What I’m Reading #9

Batman Detective #881: 881 is the wrap-up of Scott Snyder’s run on Detective Comics, which started off with a story about a dead killer whale in a bank lobby (which I thought was brilliantly bizarre) and got better from there. In the last couple months, I’ve become a big fan of Scott Snyder’s work, especially on Batman. He can infuse a classic horror story vibe with a great, flowing detective story and there’s always some great gimmick (for lack of a better word) that draws me in, be it the whale or what have you. And his dialogue can be downright chilling. He writes nauseatingly evil bad guys that I can’t get enough of.

As for the art in Detective, though I was a bit turned off by Jock’s artwork at first, I’ve come to love it for all it’s clunky awesomeness. I get a little bored of artwork that looks really polished. It just has no soul. It almost seems programmed, like it came from a computer. I know someone drew it, but it’s lifeless. Jock’s is not. At times, it’s reminiscent of a child’s crayon scrawling- what it lacks in technical precision it makes up for in joy and enthusiasm. And his cover on the last issue of Detective (#880) was astoundingly cool.

All that being said, this final issue ran a bit long for my tastes. When I feel a story begin to wrap up, I get a little antsy. I’m done and ready to move on. I felt that the villain, Jimmy Gordon’s psychopathic son James’ rambling monologue to Dick was too expository. I also thought the the supposed motivation for his sadistic murder rampage was weak– he lacks empathy. That explains why he’s able to do what he does but not why he does it. People with antisocial personality disorder lack compassion for other people which makes them take bigger risks and they’re often more willing the behave ruthlessly towards others (I’ve read that a good number of successful business people have anti-social personality disorder)  but they aren’t by definition dangerous or psychotic. I realize I’m nitpicking and it’s just a work of fiction, but I felt like the lack of empathy was harped on a lot in the final pages and the story would have been better with a bit more ambiguity. But all in all, it was a great run and I’m looking forward to seeing what Snyder does in Batman #1 next month.

Batman and Robin #26: I’ve been reading this title off and on (off because some of the storyline haven’t been as compelling as others). I’m not sure if this issue was built up to in the last because I didn’t read it. To me, if was a one shot and meant to fill the void between the last issue and Batman and Robin #1 next month. First of all, the cover is really eye catching with all it’s homages to works of art and more specifically the Dada art movement. My knowledge of art history is pretty scant, so don’t make fun of me if some of the references were lost on me, but that theme is carried through the entire issue. It was obvious enough that I got it, but it’s sort of a lofty idea and at times this issue was almost pretentious. It was written by David Hine but I felt like I was reading a ripoff of Morrison’s work because there was the same suggestion of a deeper  meaning but also a lack of coherency and an abundance of utter silliness– such as a villain who could turn flesh to glass and used it to turn her boyfriend’s skull into crystal so she could see his brain at work. It was a little over the top. But I did like this issue. There was a grotesquely scarred villain (and it wasn’t the Joker) and the finally few pages were mesmerizingly macabre.

Criminal: The Last of the Innocent #3: I feel like I read a lot of dark stories this week and Criminal is no exception. I’ve liked this series from the get go and it just keeps delivering. In short, it’s the tale of a man intent on killing his wife.  The storyline may sound abhorrent: why would you  cheer on a man who was planning on murdering his own wife? But the would-be-murderer is compelling and complex, and his wife is no peach, nor is she particularly sympathetic (flashback scenes show how she manipulated the protagonist as a teen and later cheated on him). It’s classic noir: morals are skewed and the characters seemed doomed by fate from the get go. It’s interesting how the story encourages you to both root for the protagonist and against him. Definitely a compelling read.

The Red Wing #2: I’m really into this book right now, and a little sad that it’s just a four issue mini. The premise: that in the future wars are fought across time by fighter pilots who can navigate time as well as their ship. The characters: a man trapped in in the past and his son who never gave up looking for him. The art: a tad bit squiggly but saved by the super clean layouts. I’m serious, this book makes me feel almost tranquil– it’s that clean. The bottom line: so far, it’s a great sci fi tale and despite the fact that it deals with a notoriously hard-to-grasp concept, it’s not bogged down with weighty explanations or boring science babble. The character development in this issue gets ramped up and the end delvers a nice little twist that make me look forward to the next issue (as if I wasn’t already).

Well, that’s it for now but I might be back with a few more reviews in a couple days.

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You Can’t Unsee It

You know you’re about to open a can of worms when you type the word “infection” into Google images and hit search. There are some things you just can’t unsee. And as squeamish as I am about seeing real life atrocities, I’ve looked up worse things on the internet– all in the name of writing.

The reason I bring this up is that today I found an awesome resource book at Half Price Books. It’s Body Trauma: A Writer’s Guide to Wounds and Injuries by David W. Page, M.D. With such indispensable information such as ‘How would one recover from a gunshot wound to the gut?’ or ‘What kind of things can go wrong in operating room?’, this book is brimming with gruesome, medically accurate descriptions of all the terrible things that can rip, sear, snap and impale your body.

Why am I drawn to such things? I honestly don’t know. I think part of it is that I’m fascinated by what scares me: which is probably why I hit my characters with a barrage of horrifying things that I hope to never go through. I also really get a kick out of writing really disgusting descriptions. I had a great time writing my last novel which featured a character who was occupying a corpse’s body. I gleefully dreamed up descriptions of the way such a persons eyes might develop a dappled, jelly-like consistency or how his arms might be marbled with black and green and feel like the skin on an uncooked chicken.

My current project seems to be steering me in the same direction. Violence and injury are great drama. And of course, I can’t cook up those gruesome descriptions without a little inspiration. Which lead me to Google the words “eye laceration” with the safe filter off about thirty minutes ago (Tip: I don’t recommend it. Seriously.) In the past, I’ve Googled everything from ‘how to poison someone’ to ‘how to build a bomb out of household materials’, all in the name of fiction. I’m probably on some sort of government watch list at this point. But I’m wondering– how many other writers do this? And do they go further? I’ve heard of crime writers getting a ticket to visit the body farm at the University of Tennessee. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_farm) Would I want to visit such a place? I don’t know that I’d be thrilled but I probably wouldn’t turn down the opportunity even if it did haunt my nightmares for years after.

What about you guys? What are the weirdest things you’ve researched in the name of writing accurate fiction?

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What I’m Reading #7

Since I last posted, I’ve actually read A LOT. A lot. Alot (My favorite ever blog post about that frequently made grammatical error– http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/04/alot-is-better-than-you-at-everything.html)  of comics.

I didn’t post last week about what I read basically because everything I read was really good and I took home a ton of books. It just seemed really daunting to try and review it all. I also read some trades– true to my word, I checked out a Power Girl trade and I really liked it actually. Besides the aggressive boobage, Power Girl actually is a positive role model for girls. She’s obviously super tough and strong but she also runs her own company and she does it LIKE A BOSS. But the fact that she has such big boobs and wears that ridiculous costume with the chest window that woman HATE (not me, I’ve just seen women actually get mad when looking at pictures of her where I work) just shows you how out of touch the comic industry is in terms of women readers. But I digress . . .

Here’s what a little batch of what I read this week:

Severed #1: A new story by Scott Snyder, who’s currently writing American Vampire and Batman Detective. He’s been consistently putting out really stellar work that is a step above almost everything else being written right now and Severed is no exception. The first issue kicks off an unsettling horror story set in 1916. There’s no gore or shock tactics, just a slow, simmering build up and a lot of eeriness and tension. In the case of this book, I think saying less is more. I really think all you need to see is the alluring cover to get sucked in. This book is my top pick of the week.

Mystic #1: Take the animated Anastasia film and smash it together with Full Metal Alchemist and you get Mystic, the story of two orphans living in a steampunk city  called Hyperion and dreaming of becoming apprentices of the “Nobel Arts”. I thought this was a fun story with a definite Disney feel to it, but it was lacking in originality. The beginning half of the book was laden with children’s story cliches: spunky orphans with a dream in their heart, evil adults who need to be put in their places, lighthearted rebellion, a general lack of consequences. But the last few panels caught me off guard. I’ll definitely be back to check out where the story is going but I can’t commit myself to this title until I see where it’s headed.

Rachel Rising #1: The first half of the book really drew me in. The art was engrossing and bizarre, depicting a girl who’d apparently been murdered rising up out of the ground and stumbling home to take a shower. A lot of the tension that was built up in the first few panels was lost in the middle of the story– I felt like too much information was given up too easily. But the last page amped up the creepiness factor once again. Visually, the book is very appealing. The art is black and white. It’s incredible detailed and leaves a something for the imagination to fill in at the same time. The way it was drawn and printed in black and white on matte paper was so Spartan and unpretentious. It made it feel so much cleaner than the other books on the shelves.

The Punisher #1: Written by Greg Rucka, this book was surprisingly solid. The first story is a little hard to follow but the backup story, told in the form of a interview, is captivating. Throughout both stories, the Punisher operates in the background and between the pages. I recently read Gotham Central Volume One, co-written by Rucka and Brubaker, which takes a similar approach by focusing on the cops in Gotham City and letting Batman take the backseat. I like getting a taste of what the people around the hero see and feel, rather than always being in the hero’s head, living through him.

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Photo Inspiration for Writers

This week’s theme is fantasy/fairytale. I tried to juxtapose darker images with more whimsical ones since most fairytales have a mixture of those elements. A lot of these photos would probably work as a backdrop for a historical romance too. As I was making this I was jolted back to my many years of reading trashy romance (and I’m not trying to imply that there is anything wrong with category or genre romance by calling it “trashy”– I used to quite enjoy them).

On a side note, if anyone wants to request or suggest a theme for next week, drop a line in the comments.

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Character Building Worksheet

This is a character worksheet I made out for myself. I figured I might as well post it in case someone else would like to use it or expand on it for their own project.

At First Glance
Full Name:
Nickname or what they’ll be called during story:
Brief physical description: How would they describe themselves? How would an impartial observer? How about someone who was in love with them?
Describe one or two outfits they wear:
What will they look like when they’re old/what did they look like when they were young:
Activity level: Are they hyper, low energy, still, fidgety, bouncy, manic?
How do they talk: Describe any sort of accent or speech patterns they have. Do they talk really fast? Get louder and talk over other people? Do they rarely have anything to say? Do they make awkward chitchat? Does your character make snappy remarks whilst killing vampires?
How much money do they have:

Everyday Life
Describe their morning bathroom routine:
What are their eating habits:
What position do they sleep in:
What’s on their iPod:
What’s on their bookshelf or Kindle:
List three movies they watch over and over:
What’s in their fridge:
Where do they work and what do they do there:
Describe how they spend their free time: Do they love to go out? Get the same booth at Applebee’s every night? Are they cuddling with their girlfriend and playing video games?

Internal Life
Describe their personality:
Are they introverted or extroverted:
What element fits them best: Fire, wind, earth or water?
Describe their personal issues or problems: What would they tell a therapist?
Describe their shortcomings:
What are their skills:
Describe their morality and values (or lack of):
How do they deal with conflict:
Give a brief history of their life:
Who’s in their family:
Where do they live:
What’s something they do that makes people uncomfortable:

Social Life
Describe your character’s romance skills:
How many friends do they have:
Describe their interpersonal skills: Do they play well with others?

Genre Add-Ins
What kind of weapon do they carry:
What is their paranormal/mutant ability:
How long have they been dead:
What planet do they come from:
What did the prophesy foretell about your character:

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What I’m Reading #6

All right, here are a few late recommendations. They’re all either from this week or last week. Either way, they should still be out on the shelves.

Shinku #2: I give this series an official thumbs up. This story of a vampire slaying samurai chick is pretty awesome. For me, it’s the show Dark Angel meets Lucy Lu’s character in Kill Bill– and that sounds kind of awesome, doesn’t it? So far, its a bit heavy on action and light on characterization, but it’s fun, the art is sharp and bold, and I’m looking forward to the next issue.

Generation Hope #9: Gen Hope started out a little on the silly side and having not read much X-stuff when I started the series, I had no clue what the significance of Hope was. Now that I’m a little more versed in X-men happenings over the years, I have to say that Hope is one of my favorite characters AND Generation Hope is probably my favorite X book right now since New Mutants is on a horrible downward spiral. Issue 9 is a stand alone story about a young mutant who is bullied and humiliated by his “friends” and ultimately takes his own life. I loved the varied reactions of Hope’s teammates to the tragedy, from Hope’s impassioned fury to Kenji’s cold, carefully orchestrated attempt at revenge against the bully. All in all, a really meaningful issue with great art, as always.

Power Girl #26: This was the first Power Girl issue I ever read. The cover was just too adorable to pass up (super cute chubby cosplayer ftw!), and the story was equally cutesy and fun. The issue was good enough to make me rethink my stance on the notoriously busty superheroine, and I think I may be back for more.

Batman: Gates of Gotham #3: This is just a story I can’t seem to get into. It has all the right elements: stunning art, a writer who’s work I’ve previously enjoyed and an interesting storyline. The history of Gotham should be fascinating to me. Emo Dick and faux-hawk Tim should be right up my alley. For Chrsit’s sake, Tommy Elliot is even in the story! But try as I might, I can’t help but feel like reading Gates of Gotham is too belabored a process to be really enjoyed. The story is so convoluted that I just start to not care. Maybe reading it in trade will be a different experience. With all that I read every week, keeping track of complex plot lines is hard. I don’t want to give up on this book yet but I can’t quite give it my seal of approval. If anyone else is reading it and has an opinion, drop a line in the comments because I’d be interested to hear another viewpoint.

X-Factor #222: X-Factor is still is mix of good and bad elements. I enjoyed this issue when it was dabbling in the supernatural and when the characters were exchanging snappy remarks and behaving like sexed up teenagers. And whoooaa, I just realized that Layla is in the story! And . . . she’s grown up or something? I have no idea what happened to her after Messiah Complex, but that’s okay. I’ll figure it out one day. (Sorry, I only just began reading X-Factor). Anyway, the parts of the story that bug me are when the wackiness starts to feel corny, and when they start aping cliche lines from the Terminator, which just feels like lazy writing. All in all though, I’m starting to like this book more and more. And hey, there are just not enough pregnant werewolf babes in comics, are there?

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New Project Jitters

First of all, I just want to note that I added a new page to my blog where you can check out a little clip from my finished novel Azrael Sinister. Just click where it says ‘Check Out My Novel’ and you will be whisked away to a fantastical world of spelling errors and plot gaps. Just kidding, everything should be fine and dandy with what I posted and hopefully if you read it, you’ll enjoy it and say to yourself “If this was on the shelves at B&N, I’d totes buy it!”

Secondly, I’ve been debating on starting a new project. For a while now I’ve wanted to do a webcomic. It would make sense for me since I like to write and draw. But while my writing makes me feel proud, my drawing is a huge source of self doubt. I’m just not as good at drawing as I am at writing.

I really really think that I have the perfect idea for a webcomic though, and I’ve been writing it out in novel form for about two months. I have plenty of material for a good fifty pages or so of a comic. But thinking about starting the comic alternately fills me with eagerness and dread. There are moments where I psych myself up and think “I can do this! I’ll just take one page at a time and tackle issues as they come.” And then I come crashing down and start moaning “I can’t do it! My drawings are awful. I’d never be able to recreate what I see in my head and it would take too much time and too much effort and no one would read it because the art is terrible and even if I did start to get better at drawing from all the practice I’d start feeling really embarrassed about the early pages and have to redo them and urgh! I should stick with writing!”

So I still don’t know. I drew some stuff out but we’ll see whether or not I actually go through with it. Has anyone else ever had this much anxiety over starting a project? Or better yet, has anyone else ever done a webcomic?

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