Salvatore Pane

Tag: Batman

Fiction Writing Workshop or Don’t do it/Please don’t do it/Because if one us writes teen zombie erotica then we all go through it

The final syllabus I’m posting is for my Fiction Writing Workshop. It’s strange, but in two and a half years, I’ve taught variations of this course seven times. This is similar to the workshops I ran last spring with a few small changes. I added in a few more novel excerpts, namely Sara Levine’s Treasure Island!!!. I’ve also added in required lit journal presentations. In addition to the lit journal overview I do, I’m having students present for 5-10 minutes on any lit journal of their choosing. The hope is that by the end of the presentations, each student will know seven more quality journals to read and possibly submit to. Irina Reyn did this in a graduate workshop once, and I found it extremely helpful. The biggest change is the focus on outside guests. In the past, I was barely able to scrounge up one guest a semester, as I had a lot of difficulty securing any funds at all (and by “difficulty,” I mean I got nothing). This time around, I was able to secure visits with Matt Bell, Chris Newgent, Chad Redden, Amber Sparks, and a skype conversation with Marty Pasko, a comics industry legend (he also won an Emmy for his work on Batman: The Animated Series which I LOVE). It’s always nice to get some other voices in the classroom. Matt, Amber, and Marty will hopefully bring a more national perspective, and Chris and Chad can explain to students how to get involved right here in Indianapolis.

Basically, I’ve never been more excited for anything ever.

FICTION WRITING WORKSHOP
MWF 1:00-1:50
University of Indianapolis
Assistant Professor Salvatore Pane
Office Hours: 10-11 MWF, 2-3 MW
Credits: 3.0

Required Materials

3X33: Short Fiction by 33 Writers, edited by Mark Winegardner

Welcome to Fiction Writing Workshop

In this course, you’re going to write and read a lot. You’ll produce short stories and flash fiction and possibly novel chapters, and along the way we’ll discuss the publishing industry, the internet blogging scene, and even have a few guest speakers. I’m not going to lie to you and say that writing is easy. It’s not. It’s one of the hardest things you can ever do. But, and I guarantee you this, if you’re serious about the craft of fiction, if you’re willing to put in the work, you’ll absolutely be a better writer at the end of the course than you are today.

Each student will put up 8-15 pages of literary fiction for workshop twice a semester. You can write a traditional short story or multiple flash fiction pieces but remember, you have to demonstrate the fundamental principles of literary fiction in all of your workshop pieces. I want to see structure, character, development. I want nuance and complexity. I don’t want filler pieces meant to get you closer to the page requirement.

Substantial revisions will be required. Substantial revision does not mean fixing grammar. Substantial revision usually means a complete rewrite and perhaps multiple rewrites. Students must also post 300   -500 word critiques for every student story we workshop. Similarly, you will read a large amount of stories from 3X33 and a few handouts. Students will post 300-500 word craft analyses for every assigned story we read.

Reading so much literary fiction will allow you to build a library of published stories in your head. Students are expected to use their knowledge of writers like Barry Hannah, Lorrie Moore or A.M. Homes to comment about peer work up for discussion. Students will make parallels and use the published work to inform their critiques of peer work. The majority of the course will be spent workshopping. The goal of the course is for you to not only become a better writer, but to become an active literary citizen who can participate in the ongoing dialogue concerning fiction.

By the end of the course successful students will:

Use basic elements of craft (image, voice, character, setting, etc.) to create 16-30 pages of thoughtful literary fiction.

Employ critical-reading skills while analyzing, for specific issues of craft, a wide range of published and peer fiction.

Substantially revise their work by utilizing critical feedback generated by class discussion and written critiques.

Contribute thoughtful and complex commentary to discussions of published and peer fiction.

Workshop

You will be prepared for every workshop class by doing the following:

1.)   Write comments in the margins of stories up for discussion. You MUST use the comments feature in Microsoft Word. All comments will be transparent to the entire class. I want you to upload your marked up versions of workshopped stories to Ace. Failure to do so will negatively impact your grade. Also, DO NOT FORGET TO BRING A PRINT OUT OF THE STORY IN QUESTION TO CLASS. This is mandatory. If you don’t do this, I’ll shave points off your participation grade. If it becomes a consistent problem, I will mark you absent.

2.)   Write a 300-500 word critique for each peer written story we read this semester. You must critique the story based on its own intentions. For example, if the writer is attempting to write in the realist mode of Ray Carver, do not suggest adding a woman who has to eat a plate of hair ala Amelia Gray just because you don’t like realism. On the flip side, don’t knock an experimental story because you prefer realism. Judge the story the writer wrote, not the one you want to write. Try and help them see how they could better serve their material and unique world vision. In your responses, first describe what you think the writer is attempting to do and what the story is about. Then discuss the piece’s strengths. Finish with prescription, a section where you point out very specific things that still need work within the story. Go beyond grammar. Character, plot, prose, all the building blocks of fiction are on the table. You must use the description, strength, prescription model.

3.)   Post your critique and margin comments to Ace by 8PM the night before workshop. All critiques will be visible to all members of the class, and I encourage you to read what your peers are saying about every story. Name your thread on Ace after your favorite line of the story in question. If you don’t turn in these materials BY 8PM, you will lose points.  

Example of a good critique:

*NOTE: I removed this because it’s an actual critique of a student story

Notes About Workshop

When you are being workshopped, it is very important that you are quiet, take notes, and do not respond to anything verbally. To reiterate, you are not allowed to talk when being workshopped unless I specifically ask you something, and that will be very rare. You are not there to defend your story. Your story must stand on its own.

Please proofread your work. If a story is excessively sloppy, I will not workshop it. Do not depend on your classmates to fix your grammar.

Distribution of Manuscripts

Stories will be due from you exactly one full week before you’re scheduled to workshop. For example, if you’re scheduled to workshop on Monday, September 24th at 1pm, that means your story is due at 1pm Monday, September 17th. If your story is late, your grade for that story will drop by an entire letter. If you are more than a day late, you will get an F, no exceptions. Once you upload your manuscript, you CANNOT EDIT IT FOR ANY REASON. If you do, we will skip your workshop and you will take an F. You are responsible for printing out your peers’ stories for discussion on workshop days. Please include page numbers.

I have randomized the workshop schedule in order of fairness, but know that it will be reversed for the second round of workshops. So if you have to put up a story early in the semester for the first go around, you will have the most time to write for the second round of workshops.

Ace Reading Posts

On most weeks, you will be required to read at least one outside short story. On these weeks, you must post a 300-500 word craft analysis of said story on Blackboard under the appropriately titled forum. Posts must be uploaded by 8PM the day before we discuss the story. If your post is late, you will lose points. During weeks in which we will be discussing two professional short stories a classroom session, you are required to write two 200-300 word craft analyses each class session, one for each story we read. For flash fiction, you only need to write 100-200 words. Post your responses on the appropriate forum. There’s a forum designated by name for every professional story.

Let me be very clear on this. This is not a forum for you to explain whether or not you like the piece in question. I don’t care. What I’m looking for is a craft analysis. These stories are published. They’re not up for workshop. What can you learn from them? There is a huge difference between reading fiction as a general reader and reading fiction as a writer. It’s not about pleasure, it’s about bettering your craft. You need to look at outside stories and figure out what techniques you can use for your own writerly toolboxes. Perhaps you will learn how to implement time jumps in a narrative from “The Year of Getting to Know Us.” Perhaps you will learn about wacky settings from “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline.” I want you writing about something that struck you in the professional stories and how you can apply those lessons to your own writing. If you simply talk about why you love or hate a specific story, you will take an F on the craft analysis in question. Below is an example of a good craft analysis:

UGH, this story is so good. It makes me mad that people write this well. It is hilarious but also menacingly sad. And the language and the pacing are so pitch perfect—I don’t think a single line falls flat.

When I first read this a while ago I laughed and thought it was just an interesting, painfully insightful look at being a writer. And although this is basically true, I don’t think the cleverness is the meat of the story, rather, a really superb misdirect.

Francie repeats herself, a lot. And I think when she does, it matters. There are a few recurring things. One is that her stories are mostly plotless, graphic violence, between old couples. The other issue that recurs with the most emotional weight is her brother going to Vietnam and coming back crippled.

In my mind, it’s also important to understand this story is being written as a reflection by Francie. And although the second-person perspective universalizes it, the story feels intensely personal (how wonderfully Moore treads that line!). Given that Francie is writing/telling this story, you can assume, like she says, it suffers in plot. Or more importantly, she doesn’t quite know what the plot is. Francie says “Later on in life you will realize that writers are merely open, helpless texts with no real understanding of what they have written”.

Writing is seen as personal and reflective, but the problem is that reflecting on her life, she isn’t sure what is the actual story.

And I think that’s what I love most about this story. Moore writes a story about someone writing a story about what wasn’t actually the real story. The real story being, in my opinion, her parent’s divorce, her brother going to Vietnam, her decreasing spiral of demeaning relationships, as reflected in her writing.

The sentence, near the end being particularly indicative of the last point: “You now go out with men who, instead of whispering ‘I love you,” shout: ‘Do it to me, baby.’ This is good for your writing.”

And, had these ideas been explored independently, the story of a broken home, a Vietnam veteran, and a bad dating history, it would not feel terribly original. But to hide this sad, lonely story—to embed and obscure it through this wonderful analogy of struggled, filtered, reflection called writing—is really genius, I think.

Like she says about her brother, “you write nothing. There are no words for this. Your typewriter hums. You can find no words.” She can’t even begin to write about what is really the issue, only glance at it with something tangential like writing.

The method actually allows for some notes that play like Carver. Consider the above brief quotation about her brother. She writes nothing. It’s a short, not particularly engaging, sentence out of context. But considering how abrupt it is, considering how open and honest and rambling she was before, that line of silence is deafening. The context allows her to do so much with so little. I felt sadder for her brother in Vietnam than I did during all of “Platoon”. And Moore only mentioned him three times.

Fiction Buddies

After everyone has workshopped, I will break you up into groups of two—Fiction Buddies! You will meet during class time and read each other’s revisions and then run mini-workshops. I will explain more about Fiction Buddies when we reach that point in the semester.

Novels

Novels are wonderful. We love novels. Novels are why so many of us want to be writers.  But in a workshop setting, students often use first chapters as an excuse to not end their stories. They can avoid criticism by saying, “That happens in chapter two.” I’ve seen many, many talented writers produce thirty opening chapters in their undergraduate career, graduate, and have no idea how to sustain a middle or land an ending. I don’t want that to happen to you.

For the first workshop, I don’t want you to write a novel chapter. You can write a few pieces of flash fiction or a short story, but no chapters. For the second workshop, if you’re really serious about writing a novel, I want you to first provide me with a four page outline of the entire book. If given permission, you will put that AND an 8-10 page chapter up for workshop. I want to know you have a plan and that writing a chapter isn’t just a way out from writing an ending.

Genre Fiction

All of our discussions in this class will center on literary fiction. What is literary fiction? We will explore that as the semester goes on. The point is that if you’re here to work on your vampire zombie spaceship novel, this class is not a good outlet for that kind of work. I’m expecting you to produce character driven literary fiction that drives toward emotional complexities. I don’t want to see battle scenes between elves and warlocks. Your stories can be wacky, your stories can be strange (wait till you see the craziness of George Saunders!), but this class will never focus on straight genre fiction.

Classroom Etiquette

Turn off all cell phones before class begins. Do not text people during class. It’s really obvious when you’re doing this. If this becomes a problem I will shave points off your participation grade. If this becomes a consistent problem, I’ll mark you as absent.

Attendance

I want to be as clear as I can on this. If you miss class five times, you will fail. There will be no make up assignments. Don’t come back to class. The ONLY excuses I will accept are a doctor’s excuse or some kind of family emergency. I am not going to make any exceptions on this front.

You should always be on time for class. If you are late, you will not get credit for attending an entire class.

If you are unprepared for discussion or workshop, I cannot give you credit for attendance that day.

Grading

This is what you have to do if you want an A in this course. You have to put up two thoughtful workshop pieces. Then you have to take the time to substantially revise them. You have to be engaged in classroom discussions and add something relevant every class. You must do all the Ace posts and turn them in on time. You do all these things, you get an A. You slack off, turn work in late or short, doze off in class, and you’re not getting anything that even remotely resembles an A.

Here’s the grading breakdown. 70% of your final grade will come down to your final portfolio, i.e. all of your revised work at the end of the semester. The other 30% comes from participation and Ace posts. Please note: participation is mandatory. If you are not contributing to every single workshop, you are not going to get a good grade. This is a workshop course. The same goes for Ace. If you consistently fail to turn in work on time, you’re not going to get a good grade.

Final Portfolios

On the last day of class, you will be expected to turn in two revisions of your workshop pieces. Late portfolios WILL NOT be accepted. We’ll talk more about this as the semester goes on.

Conferences

After your first workshop, I will schedule a conference with you during my office hours. After your second workshop, please contact me and we can either set up an appointment to discuss your work or I can just send you your critique. I encourage you to meet with me in person, but this second conference is optional. Please remember: my door is always open.

Visitors

I have scheduled a number of visitors throughout the semester. Some run reading series or lit journals here in Indianapolis, others are national writers dropping by on tour, some will chat with us via Skype. I want you to be engaged in these discussions. Participate. These are very rare opportunities. Don’t squander them.

Outside Events

Students are required to attend one reading outside of class. The details will be announced, but you will have multiple opportunities to attend one, although I encourage you to go to them all. I sure will. These are opportunities, not burdens, and I hope you treat them that way.

You will be required to attend and write a short, 500 word craft analysis of one of these readings.

Literary Journal Presentations

Near the end of the course, you will be expected to give a very informal 5-10 minute presentation on a literary journal. Be prepared to discuss its aesthetics, who publishes in it, what the statistics are, and what its web presence is like among other things. We’ll discuss this in much greater detail as we get closer to the end of the course.

Note

The syllabus is subject to change. I will only push assignments and readings back however. No assignment will ever be due earlier than it’s listed here.

Course Sequence

Week One

Monday August 27
Syllabus
Justin Taylor “Tetris” HANDOUT

Wednesday August 29
John Updike “A&P” 3X33
Lorrie Moore “How to Become a Writer” 3X33

Friday August 31
Raymond Carver “Cathedral” 3X33
Alissa Nutting “Porn Star” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Week Two

Wednesday September 5
Donald Barthelme “The School” 3X33
Etgar Keret “Fatso” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Roxane Gay “The Harder They Come” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Amelia Gray “Hair” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Friday September 7
Breece D’J Pancake “Trilobytes” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Tobias Wolff “Bullet in the Brain” 3X33

Week Three

Monday September 10
Emma Straub “Pearls” COURSE DOCUMENTS
George Saunders “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline” 3X33

Wednesday September 12
Scott Snyder “Blue Yodel” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Joyce Carol Oates “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” 3X33

Friday September 14
Barry Hannah “Testimony of Pilot” 3X33

Week Four

Monday September 17
WORKSHOP 1
WORKSHOP 2

Wednesday September 19
WORKSHOP 3
WORKSHOP 4

Friday September 21
Ethan Canin “The Year of Getting to Know Us” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Week Five

Monday September 24
WORKSHOP 5
WORKSHOP 6

Wednesday September 26
WORKSHOP 7
WORKSHOP 8

Friday September 28
Amber Sparks Visit

Week Six

Monday October 1
WORKSHOP 9
WORKSHOP 10

Wednesday October 3
Revision Lecture + “How to Be a Contemporary Writer” by Roxane Gay

Friday October 5
Publishing and Blogs Lecture

Week Seven

Monday October 8
Teddy Wayne Novel Excerpt of Kapitoil COURSE DOCUMENTS
Sara Levine Novel Excerpt of Treasure Island!!! COURSE DOCUMENTS

Wednesday October 10
Brian Oliu “Gradius” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Brian Oliu “Punch-Out!!” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Brian Oliu “Wizards and Warriors” COURSE DOCUMENTS
xTx “Water is Thrown on the Witch” COURSE DOCUMENTS
xTx “Marci is Going to Shoot Up Meth With Her Friend” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Friday October 12
A.M. Homes “The Former First Lady and the Football Hero” COURSE DOCUMENTS
James Alan McPherson “Why I Like Country Music” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Week Eight

Wednesday October 17
Fiction Buddies

Friday October 19
Chris Newgent Visit

Week Nine

Monday October 22
WORKSHOP 1
WORKSHOP 2

Wednesday October 24
WORKSHOP 3
WORKSHOP 4

Friday October 26
Class Cancelled

Week Ten

Monday October 29
WORKSHOP 5
WORKSHOP 6

Wednesday October 31
WORKSHOP 7
WORKSHOP 8

Friday November 2
Patrick Somerville “The Universe in Miniature in Miniature” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Week Eleven

Monday November 5
WORKSHOP 9
WORKSHOP 10

Wednesday November 7
MFA Program and Book Review Lecture

Friday November 9
Jonathan Lethem “Super Goat Man” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Week Twelve

Monday November 12
Don Lee “The Price of Eggs in China” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Seth Fried “Loeka Discovered” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Wednesday November 14
Junot Diaz “Fiesta, 1980” 3X33
Matt Bell “His Last Great Gift” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Friday November 16
Matt Bell Visit

Week Thirteen

Monday November 19
Fiction Buddies

Week Fourteen

Monday November 26
Lit Journal Presentations

Wednesday November 28
TBA

Friday November 30
Chadwick Redden Visit

Week Fifteen

Monday December 3
TBA

Wednesday December 5
TBA

Friday December 7
Final Portfolios Due

Every Last Thought I Have on Process: Nothing But a Dream and a Cardigan

Two nights ago I was at the Squirrel Cage with a bunch of writer friends (Chris Lee, Erin Lewenauer, Travis Straub, Lee Skirboll), and in between watching the Pirates game and tweeting about oddly seated couples, we got on the subject of process. I’ve never been very good at talking about my writing process. I remember in grad school Cathy Day encouraged us to set up a process blog. I can’t recall exactly what I posted, but I’m pretty sure it was mostly thinly veiled references to Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” (I named the blog “Nothing But a Dream and a Cardigan”). Looking back, I think I was so inarticulate during Cathy’s class because I wasn’t really working on a novel at the time. I was revising what would eventually become Last Call in the City of Bridges, but the overarching draft work had been done, and I was mostly polishing it for agents. The majority of my time was spent on short stories, and with those, I have less of a defined process. I try to stick to a daily schedule, but I fall off the wagon way more often when I’m doing short stories. Novels comfort me. I love having a consistent world and cast of characters that call me back day after day.

This summer, I’ve been working on a second novel, and I thought maybe I’d share my work-in-progress writing routine. What really interested me at the Cage was how different all our processes were. What works for Chris certainly wouldn’t work for me and vice versa. So I guess this isn’t meant to be a primer on a writing routine that will work for everyone, it’s just a primer of a routine that’s working for me right this second on this particular project. In my experience, the fiction leads you to the right process and you always want to listen to the fiction.

So the second novel. A brief background. I’m describing it as Revolutionary Road meets Crisis on Infinite Earths. My agent Jenni Ferrari-Adler is describing it as a “love triangle between three fallen superheroes” which is why she works in a great, big building in Manhattan, and I sit in my underwear in Pittsburgh with three fans pointed at my sweating body for the majority of any given day. I write every day from about 9am-12pm with some light editing in the evenings, but the real preparation begins the night before. My old instructor Tom Bailey used to put a big emphasis on writing the moment you woke up so you’d be as close to your dreaming self as possible. He used to tell us that every serious writer he ever met wrote in the morning, every morning, and I took a lot of stock in that. But I’ve found I fare better when I do a little prep work the night before, falling asleep to some DVD that’ll put me in the right headspace for the morning. From 2007 until this summer, I switched back and forth between episodes of The Simpsons and Futurama. I liked the social satire, sarcasm, and the way the whole town becomes a character in The Simpsons, and on Futurama, I loved the unbridled sci-fi imagination coupled with a deep pop culture reverence. I didn’t start out watching these shows with this intention. I just noticed over time that whenever I watched The Simpsons while falling asleep (by this point I must have gone through season 1 to 10 front to end at least 6 times) I would gravitate more toward realism, and whenever I watched Futurama I’d edge closer to experimentation. At night, I watched whatever series was closest to the story I planned on working on in the morning.

SO THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE WHEN DOVES CRY!

Recently, I switched over to rewatching the entire run of Mad Men. Like I said above, the book is a mixture of bizarre superhero detritus and the kind of doomed suburban love stories I grew to love in college and grad school. Mostly, I’ve found that I don’t need to do much to keep the superhero stuff fresh in my brain. That’s probably because I read comics every single week, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a new superhero movie in theaters every four days. I switched to Mad Men because I’m trying to keep that world alive in my head, not the world from the show, but the kind of commuter family/office worker/adultery drama that is more difficult for me to maintain when I’m not actively sitting down at the desk. I’ve been playing with this tone for awhile, and the notes I’m really trying to hit with this book are the kind of unflinching arguments Yates does in his work combined with bizarre, fleeting references to a superhero lifestyle that’s come and gone. I’ve only put my own writing on this blog one other time, but I’m going to do it here to give you an idea of what I’m talking about. This brief scene takes place right after John, one of the protagonists, leases a minivan for his wife only a few days removed from a confrontation where she told him she wasn’t ready for kids yet and wanted to be more settled in her career. First her reaction to the van, then a quick cut to her walking away from their home in Arlington (this is all pretty fresh and unedited, so keep that in mind):

For a moment, Nessa thought someone had made a mistake. The minivan pulled into their driveway and parked, the engine cut. She stood. The faux-Victorian was at the end of a cul de sac and this would happen occasionally, people would pull into her driveway and turn around, and although this infuriated John, it never bothered Nessa. They didn’t own the driveway, she’d argue, and John would always say, Yes, actually they did. But this time the vehicle did not turn around. A man emerged from the driver’s side and it took her an entire blinking second to recognize this unfamiliar creature as John. John Ditko. Kid Dragonfly. Her husband.

            “What do you think?”

            Nessa had never seen him so expectant, so genuinely filled with joy as he crossed the yard toward her, a big goofy grin across his face. She looked behind him at the minivan. It was neon red. The ugliest color she could ever imagine. A black hole of neon, it sucked the life out of everything around it. Somehow the houses, the trees, even the grass looked darker, grayer, deader, just from being in the presence of this impossible color, this cartoony shade of blood. It reminded her of the one and only time she’d gone into outer space with Kid Dragonfly and the overly enthusiastic members of the Teen Super Protectors, how they’d blasted off in their Sky Caravan—why, Nessa had wondered even then, had they christened it with such a pathetic name—to fight the Crimson Blob from Beyond the Moon. That pulsating glob of sentient metal looked a lot like the minivan parked here before her.

            “I don’t know what this is,” she said as calmly as she could, still not comprehending exactly what John had done.

            He took her by the elbow and steered her to the back of the minivan. The license plate. Nessa1. Written in bright blue letters above a Kids First sticker. To the side of her name were two imprints of a child’s grubby little hands. She looked at the license plate. Then she looked at John. Nessa1.

            “This is a top of the line 2001 Ford Windstar,” John explained.

            “Ok.”

            “I bought it for you.”

            “For me… What is wrong with you? You didn’t think to even consult me on this? This is a huge decision.”

            Her voice was raised. John looked nervously up and down the street, presumably to see if anyone was watching. Only the Miller sisters were outside, and all three of them stopped jumping rope and came closer to the edge of the fence.

            “Honey.” He again took her by the shoulders. “I wanted it to be a surprise.”

            She shook loose. “Don’t honey me.” Don’t honey me? What a cliché. How had this happened? How had Nine Lives turned into this: arguing with her husband about a minivan deep within the catacombs of the DC suburbs?

            And so, Nessa started walking. She didn’t have her books or notes or even an umbrella, but that didn’t matter. Retrieving those things would only lessen the gesture of what she was doing, and more than anything, she wanted John to feel this, how stupid he could be. Nessa1!

            “Nessa!” he called. “Nessa, wait!”

            But she had already passed the house next door, then the next house and the next. All identical faux-Victorians. John jogged up beside her, smiling, wiping the sweat from his brow, nervously looking into each window they passed. The Miller sisters trailed them, strolling casually down the middle of the street, and like the houses, Nessa could not tell them apart.

            “Nessa, please. What will the neighbors think?”

            She still didn’t stop. “I don’t care what they think. I have to catch my bus to work.”

            “The bus? Don’t you want to take your new car?”

            “That’s not my car, John. I’m not going to drive that thing. It looks like the Crimson Blob from Beyond the Moon.”

            He looked nervously back at the sisters. “Christ, Nessa, keep it down about that stuff.”

Watching Mad Men the night before orients me in a way so I’m ready to write the kind of relationship dynamic I’m shooting for right when I wake up. I get up around nine or earlier, make coffee, and then sit down to write. Some days I’ll do nothing but write new material, and some days I’ll focus completely on revision. The first two weeks of July, I went back to Last Call and rewrote some of that, and when I returned to this book, I spent the next four or five days just revising, going from page 1 to 112 before I felt ready to really write again. A lot of times in the morning, I’ll just feel spent or at a dead end, and whenever that happens, I’ll watch some video on YouTube. Like Mad Men, I try and watch things that put me in the right headspace, so I don’t necessarily use the same video for every project, otherwise I’d just watch this Earthbound commerical for the rest of my life.

This video, you guys. This video! It captures the sense of joy and wonder I’ve tried to imbue in both my books while acknowledging how difficult that is in 2011, how sarcastic, ironic, how knowing we all have become. The way this video combines the super sweet story of a young Yeti (who looks so much like the beloved Muppets from my youth) with the eternally knowing, cameo happy Jon Hamm is just utterly perfect. The first time I watched it, I just kept waiting for a joke, a punchline, anything. But it never goes for the joke. I’ve just always loved combining the sincere with the sarcastic, that please, please what I’m telling you is so very important, just don’t take anything I say seriously attitude. This video nails it.

Like I said earlier, I’m pretty good at keeping  the superhero stuff in my mind while I’m writing. But you have to remember I was weaned in an era of dark and gritty superheroes, and these days that’s not really what I gravitate to. Take Batman for instance. Most people prefer the darker Batmen, the Christopher Nolan version, your Frank Millers. I always like the crazy takes. The Batman on the moon punching out aliens. The Batman who fights cavemen in the age of the dinosaurs. Batman is a guy who dresses like a bat and lives in a cave and fights people like Clayface. I appreciate the over the top, and nothing is more so than this video from the ’60’s TV show (a close second comes in the ’60’s movie when Batman sprays shark repellant in the face of a hilariously fake shark clinging to Bats as he hangs from a rope ladder connected to the Batcopter. Yeah. That happened.).

Frost/Nixon was a revelation when I watched it a few months earlier. I’ve long been fascinated with Nixon. I’ve read his memoirs and I’ve used him in fiction here and here. In college, my friend Mark Kleman and I once toasted the anniversary of his death by drinking Black Label whiskey (Nixon’s brand) and watching the Oliver Stone movie about his life. This scene sums it all up. He’s so fucking relatable! I know that’s not Ron Howard’s intention (this scene is pretty much lifted from any movie about a cop tracking a killer who suddenly tells the cop before the third reel showdown that beneath it all they’re really the same person), but I find it so easy to agree with Nixon here. He’s so flawed, so awful, so human, just like the rest of us. Remember in Mad Men (there’s a pattern here) when Don Draper says Kennedy is just another rich boy born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but when he looks at Nixon (a self-made, hardworking man) he sees himself? I feel that way. He’s the funhouse mirror version of ourselves, bloated and magnified. Sarah Vowell talks about how certain presidents are like unrelatable saints (Lincoln, FDR, Washington) who give us something to aspire to. Nixon’s not like that. He’s down in the fucking human dirt with the rest of us. I have so much class rage that I’ve never really dealt with (my solution is to just bury it deep deep down and drink a lot of Gaviscon and beer) and Nixon is that anger birthed into a president. So yeah, he’s a major character in this book, and when I write him, I think of this version, except in my book he’s also kind of like Bucky Barnes.

One thing that’s really different with this book compared to Last Call is the amount of research I’ve had to do. Last Call is about a twenty-something in Pittsburgh, and even though nearly every scene and character arc in the book are totally dreamed up, it wasn’t very hard for me to imagine. This book is more ambitious. Bigger in scope, page count, everything. I was reading Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad right when I started writing this, and it really inspired me to go all out. That’s one of the most ambitious books I’ve ever read. It goes to the future, the past, African countryside, a dictator’s compound, the solar panels of tomorrow, and the whole time you get this feeling that Egan is having so much fucking fun. You ever read a book and think, well it’s good, but it doesn’t seem like the writer enjoys writing very much? I hate that. I never want to be that person. I want to love what I’m writing and take real joy from it and I want to aim for as big a scope as possible, and Egan is kind of my inspiration for that. But that all means research, that I can’t just draw from my own experience. After AWP this year, I decided that I really wanted to write something set in DC. So when the idea for this book started to come together not long after, I figured DC and what it really represents to this country would be a perfect setting. That meant visiting DC as much as humanly possible.

Last month I went down to DC and spent an entire day driving around and taking pictures and videos of places where my characters go, relax, live. I’d never done that before, and it was a totally surreal experience. I had maybe a hundred extremely rough pages by that point, and actually going to the towns where they lived really made them come alive in my head, especially Nessa who I mentioned above. They become real, which is strange but true. Nessa especially seems realer to me than people I actually know in my own life. When I went to where she lives in the book (there’s actually a suburban development in Arlington that borders a cemetery), I experienced this bizarre sensation that I was about to meet her. I started grinning like an idiot and looking around like I’d find her sitting on the porch or walking around the neighborhood. The same thing happened when I went to Georgetown where she teaches. I walked around the building where her office is and hung out where she takes her smoke breaks and it was all just very surreal.

A few of the pictures and videos are below. There’s more, and I look at them sometimes when I get stuck or when the videos above don’t do the trick. One neat thing I did (inspired by my boy,  Robert Yune, who before working on a novel about the Century III mall, walked around its corridors with a recorder to really capture the atmosphere) was videotape a few of my characters’ commutes to work. I think commuting is such a big part of our lives, and I really wanted to have the details right.

Beyond the trip to DC, I had to do a lot of reading. Like I mentioned here, I started by restricting myself to books that were in the third person. First person comes really naturally to me, but I knew early on that the scope of this book was too big, and because Faulknerian-novels with multiple first person narrators make me nervous, I went with third. I started the summer reading Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply and the aforementioned Egan along with some other chapbooks and collections I’d agreed to review. But then, fairly early on, I realized that if I was going to watch Mad Men to put me in the right emotional place (adultery, adultery, adultery) then I needed to do the same in my reading list. I read through Sarah Gardner Borden‘s deft debut Games to Play After Dark which absolutely terrified me in sections. Then I moved onto Updike’s Couples which is in many ways a kind of spiritual cousin to all those Yates novels I devoured as an undergrad.

Fictional research is all well and good, but while I was writing an extremely vague outline of the book I discovered that I was going to actually have to read a ton of nonfiction too. I wanted sections of the book to deal heavily with an NBA team’s front office (in this case an alternate universe version of the Washington Bullets) along with a long stretch involving an American soldier in a Yemeni office job during the War on Terror. As I continued writing, I discovered more and more real world inspired subcultures I wanted to include (the utterly insane Monkees movie Head, an underground military bunker near Durban, South Africa, and NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts). Obviously, I just couldn’t make stuff up. So I asked around. I know a lot of other writers via Facebook and they’re always helpful in tracking down certain nonfiction books.

South Africa was fairly easy. The section in the book is from the POV of an American traveler, so I didn’t need years upon years of history. I just went to the library and picked up a travel guide. I stole the Monkees movie from my mom (technically I gave it to her as a gift years earlier) and Amy Whipple among others recommended Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars to cover all NASA related questions. The hardest was the War on Terror and NBA front office stuff. I found a lot of Iraq/Afghanistan memoirs, but most are set on the frontlines. Aaron Gwyn suggested a whole mess of books that look extremely helpful. Horse Soldiers. Roughneck Nine-One. Kill Bin Laden. Not a Good Day to Die. And a friend of mine who’s a librarian tracked down five books about NBA front offices. Inside Game. Taking Shots. The Breaks of the Games. Foul Lines. Money Players. I haven’t read any of these yet, but my goal is to finish one from each category before the end of the summer. My advice for cnf research? Download that shit on iTunes and listen to it on car trips. You may have to pull over every now and again to take notes, but at least you’re getting work done while driving.

One last thing: the only other process thingy I’ve been using while writing the second novel. I stumbled onto this post by the lovely Kirsty Logan where she writes a novel to do list. Mine’s digital, and I’m not going to post the whole thing because A) this is already really long and nobody cares, and B) I want to avoid massive spoilers. I’m the type of writer who doesn’t like to know how things will end, but I do need to have signposts, scenes and images I can build toward even if they’re deep in the distance. And sometimes, I just need to make notes to myself, otherwise I’ll forget everything. There are a lot of moving parts in this book. It’s hard to keep it all straight in my head sometimes.

NOVEL TO DO LIST

REGGANE IS WHERE THE FRENCH PRACTICED NUCLEAR MISSILES IN THE SIXTIES

DR VON LIEBER IS INVOLVED WITH PROJECT MAYFLOWER – LARGE HADRON COLLIDER of the West

REPLACE FLATBRUSH WITH BROOKLYN HEIGHTS

Mention the Sentry Satellite hovered over the White House earlier

Dick should have a magical monkey pet who was retconned out of existence similar to Beppo the Kryptonian Ape

Nessa confronts the ghost of Richard Yates in Tuscaloosa while giving a guest lecture or something at ‘Bama/Goes to see her father

President Michael Nesmith’s War on Extinction

Darko Millic analogue is drafted by Bullets

John has to meet the President of the Washington Bullets (Marc Cuban analogue) on a yacht

John becomes obsessed with termites in second half

Reasons why the planet is dying:

-Cell Phone Cancer

-Nuclear Fallout

-Oceans Rising, No Ozone, Glaciers Melting, Global Warming, Ecosystems Gone

-No Oil

-Water Shortages

-Food Shortages

-Internet Memes come to life and destroy us

-Tim Tebow is the antichrist

-No more bees

I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.

The above is every last thing I’ve done to prepare writing this novel. I’ve been working on this book since April, and I don’t anticipate getting a first draft until Christmas at the earliest. And my friends who have read my first drafts can tell you that they usually stink. Tom Bailey compared his to recently birthed children, all sticky with blood and kind of gross looking. It takes time for them to become presentable. But for the foreseeable future (and I mean years here), I’ll be in this world, plugging away at my keyboard. It’s kind of reassuring to be honest.

Comics Roundup XI: Remember the Spider

The last time I did a comics roundup was back in September. September! Oh, how the world has changed. O lost!

Basically, I’ve just been in a bit of a comics rut. I’m down to only a few superhero books a month (mostly from the Batman and Spider-Man families) and a ton of indies that I’ve ranted about too many times. Irredeemable. Sweet Tooth. The Walking Dead. American Vampire. And I only want to do these when I have new books to talk about.  But luckily, after five full months, I finally have enough new titles to get excited about to share with you people.

What you want me to do? Keep your shit the hardest.

1. Chew written by John Layman with art from Rob Guillory

This is the surprise of last year for me. Chew launched with a lot of hype, but the first issue (included in black and white in the back of an issue of The Walking Dead) didn’t capture my attention in the way I’d hoped. Recently, I picked up the first volume and realized just how stupid I’d been. For one thing, the coloring really adds a lot, and the way Layman has structured this series has to be seen to be believed.

Background: Chew‘s about a world where in the wake of a bird flu pandemic all chicken is banned. That leads to a hyper militant version of the FDA who cracks down on all black market chicken dealers. Our protagonist is Tony Chu, a mysterious FDA agent with the ability to see the past of anything he eats. For example, if he comes across a dead body, he can take a bite and learn how it died.

That’s a pretty wacky concept, but Layman just layers more and more with each new issue. Aliens. Vampires. Conspiracy. If you like longterm mysteries like Morning Glories but want something a little lighter, go with Chew. It’s only three volumes deep, so you can catch up fairly quickly. And the art by Guillory? Future Big 2 superstar.

2. Detective Comics #871 written by Scott Snyder with art from Jock

I think I’ve talked about how much I like Scott Snyder’s comics and prose work about a million times on this blog, BUT NOW HE HAS THE REIGNS TO MOTHERFUCKING DETECTIVE COMICS!!! This is huge, guys. Huge. A lit fiction guy handling Detective?! And it’s good! Really good.

Right now, the Batman franchise is in kind of an odd place. Living legend Grant Morrison is taking Bruce to all kinds of wacky heights in Batman Incorporated (which is also really great), but Scott Snyder’s taking the more grounded approach with his series about Dick Grayson (also Batman now; long story) in Gotham. This one’s gritty. This one’s dark. This one takes cues from Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke. And Jock is delivering a master’s course in storytelling and panel construction.

Buy it. Love it.

3. Infinite Vacation written by Nick Spencer with art from Christian Ward

Nick Spencer is another rising star I’m keeping my eye on. Morning Glories is awesome. Thunder Agents is pretty good. I’m looking forward to his War Machine run. And Infinite Vacation is just utterly spectacular.

IV has one of the better indie concepts I’ve seen in some time. It follows Mark, an everyman cubicle monkey who lives in a world where people can buy into other realities through an app in their phones. Want to see what would have happened if you went to art school instead of business? Buy in. Want to see what happened if you went left instead of right? Buy in. But the central mystery involves a murderer who is killing all of the various Marks across the different realities. An intriguing first issue. Incredibly original.

Even if I didn’t love the story, Christian Ward’s pencils would be enough to lure me in each month. Seriously. This guy’s art is spectacular. The way he uses lines around characters is impressive and the coloring is just so vibrant and beautiful. And best of all? There’s only one issue out so far. So if you’re one of those people who can’t get into Spider-Man because there’s 600 issues (shame on you) go buy Infinite Vacation #1.

#4. Iron Man #500 written by Matt Fraction with art from Salvador Larocca, Kano, Nathan Fox and  Carmine Di Giandomenico

I love future issues in superhero comics. It frees up writers and artists to really push the boundaries when they know they don’t eventually have to return to the status quo after x however many issues. Iron Man #500 isn’t up there with Old Man Logan, but it’s a really good one-and-done tale that’s highly relevant to Matt Fraction’s ongoing Iron Man epic which has truly been great (if you haven’t read the 12 part World’s Most Wanted, what the fuck is wrong with you?).

So this issue, handled by an all-star lineup of artists, deals with Iron Man and Peter Parker trying to figure out why Tony built some type of super weapon during a period of time which has now been erased from his memory (don’t ask; move on). This storyline is interspersed with the future where the Mandarin has enslaved the world using Iron Man’s doomsday weapon. Meanwhile, the resistance is led by Tony’s son and daughter.

This is superhero comics at its biggest and brightest. Iron Man #500 is loud and brash and utterly budget-less. Fraction aims for the stars, and although this isn’t a perfect issue, it is a great jumping on point for Tony Stark fans.

#5. Fables vol. 4 written by Bill Willingham with art from Mark Buckingham, Craig Hamilton and P. Craig Russell

Ok. I’m totally cheating here. I know I wrote about Fables last time, but that’s when I had only read a few issues. That’s before I knew the truth: that Fables is a modern comics masterpiece.

I just finished the fifth volume last week, and I am stunned, utterly STUNNED by just how amazing this comic is. I don’t even like fairy tales, but Willingham has actually made me really care about the Big Bad Wolf, Snow White, and Little Boy Blue. I can’t even believe that’s possible, but this is a big, modern, urban fantasy epic that can stand toe-to-toe with any other beloved run in comics.

Fables kind of starts a little on the slow side, focusing on a murder mystery that’s a tad predictable, yet charming enough. But after volume one, it’s all balls to the wall awesomeness. You want World War II? You got it. Want an invasion of wooden gangsters on Manhattan? Done. How about a Marxist rebellion of non-humanoid creatures who overthrow the shackles of their Fable oppressors? Hell yeah (and it’s led by Goldilocks and the three bears).

Fables is fucking awesome. Case closed.

Culture Death Match #1: The Golden Girls vs. Batman: The Animated Series

Earlier this week, The Rumpus ran the first in a series of articles co-written by myself and Amy WhippleCulture Death Match is a point, counter-point feature where Amy and I argue over the merits of various trinkets from the culture at large. For our first feature, we take a look at the gay marriage episode of The Golden Girls and the first Mr. Freeze adventure on Batman: The Animated Series.

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Writing Comics and Other Alternative Careers for Literary Writers

Most people know I’m a fan of Scott Snyder. I’ve blogged about two of his comic book series, the oft-praised American Vampire co-written by Stephen King and the less appreciated Iron Man: Noir for Marvel. But I’ve also written about his short story collection, the excellent Voodoo Heart published by the good folks at Dial Press. The reason I became aware of Scott and his work is Cathy Day. During one of her classes maybe a year ago, we got to talking about career aspirations, and somehow we got on the subject of how one day I’d like to support myself financially (and also, artistically) through mainstream superhero work while also focusing on my literary fiction endeavors, namely short stories and novels. She put me in touch with Scott via Facebook and after a brief conversation, I sought out his story collection. A few months later, American Vampire came out which I liked almost as much as Voodoo Heart.

The reason I bring this up is because we’re close to San Diego Comic-Con which means a lot of the big comic-related news is going to come out now as to not be overshadowed by all the movie buzz. One of the biggest stories to break today? Scott Snyder signed an exclusive contract with DC Comics and will write a year-long run on Detective Comics (one of the oldest and most prestigious Batman books on the racks).  What does this mean? Scott gets a salary and is no longer a freelance writer for DC. Scott can’t write for Marvel. Scott gets health benefits (I think).

What else does this mean? It means Scott might not have to teach college. I don’t know any more than what’s in the above interview, but from what I’ve researched independently over the years, it would seem that contracted comic book writers easily make more than adjunct teachers. So many writers are pushed into teaching writing workshops after getting the MFA, and for many (potentially myself), it’s really what they love. But what few people within MFA programs talk about are the alternative careers. And by alternative, I don’t just mean desk jobs. I mean jobs that fulfill creatively in the same way teaching writing does (I’m not saying desk jobs are inherently uncreative). Obviously, Scott Snyder believes that writing comics is one of these alternatives, a job that allows writers to be compensated for doing what they love. Obviously^2, I agree with him. But what I’m curious about are other responses. Do alternatives to teaching exist for working writers in the 21st century? And if so, what are they? If not, why the hell not?

Bi-Weekly Friday Comics Roundup IX: Art Curators During the French Occupation and Donkey Kong Versus Batman

1. Moving Pictures by Kathryn and Stuart Immonen

I don’t want to say too much about Moving Pictures because I’m going to be reviewing it later this month for The Rumpus. But if you’re one of those high-fa-looting members of the new intelligentsia that believe comics are still all about superheroes, I dare you to read the latest graphic novel from the husband and wife team of Stuart and Kathryn Immonen. I’ve seen much of Stuart’s work penciling Ultimate Spider-Man and New Avengers and I’m vaguely aware of Kathryn’s Pasty Walker: Hellcat miniseries, but nothing prepared me for Moving Pictures, a story of a dangerous love affair between a Canadian art curator and a Nazi during the French occupation. This book is serious, literary and moving. You need to buy this.  

2. Avengers: Children’s  Crusade #1 written by Allan Heinberg with art from Jim Cheung

Allan Heinberg is best known as executive producer of such shows as Grey’s Anatomy, The O.C and Party of Five, but nerds know him for his thirteen issue run on Young Avengers. If you’ve never read the original series, go pick it up immediately. Heinberg is a master of the teen voice and the high school drama that goes with it. Young Avengers deals with race, legacy, and easily the most interesting, not to mention serious, gay superhero couple in comics. Children’s Crusade is his return to the book and he’s brought with him original collaborator Jim Cheung whose art is spectacular. Marvel’s publishing a glut of Avengers books at the moment, but for my money, this is the one you absolutely must read.

3. Scarlet #1 written by Brian Michael Bendis with art from Alex Maleev

I intentionally know very little about Scarlet. The book came out yesterday, but I haven’t gotten a chance to read it yet and I’ve really tried to avoid all spoilers. But here’s why it makes the list anyway: the creative team. Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev. BMB is the man who got me back into comics. I stopped reading comics for a decade after the dreadful nineties and it was BMB’s run on Ultimate Spider-Man and New Avengers that brought me back in. His take on Daredevil with the spectacular Alex Maleev (look at that drawing above) is another must read. And a re-pairing of that  team is more than enough to get me interested in a book about a kickass female assassin. Trust these guys. Trust me.

#4. Action Comics #890 written by Paul Cornell with art from Pete Woods

Paul Cornell is a writer I admire. He’s most famous for scripting episodes of Dr. Who, but I know him best for his run on Captain Britain and the MI-13, you know, the series where Dracula hung out on the moon with Dr. Doom. He’s brilliantly funny and quite dark, which is why I was so happy when DC announced he would be writing a multi-issue arc in Action Comics about Lex Luthor. The first issue does not disappoint. Lex is on the hunt for a Black Lantern Ring. His sidekick? A Lois Lane robot that turns into a gun. Sign me up.

#5. Image/BOOM! Studios Artist Dean Kotz

Look at this. LOOK AT THIS! I hadn’t heard of Dean Kotz before this image (sadly not of a real book) leaked onto the web, but I’ll be following him now. Check out his printed work in Poe and Outlaw Territory.

Thoughts on Endings: Lost, Infinite Seriality, The Illusion of Change, and What It All Has to Do With Literary Fiction

People who knew me in college can attest to the fact that I was one of the most fanatic followers of LOST on the planet. My friends and I hit a level of lameness never before seen by human eyes when during our senior year of college, we made Dharma station logos for the room doors of the house we lived in. Each Wednesday, we’d cram into my buddy’s room with a bunch of Yuengling and watch LOST with our own set of bizarre Jacob/Man-in-Black-esque rules. No lights. No talking. No complaining. We taped each episode, and as soon as one ended, we watched it again (usually making plentiful use of the slow-mo button) to see if there were any clues lurking in the background (there never were). Once, we famously threw out a friend for complaining mid-episode about the sudden appearance of Nikki and Paulo. And we made quite the habit of going to the local bar after every week and shouting our favorite quotes while getting drunk (shockingly, I don’t think any of us had much sex that year). 

In the intervening years, my enthusiasm for LOST has weaned. I don’t think it’s because the quality of the show declined (minus the dreadful and drawn out final season), but more because I don’t have that core base of friends who worship the show and want nothing more than to theorize about it and assign it personal meaning. Maybe it’s because of this quote from the immortal Poochie episode of The Simpsons: “The thing is, there’s not really anything wrong with the Itchy & Scratchy show, it’s as good as ever. But after so many years, the characters just can’t have the same impact they once had.” Regardless, LOST ended last night, and despite the fact that I really liked it (it reminded me a lot of a mash-up between Our Town and Neon Genesis Evangelion) the consensus around the interwebs seems to be that the finale of LOST was the worst 2.5 hours in the history of television. 

Neon Genesis, like LOST, set a thousand pseudo-science/religious mysteries into motion, then ended on this clip without addressing even one.

I keep wondering why that is exactly, why genre fiction tends to always have this problem and if it has anything to do with literary fiction. Take, for example, the holy lineup of genre TV: LOST, Battlestar Galactica, Twin Peaks and X-Files. Despite having vocal minorities who love the ends of each of these shows, the majority critical/fan opinion tends to be that they all blew it in their final episodes (or, in most of these cases, the final seasons). Why is that? I always have so much trouble ending my own fiction, and I’ve often thought that beginnings are so much easier. Look at the very compelling openings to the above four examples. A plane crashes on a mysterious island. All of humanity is wiped out by robots with the exception of a lone battleship and handful of civilian ships. The corpse of a teenage homecoming queen is found in a sleepy town. Two detectives focus on mysterious cases. 

Ok. Now look at their endings. In LOST’s case, the main character plugs up a magic hole with a magic rock and then hangs out in a church in purgatory with his father and buddies. One is simply more compelling on a base, human level. And honestly, I can’t think of any genre offerings that have endings that match their beginnings. Look at Star Wars or Indiana Jones: a teddy bear parade on one hand and Shia LeBeouf on the other. I wonder if the same holds true for literary fiction. I can think of so many wonderful openings (“In my younger and more vulnerable years…” or “In walks these three girls with nothing but bathing suits.”), but it’s harder to remember endings that don’t disappoint. Revolutionary Road comes to mind, for example. And of course, The World According to Garp. So does Martin Amis’ wonderful London Fields, a genre mashup that’s a trillion times more cynical than LOST but similar in that it also deals with end of the world scenarios. Why is this? Is it because nothing ever ends(the sentiment used to end Watchmen), so any need to impose finality on a work of fiction seems artificial and rings untrue? 

Heavy handed, but satisfying on the character level.

I think for me, that might be the case and could potentially explain my love of superhero comics. I forgot who said this, but a legendary comic creator (Stan Lee maybe?) once told Kevin Smith that comics are never-ending Act 2’s. They can’t end. They just go on forever. Batman was in his thirties in the 1930’s and he’s the same age today. The only change is the illusion of change. And if you peel away all the adolescent power fantasies and the inherent ridiculousness in costumed vigilantes, maybe this is the appeal of comic books: infinite seriality. In many ways infinite seriality can seem more realistic than works of fiction that close everything up with a neat little bow. Nothing ever ends. Few things change on any fundamental level. There only exist tiny alterations that hint at the illusion of change. 

Or maybe not. Maybe Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse just didn’t know why Claire had to raise Aaron or what the deal was with Walt’s mysterious powers.

Bi-Weekly Friday Comics Roundup V: In Which Spider-Man and Wolverine Go Back In Time to Fight the Asteroid that Killed the Dinosaurs

A lot of big name comics have come out in the last few weeks including the end of Siege (the conclusion to Marvel’s seven years in the making event run dating back to House of M) and Brightest Day (DC’s fourth attempt at a (practically) weekly series). I loved Brightest Day #0 and 1 but found myself more drawn to the kookier books which most likely speaks to my tastes as a comic book reader. So, without any further adieu, let’s talk some comics.

1. The Nightly News written and drawn by Jonathan Hickman

I bought The Nightly News completely on a whim for ten bucks. I was at the Free Comic Book Day Event in Scranton where Comics on the Green, the best comic store in NEPA, had a sale on graphic novels. I love Hickman’s work on SHIELD and Secret Warriors, so I figured I’d take a look at some of his indie credits. The Nightly News is the first book I’ve seen from Hickman that he actually drew, and holy crap was I blown away. His complete disregard for the traditional grid layout and reliance on graphic design makes Nightly News something that needs to be seen to be believed. The book just exudes cool, and it’s really smart too. It even includes a reading list in the back with entries from Noam Chomsky and Dan Kennedy. Definitely worth a pick-up, especially if you think comics ends and begins with Clark Kent.

2. Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine #1 written by Jason Aaron with art from Adam Kubert

This is the type of book that makes me keep reading superhero comics, a book so goofy, so downright ridiculous that it can only exist in comic book form and still be played straight without irony. The very first page of Astonishing opens on Peter Parker and Wolverine who have been trapped in the prehistoric ages for months. Wolverine commands an army of missing links; Spidey studies bugs in solitude. Then the asteroid that wipes out the dinosaurs shows up in the sky. What are Spider-Man and Wolverine going to do about it? I have no idea, but I guarantee I’ll be sticking with this limited series.

3. The Walking Dead #71 written by Robert Kirkman with art from Charlie Adlard

For those of you unaware, The Walking Dead is the most consistently great indie book on the stands. No matter what the state of superhero comics, I can always depend on any given month’s issue of Walking Dead to deliver. #71 is no different. Rick and his gang of post-apocalyptic survivors have stumbled onto an unspoiled gated development outside of DC run by a bunch of upper-class yuppies pretending the zombie infestation isn’t really happening. As always, the true creepiness in the book comes from the human characters. Issue 71 doesn’t even feature a single zombie. Instead, we witness the growth of Carl, Rick’s young son pictured in the cover, and how he is completely unable to relate to children after everything he’s been through (seeing firsthand his mother and newborn sister getting blown away by a shotgun, strangling a young child to death, almost being raped, etc. etc.). This is one of the darkest comics I’ve ever read, and any fan of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road absolutely must check it out from the very beginning.

4. The Return of Bruce Wayne #1 written by Grant Morrison with art from Chris Sprouse

This is the first time I’ve ever mentioned a comic before reading it, but the build-up to this series has been so good that I couldn’t resist. Two years ago, the DC mega-crossover Final Crisis ended with Bruce Wayne deposited in prehistoric times to live with cavemen and dinosaurs (hmm… this is turning into a running theme). Since then, we’ve been treated to amazing stories where Dick Grayson, the original Robin, has had to fill in as Batman. But now, we’re finally going to see what brings Bats back to the DC Universe proper. And since it’s Grant Morrison doing writing chores, I would safely assume that this book is going to be all kinds of crazy. A definite pick-up to be sure.

5. Unpublished artist Jaime Castro

This is the final character sketch I’ll post from collaborator Jaime Castro, but hot damn, this is my favorite piece of concept art I’ve ever received from an artist I’m working with.  Jaime knocked this drawing of Dr. Boston out of the park, and Mark Kleman (my co-writer) and I, cannot wait to get the full comic back from Montgomery X. Chesterfield, Gentleman of the 22nd Century. More details to come.