I'd find a way to make producing it less painful, less stressful, less work. But what if the pain, stress, and hard work of coming up with a story is simply just the only way I know how to go about it? What if these are not idicators of my striving for "quality", but are just plain old ineptitudes? Or what if the pain, stress, and hard work I go through for every story is just not enough and I only think it is? What if the great writers go through a whole lot more of that than I do, and I'm actually just doing the amount that average hacks go through?

I have never set out to write a bad story but if you produce stories on a regular basis, some fall way short of one's personal standards. Was it that the initial idea was less than great? Sometimes. You think you've got a good kernel of an idea to construct a story around, but when you actually work it out, it turns out not to be all that hot. Frequently there's no time to scrap it altogether- particuarly if the meagerness of your initial idea doesn't strike you until say part three of a three-part story. Other times, the initial idea is sound, but you just lack of the time or ability or insight to work it out as well as it could have been worked out.

So here I am toiling away for over ten years now producing comic book tales, trying to make well structured, impactful stories with original flourishes, and telling myself I'm not a hack. So are my efforts worthwhile? Am I producing anything of lasting value? I sure hope so. I get a letter now and then from someone who's been hit where they live by something I've done, but I don't get them that often. Have I ever written something classic, a masterpiece of the medium? No, not yet. Have I at least done some stories that have come closer to expressing what I wanted to say about life, heroism, the human condition? At times I feel I have (write me for a free list). Sometimes I wonder if I'm capable of greatness as greatness is defined in terms of our humble medium, the illustrated sequential image with minimal prose storyform. I fear I'm not. But if I ever became dead certain that I'm incapable of greatness, I'd have to quit writing comics then and there. I make myself go on because I think somewhere in me is something good, maybe great, trying to get itself expressed.

So, he said, trying to end this depressing diatribe on an upbeat note, I'm going to keep on writing comics until I finally get it right, and maybe even a little after, to make sure that the first time I got it right wasn't just a fluke. Thanks for letting me share this dark look into one writer's soul with you. I guess writing comics is not all fun and games, huh?
-- Mark Gruenwald

At this point, Gruenwald had been a successful comic writer for over a decade. He already published what many consider his masterwork Squadron Supreme. But what it most effectively illustrates to me is how hard it is for literally anyone to overcome those self-doubts.

All writers fight it to some degree or another. It's a way of life. But the true greats, whether it's Gruenwald or Palmer or whoever fight back. They don't let the FRAUD POLICE win no matter how easy it is to succumb to their power.

That's why I write. And that's why I keep writing, even when I doubt any of my own writing's worth. So if you take away one thing from this, let it be this: no matter how small your market may be, even if it is just you, find what you want and create art. Because really, it's one of the greatest things we can do to better ourselves and all mankind.

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Newer Gods have arrived!

I promised it a few weeks back. Now my newest blog endeavor has arrived!

Newer Gods covers the history of the New Gods after the 18th issue of Mister Miracle, Jack Kirby's final comic in his original run with the characters. It will cover every appearance by the characters from random team-ups to all the many revival attempts over the years!

Things kick off with the characters above as they crossover into Batman's side of the DCU in Brave and the Bold 112 by Bob Haney and Jim Aparo! Check it out and make sure you bookmark Newer Gods as it brings two more entries this week and a new weekly entry after that!

Friday, June 1, 2018

Great Art: Justice League by Michel Fiffe

Michel Fiffe is one of the most talented creators currently working in comics bar none. Creator of Copra and the upcoming Bloodstrike: Brutalists, he's not just an incredibly skilled writer / artist, but an unrepentant fan of 80s and 90s comics. After not getting in an answer to a Fire & Water Podcast question about dream Justice League Detroit line-ups, he penciled, inked and colored it instead. This is an impressive oddball Justice League assortment. (Stalker!) Be sure to check out his website for more on his work!

As always, you can check out a lot more Great Art over on the Tumblr. And after you're done admiring some great art here, don’t forget to check out some of the other great stuff on the site this week!