A marker drawing of Teri from my sketchbook. Going to do a marker drawing of each of Icefall’s cast while I’m working on the script.
Hans is still here.
SoG’s been over for three years.
He has yet to move out.
…I think he’s now my spirit animal.
I’m currently in an argument with two of my characters (Teri and Greg) over how they should behave. I took the precaution of removing all blunt instruments from my mind before doing so.
I recently saw Star Trek: Into Darkness in the theaters with a few friends and earlier today I posted my short, spoiler-free verdict of it. To wit:
“There’s a Star Trek movie in there, somewhere, but it doesn’t quite make it to the surface. Still, a good action flick, and at least it’s keeping the Star Trek name out there.”
It soon became apparent I needed to explain that thought.
Fair warning: I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers, but I cannot guarantee this rant to be spoiler-free. You will learn things about how Star Trek: Into Darkness is put together that may likely change your perspective of the film.
So, with the warning duly issued, “Shall We Begin?”
1. Why Star Trek Into Darkness is a Good Action Movie, but a Bad Star Trek Movie
Star Trek movies - much like the TV shows themselves - have always been variable in quality. The particulars may vary, but most fans will rank certain films better than others. ST II: The Wrath of Khan is universally regarded as the best Trek film, while ST V: The Final Frontier, ST III: The Search for Spock, ST: Generations, and ST: Nemesis all trade places as the worst Trek film depending on whom you talk to.
It can be said, that the best Star Trek films have an action component, but are primarily human dramas, with a science fictional twist. With the exception of ST: Nemesis, all of the older Star Trek films have followed this element. ST II showed Kirk coping with his age, with an estranged spouse/lover and a son who hates his guts, even as he was defending himself from a man who Wants. Kirk. Dead. ST VI dealt with the notion of learning to trust an enemy, of what happens when you have to confront your own prejudices - and what happens when some people prefer to cherish their hatreds rather than change.
Also, the better Star Trek films have stories that make sense, that don’t have you going “wait a minute…” once you leave the theater or even while you’re watching the movie.
In short, Star Trek movies are smart and fun. They make you care, and they make you think, and they make sure you enjoy both.
Action movies, on the other hand, while fun, are (generally) not smart. They’re about explosions and derring-do and How-Will-Our-Hero-Get-Out-Of-This-Mess? plotting. Themes don’t matter in an action movie. Nor does sense - not as long as the Bad Guy dies horribly, the world is saved, and the Good Guy gets to make out with the Girl. If things don’t make sense, it doesn’t matter, because the plot is structured to make you care about what’s happening Now, rather than give you time to catch your breath and think about what happened Before.
Both of the Abrams Star Trek films are structured as action movies. They’re fast-paced, and depend heavily on conflict, sudden revelations, deus ex machina, and cavalries riding over the hill at the last moment. There is just enough setup for things to make sense while you’re in the theater, but little more beyond that.
While Star Trek: Into Darkness has a host of plot problems, most are variants of the same plot problem. Either the Writers take something away from Kirk (or Spock, or “John Harrison”) only to give it back to them immediately if not sooner, or they have characters engage on a course of action and then have them reverse that action in short order with little or no explanation. Risks are taken and sacrifices are made, but both are invalidated by later events. A character dying becomes an excuse for cheap drama, quickly forgotten or (spoiler) reversed once the plot demands it so. This is plotting that is good for an action movie - and let me say it again, ST:ID is a good action movie - but bad for a Star Trek movie. Even ST V: and ST: Generations made more sense.
There is also - and I must comment on this - a truly gratuitous moment, already seen in the commercials, of Alice Eve (playing Carol Marcus) in her lingerie. It’s a brief scene in the movie, and, in my judgement, totally unnecessary. This is not (just) moral outrage - the scene LITERALLY does nothing to advance the story. Even the Orion cadet in the earlier Trek film had the flimsy excuse of being Uhura’s roommate, so that Kirk and Uhura could cross paths again. But here? We don’t even get a flimsy excuse. You could cut those two seconds out of the film and miss nothing.
Why I believe that there is a Star Trek movie at the core is mostly because of the attempt to wrestle with an ethical question underneath all the action. To wit: what would make you sacrifice your principles? Saving a friend? Loyalty to a nation? Just trying to survive? We get some promising starts into this question, with characters like Kirk, Spock, Pike, “John Harrison” and Admiral Marcus giving us different aspects on this question… but we don’t really go anywhere with it. Still, the fact that the writers attempted to inject an ethical question into the film suggests to me that maybe - just maybe - they’re slowly learning what makes Star Trek what it is, and what sets it apart from other science fiction franchises. It’s a shame they couldn’t have given more thought to the plot, or how to make plot, character and theme work in concert, rather than at cross-purposes.
2. Why It’s Important That We Have Star Trek Films - Even Bad Ones.
It’s a very simple reason:
Right now, Star Trek is the only science fiction franchise on TV and film to depict an optimistic future for humanity.
Not one of several.
Not one of a few.
The only one.
Most science fiction films and shows being made today - to the best of my knowledge - fall into two camps:
1. Fun, but dumb. Star Wars and Doctor Who (at least NuWho, the Old Who had its moments) fit this camp nicely. I’m not against fun - we need it - but don’t tell me these productions are smart.
2. Smart, and Serious, and Dark As You Can Make It. Just about everything else. District 9, Elysium, Oblivion, the Matrix films, Soylent Green, the Planet of the Apes films,James Cameron’s Avatar, Terra Nova, Defiance, Jericho, BSG… the list goes on. Tales steeped in Angst, and darkness, and the Grittiness of Humans At Their Worst. Tales determined to make sure you know We’re Bad, and We’re Never Getting Better. Tales that make swallowing a bunch of razor blades chased down with a glass of cyanide seem cheerful by comparison.
Okay, perhaps I exaggerate a bit with that last sentence, but I trust you get my point.
Both camps have their purpose. Sometimes we need some light fluff, some harmless escapism. Certainly the last century and a decade have provided us with a need for it. Sometimes we need harsh lessons. But where are the tales of triumph?
This is why Star Trek is important. It breaks the mold, sets up a third camp, a camp that says we can improve as a species. That, whatever the future holds, there is hope for us, and a reason to fight for a better future.
It is not the only way this message can be said - there are some science fiction novel writers that are pushing this message while telling entertaining stories. Babylon 5, during it’s five-year run, put a similar message out, albeit in a darker universe. There are many philanthropists non-profit groups, activists, and even legislators, who believe this message and make it their cause. Even some faiths - much as religion has taken a beating in the past decade - try to push this message as well. But Star Trek puts that message in the mass media. It wraps it up in the adventures of a starship that “boldly goes where no-one has gone before.”
It’s a message that has lost much of its appeal, though. In our warming, crowded, post-9/11 world, cynicism and despair have more currency than hope. I trust that the message of future optimism can find wider currency soon. We will need it to face the challenges ahead.
So long as it does not betray that central optimism, let new Star Trek films be made. We can hope they’ll be good, but most of us have no control over their quality. But let them be made; let them keep Star Trek visible.
We survived the worse Trek films; we’ll survive Abrams’ era of explosions and lens flare.
While working a full time job, having a marriage and being a parent… Basically LIVING LIFE!
So last year I finished up work on my what is my second full length graphic novel, ADAMSVILLE: THE UNKNOWNS. I began the process of working on it in July 2011 and finished December 2012. It was 155 pages…
First of all, I have to apologize. I’ve dropped the ball on Icefall, and now a month after the comic has been launched I have to admit that getting the comic to work as it stands simply is not happening.
Part of this was due to my being sideswiped by that infection I mentioned two weeks back. Bad luck, but hardly anything I could control. However, since then, I’ve found that my “perfect strategy” for turning out pages has blown up in my face, and worse, there are new flaws in my script, from a weak opening to a serious science gaffe, that need to be addressed before the comic can move forward.
This has certainly depressed me, but not until this week did I start to consider that a large part of the problem has been my attempting to make this comic according to a model that is not suited for it or for me. I’m speaking of the “traditional” Webcomic Model.
Almost every webcomic works on the idea of Regular Updates - the more the better. Pageviews are life, delays are death. You have regular deadlines you must meet, and woe betide if you miss even a few.
This model seems to work best for gag comics, but unless you’re willing to commit to your comic as a full time job, it works terribly for “long-form” comics, comics with a beginning, a middle, and an end. A buffer of completed strips or pages can help, but when life happens, the buffer can vanish VERY fast. One way or another, this model is like riding a tiger: if you slip up, you’re cat food.
I’m not alone in this observation, it seems. I’ve been looking around, and some comic creators have lamented that the webcomic model is not right for them, but they stick with it because it’s How Things Are Done. I’ve seen some comics with good art or good story destroyed by this model.
And I’ve seen some people rebel against this model - some of them successfully.
This realization that the model is Part of the Problem also means that I’ve been beating myself up for failing for no reason. I admit that I have my issues, some technical, some psychological, but the model I’ve been trying to adhere to has made things worse, not better.
Which brings me to my central point. The technical problems I’m facing can be solved in time. I’ve found that, despite the repeated failures to bring this comic to the web, I still want to tell the story of Icefall. The core of the story is sound, the characters work, the plot fits together for the most part. I like drawing, I like writing, and it’s truly a beautiful feeling when things click.
But, in trying to produce Icefall under the current webcomic model, I have reached a point where something must give. I have decided that it’s the model that needs to go. I’ve decided to treat Icefall like a more traditional novel/graphic novel in production, and rather than have over one hundred deadlines that Must Be Met, I will work on the comic until it’s completed and THEN release it to the web.
This leads to a few important changes:
- The current Icefall website will be shut down, effective immediately. I feel badly about this, partly because of the money I’ve put down for hosting and the domain name, and partly because of the emotional effect of having to shut down a site so soon after launching it, but it must be done. The new approach means there will be no updates for several months - perhaps as much as a couple of years. Having the site remain up with no real change is simply a public reminder of my failures, with no benefit to me, professionally or emotionally.
- I will be putting Icefall on the shelf for a bit to work on comic projects that are far smaller. I need to develop a better approach to making pages, and a couple of mini-comic projects can help find and fix problems in my process, without overcommitting. (A bit of irony for you - Icefall was originally conceived as a 20 page comic as an entry point to another project that fell by the wayside. Here’s hoping history does not repeat).
I will be keeping this Tumblr as my primary portal for my artwork and updates on any comic projects I complete, and eventually I expect I will have a proper website to showcase my comics from. I don’t know when Icefall will see the light of day, but it will be completed. I owe that to myself if nothing else.
What about you, dear readers? Do you agree that the webcomic model is more trouble than its worth?
Since my last post, I’ve seen a doctor who confirmed I’d contracted a throat infection (which by then had spread to the ears(!)), and she prescribed some antibiotics to deal with it. The infection has now largely passed, and though I still have a few days before the end of my treatment, I’m feeling well enough to resume work on Icefall.
So: good news, everyone! Icefall is back; the next update will be Friday, May 3.
Because I had so much downtime, however, Friday updates will be all I can manage for May (so no bonus update on May 6th). I’ll need some time to get back into the swing of things. The monthly bonus updates will start up in June.
I have some weightier topics to discuss, but that will have to wait until a later post.
So, Saturday has come and gone and with no new page. I apologize for that; unfortunately, things have taken a turn for the worse with my current illness and it has made progress on the comic difficult.
My cold is apparently no longer a cold, but is developing into a full-fledged bronchial infection. I can barely speak above a whisper right now. And with my appetite all but gone, its hard keeping my energy levels up. I plan to call my doctor first thing Monday Morning, and arrange for an appointment to find out exactly what I’ve contracted and what treatment must be taken.
With all of this and with a day job that has no sick leave policy (welcome to blue-collar work in New Brunswick), I barely have enough energy to make any progress on Icefall. As a result, I have to put this comic on the back-burner. Updates will be erratic until I can finally shake this illness.
After many delays in launching the comic, this feels very much like adding insult to injury, and I can only say that I am sorry to those who have been expecting to read my work. But I have invested too much time and energy in getting Icefall to work, and I have no plans to give up now. I must ask for you to bear with me while I deal with this, and someday we’ll have a regularly updating comic.
Thank you for your patience and understanding. If people have questions, I’d be glad to answer them.
Incidentally - does anyone know how to open a Tumblr post to comments without having to add a question mark at the end?
I’m sorry to do this so soon after the launch, but I’m going to have to delay the next page. I’ve been fighting a nasty cold and it’s proven difficult to do that, produce the next page, and keep a roof over my head all at the same time.
I’ve made enough progress that the delay will be short, though. Expect the next page of Icefall to go up on Saturday. Sorry for the trouble, and thank you for your patience.
Now I need to crawl back to bed…
That took longer than I’d hoped (no thanks to some RL problems this week), but Icefall is finally launched. My latest and last iteration of this story will now be updating regularly at www.icefall-comic.com.
After a few layout changes and what seemed like an eternity of shading/erasing/reshading, my cover image for Icefall is done! Here’s a little preview for your perusal. The full image will be available on my comic site when it launches this Friday!
Yes, no more delays. The comic is actually going live. And yes, I’ll be posting a shiny link to the comic when it does.