Archive for February, 2010

Feb 28 2010

Saturday Morning Watchmen, Again

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

I’ve linked this before, but it’s worth seeing again.

2 responses so far

Feb 27 2010

Name That Superhero Funeral!

Superhero funerals are so common that they have their own page on ComicVine and usually so bland that they tend to run together.  Given a transcript for three pages from a superhero funeral, can you name the series? If the writing were actually distinct, that wouldn’t be difficult.

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11 responses so far

Feb 25 2010

Contest Reminder

Published by under Superhero Nation

Hello. If you haven’t seen my comic book’s five sample pages already, please check them out here and sign up for a chance to win a free signed copy when it comes out. Thanks! Having more interested readers will probably improve my odds of getting published and I really appreciate the help.

One response so far

Feb 24 2010

The Society of Unordinary Young Ladies

Wahab Algarmi put together a free comic, The Society of Unordinary Young Ladies, and would like you to read it.

Here are some impressions.

–The characterization for the four protagonists is handled fairly well.  In particular, I recommend page 21 as a dramatic portrayal of loyalty as a character trait.  Usually, I roll my eyes when authors say a character is “loyal”  because “loyal” characters rarely get opportunities to act differently than a super-bland protagonist.  In fiction, EVERYBODY will save friends in trouble, so  a character that is truly loyal needs to go beyond the norm.  It helps if the decision to help someone bears a high cost on the loyal character, something more definite than “it could be dangerous.”  In this case, a loyal protagonist spends crucial seconds tending to a dying teammate rather than trying to defuse a bomb.

–I wasn’t fond of the political edge. Among other things, it made the side-characters a bit cartoonish.

–The art was generally passable, but one of the four characters is sort of horrifying.  Natalie looks like a man in a wig!

–A “Charles in Charge” pun… What the hell?  That show got cancelled 20 years ago.

–I love the final panel on page 24. Great use of empty space.

–As far as cliffhangers go, the last page is okay.  It could have been more effective if it had foreshadowed more about the new girl, but the concept is okay.  Or at least, I *hope* the concept is okay, because the first issue of my comic book ends very similarly.

19 responses so far

Feb 22 2010

Another interesting way to beat writer’s block…

Published by under Writer's Block

Lisa Chow keeps writing “blah blah blah” until something better comes up.  “It always does,” she says.

For more advice on beating writer’s block, please see this article and this one.

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Feb 21 2010

Kris Simon’s Top Five Suggestions Regarding Comic Book Submissions

Kris Simon is an editor at Shadowline Comics, an imprint of Image.  You can see her list of submission tips here.

1.  Follow the posted submission guidelines. When editors make these lists, this rule is almost always listed first.  YES, THE GUIDELINES APPLY TO YOU.   Not following them can only hurt your chances of getting published.

2. Don’t overthink things. At Shadowline, you only need to worry about five sample pages (inked, lettered and preferably colored), a paragraph-long synopsis and a cover. Kris doesn’t want more than that because you may need to scrap a lot more work than necessary. Notably, Shadowline doesn’t want the script and doesn’t want a page-long synopsis.

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One response so far

Feb 20 2010

How Creative Do Your Superpowers Need to Be?

1.  It doesn’t matter much whether the superpowers you use are unique or not. It is virtually certain that several published superheroes will share the same main powers as yours, and possibly a few of the secondaries as well.   The key to differentiating your characters is giving them distinct personalities, voices, attributes, flaws, goals, obstacles, backgrounds, etc.  If you have those things, you don’t need unique superpowers.  If you don’t have those things, unique superpowers won’t save you.


2.  The superpowers are merely a means to an end, an interesting story. But the superpowers themselves are rarely interesting.  When you’re picking powers, please focus more on whether the powers can make interesting scenes than on whether the powers are original.


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48 responses so far

Feb 18 2010


As far as supernatural fantasies starring teen heroines go, this is pretty close to perfect.  But red-blooded Americans of the non-girl variety would probably like this better.  The bloody handprints were a cheery touch.

And here’s probably the funniest Hitler-themed video I’ve seen in, umm, ever.

2 responses so far

Feb 17 2010

Bad Decisions Make Badass Stories

Whether you’re writing a thriller or a romance, an unbroken chain of victories for the hero is probably not very interesting. Come on.  Even Batman makes mistakes.  Unlike most good decisions, poor decisions and ineptly-executed plans create consequences that the character has to overcome, which lets you raise the stakes for the heroes and make the journey more difficult.

Here are some further suggestions about bad decisions.

1.  Please connect the poor decision to an aspect of the character, like a personality flaw or a fear or a defining attribute. For example, if a superhero is exceedingly self-confident, it makes sense that he’d rush into battle without figuring out whether he’s gonna get beat around the block.  In contrast, if a generally well-prepared protagonist acts uncharacteristically hasty without a good reason, you’ve inadvertently given him an idiot ball.  That’s a problem because it isn’t true to the characterization you’ve given him thus far.

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No responses yet

Feb 15 2010

I submitted my comic book script today…

Published by under Getting Published

Rather optimistically, I will put this in the “Getting Published” category. I’ll let you know how that goes. If you’re interested, you can read the cover letter I sent below.

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6 responses so far

Feb 15 2010

Amateurism is Not a Personal Failing; Stupidity Is

Prospective authors, myself included, sometimes worry about looking like idiots.

The good news is that agents and editors are very understanding of amateurishness.  After all, everybody starts out as an amateur through no fault of their own.  You’re safe as long as you’re remotely friendly and professional.  If your submission is poorly formatted, the agent or editor may even direct you to a submission guide and ask you to resubmit.

If you’re trying to get a novel or graphic novel published, follow these two steps and you won’t look like an idiot.

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3 responses so far

Feb 14 2010

“The Taxman Must Die” Sample Pages

The Taxman Must Die is a wacky mix of an office comedy and a police thriller. Two unlikely investigators –an accountant and a mutant alligator–have to save the world. From themselves, mostly. Here’s the scene where the two main characters first meet! If you like the pages, please sign up for the raffle for a chance to win a free, signed copy when it comes out.

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27 responses so far

Feb 14 2010

When the Villain Beats the Heroes, Don’t Just Let Them Go

If the heroes are defeated but the villain lets them walk away, the manuscript is probably dead on arrival.


If the characters can lose without anything bad happening to them, nothing’s at stake. Give your villain some chance of beating the hero once and for all, or there’s no point reading the story. If the closest your villain can come to victory is releasing the heroes with a stern warning, that’s just pathetic.


If you are absolutely sure that you want to release the heroes, please at least give the villain an adequate reason not to kill them or take them prisoner/hostage.  Here are some reasons that are probably NOT adequate.

  • “Next time I won’t go so easy on you!”  Don’t bother having a fight/confrontation unless something’s at stake.  Also, you and I both know that the heroes will beat the villain next time, so this is empty bluster. When the heroes lose, make sure that there are consequences. For example, in Star Wars, Luke lost a hand, Han got captured, and Obi-Wan died after losing various fights.
  • “You better join me next time, or else!”  Not too bright.  If the villain just defeated the heroes in combat, how useful could they possibly be to him?  Also, wouldn’t you rather have lieutenants that don’t have a history of trying to kill you?  Finally, if you really want to do this, please have the villain be more proactive than just letting the heroes walk away and think his offer over.  For example, have him poison a hero or take one hostage so that he can blackmail the others.
  • The villain’s only goal was to show off or make a meaningless statement. “Now you know my true power!”  Ick.  Again, make sure there is actually something at stake.   If the loss has no consequences, readers won’t care.
  • The villain is too nice and/or stupid to kill (or capture) the foes he has beaten in combat.   If so, he’s probably not much of an obstacle. Unless you’re writing a comedy of errors, please make your villain competent.  Beating a wuss isn’t very impressive!

Here are some reasons that might be sufficient.

  • The villain advances a major goal by releasing the hero/heroes. For example, the Joker infects Batman with the disease that is slowly killing the Joker, to force Batman to find a cure. Or maybe the defeated hero is some kind of Trojan horse.  For example, the antagonists in The Matrix inject a homing device into Neo so that he will lead them to the other protagonists.
  • The hero is saved by a plan he sets in motion. It’d probably be undramatic if the hero were saved by backup bursting through the wall at just the right moment.  (Guardian angels!)  But you could give the hero some role in saving himself.  For example, perhaps the hero knows he’s losing and has to survive until help can arrive.  Perhaps the act of calling for help is difficult and the hero has to figure out where he is before the cavalry can save him.  Don’t just make him (or her) a passive damsel in distress waiting around for a rescue.
  • The villain has a compelling reason to take the character(s) prisoner/hostage instead of killing them. Even though imprisoning heroes (particularly superheroes) has rarely accomplished anything, it makes more sense than just letting them go.  At the very least, this gives the villain a bargaining chip to deal with any remaining heroes. Or maybe one villain keeps the hero alive because it will help him in some antagonist-vs-antagonist conflict (hat-tip: Slick).
  • The villain tries to interrogate the hero. Perhaps the hero knows something which would help the villain defeat the other heroes.
  • The hero has previously done the villain a tremendous favor and the villain is more fair than murderous. A villain might intelligently choose to spare someone that previously spared him, for example. If the villain is known for honoring his debts, others will be more likely to offer him favors on credit. See also: the Lannisters in Game of Thrones.
  • Killing the hero in the near future will be less problematic than killing him now. For example, a villain might pass on an opportunity to kill someone publicly rather than waiting for the right moment where he could get away with it. A supervillain might pass on openly killing a hero because it might create fatal problems with either the hero’s teammates… or with the hero’s villains. For example, the Joker has vowed to kill anyone that killed Batman because Batman is more fun than anyone else he’s fought against, and the mobs might kill Batman’s killer because protection money tends to go to the scariest player (i.e. anyone that killed Batman). See also: Sid the Squid in The Man Who Killed Batman… Killing Batman never works out well for anybody but Batman.

54 responses so far

Feb 14 2010

Why does Photoshop hate me?

Published by under Art

I was doing my sample pages on Photoshop today and they looked fairly sober. When uploaded, they look like Pokemon on LSD.  Emily was having similar problems.  Any ideas?

UPDATE: The problem was that we were saving the files as CYMK rather than RGB. CYMK is the default setting on Photoshop because it prints out more cleanly, but uploading CYMK photos can cause color distortion. If you’re suffering from similar problems, go to Image > Mode > RGB in Photoshop.

8 responses so far

Feb 13 2010

A crime-fighting haiku

Published by under Agent Orange

I’m not sure why Agent Orange would deliver a haiku to a criminal, but weirder things have happened in comic franchises.*

Your loathsome antics
have displeased America!
Surrender or die.

*The 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles once did battle with a mutant banana… as the 2003 TMNT watched.  They had a crossover with themselves!  And a mutant banana.

16 responses so far

Feb 12 2010

Version 1.3 of my script is ready!

Version 1.3 of my script is ready! As before, the password is my first name (no capitals).  My first name is the most common name for American guys that starts with a ‘b.‘ If you’re still not sure what it is, please feel free to read my bio here.  I’m sorry to inflict a password on you, particularly one so pathetic, but it’ll reduce the chances that bots will pirate the script before you have a chance to buy it. As the French say, that would be le suck.


Please let me know what you think about the script. Right now, it’s at 35 pages. I need to slash down to 22 (maybe 26) pages.  If you can think about any scenes that can be shortened or removed, I’d really appreciate that.

9 responses so far

Feb 11 2010

An Artistic Thought Experiment for Writers: The Rejected Becomes the Rejecter!

Published by under Art,Writing Articles

Here’s an experiment to help you get into the time-strapped mindset of the publisher’s assistant or assistant editor evaluating your manuscript or comic book submission.  You’re an art editor that needs to select six works for the next stage of review.  But you only have one minute to decide. To make things easier on you (and my bandwidth), your boss has given you only an eye from each artist’s portfolio.  Pick your six favorites candidates and reject the rest.

Okay, do you have your six favorites ready? Then I have one key question for you…

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11 responses so far

Feb 09 2010

The colors are ready! What do you think?

Published by under Art,Comic Book Art

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17 responses so far

Feb 09 2010

How to Find an Artist for Your Comic Book

1.  Most artists won’t work with authors that write worse than they do. When you post your job listing on a website like DeviantArt or LinkedIn, you will be judged on the quality of your writing.  I’d recommend proofreading it. Avoid extraneous details that won’t matter to an artist.  Also, list your published works, if any.  (Experienced partners are usually less risky).


2.  The more specific, the better. “John has adventures” says much less about the art you want than “Haxley is a barbarian that has to mangle his way to the throne.”   If you have a two-sentence synopsis, use it.  For more advice on doing two-sentence synopses, please see this.


3.  What exactly do you need from the artist? If you’re doing a color comic with just one illustrator, you need pencils, inks, colors and letters.   How many pages do you need?  If you’re looking to put together a sample for publishers, you’ll probably want around 5 pages and possibly a cover.  Check the submissions guidelines for each publisher, of course.  If you’re self-publishing, you’ll need the entire issue, which will probably be 22+ pages per issue.


4.  Describe the sorts of characters and creatures you’ll need illustrated. Just regular humans?  A superhero whose power sets him on fire?  Supersoldiers in powersuits?  Fantasy creatures like griffins and dragons?  Werewolves and vampires?  Angels and demons?  Hydras and Zeus? Eldritch horrors?  Eldritch horrors tanning on the beach? Before you hire an artist, make sure he’s comfortable with every major character and the mood of the work.


5.  Will you need unusual props? For example, if you’re writing military sci-fi set in the 23th century, your artist will do a lot of exotic vehicles and weaponry.  If you’re writing a romantic comedy starring me, probably not so much.   Except for the Pimpmobile.

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15 responses so far

Feb 09 2010

Liz Argall has some advice about how to find an artist for your comic…

Check it out here!

No responses yet

Feb 06 2010

Looking for a Publishing Job?

If you’re looking for a job with a novel publisher or nonfiction publisher, I’d highly recommend checking out BookJobs.  Right now, ~200 jobs and internships are available across the US, including a few telecommuting positions.

Unfortunately, it’s not that useful for jobs with comics publishers.  I’ll have more thoughts about how to get comic book jobs in the weeks to come, but until then I would recommend checking the job pages for Marvel, ImageDark Horse and DC regularly.  Also, if you’re interested in unpaid internships in New York City, Marvel has more than a few of them.

No responses yet

Feb 06 2010

Page 1 is colored!

Published by under Comic Book Art

What do you think?

Please see all five pages here.

13 responses so far

Feb 05 2010

An Embarrassing Blunder!

Published by under Titles

I named both my products (the writing advice website and the comic book series) Superhero Nation.  I’d like readers to be able to Google one and not get confused with the other, so I’ll rename one.  Probably the comic, because changing this website’s URL would break of all of our incoming links.  Ick.

So now I’m just trying to come up with a placeholder title for a wacky office comedy about an accountant-turned-secret agent and his mutant alligator partner.  At this late hour, these seemed remotely acceptable. What do you think?

  • [alternate word: accountant]

  • (Normally, I think “Gary” is far too bland a name to be used in a title, but I like the contrast between the normal name and the extraordinary phrase).


If you’d like to suggest something else, I’d love to hear it.

9 responses so far

Feb 02 2010

EWill79’s Review Forum

I’m writing a comic book script with a slightly different slant on the super-hero genre. If I could put it into a pop culture reference I would say it’s Invincible meets Tim Riggins from the TV version of Friday Night Lights. I feel hesitant to describe characters, scenes etc, instead I’ll just post the first 8 pages or so. Let me know what’s working, what isn’t, etc. Thanks everyone. The title of the book is “Sweet Primitive.”

[B. Mac notes: The language here is heavily profane. You’ve been warned!]

12 responses so far

Feb 01 2010

Writing About Characters Using Their Senses

Published by under Writing Articles

If John is your point-of-view character, you usually don’t need to say something like “John saw Randy drop-kick his sister.”  Usually it’s sufficient to say “Randy drop-kicked his sister” because we can infer that the POV saw it.  I would only recommend getting into the details of who sensed what if those details are interesting and/or hard to infer. For example, if a superhero is using a superpower to sense something happening, then it makes sense to point that out because the observation is not routine.

No responses yet