all love horror entertainment. But we don’t all love the same type of
horror. For me, true horror is an evocation of the unknown, a cold
finger on the spine that suggests malignant forces just out of range
that can be revealed via
ritual or stupidity,
devastating all that
good and safe. The
is among the greatest horror movies because it does this so
effectively, using traditions and superstitions that have been around
as long as mankind. It
has the weight of the church behind it, whether or not we’re
It doesn’t have a good reputation. But Exorcist
written and directed by William Peter Blatty, is on a par with the
first. Don’t believe me just watch. The Japanese excel at cinematic
horror. Even the American version of The
raise hackles, not for any danger to the protagonist (George C.
Scott,) but in its ability to evoke supernatural fear.
love such entertainment because it satisfies an atavistic yearning to
believe in something greater than ourselves, even if it’s terrible.
the lights go up
finish the book, you’re back safe and warm in your familiar world.
Lovecraft resonates because he so effectively delineated another
world lurking beyond the veil. Lovecraft’s descriptions are
necessarily vague. We can’t really understand the worlds he
describes, it’s enough that we believe. Stephen King has touched the
spine many times, no better than in The
Michael McDowell does it in The
William Hope Hodgson’s The House
on the Borderland.
And of course Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley. This
yearning to believe is as old as man, as old as ancient cave drawings
most effective horror is supernatural. Torture porn has its fans, but
precious few horror movies that don’t rely on the supernatural truly
of the Lambs
comes to mind. Movies like Don’t
are not supernatural horror, they are
animal movies have been a staple since King
Monstrous animal movies come in many flavors, from atomic mutants
to natural but terrifying creatures (Night
of the Grizzly.)
put a Saturn booster beneath the terrifying animal genre, begetting
dozens of shark movies, many of which are drivel, such as the Jaws
sequels, but also including small pleasures such as The
can forget Samuel L. Jackson’s rousing speech, followed immediately
by his demise?
deadly animal has its masterpiece. For snakes, it’s Anaconda.
Don’t believe the reviews. See it for yourselves. It’s a movie
you can watch over and over again. For bears, it’s The
which is not purely a dangerous animal movie, but contains the best
human versus grizzly battles. Piranha
speaks for itself. If it’s wolves you crave, watch The
stands above all others. This small masterpiece is mesmerizing from
the first frame and compares favorably with Alien.
Set in Australia’s Northwest territories, it concerns a monstrous
salt water crocodile which traps a group of tourists on a sand bar as
the tide rises. Starring Michael Vartan as an American journalist,
and Rahda Mitchell as a tour boat operator, Rogue
grabs you by the throat and never lets go. The character actor who
puts a fly in Vartan’s coffee when he arrives at his remote
personifies the unctuous but treacherous toady.
don’t see the whole croc until the harrowing ending. I don’t know
if this is CGI or what, but it’s brilliantly done, and the croc is
the size of a moving van. If you love Jaws
and want to see a movie of its caliber, watch Rogue.
CHAPTER FROM UNFORTUNATE SON, THE NEW BIKER NOVEL
CHAPTER ONE “Surprise!”
looked at his father Duane, sitting on his sofa with Josh’s dog Fig
in his lap. The same Duane who’d abandoned Josh at a truck stop
when Josh was fifteen, from whom he had not heard in two decades.
you doing here, Duane?”
looked up with a con man’s grin, deep parenthesis framing his
mouth, several day’s stubble clinging to his chin, lank gray hair
unkempt. “Is that any way to greet your own father?”
eased Fig off his lap, stood, and walked to Josh with his arms open.
“C’mere, boy. How the hell you doin’?”
endured the awkward embrace until Duane stepped back. Duane smelled
of graphite, body odor, cigarettes. He’d found an old ashtray in
the kitchen, set it on the coffee table in the living room and smoked
several butts. He wore dirty blue jeans and a Dolphin’s T with the
sleeves cut off to show his ropy, muscular, tatted arms.
are you doing here, Duane?”
went into the kitchen, Fig at his heels, opened the refrigerator,
took out two cans of Capital Lager and tossed one to Josh, who caught
hearing a lot about you. I’m proud of you, boy. Proud the way you
turned out. You’re a man now. Solvin’ crimes, killin’ bad
had nothing to do with it. You’re as sentimental as a catfish. What
do you want?”
popped the can and guzzled, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down.
“Why would you think that? Maybe I just wanted to see how you’re
snapped his fingers. Fig trotted over and sat next to him, looking
up. “Because you’re a con man. You haven’t worked a real job in
your life. The whole time I was with you, all you did was scam
people. The old dropped wallet trick. Shoplifting. All those women
you took advantage of.”
looked pained. “Maybe I’ve changed, you ever think of that? You
changed. You were a rake hell. They called you Chainsaw because of
that one thing, and now you’re a born-again Christian, ain’t that
right? You’re on a mission from God.”
do you want, Duane?”
flopped onto the sofa and put his feet on the coffee table. “I just
want to stay here for a few days. I love your dog. I won’t be any
you get in?”
the fence and used the doggy door.”
anxiety Josh had experienced when he saw the Camaro in his front yard
blossomed into a full-bore suck hole in the middle of his chest,
summoning unwanted childhood memories. Walking in on Duane fucking
some girl. Watching Duane dip into her purse while she slept. Fleeing
in the middle of the night because Duane had committed some felony.
The road rage. Duane waving his gun and trying to run another car off
night in November he did run another car off the road. It was a
station wagon full of kids who’d dared to pass while flipping them
the bird. Duane floored his 350 cubic inch Camaro and gave chase. The
car’s body was shot anyway. He couldn’t afford a shiny new car,
or even a shiny car, but he always found a way to get that Camaro
with the big engine. Josh remembered the car was pale yellow with
rust spots, the hood was brown, and the driver’s door was primer
MOTHERFUCKER!” Duane bellowed into the wind, which whipped his
words away. Those kids couldn’t hear shit, the way they were
blasting Beastie Boys. They never saw Duane coming. He cut the
lights, zoomed up on their left, slammed the wheel to the right and
stuck with it, big, fifteen-inch wheels and tires, ramming the wagon
into the ditch where it rolled over once before coming to a stop.
watched the whole thing through his window, mouth open, hanging on to
the grip with both hands. Heart in mouth. What the fuck. He was ten
teach ‘em,” Duane said, heading on down the highway.
crashed in seedy apartments, trailers and tract houses with Duane’s
friends, all the same creepy crowd, grifters, drifters, penny ante
thieves, prostitutes, drug dealers, too smart to work. Everyone had
an angle and a rap. Everyone had a way to beat the system. Most had
food stamps and disability. Some had pit bulls. Josh always wondered,
why the pit bulls?
slept on a lumpy sofa in the living room, or in a closet if Duane and
his buddies got too loud snorting coke and drinking Fleischmann’s
vodka. They’d toss back valium to ease the descent.
remembered waiting in a ‘69 Camaro with the engine running while
Duane ran into a pharmacy “to get some cold medicine.” Minutes
later, Duane erupted from the front door clutching a paper bag, slid
behind the wheel and floored it. They fishtailed out of town. Josh
saw the butt of a pistol protruding from Duane’s pants.
popped his beer and sat in a chair facing Duane. “Who’s after
drained his can and belched, putting his whole torso into it. Duane
was proud of his belch. “What makes you say that?”
I know you, Duane. You’re only in it for number one. You never
cared about anything in your life except getting yourself over. I
still don’t know who my mother is.”
think her name was Karen Pratt. Haven’t seen her since she dumped
your little bundle of joy on my doorstep.”
surprised you didn’t put me up for adoption. Or dump me in the
woods like you did that dog. Remember McKeesport? I wanted to go to
school but you couldn’t get your shit together? So I went down and
registered myself and they asked me for my birthday. I didn’t know
what my birthday was. It was April first, so that’s my birthday
that pained look. “Son, you gotta give me a chance. I’m not the
same person I was.”
stared. Duane looked away. He leaned forward to scratch Fig’s ears.
“Your dog likes me. They say dogs are excellent judges of
I could eat a baby’s butt through a park bench. Whatcha got to eat
seethed. He didn’t want this. He’d trained himself not to think
about his father.
on. We’ll go get a burger.”
clapped. “Now you’re talkin’.”
Josh eyed the ‘97 Camaro. It was faded dark blue with rust spots
and twin tailpipes.
there’s an SS
with the 330 HP LT4
block engine from the Corvette.
That there’s special.”
lookin’ for you?”
let’s get some grub and I’ll tell you about that.”
me a favor. Lose the pistol.”
drew the pistol, looked at it, leaned into the Camaro and stuck it
deep in the seat cushions.
got in Josh’s 300 and headed east toward Madison. Duane pulled a
pack of Marlboros from his pants. “Mind if I smoke?” Josh
lowered all the windows. What was the point? Duane was going to do
what Duane was going to do. He’d always been that way. They drove
to the Laurel Tavern on Monroe Street, a family-friendly pub that had
been there for forty years. The interior was dark and boisterous with
families catching an early dinner before heading home to Netflix and
video games, or couples just starting the night. They took a booth.
The twenty-something waitress had long purple hair on one side of her
skull, nothing on the other, and a unicorn tat on her arm. Duane
stared like a hungry dog. They ordered burgers. Josh got a beer,
Duane went for two shots of Canadian Club and a Miller chaser.
should try some of the local brews,” Josh said looking around. “You
don’t have to drink Miller.”
the time I get to that beer, I won’t give a shit. Ja see that
cooze? You got a girlfriend?”
one, but she died.”
shit. That happened to me. A couple times.” He pulled out a cig and
lit it one-handed with a kitchen match. A stout man with wife and two
kids at an adjacent table looked over.
smoking in here.”
did a double-take, stabbed the cig out on the bottom of his shoe and
dropped the butt.
after you, Duane?”
looked around. Con-wise, just like his son. Josh, a licensed private
investigator, had never looked at Duane’s record. He didn’t want
who Ryan Gehrke is?”
The Miami wide receiver who took a knee.”
stabbed a nicotine-stained finger at Josh. “You know why he took a
or some shit.”
showed yellow teeth. “He was protesting systemic racism in the
justice, and in the cops. I gotta tell ya, I think he’s right on
the money with the cops. They’re all rotten. Some of ‘em are
killers. That cop in Cinci. They were in a Wal-Mart when that
seventeen-year-old kid picked up an air rifle in the gun department.
Two cops run in screaming and shot ‘em. They didn’t tell him to
drop the gun or put up his hands. None of that shit. Bang bang. Very
sorry. They both walked. Pigs said they had reasonable concern for
Ryan shoot them?”
shook his head like he was talking to a dummy. “Noooo, it’s just
one of the issues we discussed.”
waitress came, plopping down drinks and burgers. Josh put ketchup on
his burger. Duane tossed down the shot. He tossed down the next shot
and looked around for the waitress.
gripped his burger. “Whoa there, pardner. You don’t want to go
blotto just yet.”
finished his burger in six bites. He had coyote jaws. He chugged the
Miller. He belched long and loud, causing heads to turn. Distaste.
where were you talking to Ryan?” Josh said.
pushed the dishes aside and leaned on his elbows. “At his crib in
Miami. Man, you should see it. He’s got this fuckin’ estate in
the same neighborhood as Desmond Pow, right on the beach. Pool,
cabana, hot and cold running babes, the best champagne, all the
cocaine you can snort, celebrities, you know who I saw?”
the fuck were you doing there?”
spread his hands, nonplussed. “Where do you think he got his
I first met Serial
Killer Man at Rocky Mountain Comic Con several years ago. An
unprepossessing fellow, he approached my table with a portfolio which
he laid out. Hideous, childish, pencil and crayon scrawls of skulls,
demonic figures and symbols.
sent me this.”
Everybody has a
hobby. Serial Killer Man’s hobby was corresponding with serial
killers, exchanging artwork, sometimes visiting them and getting
photographs. He had a clown drawn by John Wayne Gacy. I think he had
pictures of himself posing with Gacy. It was a while ago and I can’t
remember. I, too, was obsessed with serial killers. Many writers are.
We seek to understand the nature of evil so we can write about it. I
read and I read until I could read no more. I read Ann Rule and Jack
Olsen. I read Aphrodite Jones and Stephen G. Michaud. Serial killers
captured the public imagination and are everywhere. Countless
television programs and movies. Luther, Mind Hunter, Dexter, The
Fall, Hannibal, Alienest, The Prodigal Son. The serial killer is the
perfect modern day bogeyman, embodying our darkest fears. An evil
force who chooses strangers.
only natural for normal people to muse about the nature of evil, and
wonder what would compel someone to systematically track down and
murder strangers. As long as you don’t dwell on it. As Nietzsche
if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
about all the ladies who have corresponded with infamous killers,
visited them in prison, and even married them.
saw Serial Killer Man again last week at the Rocky Mountain Con. He’s
a regular. This time he had pictures of himself posing with one of
the so-called Tool Box Killers in a California prison. SKM is
unprepossessing and harmless. He also loves comics. He has an
extensive collection of original art. Only it’s not from comics.
I’ll probably see him again next year.
Day after day, Florida Man after Florida Man. Florida Women too. It seemed ideal material for a comic so I started writing. By the time I finished the five scripts I had a detailed novel outline. Getting an independent comic off the ground is an iffy proposition. If I were an artist, I would have drawn it myself. But I’m not. And artists don’t work for free. Fortunately, the talented Todd Mulrooney agreed to throw in with me.
I wrote the novel and sent it to Wolfpack publisher Mike Bray. Wolfpack specializes in Westerns, thrillers and crime stories, and Florida Man is comedy. Mike said he’d take a look, he might know someone. After he read it, twice, he said he wanted to publish it himself. So there it is. That’s Todd’s art on the cover.
By now, you are all weary of the blurb:
Gary Duba’s having a bad day. There’s a snake in his toilet, a rabid raccoon in the yard, and his girl Krystal’s in jail for getting naked at a Waffle House and licking the manager. With his best friend, Floyd, Gary sets out to sell his prized Barry Bonds rookie card to raise the five hundred needed for bail. But things get out of hand.
I had inadvertently joined an informal group of Florida Men whose fascination with that state’s more outre behavior and denizens is something more than a hobby. I hooked up via Florida Men with James Aylott, a former tabloid photographer turned novelist whose novel The Beach House touches on much of the same material. But while Florida Man follows the exploits of one hapless hero, Tales From the Beach House tells the intertwined stories of the denizens of a seedy Delray condominium. It is as packed with intrigue, heartache, and betrayal as a Shakespeare comedy, but is often funny. James uses real headlines to kick off each chapter:
MAN MISTAKES DEAD WOMAN FOR APRIL FOOL’S MANNEQUIN
MAN CAUGHT IN SEX ACT WITH PET CHIHUAHUA
MAN KILLED TESTING BULLET PROOF VEST
James read my book and posted, “Crammed with hysteric high-octane toxic masculinity, and without a hat tip to any sense of modern political correctness the novel “Florida Man” has to be one the must read books of the year! This amazing novel is pure-concentrate Florida fiction and will certainly be inducted to this genres future Pantheon of greats. Gary Duba, the book’s central character has to be a solid contended the Mick Dundee of our times and should be immediately signed up for a new marketing campaign by the Florida tourism board. This truly was an astonishingly good book and I highly recommend it to anyone who isn’t easily offended who is looking for a fun and action packed read. This book has raised the creative bar in the genre of Florida fiction and it will be hard to beat by the many writers who tread that path. I am just glad my next book will be set in Missouri as Florida Man has set a new standard that will be hard to better.”
I thought I’d pretty much covered the territory in that one book, but my publisher feels otherwise. I am planning a sequel. There is no dearth of material. Just go to www.floridaman.com, which sedulously tries to keep track. You can find our books on Amazon.
should you outline? There are several reasons. The first is to
provide a road map for the story you intend to write. A good story is
like a good pop song with a theme, a bridge, and a hook. Shifting
dynamics. The outcome is always in question. If you were to portray
your outline as a sine wave, it would look like a roller coaster
ride. The outline doesn’t have to be exhaustive. My outlines range
from two to ten pages. Ken Follett’s outlines are over a hundred
pages. The reader must surprise himself if he is to surprise others,
so the outline must contain wiggle room. The outline must reflect
your protagonists’ personality and character, as well as those of
other major figures.
is destiny. The reader wants someone with whom he can identify,
unless you’re writing about a rogue, such as George MacDonald
Fraser’s Flashman. Even Flashman is charming. You enjoy his company
even if you don’t want to be anywhere near him. Or the book has to
be compelling, such as Pete Dexter’s Paris
a novel about a despicable racist. A skilled novelist can make any
as a good song ends on a definitive note, such as The Beatles “A
Day In the Life,” so should your outline indicate an end. But
beware! Your characters will come alive and start dictating plot!
When this happens, trust your characters.
second purpose of the outline is to excite readers. The outline must
be entertaining in and of itself. If you have written a dry
recitation of events crammed with adjectives and qualifiers, throw it
away! When the reader has read your outline, his reaction must be,
“Holy shit! Where’s the book?”
the interest of comity, I shall not call this the Ten Greatest
Westerns. This is simply a list of my favorite Westerns, in no
WILD BUNCH—Sam Peckinpah’s violent elegy to the closing of the
West is filled with indelible images and lines, and provided
career-defining roles for Ernest Borgnine, William Holden, Robert
Ryan, Warren Oates, Edmund O’Brien and Ben Johnson, and launched
the career of Bo Hopkins. A bittersweet drama of aging outlaws with
no place to go.
MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE—my favorite Ford, with the Duke as an
aging gunfighter who comes to the aid of naive lawyer Jimmy Stewart.
Lee Marvin at his most despicable.
legend of the lone gunfighter has never been better, with Alan Ladd
in his finest role, and Jack Palance, every bit as despicable as Lee
PROFESSIONALS—Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan and Woody
Strode saddle up to rescue kidnapped bridge Claudia Cardinale from
Mexican outlaw Jack Palance but—surprise! She doesn’t want to be
rescued. Filled with exciting set pieces and crackling dialogue, a
Richard Brooks masterpiece. Brooks also did Bite The Bullet.
THE HIGH COUNTRY—Peckinpah’s first feature is a romantic ode to
the dying west, with career-capping performances from Randolph
Scott and Joel McCrea. Introduced Warren Oates. Begins with a camel
Newman as a blue-eyed Indian comes to the aid of ungrateful banker
Fredric March, menaced by the sinister but likable Richard Boone. Why
did Richard Boone, Jack Palance, and Lee Marvin never make a Western
RIVER—the Duke as a rigid father figure intent on a cattle drive,
dealing with rebellious adopted son Montgomery Clift. Colleen Grey
finally straightens them out.
Eastwood’s last Western is a sprawling revisionist epic where the
West is not so glamorous, nor the heroes so heroic. His aging
gunfighter, Will Munny, does what he must, leading to a showdown with
brutal sheriff Gene Hackman. It always bothered me that Munny simply
abandoned his children in order to provide for them.
GRIT—both versions are brilliant.
IS COMING—Burt Lancaster as Mexican lawman Bob Valdez fights the
system to bring justice for the widow of a man wrongly killed. Based
on an Elmore Leonard story, this is hortatory story telling at its
RAID—Burt Lancaster again as a wizened scout trying to tell a naive
young Army lieutenant about the Apaches’ true nature. But will that
lieutenant listen? No he won’t. He has to learn the hard way.
Writers are people who have to write. They write every day. They
don’t talk about it, they do it. People who don’t write every day
are not serious writers.
You must know your craft, the rules of grammar, how to conjugate a
verb. Don’t get nervous. Most of you already know this without the
fancy labels. I see, you see, he sees. It is part of your
instinctive grasp of English. Everyone needs a little book of rules.
For the writer, it is Elements of Style by Strunk and White.
This slim volume has been in continuous publication since 1935. It
takes an hour to read and is quite droll. Buy a used copy. Do not
get the illustrated version. It has been bowdlerized in the name
All good fiction, whether comics or otherwise, is built around
character. We humans are mostly interested in our own kind. The more
interesting your protagonist, the better your story. Stories start
with people. The TV show House on Fox is a perfect example.
Hugh Laurie’s character is so thorny and unpredictable people tune
in week after week out of fascination with his personality. Same
thing with Batman, since Denny O’Neil straightened him out.
Prior to O’Neil, Batman wandered from mood to mood, often
“humorous,” seldom entertaining. Denny made Batman a
self-righteous obsessive/compulsive. Obsession is always interesting.
While it’s possible to grow a great story out of pure plot, sooner
or later it will hinge on the characters of your protagonists.
“Character is destiny” holds true in fiction as well as life.
Know who your characters are before you start writing. Some writers
construct elaborate histories for each character before they begin.
It is not a bad idea. Start with people then add the plot. Get a
bulletin board. Write each character’s name and salient
characteristics on a 3 X 5 card and tack it to the bulletin board.
You can do the same with plot points. You can move characters and
plot points around to alter your chronology.
What is plot? It’s a dynamic narrative with a beginning, middle,
and end. It’s like a good pop song. It has to have a hook.
Sometimes that hook is simply the narrator’s voice. Huckleberry
Finn succeeds mostly on the strength of Huck’s voice, by which
I mean the way he presents words. In other words, it’s not the
meat, it’s the motion. It’s not what you say, it’s the way that
you say it. Huck comes alive through his words, which are fresh and
immediate. We feel we know Huck. Same thing with Raymond Chandler’s
Philip Marlowe. It’s that world-weary, cynical with a heart-of-gold
voice whispering in your ear. “He
looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel
Chandler also said, “A good story cannot be devised, it has to be
distilled.” In other words, start with character and let character
find the plot.
Comic writers think visually. No matter how bad our chops we can
pretty much describe what we see in words. Some of us can even draw a
little bit. I used to write comics by drawing every page out by
hand—everything—all the tiny details, facial expressions, warped
anatomy, half-assed perspective, all word balloons and captions.
Editors and artists loved it. Why? Because they had everything they
needed on one page instead of spread across three pages of
single-spaced type. Some of the most successful writers in the
industry write very densely. Each script is a phone book.
drawing I became so immersed in the story I gave myself a spastic
rhomboid muscle. Friends! Do not do what I did Learn to draw
properly. That means a drawing board, an ergonomically correct
chair, and applying the pencil lightly to the paper. So much for art
There is another advantage for writers who would draw each page. It
forces you to confront issues of pacing, camera placement, and
editing. It teaches you the natural pace of a story, when to break a
scene, when to zoom in for a close-up, and when to pull way back for
a two-page spread. Archie Goodwin and Harvey Kurtzman both used this
method when writing comics for other artists. I’m not advocating
such. Most of the best writers in this industry do not draw. If they
do, they still write full script.
Even though you are only providing words, it is up to you to SHOW,
DON’T TELL. This is the prime directive. What’s the dif? Tell:
“The assassin drew a bead on Mac’s back and pulled the trigger.”
“Mac stared at the wall. He thought he saw a face there, maybe his
ex-wife, damn her. He was still staring when a thirty foot giant
slammed him in the back with a titanium driver. As he slid to the
ground, his face gathering granules from the brick, a creeping
numbness radiated from his right shoulder followed by the gush of
warm blood and the scent of sheared copper.” We don’t have to
mention the assassin because obviously someone pulled the trigger.
writing for comics, try to show as much as possible. A finicky man
entering a public phone booth might pull out a handkerchief to wipe
the receiver. Maybe he’s obsessive/compulsive. Maybe he carries a
box of Sani-wipes with him everywhere. By showing this man wiping
down the receiver, you have established something about his
describe what the reader can see for himself.
There’s no established format for comic scripts. You can’t go
wrong by doing it as a film script. You don’t necessarily need a
screenplay writing program, just write it like a play. What does a
play look like? Brush up your Shakespeare. There are a lot of books
out there on writing comics. I’ve contributed to some of them. It
never hurts to read about writing. We’re all curious as to how
other writers do it. Many aspiring writers have recommended Robert
McKee’s Story as the way to go. While Story contains
good advice, it is also egregiously padded and never uses a nickel
when a fifty cent piece will do. Joe Esterhaz’ The Devil’s
Guide to Hollywood is the anti-Story. If you read one, you
must read the other.
also Denny’s DC Comic’ Guide to Writing Comics, a no
bullshit primer by one of the best.
There are no writing schools but there are many writing programs.
College level courses on comic book writing are a bull market. I’d
advise any struggling writer with a Master’s degree to head toward
the local college. Run don’t walk. Nobody can teach you how to
write. You either got it or you ain’t. But a good teacher can help
you improve your writing. Famous novelists in residence offer a
career shortcut to those who are determined to become novelists or
screenwriters. Same old adage, it’s not what you know, it’s who
Hudnall has an essay on writing that comes and goes on James’
homepage like a mirage. Go to www.hameshudnall.com
and say James, where’s that great column on writing at? Elmore
Leonard has a few choice words on writing:
is the narrator’s voice that draws you through the story.
Baron has written many novels. Wordfire Press has published Helmet
Head, about Nazi biker zombies. Whack Job is about
spontaneous human combustion and alien invasion. Skorpio is
about a ghost who only appears under a blazing sun. Banshees
is about a satanic rock band that comes back from the dead. Liberty
Island Press has published Biker and Sons of Privilege
and will publish Not Fade Away, Sons of Bitches,
Buffalo Hump, Bloodline, and Disco.
do comics attract such intense fascination? Much of it has to do with
the form. It’s all there in your lap. It takes fifteen minutes to
read. This makes everybody an expert. For those of us who grew up
with comics, they are among our nearest and dearest entertainments.
We all have our favorites and opinions on what constitutes a hero.
art grabs your eye first, especially when you come across the shock
of the new. Kirby, the first time you saw him. Steranko or Neal
Adams. You read the words. There aren’t that many, but usually
there are too
writers can’t abide a wordless page. They’re the writer, it’s
their job to add the words! So add words they must, whether they
advance the story or not. A comic is not a novel. Words have greater
significance in a comic because there are so few of them. Who reads a
comic and skips the long-winded passages? Nobody.
they’re so simple, everybody thinks they can do it. And they can.
Comics are the most forgiving of all art forms. You will believe a
man can fly. Flaming Carrot. The Tick. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
These concepts would have a hard time gaining traction in other media
without first launching as comics. It took sixty years for movies to
present these concepts convincingly. In comics, they gain instant
underground explosion of the sixties, seventies, and eighties brought
fresh writing to comics. The autobiographical musings of R. Crumb,
Spain Rodriguez, Dori Seda and Sharon Rudahl have an immediacy and
freshness often lacking in mainstream comics, because
they are unique to that individual, untethered to continuity or
Many of these creators have continued to do groundbreaking, often
literary work, such as Bill Griffith’s memoir of his mother’s
often, mainstream comics have fallen back on cliches. How often have
we read, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore?” “We have
to talk.” “Move it, people.”
can only read so many novels a week, but you can read twenty-five
comics in a day. Now you’re an expert. Because the form is so
simple, it’s easy to imagine how you could do it better. Everybody
has their favorites. Everybody has strong opinions on what
constitutes good story. Some writers understand the medium better
than others. Carl Barks. Alan Moore. Chuck Dixon. The explosion in
comic-based movies has not resulted in an increase in readers, but it
has fired up the comic fans.
require vastly greater resources than comics and because the stakes
are so high, the level of professionalism is also much higher.
Captain America: The
is better written than ninety per cent of the Captain America comics.
you grow up loving a character or book, you feel a proprietary
interest. When the movie deviates from canon or just falls on its
face, many readers feel betrayed, that the movie makers don’t
understand the character, or pervert its intent.
comic sales shrink, the obvious solution is
to sell comics in movie theaters. But there is no communication
between the comic book publishers and the theater chains, and even if
there were, they couldn’t agree that the sky is blue. Comics aren’t
important enough to occupy space in a modern cineplex, never mind
there is plenty of space.
are on life support for a number of reasons. Poor writing. The rise
of video games. Most comics can’t compete with a good video game in
terms of entertainment. The rise in illiteracy. The collapse of the
distribution system. Take your pick. But they will never die because
of their simplicity. Anybody can produce a comic. It is a labor of
are certain phrases that permeate the zeitgeist like low-hanging
fruit. The moment you read one, your eyes glaze over.
don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”
have to talk.”
book writers feel pressue urge to add words. There’s all that
space! For what are we being paid if not to add words? The habit is
especially egregious during fight scenes. A real fight is physically
demanding. Even the best fighters, who train for months, run out of
gas and simply don’t have the energy to talk to their opponents.
There are always exceptions, like Muhammad Ali and Nate Diaz. But
most of the time, you’re out there panting trying to outguess your
me Father, for I have sinned. I too have added unnecessary dialogue
to fight scenes. And I just used a cliché! You see? It’s
don’t tell is among the most important lessons a writer must learn.
This applies to prose as well as comics. Comics are a visual medium,
and anytime you can advance the narrative by showing, you should.
This doesn’t mean a wordless comic. Dialogue can advance plot too,
but it must arise naturally from the narrative. Use dialogue to
reveal character or add a touch of humor. Shakespeare understood the
importance of humor, which provides brief flashes even in his darkest
tragedies. Even Schindler’s List has a few jokes.