What are your first memories of comics? What got you into comics? That’s what this issue is going to cover, along with Kenny Rogers, Rebecca Sugar, Hellboy and – surprise – some talk about what I’ve actually been working on.
TIL that The Gambler was not written by Kenny Rogers but by a cat named ‘Don Schlitz’ (whose name I’m going to steal for a story). And that it was recorded a couple of times before Kenny Rogers made it famous – including by Johnny Cash on his 1978 album Gone Girl. I love Cash and he made the song his own, but Kenny’s version stands alone (and apparently Kenny added the guitar intro).
What I did know, besides it being a truly great song, was that he performed it on the Muppet show, back when no one thought twice about showing drinking & smoking on a show watched by a metric shit ton of children.
I don’t know why the song popped into my head this morning (and yes, I played and sang along with the whole thing just now). But I’ve had my head deep in story for the past couple of weeks and the song’s advice is spot on.
Knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep. That’s pretty much a writer’s job, innit?
What I’m working on
Besides the graphic memoir I’ve got a mythology-inspired adventure story that I’m writing. I had a meeting with my critique group this week and wrote a second draft of the outline to be critiqued. Now I’m taking the critiques to craft a 3rd draft, along with re-reading Chuck Wendig’s Damn Fine Story (ref link), which makes a lot more sense now that I’ve written some stuff.
As far as knowin‘ what to throw away & knowin’ what to keep, let’s just say that letting go of some story ideas is hard. Sometimes they’re tied to the genesis of the story itself, and you’ve got That Scene stuck in your head for 12 years.
And then you realize you’re the parent of a story, and you have Letting Go issues.
My new draft of the outline drops That Scene completely, with an (attempted) focus on characters and emotions over plot while trying to make things uncomplicated (I get bogged down in details very easily). All thanks to my critique group.
Critique groups are great – and I trust my critique partners, who are as objective as can be. I doubt I could have trusted them 12 years ago, when I had a harder time separating myself from my ideas. But I’m thankful to have thoughtful, professional feedback.
What got me into comics
Have you seen Stripped, the comics documentary? It’s a love letter to comics, interviewing two dozen cartoonists about the medium we love so much. It covers great newspaper strip creators from the 80s to the modern era – and some of the major successes in webcomics. And Bill Watterson actually participated, by drawing the movie poster and providing an audio interview.
Do yourself a favor and buy the Super Deluxe Awesome Edition, which includes all of the extended interviews. I sometimes put on an interview while I’m drawing in hopes of picking up another nugget about the craft that I might have missed. There’s so much to learn from each of these successful creators.
In a few of the interviews the creators are asked What got you into comics or What are your first memories of comics. LeFou, I’m afraid I’ve been thinking…
I don’t know when I got started reading comics; it just feels like I’ve always read them. I know when I started reading – my mom started teaching me to read at 3 1/2, I had basic reading skills at 4, and by the time I got to kindergarten I was one of two kids who could read (though I was hella shy about reading out loud).
I remember being around 4 or 5 and we had a guest from India (maybe this dude named Grover, who also introduced me to origami). He gave me a 3 pack of comics off a spinner rack, which he probably picked up at the airport. Back then comics could be found in pharmacies and newsstands (the latter might be where my dad picked me up the occasional comic). This particular pack had a Land of the Lost comic that I recognized from Saturday Morning TV.
I read comics well before I became a voracious reader, which happened when I was 8 and was blown away by Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (come to think of it, that book might have cemented my love for speculative fiction that sounds just plausible enough to be real).
And I loved the Adam West Batman tv show, which I watched religiously (I was disappointed one Halloween when the only superhero costume available was that goody two shoes Superman).
Side note: I met Adam West when he made a promotional appearance at The Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, CT to celebrate the opening of their new bat exhibit. Can you believe that I DID NOT BRING A CAMERA TO TAKE A PICTURE?!!!!!!!! I did bring a photo of him & Robin to sign (which is now my most prized possession) and he was amazed by my name.
I have a bunch of Neil Adams issues of Batman from the 70s, along with a few other comics like Green Arrow (fun fact: Batman & Green Arrow were my favorites as a kid because … I knew I lacked superpowers so I preferred the heroes I could actually become).
In India, Western comic availability was limited. My cousins were into Bataal – The Phantom, who was not commonly available in the US (except comic shops, which I didn’t know existed until I was 15). Going through dusty book stores the rare comics were Tintin, Archie digests, and various Donald Duck comics that included his 3 nephews, Scrooge McDuck and occasionally Magica Despell.
But what comics were readily available in India were the Amar Chitra Katha comics – in English, no less. I learned most of my Hindu mythology, folklore and fables from them (and studiously avoided their historical comics).
By the time I was 7 or so I had a small collection of comics that grew whenever I harangued my mom every time I saw a spinner rack, during airport layovers, and in India, where family often gifted me comics.
It was around 7 that we started getting newspaper delivery at home (or maybe that was when I finally noticed), and I started reading comic strips every day (which usually included wondering wtf Andy Capp was about and why was The Family Circus so lame).
By the time I was in high school I’d come home from school and the first thing I’d do is catch up on the daily syndicated comic strips. I remember when Calvin & Hobbes was a new comic strip that quickly became my favorite. And Bloom County was a daily topic of conversation in high school. Berle Breathed’s political stories were great, but overshadowed by the greatest band of all time,* Deathtöngue.
I still remember some of their great lyrics:
Creature of the dark
Drip your disease
Leave your mark
Through the gutter slime and stinky
George Bush is a Twinkie
What I’m reading
I finally finished Hit Makers (ref link) by Derek Thompson, on how things become popular. It’s an fascinating read on how things that tend to become very popular involve a combination of familiarity and surprise, along with a lot of exposure. It made me think of high concept pitches for movies (“It’s Die Hard on a bus.”) and books (“It’s Charlie Brown with ninjas.”). And it made me think of the adventure story I’m working on right now, and whether I can earn a shoutout from Rick Riordan at some point.
Last week I learned that Rebecca Sugar was inspired & counseled by Mike Mignola (he’s why Steven Universe has a gold star on his chest), which is going to be part of a Mignola documentary that’s being kickstarted right now. That got me reading Hellboy again and man – Mignola is a helluva storyteller and artist. My mythological adventure tale is going to be similar to Hellboy, in being episodic but with an overall story arc. I’d be happy if I could be half as good as Mike. All 4 Hellboy omnibuses are on Hoopla so you’ve little excuse not to read them.
I had no idea what to expect but I loved The Prince and the Dressmaker so this had been on my reading list for awhile. The best word I can use to describe Jen Wang’s storytelling is effortless. At least that’s what it feels like when reading her stuff – the writing and the art feel just right. It’s hard to describe (I feel a bit like Potter Stewart here), aside from thinking that I can’t think of anything that would improve the book. It’s just damn good.
That’s all folks! I leave y’all with a question: