Friday, August 31, 2012

Brian and Frank

I lost two friends recently. Both of them within the same week. Both of them way too young. Both of them guys I liked and admired a great deal.

I hadn’t talked directly to either of them in about a year. You always figure you’ll have another chance, right?


I knew Brian for well over 20 years. I couldn’t tell you about the first time we met, which is probably a function of having known him as long as I have. He was just this ubiquitous presence in my life. Brian worked at Buried Under Comics (formerly Buried Under Books) in Manchester, Connecticut. He’s owned the store for the past 18 years. Buried Under was my FLCS (Friendly Local Comic Shop) for almost my entire life. I walked into that store the day before I got my tonsils out (I was 9 or 10, maybe?). Before that I didn’t know there were such things as “Comic Book Stores”. All of my comic purchases were made at the 7-11 down the block from my house.

The guy loved comics. I owe Brian for a lot of things that I read and that became big parts of my life. Periodically he would slip a comic in front of me and tell me, “Buy this and read it. If you don’t love it, I’ll buy it back from you.” He did this a lot over the years, and I never once had to ask for my money back. Some of the things he slipped in front of me included Sandman, Preacher, and Bone.

He also introduced me to disc golf. The guy was a huge ambassador for the sport, and would talk about it to anyone who listened. We compared notes a lot, but I never got a chance to actually go out and throw with him. That’s going to be right up there with “See the Ramones live” on my list of things I wish I had done when I had the chance.

Brian’s viewing was last week. I have never seen so many comic book tee-shirts at one wake in my entire life. He would have been proud.


I met Frank, like I met so many amazing people in my life, through the Brian Michael Bendis message boards. He posted there under the name “DaGetHighKnight”. When the New York area board members started getting together for periodic drink-ups, Jenny and I had a chance to meet Frankie face-to-face, and get to know him.

He was, hands-down, one of the coolest fucking people I have ever known. I am not a cool person. I am a dork. But Frankie had a way of making you feel cool even when you weren’t. Hanging out with him, I got to absorb a lot of second-hand cool. And he always made me feel like I deserved to feel as cool as he did.

I was always amazed by how low-bullshit the guy was. He would always tell you exactly what was on his mind, no hesitation. He was honest to a fault, but he was kind as well.

I may get some of the details on this wrong, because Jenny and I can't quite reconcile the times. But it was one of the first years for the New York Comic Con. Jenny and I realized we could no longer get tickets to the show through the website. The only place they were available were at Midtown Comics. I jumped on the Bendis Board and asked if one of the New Yorkers could grab us tickets, and I would pay them when we got to the con. Frank, who worked right at Times Square, immediately said he could grab the tickets for us on his lunch break.

We got there for the con, and Frank gave us the tickets. He wouldn't take a dollar from us, telling us it was a wedding present. That was Frank.

The guy was a ridiculously amazing artist. He was self-taught, and seemed to be influenced by everything that crossed his line of sight. Dude LOVED to draw robots. We talked for a while about doing a comic together, and Frank’s only requirement was that it had to have robots in it. I eventually wrote a story for him to draw, but by the time I got my shit together he had to back out due to his health problems. I would have loved to see that story drawn by him. Maybe someday when I get to heaven we can finally collaborate together.

This video, to me, is the essence of Frank. It reminds me of a lot of conversations we had. “Draw for sanity”. That’s good advice.

Hugs and kisses,

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Avengers Versus X-Men / Holyfield Versus Loika

Summer is here, and with it, comic book event season. If you're a super-hero comic fan, you have come to expect that summertime brings around a bunch of high-octane, epic event books with tie-ins in numerous titles. Marvel's offering this summer is Avengers Vs. X-Men, pitting arguably the two flagship teams of the Marvel Universe (sorry, Power Pack), against each other.

Since issue one, I have been cheerfully bickering with my beloved friend, and host of the LOIKAMANIA Pop Cultre Podcast, Mr. Pat Loika. Pat is fully on the side of the X-Men, whereas I am absolutely Team Avengers. Now, a third of the way through the event, Pat and I got together to have it out, mano-a-mano!

(Spoilers for AvX abound, particularly issue one, but they're honestly not as spoiler-y as I thought they'd be. We also spoil little bits of the Avengers: Children's Crusade series and basically nerd up the joint. So you've been warned.)


Pat Loika: First, let’s talk about - how are you enjoying it so far?

 Travis Holyfield: I’m enjoying it very much so far, actually. I really, really am. I think it’s been a cool concept, I think it’s been executed really well, I’ve had lot of fun with it, and I’m enjoying where it’s going.

PL: It’s been a lot of fun. It’s a good, old-time comic slobberknocker, you know? You’ve got two opposing teams who are usually friends and they’re fighting over something that could be potentially dangerous to them. It’s not something that’s set in stone. The Phoenix Force, right?

TH: Right.

PL: I guess for the audience who maybe don’t read X-Men or X-Men vs. Avengers, the main concept is that the Phoenix Force - which is this all-powerful cosmic force for life and death - is returning to Earth, and it’s heading for the so-called ‘Mutant Messiah’, Hope Summers. The reason for the conflict is that the Avengers basically want to take her in, because in their eyes they’re keeping her safe from the Phoenix. Whereas Cyclops and the X-Men (well, his crew of X-Men, anyway), they’re thinking, “Leave her alone, this is part of her destiny”, and that maybe she can control the Phoenix and restore mutantkind. And that’s where the conflict comes from.

TH: And this, right here, is why I don’t get how you can be Team X-Men in this.

PL: Well, here’s my thing...

TH: Wait, just for a second. Separating out the fact that you like the characters, separating the fact that these characters are cool or whatever - when you really, objectively look at the two positions, the Cyclops position is just nuts.

PL: I don’t think so! Because the Phoenix Force has not only taken over Jean Grey, you know. It has also taken over Rachel Summers, and she did fine, for example. To a certain extent Quentin Quire was taken over. The Cuckoos. And for a brief moment, even Emma Frost, if you read the Greg Pak Phoenix books (which they have acknowledged as part of the continuity), and it’s not always bad! There’s only one major case where things go bad, and that’s whole Jean Grey thing - and that’s because she was manipulated by the Hellfire Club!

TH: But if we are going to look at the continuity - in all of the cases that you’ve cited - the Cuckoos, Emma Frost, Quentin Quire - even Rachel - none of them were dealing with the entire Phoenix Force. All of them were dealing with only a fragment of that power. And even within those contexts, there were problems and there were complications. Like when Rachel was first taken over by the Phoenix, and she first got those powers, she was doing a lot of stuff that was making the X-Men very nervous. She was going after the Beyonder, she decides she’s going to kill Selene (of the Hellfire Club), she ends up pulling Wolverine into this loop of psychic nightmares and he eventually stabs her through the heart - it’s not always been a situation where, “Yes, these characters have things under control”. And even under best of circumstances, they have not been dealing with the full-on Phoenix. The only example we have of anyone dealing with the full-on Phoenix is Jean Grey, and -

PL: - and it wasn’t even Jean Grey, it was the Phoenix Force masquerading as Jean Grey.

TH: Exactly. And I’m not sure how they even address that in continuity at this point, because - yes, that’s historically true, but reading Avengers vs. X-Men, it definitely seems like they’ve glossed over that, and they’re kind of just pursuing the “Well, yeah, you know - it’s whoever it is” kind of thing.

PL: Well - here’s the thing. When they were dealing with those previous instances of the Phoenix Force, they didn’t have the knowledge that they now have. You see, you learn with each encounter - and I would think that they have protocols and countermeasures to deal with the Phoenix Force if ever it resurfaced.

If you read Uncanny X-Men, you know that Cyclops has a contingency plan for every contingency plan. He knows what he’s doing. And it really shows you how splintered the Marvel Universe was for a time, because when New York was being attacked by Magneto, where was everybody? When Genosha got destroyed, where were the Avengers? Nobody was there! Nobody cared! And now, they’re getting in the X-Men’s business.

TH: But you can flip that around, too. During Civil War, the X-Men were completely sitting that out.

PL: You know why they sat that out? Because - “Where were you when our people were getting blown up?!?”

TH: I’m just saying - you can’t chicken-and-the-egg this. First of all - there is that aspect. But this is a tough argument, because one of the things that comes up is us, as fans, intellectually going, “Well, why didn’t this happen? Why didn’t this happen?” - and the reality is, the reason it didn’t happen is because the writers want the X-Men to take care of their own stuff. Because it’s too easy to have the Avengers - or the Fantastic Four - it’s too easy to have everybody show up every time.

PL: That’s understandable -

TH: So you’ve got to just keep that in mind. But I’m just saying that within the context of the different events that happen and things like that, the X-Men have done their share of sitting on their hands while the Avengers - or the Fantastic Four, or whoever - have dealt with major things. So it’s just not as simple as, “Well, where have you guys been when all this stuff happened to us?”

PL: The thing is, it’s already ingrained there as far as the Universe, so you can see why they’re kind of mistrusting - that’s why they don’t want to let the Avengers do it their way. They would rather deal with it themselves, because they’re so used to being at a point where they are isolated, and they are left to their own devices. And now these guys are getting in their way, and the only reason they are getting in the way is probably because of the influence of a ‘certain person’ who is both an Avenger and an X-Man (and a race traitor!) - Wolverine.

TH: Yeah, the Beast! I know you’re talking about Wolverine, but the Beast is just as much on both sides of this. He’s been an X-Man, he’s been an Avenger, and he is very firmly on the Avengers side here - and I haven’t seen a lot of the ‘traitor’ label leveled at his fuzzy blue ass!

PL: That’s mainly because Beast really hasn’t been seen in the whole battle. He’s been in space. They’re trying to contain it from out there. And you know what? I thought that was a more noble thing to do, rather than going after the kid, who is probably confused and trying to deal with all of this stuff that’s being laid on her head! This could possibly even scare her more - and it could possibly lead to her - if she does end up with the Phoenix Force - her being as screwed up as Jean was at first.

TH: Let me break down a couple of things, though. The first thing is, let’s not ever refer to Hope Summers as a scared kid. Because it’s the exact opposite of how she is portrayed in 99.9% of her appearances. That character, from the jump, has just been a little, tiny, red-headed stone badass. And there’s very little - especially post-Messiah Complex - with her where she has been anything except a little tough chick. So suddenly saying you’re going to scare her -

PL: Well, that’s me trying to rig the argument to my side.

TH: Exactly! And that’s bullshit. Because if you want to rig the argument to their side, just opening pages of Avengers vs. X-Men 1, you’ve got the Avengers trying to save the city from a crashing airplane. The first time you see the X-Men, Cyclops is repeatedly kicking this ‘scared girl’ of yours in the stomach. So if you want to talk about who comes out better in this - the super team who is trying to save a whole bunch of innocent people, or Cyclops, who is just - repeatedly pummeling this teenage girl.
For me it’s an argument of scale, and the X-Men argument makes no sense. Because the X-Men are hinging everything upon this incredibly ethereal idea of “Oh, it’s gotta be coming here for a reason - maybe it’ll help out mutantkind” - but so far, all it’s been shown to do is destroy every planet that it’s gone across. So from the Avengers’ perspective, it’s like, “Alright, well - it’d be nice if it kickstarted all of the mutants the way that you’re talking about, but odds are good that what it’s really going to do is annihilate all life on the planet”. And that, to me, seems like a hell of a gamble to take. Cyclops is rolling all the dice on, “Hey, maybe this redhead can handle it”, as opposed to the previous redhead.

PL: Well - you have to understand also that Cyclops is kind of in desperation mode right now. Everything they’ve done - it’s been a hard life for them, and he has the burden, basically, of being the ‘Chief’ - the high Chief - of mutantkind. And he is in charge of that entire shrinking race of people. Now, if you were in that position - and you knew what that thing is capable of - just put yourself in his shoes, and you would probably think, “You know, this may be it”, and you’re going to put all of your hope (for lack of a better term) into this Phoenix Force. Because you’ve seen what it can do - you’ve seen the good and the bad. And of course he’s not aware that it’s been destroying stuff on its way to where it’s going right now.

TH: He’s witnessed it before, though! He’s witnessed Jean Grey - as Dark Phoenix - destroying an entire planet full of people.

PL: Well, he also knows that the Phoenix is capable of compassion. And capable of doing what needed to be done - when it allowed itself to be killed.

TH: But remember - at the time, it was not the Phoenix doing it. That was Jean Grey’s persona bursting forward - momentarily - from this all-powerful thing to do what needed to be done. So that has nothing to do with the Phoenix having compassion. That has to do with Jean, all of a sudden, having a moment of clarity.

PL: That’s why it’s looking for its host, remember? That’s why it’s looking for someone to inhabit. And maybe when it possesses Hope, it will exhibit the traits, and the feelings, and everything that makes Hope a good person. So they’re banking on that, and hoping against all hope that they can restart their race. From there. Because his plight is - they really don’t have much of a choice! Everything they’ve tried - you’ve read Messiah Complex and Messiah War and Second Coming - you’ve read all the stuff since House of M , and you know they’re pretty desperate. There’s almost nothing left, and they’ve tried everything, even looking through alternate timelines. And there’s even Children’s Crusade, where they had a glimmer of hope in the Scarlet Witch! But they don’t have that.

TH: But if you’re reading Children’s Crusade, Cyclops spends most of Children’s Crusade looking to kill the Scarlet Witch.

PL: Well, yeah - look what she did! And also, that was before he found that she restored Rictor’s powers! And she has a role in this thing too that we don’t even know yet. So -

TH: Yeah. I don’t not understand the X-Men’s side of the argument, I just feel like it is a very dangerous gamble, and one that gambles, essentially, with every single person on the planet. It gambles for the life of an entire planet, for something that there’s no evidence of - it’s basically just a gut-hunch for Cyclops, whose gut-hunches lately have been fairly shitty and self-destructive.

PL: I will disagree that he’s been pretty shitty with his decision-making lately. They were able to stand up to Celestials. And the Celestials were like, “You’re alright, so we’ll leave you alone”! The Celestials were showing them respect! And what particularly bad move has he made? Just - name something.

TH: I can give you a whole bunch. But I will give you the crux of my argument - which is just that Cyclops no longer stands for any of the things he was supposed to stand for. The X-Men’s charter was always to attempt to promote peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants, and to defend the world that hates and fears them.

PL: They’re still defending the world that hates and fears them -

TH: That’s secondary, though. They’re not doing that to defend the world and promote peaceful coexistence. If you look at Cyclops’ entire X-Men team - he calls it the ‘Extinction Team’ - it’s all made up to basically be a nuclear deterrent. Cyclops at this point has pretty much all the mutants under his umbrella, under his control, and all of the actions he’s making are to basically build up WMDs for them. And the worst decision that I can see is the decision during Fear Itself that leads to Colossus being possessed and becoming the embodiment of the Juggernaut. That right there - you are juggling nitroglycerine with that. And it’s just a matter of Cyclops - this incarnation of Cyclops that we have now - no longer standing for Xavier’s dream, no longer standing for that peaceful coexistence, and just continually looking for the bigger gun. That’s what the guy’s after all the time.

PL: Well, that’s the thing. You don’t have the luxury to follow that dream anymore. Look at what happened to their people - 60 million mutants murdered in Genosha. The rest of them depowered. Down to less than 200 mutants on the planet. And sure, they got lucky - they got five new ones that came out after Hope. What else do you do? First of all, he wanted to show a united front - he was willing to put aside differences with other mutants because, “Hey! There’s not much of us left. Let’s all band together, let’s all stay here on this island and protect each other.” Granted, that’s not Xavier’s dream - but Xavier’s dream just doesn’t work anymore after M-Day. Things just got worse for them. I mean, look what happened with the Purifiers, for example. They went after those kids at their school. All the stuff that happened after that. I mean - you have to take a stand. And even though it’s not the best thing - and even Cyclops realizes what he’s doing - bur he doesn’t have the luxury anymore; you can’t do things the way we used to. The stakes are even higher, and there are so few of them left - he wants to protect his people.

TH: I absolutely get that! And I’m saying - that is awesome, if you’re one of the 200 mutants left in the Marvel Universe. If you’re one of those 200 mutants under his umbrella, then yeah, his decision is pretty awesome. But if you are anybody else living in the 616 Universe, you basically are screwed. And the other thing is, let’s not forget that as soon as Captain America - as soon as Steve Rogers - gets the position as “top cop” of the Marvel Universe - as soon as Osborne’s out, Cap is in, Cap can run things his way - one of the first things he does is go to Cyclops. And be like, “We want you guys to be on board. We want you to be part of the group.” And Cyclops basically tells him to fuck himself. He basically says, “No, we’re just taking care of our own shit.” So to then turn around and have the whole argument against Captain America and be like, “Well, where were you here?” - it’s not like Cap hasn’t tried to get in there and bridge some of these gaps, and make it more - you know -

PL: Yeah, I give him credit for that - he tried, and that’s admirable. Good on him for doing that. But I don’t think they wanted to be - first of all, I don’t think he told him to go fuck himself in that way.

TH: You throw your medal from the President into the ocean, there, and that’s kind of a “Go fuck yourself”.

PL: He didn’t do it in front of Cap.

TH: Alright.

PL: You do that in front of Cap, that’s one thing. You do that when you’re on your own -

TH: He didn’t take a runny dump on the shield or anything like that. I’m not saying that.

PL: Yeah, exactly!

TH: But again, some of this isolationism, some of this “Where were you at the time...” stuff, is totally nobody’s fault but Cyclops’. So I’m just saying - I don’t not see the X-Men’s side of this. I don’t not get that. However - every time somebody’s like, “Oh, the Avengers are being fascists”, I was just like, “Really? Because all they’re doing is sticking up for everybody on the planet who is not one of these 200 mutants.” That’s the only thing that the Avengers are doing, is trying to protect the planet, as opposed to these 200 people that happen to share a genetic code with them. They’re trying to protect everybody including those 200 mutants.

PL: The way they handled it, though - they show up on the island - they show up with Cap - and you hide the Helicarrier. If you want to be honest about things, you would have tried to call the guy and have a conversation with him. And then go from there, and see what needs to be done. The way he approached things in Issue 1 - where he just showed up, and was like, “We need to take Hope”; that’s not cool. That’s not.

TH: I don’t know, I think it’s pretty cool - what’re you gonna do, call the guy? That’s like breaking up with somebody over the phone! it’s a big conversation, you have it with the guy face-to-face.

PL: No. If you called him and said, “Hey. We need to get over there, we need to talk about something really important regarding this.” And the way he approached it is, they brought - if he came in by himself, that’s okay, because hey, those are friends. I mean, let’s be honest, they’re all friends. To a certain point. They’re all friends - and he shows up there with his army of Avengers and the Helicarrier and all that, and that’s kind of messed-up.

TH: I’m not - you know what, maybe I can give you that - I don’t agree with it, necessarily - but let’s also say, who throws the first punch?

PL: Cyclops did!

TH: Exactly!

PL: Because he’s the one who’s going, “You guys are coming to my home and you’re telling me what to do.” And he did what he felt he had to do. Was it an overreaction? Possibly. But he’s not doing it because he’s being an asshole.

TH: He’s doing it because he’s being a little bit of an asshole.

PL: No he’s not.

TH: I’m sorry. You can’t. excuse Cyclops for doing shit like blasting Captain America just because he’s pissed off at him and then be like, “Fuck you, Cap. You had a whole Helicarrier full of people.” The dude’s the greatest soldier who ever lived, of course he’s not just gonna show up with his shield and his dick in his hand. He’s gonna show up and be like, “Look, I’d like to talk this out, but I’m prepared to go the next step”, because that’s what a good soldier does.

PL: If he had approached Cyclops differently, and Cyclops had done something else, because of that, I’d be more than willing to admit that one side kind of overreacted over the other. However, just the way this whole thing was approached, I wasn’t too thrilled. He showed up barking orders. I really have a problem with that.

TH: You really feel like it’s barking orders? Because I don’t. I read that conversation completely differently. I read that conversation as him trying to talk to Cyclops man-to-man about what the situation is and having Cyclops basically get in his face, honestly, just like a spoiled kid, and be like, “Here’s the laundry list of complaints I have about shit that, you’re not directly responsible for, or shit that I did.

PL: You have a point, to a certain degree,

TH: If you’re just Joe average guy in the Marvel Universe, what are you going to want? Are you going to want the Avengers to do their job, and watch out for you and everybody you’ve ever met against potentially an extinction-level threat, or are you going to be like, “Well, there’s only 200 mutants left, so let’s see how this plays out.” Like, if an asteroid were headed for the planet, and somebody was like, “Well, there’s a chance that when the asteroid hits, all the mutants will come back.”

PL: There’s a difference, though, come on.

TH: There’s NOT! The difference is the asteroid isn’t sentient.

PL: EXACTLY! The Phoenix Force is sentient.

TH: It’s sentient, it has will, and it’s many times been proven malicious.

PL: Not all the time. It can be controlled. It’s not perfect. But do you think Cyclops is like, “This is the best idea we can come up with.” I’m sure there’s part of him that thinks, “This is a bad idea, BUT this needs to be done.”

TH: I actually don’t. I feel like this is where his head has been going since she showed up. Since the first time they find the baby and the baby’s a redhead.

PL: I don’t think he’s thinking the Phoenix, though. I don’t think he can even account for the Phoenix at that point. The Phoenix thing didn’t show up until the beginning of ‘The Five Lights”. There’s no guarantee just because someone’s a mutant and a redhead... Cyclops is not that psychotic.

TH: YES HE IS! This is a guy who married the identical twin of his dead girlfriend.

PL: Well, did he KNOW it was a clone?

TH: No, but she was an IDENTICAL TWIN of his ex-girlfriend!

 PL: He fell in love with a girl who reminded him of…

 TH: She didn’t REMIND him, she looks EXACTLY LIKE HER.

 PL: What can you do? He has a type.

Be sure to check Loikamania for an upcoming episode featuring the full conversation. Thanks to Pat for nerd-bickering with me, and a million thank yous to my beautiful wife, Jenny Langin, for transcribing most of this.

Hugs and Kisses,

Thursday, May 3, 2012

How Punk Rock Prepared me for Comic Conventions

I had the absolute pleasure to attend MoCCA Fest this year as an exhibitor, working the Gray Haven Comics table, and slinging comics with writer/editors Doug Hahner and Erica Heflin. I had an absolute blast, meeting new people, talking comics, and getting the opportunity to be surrounded and inspired by a room full of creators who JUST HAVE TO make comics. There is no other choice for them.

It’s funny, I’ve heard a few creators complain about how much they hate working the table at cons. How boring it is, and how frustrating it is. I spent almost all of my twenties playing in bands that felt the same way.  The standard procedure for most bands I was in – 1) Set up 2) Rock out 3) Break down the equipment 4) Drink many beers. Most bands I have met would rather do almost anything than sit at the merch table after they play trying to sling T-shirts and CDs. So many bands outsourced that job to a friend, or a girlfriend.

Fortunately for my band-mates, they always had me. I LOVED the merch table. I wasn’t much of a drinker, so sitting in the van and swallowing lukewarm Pabst Blue Ribbon didn’t hold a lot of appeal for me.  Plus, often the shows we were playing were populated by just the bands, and their friends. I thought an extra body still in the room watching whoever was on next was just plain courteous. But more than anything else, I always just assumed that someone buying a CD of a band would rather buy it directly from the hand of someone in that band. And I dug having the chance to actually connect with someone who was into what I was doing.

The Dakota Version, 2005.

Same thing with comics and conventions. I LOVE being at the table, and selling comics, and talking to whoever will make polite eye contact with me. I’m not a hard sell guy. I’ll tell you what the books are about, and if it’s not your thing, no hard feelings. But I really love knowing that there are some people out there, reading a story I have written, and maybe feeling that extra investment in it because they got it right from my hands.

Much love to some of the familiar faces and some of the new friends from MoCCA Fest.

·        Table-neighbor Mario Gonzalez, creator of the fantastic WYLIMAN. I only got to talk to Mario a little bit, but he struck me as being very sweet and genuine. I really dug talking to him, and I love his work a lot.

·        Heather Nunnely, our other table-neighbor, and the talent behind the comic/soon-to-be-webcomic VACANT. I got to snag the first issue of Vacant and thought it was really cool. Interesting premise, intriguing characters, and it left me wanting to know/read more.  (Heather’s sister was also at the table, but I didn’t really get to talk to her, and have totally forgotten her name. She seemed very nice, though.)

·        I finally got to meet Taylor Esposito face to face, after an extended courtship via Twitter. Taylor is good people, boy band handsome, and you should totally get him to letter your comic, if your comic needs lettering.

·        Sean Von Gorman, artist of the completely rad comic The Secret Adventures of Houdini, in what can only be called “living your art”, was wowing the crowd with straightjacket escapes all weekend long. He was goodly enough to drop a special performance in front of the Gray Haven table, and then talk us up to the assembled audience. He’s a really good dude.

·        I also got to see the lovely and talented AlisaHarris and her faithful sidekick, the no-less lovely or talented Allan Norico. I love them so much. I wish we lived in the same city so we could hang out all the time.


I continue to be obsessed with the Avengers Alliance game for Facebook, playing it like I’m getting a paycheck for doing so. It’s an insanely fun and addictive game for someone with my proclivities, and I find myself having actual hard opinions on the game mechanics, the difficulty of various bosses, the balance of power between Character A and B, and other sorts of things that would normally mean fuck-all to me in relation to a Facebook game.


Speaking of games, I had the opportunity to try out the new Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game recently. My one word review: Fungasm. I’ve been playing D&D in its current iteration for long enough that I had forgotten the joy of a pure RPG, with all of the wargaming and tabletop trappings burned away and only the drive of pure narrative left to matter. I’m so used to juggling a pile of different cards codifying the very specific acts my character can take that it was a thrill to be playing as Spider-Man, tell the Gamemaster (Or “Watcher”, how fucking cool is that?) “I’m going to grab a girder, make a web slingshot and shoot it at the bad guy,” and have him look me straight in the eyes and say, “Of course you fucking are. Because you’re motherfucking SPIDER-MAN.” (Or something like that, anyway. )

I cannot express this clearly enough. There was never that moment where Captain America jumping out of a helicopter and into battle required a lookup of rules on movement, motion, velocity, physics, and a million other things that each required a separate section of the rulebook. IT JUST HAPPENED. Because he’s Captain America. And there’s a battle to get into. So of COURSE he can jump out of the goddamned helicopter if he wants.


Jenny and I have tickets to see the midnight opening of “The Avengers”. So if you follow me on Twitter, don’t expect much in the next few days except the words “Oh my fucking god” and “Holy fucking shit”.

Hugs and kisses,

Friday, March 23, 2012

Building the Page - Guest Starring Edward Whatley!


I have been sadly, uncontrollably, addicted to the Avengers Alliance game available through Facebook. I seriously cannot stop playing it. I take back all of the rude and disparaging things I have said about my Facebook friends and their Farmville nonsense. (Although after all these years bugging me about your stupid pumpkin patches, you guys do sort of owe me. C’mon! Join my SHIELD flight crew. We’re saving the world here!) 

The other day Jenny was tidying up the kitchen while I was sitting at the kitchen table, helping Iron Man and She-Hulk save New York from the forces of Hydra. I was having a grand old time, but then realized that Jenny was standing there staring at me.  

Jenny: “You haven’t heard a word I have been saying, have you?”
Me: “Uhm… No. I’m sorry. I was busy Assembling!”
Jenny (shaking her head and sighing): “Nobody ever listens to Jarvis.”


 Gray Haven Comics’ “Silver Age” volume of The Gathering will be coming out next month. As a special treat, and a tease for my story “Timesheet”, I got permission from the editors at Gray Haven to hijack their “Building the Page” column. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the fabulously talented artist for “Timesheet”, Mr. Edward Whatley!


Hello, denizens of Comic Book Land! Edward Whatley here. Grayhaven Art Director John Coker recently offered me the chance to illustrate a story for the Silver Age issue of Grayhaven's The Gathering anthology. He was also kind enough to offer me the chance to contribute to their Building the Page column. I of course jumped at both offers, and here we are.

The script I received was written by Travis M. Holyfield. It is intended as a tribute to/parody of the Adam West Batman show. It revolves around a poor hapless guy named Roy Murphy who applies at a temp agency and finds himself hired out as a henchman to various villains. I watched the Batman show devotedly as a kid, so the script had a built in appeal for me.  

My first step was to of course read the script, several times actually, to make sure I understood everything that was going on and to find out what image references I would need to gather.

 The script was VERY well written. Travis spelled out everything he wanted in each panel and didn't ask for more than a single panel could accommodate. But he did present some challenges in that even though the story is only four pages long, it takes place across many different settings and features not only our protagonist Roy, but also two heroes, five villains, and assorted other henchmen. So I had to gather lots of reference material and do lots of character designs before I got started on actual pages. The villains I decided to design as I went, but I figured I should at least know what Roy and the heroes (Dober-Man and Beagle) will look like since they appear throughout the story. So I came up with the designs below to which I referred while drawing the pages.


I then scribbled out small thumbnail sketches for all four pages. This is actually where most of my decisions get made in terms of storytelling and composition. I also work out the placement of dialogue and narration. After reading the script, it was obvious that the humor was coming from the repetition of the same events over the span of a week. Roy got hired out to a different villain every day, but every day came to the same violent conclusion for him. Since the plot was based on repetition, I figured the layouts should support that concept because the art's primary purpose is to support and convey the story. Each page had 4 panels, so I was therefore able to lay out each page in the same manner, with four long horizontal panels.

 Another example of decisions that get made at this early stage is in panel 3. The script simply called for the heroes to be pummeling the villains, but I got the idea to have Beagle throwing a bone at our villain in lieu of a batarang. This wasn't specifically called for in the script, but I figured it supported Travis' intent to satirize Batman and Robin.


From there I drew rough pencils on 11x17 printer paper. These will be the basis for the final artwork, but as you can see I don't concern myself with neatness.


Then the roughs go onto a lightbox. I take a clean sheet of Bristol board and place it over the roughs. I then trace off the rough pencils onto the Bristol board, cleaning it up and refining the drawing as I go. I also dug out a book of Hieroglyphs and added them to the doorway to reinforce the setting.  I drew the tight pencils onto the board using non-photo blue pencils which don't show up in normal scanning. I was able to capture the blue lines for this page in the image below by playing around with the brightness and contrast while scanning, but normally they don't scan (which is the point of using non-photo pencils). Since the blue lines don't scan, they don't have to be erased for scanning after the pages have been inked.

After the pencils are done, it's time for (ugh) inking! Ideally, I would have used a brush and nib for a classic brushy Silver Age look, but I'm excruciatingly slow with those tools. So I decided to use microns and artist pens and just try to replicate the look of classic brush and pen lines.

 John had suggested I include some zipatone in order to create a classic Silver Age look. That sounded like a good idea to me, so after scanning the inked pages I added some gray to the background in panel 2. I then used a Photoshop filter to convert the gray to black dots, thus duplicating the look of old fashioned zipatone.


Inching closer to the finish line, we come to the coloring. I use the layer approach when coloring in Photoshop. I create a separate layer for the linework and add color to layers beneath the inks. I also typed the flower names on the shirts in panel 4 and used Photoshop's warping tools to make them look as if they were actually printed on the henchmen's shirts.


Finally (whew! It's almost a completed page!) I import the page into Adobe Illustrator and do the lettering. I used an original font I made using Illustrator and a fairly inexpensive program called FontCreator. Dialogue balloons and captions are done with the shape tools. This is also the point at which I threw in file photos of the villains for each scene. I figured that would help establish a rhythm to the story: a new photo indicating a new scene.

And voila! It's an actual comic book page! There's nothing left to do now except close down Photoshop and Illustrator and then (literally) go back to the drawing board and start the roughs for the next page so the process of funny book creation can begin anew.

Thanks for reading.


 My sincere thanks to Edward, who took my silly script about super-villain temps and made it look like a real comic book. And thanks to John and Andrew at Grayhaven for letting me share this column with you! 

Edward is hard at work drawing a full-length Dober-Man and Beagle one-shot. Watch this space for more details as they develop.  

And remember to pick up The Gathering volume 11, “TheSilver Age” this April!


Hugs and kisses,


Friday, March 16, 2012

Spring Q&A. BRING IT!


“The casino should have a new ad campaign demonstrating all of the worst possible things that can happen to you there. Just the worst, most humiliating, most horrible, painful, awful things that a visit to the casino could bring. Just unflinching. And then the tagline is, “Or… Maybe Not? Come Gamble With Us.”


Q&A time!

Joey Cruz‏ (@NeverWanderer) asks: The Host, Good monster movie or BEST monster movie? (Real Q: How much detail is too much when writing a comic script?)
I didn’t like the Host when I first saw it. Everybody I know professes to really dig it, though, so maybe I need to give it another shot. There’s this whole field of South Korean cinema that everyone who isn’t me seems to be in love with, and I just can’t quite penetrate the culture barrier.

Real A: It depends, I think. A lot of it hinges on your relationship with your artist. I try to write based on what I know about the artist’s strengths, and about their ability to tell the story effectively. And I have been blessed to work with artists who can absolutely deliver. I don’t know that there IS a thing as too much detail, as long as you, the writer, understand a few things. Foremost is that you can’t always get everything you want. And comics is a collaborative medium. You’re less the director than you are the screenwriter, in movie parlance. The artist is the director and the cinematographer and the costume designer and the lighting director and everything else that makes the visual aspect of your story happen. You have to trust that they know what they’re doing. I have read the scripts for Watchmen, and have been blown away by the level of detail on each panel and each page. But I also have read that Alan Moore also tagged almost every script with “If that doesn’t work for you, do what works best.”
"If you screw with my script, I'll turn you into a newt!"

Also, remember that the page has limits. The panel has limits. You need to be aware of what can be done in a single panel, and then make sure that you’re not trying so hard to write like Alan Moore that you overwhelm the artist with a lot of stuff that can’t happen in one panel on one page. An artist friend (not naming names) called me one night to see if I had any ideas on a script he was trying to draw. In one splash page, the writer had asked for no fewer than 5 angles of focus. And my friend was pulling his hair out trying to figure out how to draw what he was being asked for. (“How do I show the POV of something on the floor AND something on the ceiling at the same time?”)

Look at a comic you love and reverse engineer it, and ask yourself, what details are absolutely necessary to make this panel happen? 

And for the record, I am by no means holding myself up as an expert here. This is stuff I try to do, and I am still learning something new every time I write a new script, every time I read a script, and every time I look at a comic.

Adam Witt‏ (@adamwitt) asks: What part of your writing process takes you the longest?
It varies based on what I am working on. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I’m going to write before I even sit down at the keyboard. In the shower, in the car, on the train, when I’m trying to get to sleep, I’m thinking about the story, and working things out in my head. So by the time I sit down to do the mechanical typing, I usually have a pretty good sense of the beats I want, and how I’m getting from point A to point B. And then, as I write, I just try to fill in the blanks and see what new and interesting directions things take.

My main hold-up to writing is research, typically. I am completely paranoid about not knowing enough about a given topic, and so I have a bad habit of over-researching to the point where I’m not actually writing. Fortunately, I have Jenny to yell at me and tell me, “Write first! Fact check later!” But still, I spent a couple hours last night researching the differences between western and English horseback riding styles. If you look at the faux Secret Avengers pitch I did in my last blog, understand that I spent several nights researching the characters involved to make sure that everything I would propose was in continuity and to ensure that I could draft the characters in question without encroaching on any other book Marvel was publishing at the time. So… I may have a problem.

Sean Francis‏ (@indeciSEAN) asks: Thoughts on The @Avengers’ trailer?
Is “nerd-boner” a thought? It looks wonderful. I am unspeakably, pants-wettingly, excited for this movie, and from what I can determine from the trailer, Joss Whedon and all involved really knocked it out of the park. The quick segment where Hulk catches Iron Man in mid-air and then slides down the building are probably the Marvel-est things I’ve ever seen in a Marvel movie.

Kt‏ (@KtIsGerman) asks: What [super]villain would out-villain them all and how? How does the existence of smart phones impact plot/story telling?
As far as comic book villains go, Bullseye is the guy who always makes me nervous. When he shows up, you know SOMETHING horrible is going to happen.

Norman Osborn is getting there for me, as well. Between Warren Ellis’ use of him in Thunderbolts, all the work Brian Bendis has done with him in the pages of Avengers, and Kelly Sue DeConnick’s brilliant Osborn miniseries, Norman’s gone beyond the Green Goblin to being a genuinely terrifying supervillain who is always one step ahead of the good guys.

As far as non super super-villians, the scariest for me will always be from Garth Ennis’ Preacher. Jesse Custer’s grandmother and her henchmen Jody and T.C. are absolutely bone-chilling. “All in the Family” (collected in Preacher volume 2, “Until the End of the World”) is arguably the best arc in a series filled with amazing arcs. And that’s largely due to how EVIL Grandma is.


I went online and asked for questions, and the amazing Terry L. Tyson (‏@terrytyson) came through!

Is there a comics collectable you've ever coveted?
Original art, mostly. If money were no object, my walls would be covered with commissions and original pages. As it stands, I own only three pieces of original art, and if my house were on fire, they’re probably the things I’d grab on my way out the door. One is an original Michael Gaydos page from Alias. The second is a Michael Oeming Powers page. And the third is the original sketch from the cover of Ethan Van Sciver’s “Manifesto” sketchbook.

Which comic from your childhood do you miss? What made it special for you? Was it the book or was it you, in that time, etc?
I have the good fortune to still have pretty much every comic I have ever purchased. But I wouldn’t mind having a better copy of New Teen Titans #1. My copy was read so much by my young self that it’s pretty much disintegrated at this point.

God, I love that comic. I walked down the street to the 7-11 one summer day when I was a very young lad, and picked it off of the rack, with no idea who anybody except Robin and Kid Flash were, and had my little brain thoroughly blown. That was probably the best half a buck I have ever spent.

What's the worst comic book based movie ever made?
Although I’ve never actually seen it, I have it on good authority that Halle Berry’s “Catwoman” takes that title. But I’m not brave enough to verify that for myself.

What comic do you wish YOU had written/drawn? (Mine will forever be Steranko's "Nick Fury" books.)

Drawn? Anything. I’d just like to be able to draw. (The nerdiest thing I have ever said to follow.) If I could “re-do my character sheet”, I would put more attribute points into “artistic talent” and “play guitar”.

Written? Probably Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run or James Robinson’s Starman series.

Should Marvel ever consider a 52-esque reboot of their books? Which ones really need it, if any?

ABSOLUTELY NOT. There’s nothing to be gained from such a move. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Name three people from the comics world you'd invite to dinner, living or otherwise.

This is the hardest question I received! (It’s probably easier to list who I WOULDN’T want to have dinner with.) I’ll limit myself to the deceased. Mark Gruenwald, Archie Goodwin, and Jack Kirby. That would be a really awesome dinner party.
I know picking three dead legends is sort of a cop-out, but I seriously puzzled over this for hours and couldn’t settle.
I DO still want to take C.B. Cebulski to Caseus in New Haven, though. That offer is on the table.

What would be the ultimate (even if the tech doesn't yet exist) e-comic experience?
Something that could replicate the experience of spreads and double-page panels. Something that grows and shrinks to accommodate the artwork.  That’s my biggest issue with digital comics right now  - scrolling about to see the panels and the artwork.  But I would also point out that I’m not the world’s biggest advocate for digital comics. I know lots of fans who love them, and I know there is a big push in that direction, but actual physical comics just suit my reading preferences better. And I say this as someone who would pull out his own teeth before surrendering his Kindle.

And now, via Facebook: THE LIGHTNING ROUND!

Benel Germosen asks: Super Ninento or Sega Genesis?
Super Nintendo. I never had a Genesis, although I did play Sonic a few times at a friend’s house and thought it was basically Mario on crank.

Bryan Lipsitz asks: Superman or Batman?
This is Sophie’s Choice, man. I’m going Superman. 

Adina “Sailor” Gruzleski asks: Logan’s Run or Brazil?
Logan’s Run is super fun, and cheesy, but Brazil is inarguably a better film, and holds up WAY better.  

Jared Moore asks: New Mutants, Gen X, or Academy X/New X-Men?
New Mutants. Absolutely.

Walter Hall asks: Did Han shoot first?
Of course he did! Anyone who says differently is a fool and a liar. And YES, I mean George Lucas when I say that.  

James Michael asks: Will your male Shepard be gay?
Nope. Although I appreciate that Mass Effect fans will now be able to have their male Commander Shepards bump rude parts with a large black man, my personal Shepard is in a committed, monogamous relationship with a blue alien lady.

Aleina Paige asks: Comics or graphic novels?
Six of one, half dozen of the other. There’s no real difference, to my way of thinking. Some stories tell better in a single book, while some benefit from the great traditions of cliffhangers and serial storytelling.  

Kelley Gilman asks: Spring water vs. tap water?
Tap water. Although I use a Brita filter, so maybe I’m cheating. 

Christopher Bell asks: Most embarrassing thing ever caught in your beard?
I keep my face-fuzz fairly close-cropped, so I have never really had any problems in that regard. Although when I eat anything with butter or garlic, I spend the rest of the night making “duck face” while I smell my moustache. 



The Gathering Volume 8, “The Fifth Dimension” is now available through GrayHaven Comics. It features the story, “I AM (ANALOG) LEGEND”, written by me, with art by Chris Page.

I have it on good authority that Volume 9 (Fairy Tales), featuring my story “The Heartbreak Tree” (art by Leonardo Gonzalez), should be out in time for MoCCA Fest. So anyone in the NYC area should come and pick up an issue from me, personally!

Hugs and kisses,