Two years ago last June I started to outline what was going to be a 20-24 page comic story called Icefall. I’d just come off of finally completing a comic project (a 12 page short which is, honestly, a little embarrassing to think about now), and decided I wanted to aim for something a little bigger, a little grander in scope. At the time, I had a character, Teri Holland, who’d been in my head for two years by that time, and I thought this little tale of danger beneath the surface of Enceladus would be perfect for her. I figured I’d get the story done in about six months, printed, and available for the 2012 convention scene.
It’s been two years since, and my 20 page short has mutated into a 120 page (estimated) graphic novel. I’ve gone through two rewrites, and the last one was never completed due to uncovering severe plot and research problems. Assuming I never have any more problems with this project, I might have a completed book ready to go to a printer by June 2015.
But there are more problems. In fact the problems I face with this project are not only more in number but bigger in scope than the problems I had to solve to uncover them. The plot has become more and more contrived, the setup just to get to the central story has gotten longer.
And recently, I have become blocked. My brain categorically refuses to focus on the comic anymore. My afternoon writing sessions have become cases of picking at the outline, rather than penning scripts. It’s been weeks since I’ve done any real concept art, months since I tried to pencil pages for it.
I am now at the point where I must concede that the project will not move forward. It’s become too big, too complex, for me to handle at my current level of development.
So I am shelving Icefall. I don’t know when - or if - I’ll be able to come back to it and make it into something usable. Right now, I need some time away, and then I need to focus on projects that are smaller and more to my level of development. I need something to break through my block, and get my confidence back.
A little late to the party, I know, but I finally learned about the Jaeger Designer connected to the movie “Pacific Rim”. So, here’s my meager contribution. (There are a whole lot of others, complete with silly names, over at http://4thstringjaegers.tumblr.com/ )
P.S. Pacific Rim really is a good, fun movie, and smarter than it appears. If you haven’t seen it… GO! See it NOW!
A little Saturday silliness. Jurassic math class.
Amya Chronicles: Strong Female Characters -
Quite recently I have been getting a lot of e-mails and letters from readers; all positive. But there has been a common theme to them. Can you guess what it is? I bet the title gave it away.
My female characters, and their strength.
In many cases I am told…
I find this quite liberating, to tell the truth. I’m not sure why, but for a long time I found myself wondering what makes up a Strong Female Character, and imagining this long checklist that must be fulfilled. I don’t know where the “checklist” came from, just that it existed. I was afraid that, once I made a character, she somehow wouldn’t meet this phantom checklist at some point and thus be written off by the public at large.
This makes things much simpler. Of course, it’s still no guarantee that I can create strong characters, but at least it banishes the checklist from my mind. Thank you very much for writing this.
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.
Michael Regina Tumblins: Finish The Book - How I Finished A Graphic Novel In A Year And Half... -
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:
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?