Monday, July 28, 2014

Equality in Comics: Micro-Update

Normally, I have my blogs written out in detail early on and avoid trying to shoot from the hip. It's understandable, I normally write big entries and it's easy for someone to screw those up without a couple edit passes. But today I read something that just had to be commented on because it relates to the posts I was making last week and I think it deserves some attention.

So I was writing a blog entry (that I'll be posting tomorrow) about the mishandling of The Legend of Korra by Nickelodeon and what we can learn from it both as creators and people who may someday end up being the people who call the shots (if we're lucky). But as I was writing that a news story jumped out at me and I recognized immediately just the kind of event it really was. Ms. Marvel, the one that I commented on last week in my equality report card series, recently did something that no other comic has done before.

The title just sold more digital copies than physical print copies. This has never happened in the past and most comic books actually sell closer to 10 or 20% of their print editions in digital. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I'm a big supporter of digital formats and what this says to me is that Ms. Marvel didn't just break some boundaries as far as race and religion go, she may have broken the digital frontier for comic books.

And for that, even though this isn't my usual method, I just want to make sure people who follow this blog know that sometimes a good story will win no matter the obstacles. I may have to change the grade I gave the title, because even if Carol loses some ground because of this change I can't deny the experiment is working great. The creative team deserves all the credit in the world for making this work and hearing that the digital sales (which tend to go unreported) are actually higher than the physical. And, to point out that diversity really does make things better for everyone, take a look at the editor and realize how this story happened to come to the page.

Gee, hire a Muslim-American editor and female creative team, get a big success on your hands. Imagine that.

(I write books. Someday they may be as successful as Ms. Marvel. But for now, I'll just keep updating my blog and hoping it pans out. See you tomorrow!)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Equality in Comic Books: A Word About DC

Over the last couple of days I’ve been rating some of the bigger news stories regarding equality and diversity in comics. Some of them were incredibly promising and had the opportunity to really shift the industry in a better direction. A couple of them were lacking, showing the marks of a cheap gimmick while being presented as real change. But only one event in all of the ones I covered actually flat out failed.

That one was on you DC.

I think it’s safe to say that Marvel Comics’ latest promotion of their big changes is a cheap stunt for a great deal of what they’re doing. But in doing their cheap stunt they’re also doing something that actually hasn’t been seen a whole lot from the comic industry. They’re standing up, waving their arms in the air and saying, “We see the problem and we’re willing to address it!”

Will they get it right? Too early to tell. But in acknowledging that there’s a problem to be fixed they’ve stepped forward a lot more than DC has in the recent years. And the thing that bothers me is that, in an industry that is predominantly run by these two big players, one of those big players has responded to the issue in an aggressive and dismissive tone. The most obvious example of this being in 2011 when a (male) fan asked:
“Why did you go from 12% [in women creators] to 1% on your creative teams?”
The sad part is, there is a legitimate answer to this question. Due to a lot of reasons, there are reportedly a much smaller number of women applying to work for the big two publishers. This means that there’s a limited hiring pool of female creators. But the responsible answer to that fact would be to say something along the lines of:
“Diversity is important to us, but sometimes we’re forced to work with only the talent pool we have available at any given time. We’d love to be able to expand that talent pool and include more women into the creative process and I’d like to ask that any women who might be considering take the opportunity to submit to us. There’s sure to be talented people out there, and I’d like to find more women who fit our company.”
It's a bullshit answer, but a serviceable one that would have done a lot to smooth over the crowd. But that's not the answer they were willing to give. You see, that’s an answer from a theoretical universe where Dan DiDio doesn’t have his head up his ass. But Dan, the man at the helm of DC Comics in this universe, instead felt that the best response was actually this:
“What do those numbers mean to you? What do they mean to you? Who should we be hiring? Tell me right now. Who should we be hiring right now? Tell me.”
Guess he was the DiDio of Earth 3.

But if this was just about Dan DiDio being an asshole, that would be the end of this conversation. It’s more important what your publisher actually does, not so much what they say. Sadly, DC forces my hand…

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Equality in Comics: A Report Card (Part 2)

Comic books, they have an issue with diversity. When asked about it over and over, the creators often say things that get them into trouble as they awkwardly try to answer without having any idea why their work isn’t as diverse as it could be. The answer, though, is simple when viewed from the outside.

But they try, and for that we have to give them some credit for the things they get right. Don’t get me wrong, we can still completely condemn them for the things they get wrong. But once in a while it’s a good idea to pat them on the back so long as you're willing to take them to task for their failures.

So, continuing from yesterday, I’m going to grade some of the bigger events related to equality in comics in the last few years. And, holding true to the fact we can praise and condemn them as they stumble along, I’m going to present you with not only the first A that I’ve given out but also a big fat F.

Let’s get down to it…

Monday, July 21, 2014

Equality in Comic Books: A Report Card (Part 1)

Comic books, and their culture, have had a rough relationship with equality over the years. Frankly, anyone reading this post knows this already, they can even point out the most glaring issues. Hell, some of the people reading this post might have experienced some of the glaring issues.

Note: expand image to see that she's dressed as a dead on Duela Dent
It’s the paradox of the medium. Though they’re often quite progressive in terms of what they’re willing to show, especially under a select few creators, they also have this tendency to create an alienating aura around them. Comic book stories were among the first to tackle drug addiction, AIDS, racism and bigotry. The premise of the X-Men so clearly mirrors both race and LGBT issues that no one’s sure if it was meant to be a metaphor for one or both of those.

But that’s where the paradox lies - since every character you create is going to become a powerful figure, the ratio of these figures becomes glaringly obvious. If you can create a window into the world of one issue then why can’t you create one for all issues? It’s not even that people are demanding a book for all issues and all people, but they’d surely like to see a better effort. At no point has the Justice League of America ever reflected the actual demographics of the country it was made for. And, don’t get me wrong, the female members of the Justice League kick ass. But what you have to realize is that while Wonder Woman is one of the most powerful people in DC Comics - she’s also the one that notoriously can’t get a movie made.

A problem she will no doubt punch into oblivion
So when comics do start making really big strides towards making their good efforts known to the public, there’s some room for critique in everything they do. After all, if more of their roster were women in the first place, the media wouldn’t need to make a big deal out of a new female character. If more of their characters were people of color, it wouldn’t be newsworthy that one’s being introduced. Essentially, though they’re trying, it’s still incredibly fair to grade their efforts.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Pacing Part 3 - The Essentials

Pacing and structure, undeniably connected to each other. In the last few entries, born out of my inability to keep my head up long enough to do any research outside of what I already knew, I’ve discussed the structure of story telling to explain how it relates to pacing. When your structure is good, when your story is built right, the pacing takes care of itself. Someone who is entertained and invested in what you’re showing them will not complain about how fast or slow it’s gone, except the sometimes complimentary, “it ended too soon for me”.

But when I started this, I said that a lot of writers were learning things backwards. Certain more sophisticated structures have been taught as basics - essential and required. It leaves some people unable to adapt to situations that require them to change the way they normally work. If television requires you to write five acts but you’re only comfortable with three, it makes sense that you’d have some troubles adjusting. If you’re writing a novel having learned the three act structure, you may be handling your chapter structure incorrectly. Becoming too dependent on more sophisticated structures and formulas can be an issue that many new writers have to resolve over time.

But there are shared elements of structure and pacing that exist throughout storytelling. Just because the overarching formulas don’t always translate from one media to the next doesn’t mean that the fundamentals don’t exist. But the fundamentals often get muddied and buried by other forms. In fact, many people learn the true fundamentals second or third while others don’t learn them at all.

So today, as my final entry before I start digging back into Alternative Mythologies, I’m going to cover…

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Pacing Part 2 - The Rhythm of Screenwriting

Pacing is the lifeblood of what we do as writers. Though there are a lot of ways to make your work sink or swim, poor pacing is one of the most common errors a writer can commit. The old critique that it felt “too short” or, worse, “it never ended” is one that echoes in the dark recesses of our minds. To really progress from amateurs to professional writers we have to ensure that we understand the idea of pacing and how it interacts with audiences on a fundamental level. Though we’ve evolved intelligence, deep down there’s an animal instinct that’s hard to fight.

Too fast and the audience can’t follow, too slow and the audience gets bored. On the surface, these look like two very different problems. But both of these directions often have the same root cause: a misunderstanding of the nature of pacing.

In my last entry I covered how the most commonly taught format for story telling, the three act structure, is actually a product of its origins and may not actually be the “most basic form”. As I described there, novels long ago picked up a structure of their own that worked better for their format when they created chapters. The pacing of a novel depends upon getting a good feel for the length of chapters. The pacing for a comic book depends on understanding that each panel is its own moment in time. The pacing of plays and television shows depend on building acts which peak just in time for the curtain to fall or the commercial to break.

What about the pacing of film? What does film really have to provide it a steady structure? Well for that you have…

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pacing Part 1 - Know Your Structure

A few years ago I named this blog as a tongue-in-cheek reference to my sometimes crippling allergies. While many people get simple hayfever over exposure to certain particles in the air, I’ve been known to have flu-like symptoms and migraines.  It’s not completely horrible, however, since the combination of these allergies and my medications either puts me into deep sleep with vivid dreams or a half-awake, half-dead zombie state where I daydream constantly. This would still be horrible for most people, except I am a professional bullshit artist (writer) and these dreams sometimes inspire new ideas. For someone who lives a fairly sober lifestyle, this is a momentary glance into the kind of hallucinogenic state that inspired Mary Shelley, Jules Verne and whoever came up with that Charlie Sheen character.

The problem is that working on something serious, such as this blog, is almost inconceivable when in this altered state. I give it my best shot but at a certain point I’m incapable of tasks such as research, assembling random facts into a coherent form, and most especially making it readable. So, while I had plans for the end of last week and the beginning of this week, I’d forgotten that the whole country was going to dump one mighty fuckton of smoke into the atmosphere all at once.

Point is, plans change and instead of trying to tackle more African mythology as part of the continuing Alternative Mythologies series today, I’ll be writing about one of the few things I could think about in the last few days…