Words for Pictures by Brian Michael Bendis.

Brian Michael Bendis has written a lot of comics. A LOT OF COMICS. He’s had several very successful runs on various Marvel titles, and has some critically acclaimed creator owned work to his name.

He’s been a regular guest on a comic book podcast called Word Balloon for nearly 10 years and often answers fan questions, most of those questions being about the craft of writing and making comics.

More recently, he has taken to the blog site Tumblr to answer fan questions more directly on the business of writing.

So it makes sense that he would want to put out a book about writing comics and graphic novels.

In his book Words for Pictures, he covers all areas of working in comics. To script layouts, working with artists and working with editors. He even has a chapter dedicated to the business side of writing.

It’s more of a coffee table print sized book. I was expecting it to be more like a tradtional book, but it’s a larger format. This is needed though because of all the art that’s in here. The size and paper quality really helps show off the quality of the art.

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It’s a very comprehensive and enjoyable read. I’m not someone who is immediately looking to break into comics. Sure, I’ve thought about writing some of them and I’ve had a few ideas. But I am interested in the craft and process. I also like hearing the writers themselves talk about their own craft and process.

This book isn’t just Bendis, either. He has many of his friends and collaborators contributing parts to make up the overall book. There’s Matt Fraction talking about working with David Aja on Hawkeye. There’s an editors round table which involves editors talking about how you should approach them and what they’re looking for in new talent. There’s a conversation between David Mack and Alex Maleev on how comic book art can be so much more than art. There’s really a lot in here and I think it’d be a good read even to someone who isn’t looking to write comics, but is interested in creating in general.

The book is about giving advice to new writers and tips on breaaking in. The thing with comics is that staying in is as hard as breaking in, so the insight this books gives in regard to the relationship with your editor and artist is very useful.

I do have one problem with the book, however. Even though Bendis does get a lot of good writers and artists contributing to the book, they’re either close friends of his or people he works with a lot. That makes sense because it probably made the book easier to put together, but that means there’s a lack of DC and indie creators in here. There’s cover blurbs from people like Geoff Johns, Warren Ellis and Jim Steranko talking about how good this book is, but why didn’t they contribute anything to it?

There is a section of the book by Diana Schutz, who is a long time editor for Dark Horse comics, and has been behind books like Hellboy and 300. But this is only one part. In the editors roundtable section, only one editor is a none marvel employee.

Also, all the examples of art used are pretty much exclusively Marvel or from Bendis’ creator owned books. Again, this is probably down to legal reasons, but this could have been a much more comprehensive look at the business and craft if he could have included more DC and indie stuff. There’s a similar problem with Grant Morrisons SuperGods, but in that case, there’s little Marvel stuff involved.

Bendis is very much a Marvel company man, and it’s great that Marvel let his used so much of their stuff in his book on writing. But how great would it be if, say, Frank Miller did a section of the book? (For all I know, though, Bendis might have asked him and he could have said no).

But this is still a really good read. It is to comics what Kings On Writing is to prose. It’s also just an enjoyable read and never feels like a boring chore to get through.

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Comics, everybody – The Series Finale.

With recent rumours surfacing that Marvel may be rebooting their continuity next May, it got me thinking about finales and endings in comics. If the rumours turn out to be true, the reboot will come as a climax to Jonathan Hickmans recent storyline in both Avengers and New Avengers (A quick summation of the storyline: earths from multiple dimensions are crashing into each other, sometimes killing both worlds in question. Tony Stark and his illuminati have been trying to find ways to prevent these ‘incursions’, but the price to do so is the cost of killing worlds. It’s a really good storyline and worth checking out).

The word ‘reboot’ often agitates and upsets comic fans, because it means a lot of the story lines that they’ve read and loved are going to be swept under the rug and forgotten about in place for a new and improved time line.

DC have rebooted several times, most recently with their New 52 launch. The New 52 was an initiative that saw the launch of 52 new number 1s in the space of 1 month. Nearly every character had their history rebooted, save for Batman and Green Lantern. The initiative saw a boost in sales and fandom, and got people excited about comics again. And as someone who is mainly a Marvel reader, it got me picking up DC comic books.

But Marvel aren’t prone to rebooting their universe. They’re very faithful to their history and continuity, because they know it’s part of what the fans love about Marvel.

Instead though, Marvel are prone to having multiple ‘series finale’ and ‘relaunches’ a year. More so recently, with their Marvel Now and then their All New Marvel Now initiatives, instead of relaunching the majority of books in one month, they spread them out throughout the year. However, none of these relaunches saw a significant reboot or retcon to any continuity or history.

I have several Marvel comics in my collection that have the words ‘series finale’ on the cover. I seem to always fall victim to them. I think it’s because super hero comics never end, but these ‘series finales’ give readers a sense of closure.

When I say they don’t end, I don’t fully mean in a literal sense. I mean more that these are comics that have been published for over 50 years (75 years in the case of some DC titles), and they show no signs of stopping. I think what the series finale does is it allows story lines to end and new ones to begin, giving readers a chance to either stay on for the next part of the storyline, or jump off because they feel like they’ve read enough and they’re satisfied with the ending.

Super hero comics have a soap opera feel to them. For people in the UK, they’re like the Coronation Street of publishing. For people in the US, they’re sort like Doctor Who.

These are both TV shows that have a long history to them, and what makes them able to continue is that story lines will end and then new ones will begin. I’ll be honest – it’s probably been a couple of decades since I’ve actually watched Coronation Street, but what it does is it’ll have a couple of story lines ongoing at one time, and as one or two of them come to a close, a new one will start to begin. The story lines will end, but the characters will live on in the street, and maybe have supporting roles in other storylines. In the case of Doctor Who, that sense of closure is offered every time the Doctor regenerates and changes his appearance. This was done best with David Tennant, as he said goodbye to all his former companions, and it was also the head writers final episode. Then Matt Smith would come along and start his own adventures.

Marvel comics are the same. I think it’d be foolish to say it’s to make them closer to real life, because what’s great about comic books in general is them offering escapism from real life. But it’s this idea of closure and you being able to walk away if you want to.

It’s also not just Marvel Comics. Look at Grant Morrisons recent run on Batman over at DC. It was so long running and complex that it was part of the reason why Batman never had a hard retcon at the beginning of The New 52. Morrison had already spent several years on his story and it wasn’t done in time for the New 52. But he did get to finish his story. DC relaunched Batman Incorporated into a second volume, which turned out to be the finale of his run. It ran about 12 issues and when it was done, DC did away with the title. The ending to the run (and this is a major spoiler, so maybe skip down a bit if you don’t want to know) was the death of Damian Wayne, the son of Bruce Wayne. But that was just the ending to Morrisons run, not the end to Batman as a character. Other writers were allowed to deal with the aftermath of Robins death (DC had a banner called Requiem on all the Batman books the month after).

As a reader, and someone who does like that sense of ending to a storyline, I like the appeal of the series finale, which is why I have so many. I want comic book story lines to come to a point were I can look at them and go ‘okay, this is it’. I know they’re often done as a marketing ploy to make people think they have more collectibility, but if you’ve been reading a series for a while and you’ve dedicated time to it, you want that feeling that it was worth it.

When it comes to stories, we need endings. As readers and viewers of television. When we watch movies. Even when we listen to songs. That’s what makes them different from real life. But comics have to go on. The longer characters like Batman, Superman and Spider-man last, the more they have a lasting mark.

The Wire.

the-wire-mobile-wallpaper-iphoneAbout a year ago now, I started The Wire, a show that’s often hailed as one of the best shows in modern television. It took me about 9 months to watch the entire 5 seasons. 9 months might seem like a long time in this day of binge watching, but given that the creators took 5 years to tell their story, it’s not that long. It also took me longer because I watched some other shows along the way. One of which was this show about a school teacher diagnosed with cancer, who then turns into a meth cook. It’s called Breaking Bad and you’ve probably heard of it. Another show that distracted me from The Wire for a little while is the 1960s science fiction show The Prisoner, which is one of the best TV shows I’ve ever seen.

But anyway, back to The Wire.

Season 1 and 2 focus mainly on the drug world and how a case is built against drug crime. We see the formation of the major crimes unit, and we’re introduced to a lot of the characters we’ll be following over the next 5 seasons, as they build their case against the Barksadle family. The lead is Dominic West as the loveable wild boy McNulty. He’s probably the closest The Wire has to a lead character, but in some seasons we don’t see much of him.

Season 3 goes into the political side of things, as politicians use the war on drugs in their election campaign. Game of Thrones fans will appreciate Aiden Gillan as Thomas Carcetti, who is less shady then his Westerosi counterpart, but still manages to be an interesting character. He does seem to genuinely make a difference, but his faced with many problems when he is eventually elected into office.

The 4th season is my favourite, and possibly my favourite season of television. We follow 4 kids from the streets as they go through high school and have to face the challenges of staying within education or getting drawn into the world of the street. What I liked about this season so much is the arc each of the 4 main kids have. They don’t end up where you expect them to when the season first starts.

Having shown us the world of crime through the police, the street, the politicians and the kids, the final season of the The Wire shows it to us through journalism. The creator of The Wire David Simon worked in journalism before moving into TV, so this allowed him to bring some of his experiences to the show.

Even though The Wire is a heavily serialised show, and there is a strong thread running throughout it, with each season having it’s own focus on something, it makes it just that little bit different. It helps build season after season on the world of Baltimore the show runners having created and are portraying.

Often when something is highly lauded as ‘great’ and ‘amazing’, I do have the attitude of ‘yeah, really?’. I did the same with Breaking Bad (which, for the recorded, I really liked) and it was always in the back of my mind when watching The Wire.

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But it is brilliant, in both it’s simplicity in character and it’s complexity in story. The Wire isn’t full of the flashy ‘science’ montages you get in crime shows like CSI, it has police doing POLICE WORK. Which may sound boring, and audience members who like the stylised stuff like CSI will find boring. But what kept me griped and watching were the characters and the story.

Basically being a cops and robbers show, we see life on the streets of Baltimore through the eyes of the gangsters and the police. The police aren’t the highly sophisticated cops you get in movies, and the gangsters aren’t all criminal masterminds (though there are a few cleverly placed and executed in the show), they’re played more as just regular people. I think the term ‘realism’ is a little over used in fiction lately, were audiences have been trained to expect everything to be real and believable, so I don’t use it here likely, but the The Wire does have the sense of realism and it’s what makes it so good.

It’s the realism that makes you go ‘oh shit!’ when a character from either side of the war is shot. Gun fights aren’t something done a lot in The Wire, which may seem like an odd thing to say about a cop show, but because you get to know the characters and grow to love them, when they do happen it really hits you hard. There’s a cop shot in season 1 when on an undercover operation, it’s really the first time we see the effect of violence in the show, and it’s really harrowing.

It also took me as long as it did to watch because I don’t think it’s a show you can binge on really quickly. There’s that much going on in each episode, and that many things moving, that you need time to process them. I did watch the last 4 episodes back to back, but with the rest it was the case of 1, maybe 2, episodes a night.

And you do need to give it attention. Like most serialised shows, you do need to invest your time into it to get something from it. But it’s worth it, because it’s all connected. Every detail matters. And it is one of the best shows you will watch.
Breaking Bad is pretty good too.

From panel to screen: Ghost World.

For over a decade now, comic book movies have been some of the highest grossing films to come out from Hollywood. What started out as a fad has become it’s own genre. Over the next  few months, I’m going to be delving into each movie individually to try and find out what it is that’s made them a mainstay in modern Hollywood.

GhostworldposterTitle: Ghost World

Release Year: 2001

Director: Terry Zwigoff

Writer:  Terry Zwigoff & Daniel Clowes

Starring: Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson and Steve Buscemi.

 

 

Ghost World is an indie comedy drama from 2001. It’s based on a comic by Daniel Clowes, who collaborated with writer and director Terry Zwigoff on the films screenplay. It follows the lives of two mopey teenage girls, Enid and Rebecca, who have just graduated high school and must now move onto the next part of their lives. Along the way Enid, played by Thora Birch, befriends a recluse music collector Seymour, who is played by Steve Buscemi. What starts out as Enid taking pity on Seymour turns into a close friendship as the two discover that even though there’s a considerable age difference, they have more in common with each other than their peers.

I’ve never read Ghost World. I checked to see if it was available on ComiXology so I could read it before writing this, but it’s not on there. So I can’t fairly comment on the differences between the comic and the film. I’d also never seen the film until watching it for this blog.

It’s a pretty good film, and what you’d expect from a coming of age indie movie. The main focus to begin with is the friendship between Enid and Rebecca. Rebecca is played by a rather young looking Scarlett Johansson, who turns out to be the more sensible one of the pair. Enid seems more stuck in her adolescence. She struggles with keeping jobs because she doesn’t want to work for “the man”, and even goes as far as dying her hair green for a 1976 punk rock look. It’s little like that view you have as a teenager when you think you know everything about the world, but you don’t because you haven’t quite grown up yet. You’re still viewing everything through the clouded safety of adolescence. Rebecca manages to keep her job and pesters Enid throughout the movie to move out and get an apartment with her. She seems more comfortable with letting go of her high school teenage years and moving into adult hood.

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And then the two discover an advertisement in the paper from a lonely man trying to reconnect with a woman he once had a short lived moment with. Seymour is played brilliantly by Steve Buscemi, who is at his ‘given up on life’ best. He struggles socially and spends most of his time collecting old music records.

Enid and Rebecca decide to respond to Seymour’s advertisement in the paper and set him up on a blind date. From then on, at first out of pity, they follow him around and become a part of his life.

It’s Enid who becomes close to Seymour. She feels like she’s losing Rebecca since finishing high school, so Seymour becomes her new friend. And then the film just plays out their relationship together. Enid tries to set Seymour up on several dates until she eventually realises she feels something for him herself.

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I think the film as a whole captures really well that time in your life when you’ve just left high school and you’re moving into adulthood. It never tries to be too over ambitious, instead it’s a more quiet approach to things. It doesn’t have the pop music soundtrack that most films like this have. Music is used very little for the soundtrack. When it is used, it usually reflects the taste of either Seymour and Enid. Seymour is into old style Jazz, while Enid is currently going through a punk phase.

It’s a cute film with a few moments of quirkiness to it, but it became more a cult film than a box office hit because it doesn’t have that main stream appeal to it (This happens a lot with comic book movies that don’t have superheroes in them). I’d never seen it before I watched it for my blog (and as I said at the beginning – I nearly forgot about it).

It’s available on Netflix in the UK and should be easy enough to find on DVD.