Tag Archives: comics

Coming About

The comics market is changing. That’s not news, it’s always changing and adapting. However what is perhaps news to some and is becoming more and more obvious to me, is that the Big2 publishers, Marvel and DC, are no longer the Final Destination for creators, probably writers more so than artists.

For years, breaking in (in my mind at least) meant doing some indy work, self publishing, doing enough work of some sort to get noticed so that someone further up the food chain said hey, let’s give this guy a one shot on Spider-Man Team Up, and see how he does on a Batman tie-in book. If it flies and sell well, then they give the writer or artist a bit more work until they develop into a named Talent. People start referring to the book as Johnny NewGuy’s Spider-Man or NewGuy’s Batman. At which point they’ve made it. Roll credits.

In the last, probably ten years or so, there’s been a shift. Talent, to one degree or another, has always done creator owned work alongside their work for hire gigs. Exclusive contracts used to be par for the course, now they’re rare. Working for one of the Big2 doesn’t guarantee X number of books per month anymore and therefore a steady income. Creators write for 3 or 4 or even 5 different publishers each month, to create a steady income which enables them to write comics full time.

A few years ago (before the Walking Dead was THE WALKING DEAD) and long before Robert Kirkman was known well outside the comics industry, he tried to inspire other comic creators to follow in his wake with a video, where his call to arms was mostly mocked or ignored. He tried to explain that the industry was changing, and that if you worked for the Big2 for the rest of your life, at the end of the day you’d be left with nothing. No creator rights to the characters, because it’s work for hire, so no pension of any kind and there’s no union for creators. No payouts if anyone adapts your character for another medium, which was also on the rise at the time.

He suggested that while you are in the spotlight and you do have an enthusiastic fan base and are a known named Talent, create something original that you will own 100%. Some in the industry listened, some said we’re already doing it, some just couldn’t take the risk of stepping away from a regular monthly salary to jump into the abyss and hope that the idea of a bungee cord became a reality before they hit the financial rock bottom. People have to pay the bills, put food on the table so there’s no blame being thrown around.

Another shift came, maybe five years ago, whereby the number of well known Talent, doing creator owned work alongside their Big2 was steadily increasing. For many reasons I don’t know, and a few that were discussed  at length in public, several well known creators walked away from the Big2. Some went into other industries, some self published, some produced comics via Kickstarter and creator owned books with other publishers, some worked for smaller publishers and the scales started to tip.

If they don’t already, then in a couple of months Image comics will have 10% of the monthly comics market. A few years ago, that 10% comprised of all of the independent comic book companies. In ten years I wonder what the landscape will look like and right now I suspect the split will be much more even three ways between the Big2 and all of the other publishers combined.

Now, more and more of these known creators, the Talent, with loyal fans are producing some of the most innovative and interesting comics in the industry. There are no IP rights to exploit, no shareholders to pacify, no limits. Now while the monthly sales figures for most of these creator owned titles are nowhere near those of the Big2, that is changing too. Saga was just outside of the top 20 sales figures for August 2013, and The Walking Dead was at number 12. However, the money the creators are receiving is still very healthy, because their slice of the pie is much bigger and there are fewer mouths to feed.

Just to clarify, the Big2 are not evil corporations. They’re not destroying the comics industry. They’re businesses with well known icons and IP, and they want to make money and tell stories. They want to promote their brands to as many people as they can across as many mediums as they can, be it TV, film, animation, merchandise or comics. Working for them is not working for the Dark Side, but now it’s not the end of the story, it’s just another step on the road. Creators who do work for them should be totally aware that anything they create does not belong to them. So if they want something that is completely their own, there are many opportunities and different avenues out there. You can have your cake and eat it. In fact, now is exactly the right time to do that.

New York Comic Con is running as we speak, and while the Big2 are coming out with lots of announcements, I’ve found I’m actually more interested in the creator owned series and independent work from the well known Talent because I have no idea of what they might do and where they might go. The deck is definitely shifting beneath my feet.

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Man of Steel

I’ve held off writing a post about this, mostly because I wanted to get some distance from the film, so I could write about it with some perspective. In the end I managed to say everything I wanted to on the latest episode of the Comic Book Outsiders podcast I co-host with Scott Grandison. We’re now putting out episodes as and when we feel the need, although we used to be fortnightly. So if you’ve only just heard about this now for the first time, there are 5 years of podcasts on iTunes to get through. I’ll wait here until you’re finished.

I ended up speaking about the film it a fairly calm and mostly wounded manner, although I did have a good rant about some fans reactions to the recent Doctor Who casting news. So if you’ve not seen Man of Steel or don’t want to know who the new Doctor is, then I’d skip those bits.

Looking ahead to Man of Steel 2, or whatever they end up calling it, I remain nervous and anxious. I’m worried because the same director looks set to sit in the chair, and I sincerely hope all of those involved in making the big decisions about the new film listen to the genuine concerns that have been raised. Not the fanboy moans about the shield being the wrong shape, or Jimmy being Jenny, or a thousand other tiny things that don’t actually matter. I mean the big things. The contradictions. Clark apparently not caring about the wanton destruction he inflicts upon humanity in one breath and then doing something totally against character to save a single family. The big stuff, the character issues that sit at the very heart of the character and the message he stands for. It may not be what Siegel and Shuster intended when they created Superman, but that is what he has come to mean over the last seventy years. Hope, caring for your fellow man, that every life counts, that there is good in every person and that we can be great as a people in time.

Dark and gritty and humourless doesn’t work for Superman. He’s the light, Batman is the shadow. They work so well together, sometimes, because they are so different. He wants to bring Batman into the light, he wants Batman to believe more in humanity and the belief that there is good in every one. Naive, perhaps. Inspiring, absolutely. Batman experienced first hand as a boy the evil and desperation that lurks in the hearts of men. He doesn’t always see the best in them. That’s one of the many differences between them. Right now, in the new Superman film world, they’re both different shades of grey.

Casting wise for Batman, I hope they go for someone older, with an edge. Like John Hamm, or Josh Brolin, not someone who is young dandy with a chiselled jaw. We need acting chops, we need gravitas, not dreamy eyes and great abs. Time will tell if they listen at all and who they cast, but rather than being excited, as I am by the prospect of more Avengers films, I’m just worried and nervous, which isn’t a good thing.

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Projects Update July 2013

Thought I would just do a quick general post on the projects I’m currently working on.

The Novel – The next draft has gone off to my agent for her feedback. I’ve timed it just right so that I can go on holiday in a few days and I won’t spend the entire time pondering, staring off into the distance and making notes. I’m going to chill out for a week, switch off, unplug and just unwind. It will also give me time to ponder (more quietly in the background) what I’ve written, or defrag it and reorder it in my head, to fall back on my old computing terms. Hopefully when I return I can then listen to the next set of comments and be a more detached and hopefully make the next draft even better.

The Game – I’ve been quiet on this for a while, but we’re starting to move forward again. This is a work for hire job I did where I wrote the bulk of the main story. I have to be very vague on details, but I can say it’s currently in testing, so once testing is far enough along, they will plant a flag in the sand and announce a release date. The game is innovative in many ways and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, which is one of the goals we set out with. I’m very excited to see what happens with this, but it is also another string to my bow as writing this was unlike anything I’d done before and if I get a chance I’d like to try it again in the future.

Flux – This is a comic mini series I’ve co-written with Pete Rogers and with art by Maysam Barza. We’ve now sent the submission package off into the wide world to a couple of comic book publishers. Now comes the awful waiting, the nail biting, the gnashing of teeth as we wait for an answer. In the meantime Maysam is cracking on with the next chunk of art.

ComicSeries2 – I’d not co-written something before and when I approached Pete about writing what would eventually become Flux, it was with a lot of trepidation. Writing is normally a solitary affair, except for TV where you have writers rooms (which I’ve not tried, but would love to), so I had no idea if it was a good idea and if it would work. I chose Pete very carefully too as I thought we were well suited and I thought we would get along, but again there was no guarantee. Thankfully my leap of faith paid off, it worked really well and we immediately starting talking about doing something else. There’s a working title for this but I’m keeping it mum as it might become the actual title. With this project we’re doing something completely different to Flux, totally different genre and approach and right now it’s in the early stages. But I’m feeling the same level of excitement and am looking forward to seeing what we can come up with together.

The River – Adam, Ryan and I put Empyre on the shelf, as despite what we thought was a cracking and interesting idea, with amazing art (that’s me saying that not Adam, as he doesn’t think he’s very good!), the publishers we submitted to weren’t interested. We were told there’s too much like it out there already. A big shame but we did learn a lot from it, so we just have to chalk it up to experience and move on. What Adam and I are cooking up now with The River (working title) is pretty off the wall, but I’m also keeping it pretty focused which is something I seem good at doing. It’s very different to anything I’ve developed before and we came up with the core of this idea together. It’s based on lots of different things we’re both interested in, so we keep brainstorming lots of little touches, which is making the world feel more realistic and lived in. When I get back from my holiday I’m going to press on with this with the goal of having another submission ready before the end of the year. Sounds easy, six months away and all, but experience has taught me lots of stuff gets in the way, so Christmas is reasonable and any earlier is brilliant.

Dapper Chimp web comic – Digital comics are going through a revolution, there is so much innovation in that space at the moment it’s amazing. I’m not a full convert, but I really like some of what is going on, such as what Mark Waid and others are doing at Thrillbent.com and what they’ve done with MonkeyBrain comics. They’ve produced short, punchy comics that are only available digitally, and at some point may be available as physical collections. Several different publishers have expressed an interest in different titles and they are printing the trades. Dapper Chimp was set up by Pete Rogers and the first digital comic will soon be available on ComiXology. I’ve recently developed a superhero satire in the mould of Mystery Men, as a mini series, and the idea is to publish it exclusively via Dapper Chimp and then if it does well, produce a physical printed edition at some point. The story is ready, now all I need is an artist. So if you’re a budding artist, looking for something funny but also with heart, get in touch.

The second novel – I’d actually started working on this before I submitted my first. I’ve got the spine of the story sorted, the characters are ready, most of the main beats are there and I’ve written the first couple of chapters. This has been put on hold of late but I’ve been poking around at it again recently, looking forward to it and also backwards to book 1 to make sure they fit together. They’re not connected like you’d find in a trilogy, as each book in the series is a standalone story, but there is connecting tissue between them as they’re set in the same world and linear in time. I guess I’ll inch this along as and when I can in the next few months and just see how I do.

All of that sounds like a lot, but everything moves at different speeds, so it’s rare for many things to overlap. Occasionally I do start to flap a bit, and what follows are several late nights until the pressure is off a bit, but overall I am able to juggle different things quite well. It also follows the whole ethos of not putting all my eggs into one basket.

 

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My Workspace

This post, and other related posts that will probably be forthcoming by Laura Lam, Jennifer Williams, and by Lou Morgan was inspired by a tweet Laura made about finally getting herself a shiny new desk.

I’m always curious to see other people’s creative workspace and what they surround themselves with to help them write or focus, or maybe it’s stuff they have to hand. I wonder if they have posters or inspirational quotes on the wall, what books they have on hand for reference, or toys, or a whole bunch of other things I’m sure I can’t imagine.

Below is a picture of my desk and below that a quick guide to some of the junk on my desk and why it’s there, plus what is just out of sight. Quick mention about the desk itself, it’s massive and it’s totally plain, but it’s one I’ve always wanted, so I have everything I want right there, to hand, and it’s perfect for someone like me with long legs.

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From left to right moving anti clockwise around the desk :-

1 – My pop shield, for recording podcasts. Headphones for the same and also for listening to music and podcasts, which are vital for long daily commutes for the day job.
2- Post it Notes. I’ve now started using digital ones on my phone when I’m out and about, for ideas, or to remember things I need to buy, but sometimes physical ones come in handy.
3 – Current Work in Progress. I’m doing yet another edit, going through it, line by line, with the red pen.
4 – Glass bowl. Currently empty, but normally it has chocolate it in to keep me going. Vital for any creative person. Well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
5 – Soundtracks plus other CDs. I’ve transferred most onto my PC, but sometimes I add new CDs, or buy new stuff and it stacks up there. I usually write with music to help get me into the right headspace. Not to set the mood, but just to help me focus.
6 – iPad. I’ve only had one of these for about a year, and it was a gift, otherwise I wouldn’t have bought one. I’m actually surprised to say I use it quite a lot for bits and pieces, reading digital comics, watching the news from the BBC with breakfast, social media stuff and so on.
7 – Just under the iPad is my current, must read comics. There are about 3 trades under there. Just to the right, off screen, is a stack of another ten trades that I then gradually move up to my desk when those are gone. To the far right, is a set of shelves full of comic trade paperbacks and hardback comics.
8 – On top of the printer, the big golden book. A recent birthday present, the Golden Age of DC Comics – 1939 to 1956, which details the history of DC comics during that period and it covers several of their characters during that time including, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern (Alan Scott, not Hal Jordan or any of the other modern Lanterns), The Flash (again the original one – Jay Garrick), Robin, Plastic Man and Hawkman. A cracking good read to dip in and out of for a lifelong DC comics fan like me.
9 – My trusty laser printer, when I just have to print stuff out and see a physical copy so all of the things that need fixing are suddenly so easy to see.
10 – Beside the printer. A couple of reference books – Eats, Shoots and Leaves, a guide to punctuation. Also a copy of Collins Thesaurus when I need something different, but not totally obscure.

I don’t actually have any inspirational words or poems on the wall, but I do have several comic book prints, two by a favourite comic book artist and writer, Terry Moore, two movie prints, from Rocky Balboa and The Green Mile (both favourite films of mine) and several other bits and pieces making it completely my space. The rest of the room is full of books to read and my to read pile is pretty hideous at the moment. I’ve actually banned myself from buying any new books for a while, but we’ll see how long that lasts.

So, that’s my work space, what do you have in yours and why? If you post one of these, please link it back to the others so we can keep the chain going.

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Projects update April 2013

Just a quick update on current projects. The day job has been keeping me busy, but I’ve been chipping away on the creative endeavours which fuel me.

Sadly, it looks as if Empyre is dead. For now at least. We submitted it to a few comic publishers, one of which didn’t bother to respond at all, so after several months we sent it to a different one. An editor got back in touch with us, told us it was too similar to lots of other comics out there, and he thought the art was good, but not great. I disagree completely, and despite his modesty, I think Adam’s art is excellent, especially when I’ve looked back at the original pages he did a couple of years ago. He’s progressed significantly since then and he is a really good artist. As to the comic being too similar to others out there, well, I can’t find any, but perhaps they’re in the works now and will come out soon. Anyway, my disagreements don’t really matter as they don’t want it. So, we talked about self publishing, we discussed other options and decided to leave it for now and maybe come back to it. So in the meantime we’re currently thrashing some out some new ideas together, and Adam, Ryan and I will start work on something new very soon.

Flux is pretty much ready to submit to a publisher. We had to make some changes to the first few pages of art, due to external complications, so that required a rewrite and then Maysam rejigging and redrawing parts. However, that’s all done, we’re tweaking the submission document and then it can be sent off.

I also want to move forward with a digital comic idea I’ve been knocking around. The whole script is done, I just need to find an artist now with the right style and then get it moving.

On the novel front, I’ve been delaying the inevitable. I’ve been revising it, and editing it, polishing it and then polishing it again. I’m currently working my way through another polish, this time by printing it all out on paper in a different font to normal, and marking it up with a red pen. It’s slow going and I’m taking my time and trying not to rush it, but I also think I’m now just stalling. Once this latest draft is done, I’m going to submit it to the first agent on my list. This will be some time in May by the time I’m done with the red pen. I’ve very carefully drawn up a list of agents, listened to a lot of the #askagent Q and A sessions on twitter, done my homework on other authors and who they are represented by, and I’ve listened to a few agents at events. Feedback from beta readers has been positive, and I’m looking carefully at their comments, but now it’s really all up to me.

So, it’s almost time to cross my fingers, close my eyes, and hit Send.

Once it goes off, I will move forward on book 2, which I’ve actually started and have gone over the first chapter eight times already. Normally I keep moving forward, then come back and revise, but I’m being a little bit more careful this time. I suspect once in find my rhythm again it will become easier but I’m a bit rusty.

I’m still remembering to take the odd day off, relax, not do any writing and try not to feel guilty about it. I’m also trying to remember a previous promise I made to myself about getting enough sleep, which I seem to fail at regularly. So, it’s a work in progress, like everything else it seems.

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Good Comics – Part 1

I’ve been reading comics for so long, I sometimes forget how difficult it is, and how intimidating it can be, to walk into a comic shop, or browse in a book shop, or search online, and pick up a comic worth reading. Yes, it’s all subjective and what I think qualifies as a ‘good’ comic, other people might loathe and think is boring and dull. There are other opinions out there, but hey, it’s my website.

If you’re interesting in buying any comics, either from this list or anywhere else, please support your local comic shop. The Comic Shop Locator will help you find your nearest, and even if it is too far away to drive or walk, many will deliver comics to you through the post. Please support your local comic shop if at all possible. The website is for comic shops around the world.

Recommending the Wrong Thing
There are now so many comics out there, it can very hard to know where to start. Far too often when I hear that someone wants to get into comics people will point them towards classic superhero titles, the most well known stories which people may have heard about, such as Watchmen, or The Dark Knight Returns, which I think is a terrible idea. Because they’re complex stories, steeped in the genre and the mythology and history of comics, and in the case of DKR it’s steeped in decades of the character’s history. New readers can understand the stories, and they may enjoy them, but I think they will have far less of an emotional impact. Also, and most importantly, why always recommend superheroes?

Comics are a medium not a genre
Superheroes are just one genre. Comics are a medium. That’s worth repeating, because sometimes when I mention that I read comics people say, oh like The Beano and The Dandy (which are children’s comics) or comic strips (Garfield, Marmaduke, etc.), or they say like Spider-man. It’s the same as when someone says they read fantasy books and people say oh, you mean like Lord of the Rings, or now, the new touchstone is Game of Thrones. The attitude towards comics is changing, but every time I think we’re moving away from the stereotype of comics being one thing, a stranger comes out with the same old chestnut. Or they insist on saying graphic novel, as if comics are a dirty word and graphic novels are something completely different. Then I wince and realise we’re still decades away from more widespread understanding.

For every genre there is a comic book
If nothing else, please remember that there is a comic for every single genre you would find in a book shop. Every one, and many that blend genres together too. With all of that preamble out of the way, below is a short list of different comics from a range of genres. I’ve split them into Complete Series (which are finite stories available as several trade paperbacks or hardcover collections in some cases), and Ongoing Series. Also, this is only part one, as there are a lot of great comics available right now, so I will add to this list with other posts in the future.

Complete Series

Sleeper – An espionage story where a man named Holden Carver goes undercover in a dangerous international crime organisation, in an attempt to destroy it from the inside. Several people in the story have powers, but there are no capes and tights. These are dark, sometimes subtle and nasty powers, such as the ability to twist the mind, to confuse, or in Holden’s case, store up pain and then inflict it on others. To be clear, this is very much a crime and espionage comic, not a superhero comic. The main problem for Holden is that the only person who knows he was going deep under cover is now in a coma. All of his former friends and colleagues  think he has turned and is now a villain and terrorist. So the story is really about how far can he go, how much can he do, supposedly in the name of good, before he becomes evil? Is he just pretending that he doesn’t enjoy what he does and his new life? And is he just acting or does he really care about some of the people he now works beside every day? A brutal, adult story, full of twists and turns.

Y: The Last Man – One day Yorrick wakes up to find that every other male mammal and human male on the planet has died. This is an epic road trip and adventure story across a transformed modern day America where he, and a small group of friends, try to unravel the mystery, but also survive in this brave new world. All major industry has effectively ended and society has collapsed, and out of the ashes of the old world, new tribes are emerging. New ways of looking at the future and how to remake the world, but of course, everyone has different ideas. Also does it matter who you were in the old world when everything you knew is gone? Who is Yorrick  and why was he spared?

PreacherThis is the story about a man named Jesse Custer and his two friends, Tulip and Cassidy, an Irish vampire. Jesse has lost his faith in God and he wants answers. This is a very violent, very bloody, very wordy, road trip across modern day America. The writer is well known for over the top antics and this is full of extremes, but he doesn’t do it just to be naughty or to show off. Beneath the language and blood, there is a story about faith, friendship, honour, love, doing the right thing and family. During Jesse’s search they get into all sorts of trouble with serial killers, angels, demons, immortal killers and Jesse’s insane and very dangerous family. It’s over the top and wordy, a Tarantino film is probably the easiest shorthand description, but with a lot more substance and heart.

Ex-Machina – Mitchell Hundred is the newly elected Mayor of New York, but once he was a superhero known as The Great Machine. This is in our world, one without superheroes and this is not a superhero comic. It’s a political action story about modern society and trying to do the right thing in a world that is infinitely more complex than it used to be. Mitchell was an ordinary civil servant until something exploded when he was at work on the Hudson river. The device didn’t kill him, and was probably alien in origin, but it did change him. It made him able to speak to and control machines. As the Great Machine, he saved many people, but also realised his inadequacies and the limitations of being a superhero, as it was reactive and done one person at a time. This comic covers a whole host of hot topics from racism, to sexist, art, homophobia, the media, and it also looks at power and how it corrupts.

Sweet Tooth – Most of the world’s population has been wiped out by a terrible disease. No one knows the cause or why it happened. Since then, the only children being born are human animal hybrids, kids with tails, wings, feathers, or in the case of the story’s main character Gus, he has antlers. Gus is raised in seclusion by his very religious father, who has told him how evil and dangerous the world is outside. When Gus’s father succumbs to the disease Gus finds himself thrust into the new world. At the other extreme is Jepperd, a tough old man who seems born to survive in this post apocalyptic world. Jepperd and Gus make an unlikely pair, and what follows is a touching and sometimes harrowing story about living versus surviving. Beautifully drawn and written by Jeff Lemire, the last single issue has been published and the last trade paperback collection is out later this year. So technically it’s all a complete series.

Scalped – A gritty, crime and noir series set on a modern day Native American reservation. After years of living off the reservation, Dashiell Bad Horse comes home. The rez is awash with organised crime, drugs and gambling and Bad Horse has not come back to make friends. Minor spoiler, but it is very early on and critical to the story, he is actually an undercover FBI agent investigating a murder. While the very basic premise may sound slightly similar to Sleeper, this is a very very different comic. Sleeper is espionage and this is a straight crime comic. Bad Horse struggles to cope with the two sides of his life being together in one place, staying loyal to the Bureau, while also getting hip deep in rez politics. At times the rez feels like the wild west, as they have their own laws and operate in a bubble in some ways, and many of the characters and stories are tinged with despair. If you like gritty cop shows, shows like The Wire, where it’s full on but clearly going somewhere and not just for show, I’d recommend this.

Strangers in Paradise – This is one of my favourite comic book series ever, so I’m bias. However, I will try not to gush too much. This is best described as a slice of life story about an unorthodox love triangle, mixed with some crime aspects, but ultimately it’s a massive sprawling story about life and love. It’s a contemporary story set in the real world, with no magic or super powers, and the story focuses on two girls who meet in high school, one of who harbours a lot of secrets. As the story develops and with flashbacks to their time in school, we learn about Katina’s dark past, Francine’s daily struggles with her weight, finding a job she likes, and dealing with difficult men in her life. David is the third side of the triangle, and he loves Katina, but there again he is keeping secrets and he is far more than just an arty student type. It’s quite a complex story to describe without spoiling, but this is definitely an adult comic, exploring adult themes of sexuality, love, passion, crime, fear, family and pain. There are guns and the occasional murder, a crime syndicate, a plane crash, break-ups and tears, but mostly it is a story about three people. I say people rather than characters, because they are so well developed, both emotionally and physically. I don’t want this to sound like a bleak read, because it isn’t, and all of the dark is balanced with humour and comedy. As I say it is difficult to describe and this can be a bit of a marmite book for some people. Terry Moore wrote and drew the series and no one draws women like him. They look like real people. Fat, thin, tall and short, every character looks realistic. Overall, a remarkable book and it’s why I have a special print from the series on my study wall.

Bone – Back when self publishing comics was a radical and new idea, long before the internet opened up and digital, print on demand and web comics made it even easier to reach your audience, three men were creating comics. Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise), Dave Sim (Cerebus) and Jeff Smith, writer and artist of Bone. Like all of them, Bone was originally printed in single issues but is now available in giant collections. This is an all ages comic full of wild, wacky and very inventive ideas, wonderful characters, and adventure. It’s about the journey of three little bald headed, cartoony characters through a fantastical world. It’s light, silly, and a refreshing and fun story. It has won numerous comic book awards and is very highly regarded.

Ongoing Series

Saga – An epic space opera with unusual spaceships, magic, bounty hunters, sex planets, giants, sentient planets, dinosaurs, and animal headed aliens. Two lovers, from different sides of a conflict, are tired of war, and trying to get out with their new born baby, who is loathed by many for being a cross-breed. This comic is for adults only due to the language, violence and other adult sexual content. It’s a huge tale that is gradually unfolding, and it is told from a very unique perspective, as the narrator is the child being born at the start of the first issue. The main story follows the girl’s parents as they try to escape and start a new life. A quick touchstone is Lord of the Rings meets Romeo and Juliet, although to me, it’s more like Star Wars meets Romeo and Juliet. The story is clearly influenced by many comics, films and TV from the SFF world and it’s a thrilling, interesting and exciting adventure where you have no idea what is going to happen next and what is around the next corner. There are no limits, each issue ends on a cliffhanger and you care about the main characters. One trade paperback is out now, plus you can get single issues or digital copies.

Chew – This is a story set in the modern world where a bird flu epidemic killed millions of people and this has resulted in the ban on all chicken and chicken like meat. Speak Easy diners sell black market chicken and the enforcement of the ban has resulted in the Food and Drug Administration FDA branch of the Government becoming incredibly powerful. Tony Chu is a cop who has an unusual talent, he is a cibopath, which means he gets psychic impressions of whatever he eats and know their history. So if he eats a burger, he will see the cow being cooked, then ground up, then killed, and so on all the way back to it grazing happily in the field. Everything he eats gives him the same mental imagery, except beets, so he eats them a lot. This is, in the most loose terms, a detective comic, but it is incredibly dark and with lots of black humour. It has lots of weird and wacky characters, as Tony’s ability is not the only one, and all of the other abilities are related to food in some way. Overall this is an incredibly funny comic but it is very odd and I admit, not to everyone’s taste.

The Sixth Gun – This is a mix of several genres where the sum is far greater than its parts. It’s a spooky and creepy horror western with supernatural elements, where six guns bestow unnatural powers on the people who wield them. For the longest time they were in the hands of some terrible people, with some fairly unpleasant results (I’m being fairly vague on purpose so I don’t spoil the fun!), but now they’re after the 6th gun and they want to find their leader, General Hume. At the beginning of the story it focuses on several groups trying to track and then retrieve the 6th Gun, which has now fallen into the hands of the heroine Becky. She and Drake Sinclair, a man with an unpleasant past trying to make amends, are thrown together as they try to outsmart and outmanoeuvre the dangerous group of killers on their heels. This story has touches of magic, ghosts, unnatural dark powers, legendary weapons steeped in a dark and twisted history, and bags and bags of fun. It’s bright, colour, explosive and a really great and exciting read. I love westerns, and the supernatural, and this is the perfect blend of the two. It’s not really suitable for kids, despite the style of art, and so far there are four trade paperback collections available. With each chapter the story and the world expands, but there is a resolution, so the writer is not just stringing you along. It’s one of the most unique and interesting comics I’ve read in quite a while.

Spider-Man – Miles Morales – I’m being careful about the number of superhero comics I put on this list, because the market is dominated by them, also it’s hard to know where to start sometimes when a comic has been going for decades, and as I said, they’re just one genre in the medium. However, if you want to read a Spider-Man comic then I would suggest you start with this one because it is fairly new and you can read it without knowing much about what came before. It is also suitable for younger readers, probably anyone ten and over I would say. I’ve put Miles Morales because this is about a new Spider-man called Miles. He is a modern kid and the story is set today, so he has the internet and a mobile phone and a whole set of new issues to deal with as a child growing up in the 21st century. It’s about a boy who is given great powers and how he copes with the responsibility that comes with them and what he chooses to do. It’s very refreshing as well because there is very little you need to know before picking this up and a quick internet search would fill in any blanks. The story plays with familiar archetypes for those who have read Spider-Man before, so there are lots of nice Easter eggs for us older readers, but you don’t need to know any of that to enjoy the series. A really entertaining, fresh and fun comic about a new hero in the making and the decisions he makes. There are several trade paperback collections available already.

Manhattan Projects – This series is written by Jonathan Hickman, who I think is one of the most interesting writers to have come into the comics industry in the last ten years. He has big ideas. I mean epic. He did a long run on the Fantastic Four that wrapped up last year that was one big story with lots of interlocking pieces. He’s doing the same sort of grand story on The Avengers right now, and he’s talked about in interviews how the idea he pitched was pretty big, and will unfold over several years. He also has a vivid imagination and this comic, and all of his other creator owned comics, demonstrate that fact. The story revolves around the idea that the term ‘Manhattan Project’ was actually an umbrella under which several weird and wonderful scientific experiments were being developed by leading scientists from all over the world. This story includes nasty and dark scientific ideas, touches of sci-fi, aliens and creating portals to other worlds and parallel dimensions, historic figures re-imagined and twisted slightly through a lens. It mixes small touches of fact with a lot of fiction, so at one point we see Einstein working on something that is far beyond what most people would assume. It is one of the most unpredictable comics I read and jammed full of strange ideas. If you like shows like Eureka and Fringe, where lots of different things are jammed together and strange geniuses are walking to the beat of their own drum, then this is for you. I like alternate history stories, or stories that suggest a secret history of the world that most people don’t know about, and this is both of those really. It’s a lot fun and two trade paperback are available.

All Star Western – A self explanatory title. It’s focuses on different characters in a western setting, and although technically it is a DC comic, don’t expect any superheroes or people with super powers. There are amusing Easter eggs, such as famous names that will later come to mean something in 200 years time in DC comics continuity, like Arkham, but these are proper, down and dirty, six gun, stories of crime, passion, greed, lust, envy, hatred and bravery. Some of the characters don’t talk about their feelings, they shoot them in the street and move on. They have goals and objectives and the law can only do so much in a country so big, so people turn to those on the edges of the law, bounty hunters and men of action with a conscience. The story focus on Jonah Hex, a scarred and famous bounty hunter and man with iron principles, and the back up stories have other characters. A really solid western comic, and if you enjoy the Hex stories and want more of him, then you can dig out lots of Jonah Hex trade paperbacks.

Morning Glories – Six very different and exemplary students are chosen to attend the prestigious Morning Glories academy. They’re known for being excellent and all are delighted by this opportunity, until on the first day one of the teachers tries to drown everyone. This story is a giant mystery and a huge puzzle box that is slowly being unravelled. I’m delighted to say the writer knows how it ends and where the story is going. He is not doing a Lost, and has explicitly said this in interviews. None of the students remember how they arrived at the school as they were unconscious, so no one knows where it is. After several attempts on their lives, often at the hands of teachers but sometimes other students, they begin to realise they’re being tested and challenged for some greater purpose. The story involves ghostly apparitions, time travel (maybe), conspiracies, cults, and a whole host of other elements I won’t spoil. If you like mysteries, and complex intriguing stories, if you like TV shows like The Prisoner, with people trapped and having their strings pulled, then I would definitely recommend Morning Glories. Three trade paperbacks are currently available. Definitely an adult story for adult readers, despite having teen protagonists.

Elephantmen – In a distant future, a twisted and deranged scientist, working for a powerful corporation, created some human / animal hybrids using African animals. These bulky and incredibly dangerous children are trained from birth to be soldiers and brutal killers, denied freedom of thought and essentially brainwashed into believing they are unkillable machines. When the UN discovers what has been going on the programme is shut down, but not before the Elephantmen inflict heavily casualties. They are released, given independence and they try to live normal lives. Some of them are loathed, some become celebrities, some powerful businessmen, some just want to disappear and some can’t shake off their past and they become dangerous criminals and rulers of the underworld. This comic has a real Blade Runner vibe to it, as when you look at the art there is a lot of dark shadows, bright neon lights and signs, and a blending of many modern and historic elements to create a future that is a mix of many cultures. The story focuses on different characters, including Hip Flask, a hippo hybrid who is a private eye, Ebenezer Hide, who is an Elephantman, who works with Hip from time to time, and Obadiah Horn a rhino hybrid who is now a successful businessman. The artwork in this book is simply amazing, gorgeous painted covers by Ladronne, and the colours are so important. The stories are a mix of genres, but ultimately about these unusual and rather remarkable outsiders who are trying to find a place in the world. An incredible and unique comic book. Five big trades are currently available.

Well done if you’ve made it this far. This post turned out to be much longer than anticipated. I’m going to do this again at some point, but if you would like me to recommend comics from a particular genre, then let me know in the comments section.

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YA Comic Books

This idea has been somewhere in the back of my mind for a while, but it came together last week when Marvel Comics announced that they are launching a series of YA novels, based on their superhero characters. The first two announced are She-Hulk and Rogue, written by Marta Acosta and Christine Woodward and they will be published by Hyperion. I’m going to be stay optimistic. I’m going to say I’m excited by these and I hope they do very well. And I’m not being disingenuous. I want young people, those under 25, especially those under 20, to be interested in comic book characters, whether that’s from Marvel, DC or other publishers.

Superhero comics dominate the US comic book market, but in other countries superheroes are not the main focus. Despite the diversity that now exists in the US market, the majority of the top 100 comics every month are superhero titles. There are exceptions (Walking Dead, Saga etc) but mostly it’s superheroes.

In the last 2 years both Marvel and DC have had one of their biggest reboots and relaunches in a long time. Not just a bit of a tweak, but an almost (almost!) wipe the slate clean and start from issue 1 across the board at DC. Marvel took a right turn and all titles are gradually relaunching with new creators and very new directions. All of which has been great for me, as a lifelong comic book fan. Sales are good in general, but my gut tells me that the percentage of brand new comic book fans, coming into Marvel or DC for the first time because of these initiatives, is very small. My gut also tells me that not many of those were women.

DC and Marvel are always actively seeking new writers and they do mentor new writers. They pair them up with an established creator who helps them learn the ropes. We’ve seen this time and again at Marvel and now some of their most interesting and unique writers were once being mentored. Jonathan Hickman and Matt Fraction are two names that immediately spring to mind. DC are also doing it as well, and people like James Tynon IV first partnered with Scott Synder before writing solo books. It’s a tried and tested method.

Both companies also bring in writers from other mediums, TV, film and novelists. Sometimes it works out very well and we get writers like Duane Swierczynski and Allan Heinberg, both of who have done some very memorable work for Marvel and DC. Sometimes it doesn’t work and we get Jodi Piucoult. I am sure she is a lovely person and I know her novels sell very well, but her run on Wonder Woman was very short and she’s not been invited back. Her view of the character did not gel with the audience, sales were poor, and they tried a different approach with a new creative team.

I’m very aware that women read comics and superhero comics, but I think there are more men reading them than women. I also think it’s fairly safe to say that the percentage of new and young readers coming into the books is fairly small. I’m also pretty sure that if you took the average age of a mainstream comic book fan, it would be twenty or thirty something, if not older.

Here’s a wacky idea to get more new readers and more women reading comics. Perhaps, in addition to the YA books, Marvel and DC should hire some YA authors to write their teen comic books. As I mentioned above, it doesn’t always work out and if the person is not a fan of comics to begin with, or is not at least familiar with the medium, then the chances of success are fairly small. But I know of several YA authors, most of them women, who are massive comic book fans and I know they would love to write comics. Can and do some of them write their own independent comics? Yes. But getting noticed and getting the word out about one of those comics is a lot more difficult. Also, both of the big companies have some very well known brands and icons that are immediately recogniseable. It’s a lot easier to convince someone to take a chance and spend their money on a new Supergirl comic than something they’ve never heard of before.

I’m sure most, if not all of the YA writers, would need to be mentored first, and during that co-writing phase both the lead writer and the company would find out if it was working or not. But imagine if it worked. A Teen Titans book, written for a YA audience. Now this isn’t me dumping on any of the teen focused books that have gone before, because I have read and enjoyed some of them. But DC in particular made an effort to put some of their comics into sections. Here are the Dark books (Vertigo-esque) grouped into The Edge, here are the Teen books, here are the Batman books etc. So with the relaunch I’m not the target audience for Teen Titans.

In theory, it would also mean that if more younger readers jumped on board with the teen books and assuming they keep reading for several years, they would eventually progress to the mainstream titles. It would also mean more women reading comics, more female role models working in the industry, and hopefully more women who become mainstream comic book writers. The number of women writing at both companies, who are working on major icons, is tiny.

I’m not privy to what is going on behind closed doors at the Big 2, and I’m sure those who are may instantly reject my idea for a number of reasons, or perhaps if I am being optimistic, these sort of talks are already taking place. From an outsiders viewpoint, it seems like a sensible and logical idea to me. It ties together some of what they are already doing and it would tackle one of the biggest problems in mainstream comics. It wouldn’t solve everything but it would be a step in the right direction.

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Show Don’t Tell

I’ve posted a few times on here in a vague fashion about some of the comic projects I’m currently working on. Today I’ve decided to just show you some of the artwork and you can judge for yourself. The first two pages are from Empyre (with Adam Bolton and Ryan Taylor on art) and the second two from Flux (co-written with Pete Rogers and with art by Maysam Barza). Empyre has been submitted to a publisher and we’re awaiting their response and we haven’t submitted Flux yet but are getting close.

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Ok, but what is it about?

This has been bugging me for a while. That’s probably not the best way to start a post, but there it is. It’s not something new, and it’s something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, but it was recently brought to the front of my brain again by the big changes in comics, namely DC comics reboot/relaunch of their new 52.

Overall, I’m a big fan of what they’ve done. It was the right thing to do, rather than a piecemeal approach which they’ve tried in the past, and it has reinvigorated their sales and the interest in their characters. Some of the new comics didn’t succeed, which was bound to happen as they launched 52 ongoing titles, and those that didn’t connect with an audience have been cancelled and replaced with new titles. We’re currently onto the 3rd or 4th wave of titles being cancelled and replaced and there are some new titles very due, but I think only one of them appeals to me. There again, that is not a dig at them. Not all of the comics are meant for me. I’m not the target audience for every title and therefore won’t enjoy all of them. There is something about the latest wave that made me question some of the decisions made, but I’ll come back to that. I’m highlighting DC because they’re at the front of my mind at the moment but this is actually a more general question for all forms of creative writing.

Ok, but what is it about? This is a question I’ve asked a thousand times before about films, TV shows, books and more recently comics. There’s often the tag line, or blurb on the back of a book, or listing and preview on a website, which gives you the highlights, it might even give you the story, but my next question is always, ok so what is it about?

I should preface the rest of this post by saying not everything has to have a deeper meaning and be a rich tapesty that is speaking to you on multiple levels. Sometimes it’s just about scaring people or blowing things up. Sometimes it’s just there to make people laugh or to entertain them. Sometimes you just want something light after a heavy or busy day at work, a screensaver for the mind is a phrase I recently heard that comes to mind. I should also point out that I’m a big fan of action movies. I loved The Expendables and I’m a huge fan of Stallone and Arnie movies. That being said, when I read something, I usually (not always) want there to be more than the tag line. I want it to have meaning, or purpose, or at least to be about something with engaging characters. The back of a book tells you something about what to expect. The inciting incident, the characters, the world, and it might offer you a few clues as to the what, but most often that comes in the reading, which for me is part of the enjoyment.

Also, the what can be different things to different people. Readers see beyond what the author intended and the printed word. They read between the lines or they see something that sits on a parallel to what was presented and it reflects something in their own life creating a special connection to the material. Maybe it reaches them on some emotional level and they feel something. There are many books that are just good rip-roaring adventures with clever characters outwitting the villains, but my favourites, the ones that stick with me, are those where the characters feel so real I wouldn’t be surprised to see them walk past me in the street.

This brings me back to DC’s newest wave of comics. Rob Liefeld is a well known figure in the comics industry, mostly for his art and for being one of the founders of Image comics, but also for being a very outspoken individual. I respect him for his accomplishments, but more recently I really like the way he asked DC difficult questions about some of their new titles. They asked him to take over and reinvigorate some of their flagging titles and he basically asked them – ok, so what is this character about? All of the characters he was asked to look at had been around for decades but the characters, their stories and their purpose were not clear.

Because of the age of many comic book characters their back stories are often complex and muddled, but with the best of them you can still pinpoint the why. Batman’s is a story about vengeance and justice. Righting wrongs and protecting the innocent. Stopping tragedies from occuring like the very incident that created him. Superman is about hope, inspiration, the human spirit and (to me at least) a message that we’re all the same regardless of our skin colour, religion, gender etc. Equally I can point at specific titles from the 52 and I know what they’re about once you strip away the costumes, the fighting and the gadgets. The latest incarnation of Batman and Robin is really a story about fathers and sons, about bettering yourself, about living up to expectations, about absent parents, and so on. Most of those points are from Damian’s point of view and there is also the other side, with Bruce trying to reform his son and prove to him that people are worth saving, rather than destroying, as his grandfather would have him believe. It’s a fascinating and quite unique dynamic, and that is what would make me come back rather than a new Batmobile or to see them fighting the Penguin or the Riddler.

Comics that feature teams, where several well known characters work together, are sometimes less complicated and more about entertainment and facing bigger enemies, but they can be about family, duty, honour, responsibility and so on. The problem, for me, comes when there are five or six or seven team books from the same publisher and they all start to look the same. Some DC comics team titles are very distinct. Suicide Squad is a disturbing and dark team book. They’re lifers, people who will never be released from prison, getting a chance to make some small amends. The stories are about redemption and very grey, where they go on missions the heroes wouldn’t be able to stomach. Justice League (or JLA) is the blockbuster movie of team comics. It includes the biggest heroes and they go after the biggest villains, and so on with a couple of the other team comics.

One team book was recently cancelled (Justice League International) and in the latest wave of replacements comics, another team comic is taking its place (The Ravagers). Even more recently another team book was announced (Team Seven). In both instances I asked the question and didn’t know the answer. Even from reading the blurb, looking at the characters and knowing quite a bit about their background (because I’m a DC fan of old) I kept asking, so what is it about? And I don’t think they really know. I’m happy to admit that I could be proven wrong and will say so in public. I’m also willing to admit I don’t know everything about the new books and all of this is from an outsiders perspective, but at the moment I just don’t see the appeal of these new titles. And by that I specifically mean, as a fan and potential reader, I’m trying to find a reason to pick up these new titles and am not motivated to because I dont know what they’re really about. I like some of the characters involved, but that’s not enough for me.

DC are trying lots of new things, they’re experimenting, they’re taking risks and throwing characters together that don’t normally interact to see what happens. All of these things are great and to be commended, but for something to have any kind of longevity, I don’t think that’s enough, especially when there are lots of other team comics out there. And that’s not even taking into account titles published by other companies and then all of the other titles in different genres. Rob Liefield asked DC similar questions about the titles he was asked to work on (Hawkman, Grifter, Deathstroke) and he is now trying to give a definitive answer in each case. Whether or not he succeeds, and whether or not the stories are good, is irrelevant. Someone is asking the right questions and is trying to give a clear answer and provide a reason to make you interested and pick up the comic.

I’ve ended up focusing more on comics than I anticipated, but that’s only because I have more info about it than other areas but it’s all still relevant. All of this made me look more closely at my own work and think about the dreaded synopsis. I actually think it’s the worst part of writing a novel. After spending months (or possibly years) of working on something, of immersing yourself in a world and breathing life into the characters, it feels like a hideous betrayal of all that invested time and effort to then condense it down into a sentence, soundbyte or a couple of paragraphs. But you have to do it. You have to scrape away the top layer, and dig below the surface and then keep digging until you can answer the question. I’ve yet to see a publisher or agent’s submission guidelines that want a one line hook, so it doesn’t quite need to be Ocean’s Eleven meets The Godfather, or whatever, but you do have to pare it down. And that doesn’t mean just a list of the main plot points because that list should bring you back to the original question.

Am I closer to writing the synopsis to my novel? Well, a little bit, but I am now thinking about the project in these terms and once the first draft is finished (and I’ve revised it a lot thereafter) I’m going to sit back and see if the actual novel that I ended up with is the same as the one I started out planning to write.

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The end of CBO…well, sort of.

Five years ago this July I started podcasting with a friend. This is back in 2007 when there weren’t that many podcasts. That sounds like a crazy thing to say, but ten years ago there weren’t any smart phones either, not really. The first one might have just come out, but it was nothing like the powerful machines we all carry around in our pockets these days. Machines with more memory than a hundred or even a thousand of my first PCs. But I digress. The point was, when I started doing podcasting on a regular basis, it was at a time when I had a sign on my table at a comics convention that read, ask me about podcasts. Almost every hour during that weekend one or two people came up and asked me ‘So what is a podcast?’

We weren’t one of the first, not by a long shot, but we were fairly unique at the time in that we only focused on comics outside the mainstream publishers of Marvel and DC. By that time the majority of the comics I was reading came from other publishers and other podcasts had coverage of the Big2 all sewn up. It seemed like a good fit. I was a life long comic book reader and I wanted to talk about some great comics people might not be aware of. My co-host was someone recently returned to comics and he was looking for some original material.

Five years on and we’re bringing the podcast to a close. During that time the show evolved in a number of different ways with new segments and we expanded our remit into covering hidden gems from the world of independent comics, movies, films and television. We also added a book club and I’m very proud of it and grateful to our listeners for taking part and getting involved. I’m also very pleased that we started it because it forced me to read some books I would probably never have picked up otherwise, it filled in some gaps in my classic SF and genre reading, and it introduced me and the listeners to some fantastic authors. Over the years we were lucky enough to get some great authors to take part in the podcast and interview them about their work including Arthur C. Clarke Award winners such as China Mieville (The City & The City) and Lauren Beukes (Zoo City).

We’ve also interviewed a number of independent filmmakers, and people I struggle to classify even now, but ultimately they were all extremely creative individuals trying something new, such as Jason Neulander, the creator of The Intergalactic Nemesis, a live stage show with a graphic novel projected behind the actors. He and the show were recently on Conan doing a mini performance with Conan taking part. Since 2007 we have also spoken to a number of comic book writers and artists, people I greatly admire and respect and whose work I still eagerly follow.

At times life or other commitments got in the way and the frequency of the podcast changed, or sometimes one of us wasn’t available and guest hosts stepped into the breach bringing fresh eyes, but we kept going. We always said we make the podcast because we enjoy talking about comics and so on, and best of all I like introducing people to new material they might not have heard about because it’s not local, or their comic shop doesn’t stock it, or they just weren’t aware that it even existed.

I had attended several comic book conventions before we started the podcast, but thereafter I was occasionally on a panel talking about podcasting and other forms of new media and where podcasting sits in the new wave of social media that has become increasingly important in the last eight years or so. It was very interesting to be on the other side of the table and to be sat facing a crowd of people. I actually dislike public speaking and don’t like being the centre of attention, but thankfully I wasn’t on the panels by myself and through the podcast community and the conventions I made a lot of new friends.

It’s also worth mentioning that what started out as a hobby, something that I did for fun, became something that I was able to use in my day job. Over those five years our skills at recording, editing, producing and even speaking on a chosen subject improved dramatically. We didn’t rehearse but we learned the rhythms of the other and we stopped saying um, and er, all the time. It also meant that the amount of time we spent editing was greatly reduced. A couple of jobs back, in the wake of the rise of social media and the growing importance it plays in business, the company I was working for at the time wanted to start an internal podcast for their staff who are spread out across the globe. A few weeks later I was training other people and passing on some of my podcast skills. A very weird but quire rewarding twist indeed.

I still enjoy doing the podcast but after five years I think we’ve sort of run our natural course. There are now thousands, if not tens of thousands, of podcasts, and many of them cover some or all of the same material as us. Some specialise in segments we touched on occasionally and others are equally as broad in their remit, so there is a lot more choice nowadays compared to when we started. I have a list of almost two dozen podcasts I regularly listen to during my daily commutes and, regardless of the subject, all of them are producing by passionate fans.

So, what happens next? Well, Comic Book Outsiders in its current form will cease to exist at some point in July. Thereafter the book club is going to continue so I will still be speaking to my co-host Scott on a regular basis and I’m starting a new (probably monthly) podcast. This will be something equally personal and something else I’m very passionate about. I say probably monthly because a lot of work goes into producing a podcast and I am trying very hard to focus on my writing and not commit myself to any new projects. The time spent on the new podcast should actually be less than CBO. Well, that’s theory anyway. I also think this new podcast will help me. Hopefully it will fuel my writing, give me something to think about and drive me (and hopefully other writers) forward. More info will be announced closer to the end of CBO. Also Scott is going to be doing a new podcast too and again there will be more info towards the end of CBO. So it is an ending, it’s just not the end.

We started out with good intentions – introducing people to comics (and later movies, books, TV and films) outside the spotlight, and overall I think we succeeded.

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