Friday, November 30, 2012

Star Wars is Forever

It’s been several weeks now since it was announced that I’m writing a Star Wars graphic novel for Dark Horse Comics. In that time, I’ve intended to blog about it, but I’ve never been able to actually get started.

How should I approach writing about this, especially given that I’ve been sitting on this announcement for three quarters of a year? For one thing, it’s easily the biggest thing that’s happened in my comics writing “career” - at least since I published my first comic, if not ever. For another, just by virtue of the strength of the brand, there’s a good chance that more people will read this comic than just about anything I’ll ever write.

And then there’s the fact that Star Wars has been in my life for literally as long as I can remember. Before I ever read a comic book (or anything, for that matter), Star Wars was there. I saw Return of the Jedi in theaters when I was about three years old. I had the Kenner action figures. I had ROTJ wallpaper border in my room until I was in college. I had a poster on the wall with an inscription I stole for the title of this blog: Star Wars is Forever. Also on my wall: two pieces of original art - Star Wars pin-ups my dad drew for Marvel UK comics. One of the biggest culture shocks of my life was the first time I left my job at Wizard and went to work at a company where no one knew who Bib Fortuna was.

Star Wars is so intrinsic to my identity, but unlike a lot of other things I’m a fan of I never considered writing for it. (Other than, of course, chronicling the adventures of four lovable Stormtroopers in several episodes of Twisted ToyFare Theatre). It felt like something that was there for my enjoyment, not for my use - possibly because so much of it spilled from the mind of just one man.

But when the call came from my editor, the incomparable Dave Marshall,  asking if I wanted to pitch some stories for Dark Horse’s kid-friendly line of Clone Wars graphic novellas, I didn’t think twice. Of course I did. Dave explained that kid-friendly doesn’t mean juvenile. I should write the kind of Star Wars story I’d want to read, and just avoid graphic violence.

That raised a question I’d never had to consider before: What exactly is it about Star Wars that I enjoy? Choose carefully, because you’ll have to build a story around it.

It turns out that I’m not a big fan of space battles, because none of the stories I pitched involved them. I like Jedis and lightsabers - they were central to all of the plots. I like the sense of adventure and the strong hero’s quest that are central to Episode IV especially.

Coming up with stories that felt worthy to add to the canon (and don’t think I wasn’t mindful the entire time that anything I created would have to be added to Wookieepedia at some point) was possibly the most intimidating assignment I’ve ever had.

In the end, I’m proud of what I came up with and what Dave helped me craft into the final story. I’m especially proud of how good it looks - the artwork from my S.H.O.O.T. First collaborator Ben Bates and the colors by Michael Atiyeh make this the best-looking Star Wars comic that I’ve ever seen. (Seriously - you have to check this thing out.) I’m really looking forward to people getting to read it - especially my daughters. I’ve never written something they could read before, and certainly never something that they’d understand is a big deal. But they know Star Wars. Everyone knows Star Wars.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Defenders of the Lost Temple hits stores on March 13, 2013, and it’s available to order now wherever books and comics are sold. I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to say about it as we get closer to release.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The World is So Big

So today's xkcd comic is setting the Internet on fire (and trending on Twitter earlier), and with good reason. It's breathtaking. According to Comic Mix it may be the biggest comics panel ever, and exploring around it reminded me of the sense of wonder that Super Mario Bros. creator Shigeru Miyamoto says that he wanted to capture in the original game. (Coincidence that there's an extended Mario riff in the xkcd comic?

As the guy with the balloon says, the world (our world that is) is so big, and that's something that strikes me at odd times. Sometimes I'll be sitting in my car in traffic, and I'll think, "There's at least one person in every one of these cars, and every one of those people has at least 16 years of experiences and memories on this Earth. Every one of them loves someone and is keeping a secret from someone and wants something so much." It's staggering. And that's one stretch of road at one moment. Extrapolate it to the entire world and it's not just staggering — it can stop you in your tracks.

Choice is one of the hardest things writers deal with. As a writer, you can tell the story out of any of the people on that road, or in the world, or in worlds that don't exist. It's hard as hell to nail down. I love writing (I recently tweeted that probably means I'm doing it wrong), but I'm in my least favorite part of my next project right now - Russell T. Davies calls it The Maybe. Anything could happen, and it's your challenge to figure out what the hell will. It's an uncomfortable space and I'm a fairly structured person, and I'll feel worlds better when I've got everything organized into an outline. Until then, my brain is never truly at rest, which is exhausting for me and the people around me.

What does that have to do with xkcd? Well, as the guy with the balloon says, the world (the world of this one comic) is so big. And as you drag your mouse around it, you encounter dozens (I'm guessing - I didn't have time to check out the whole thing, I confess) of Randall Munroe's characteristic stick figures, all frozen at one moment in time. It's not sequential storytelling in its truest form. The sequence of events is that you discover different parts of the world.


But, what if it was? What if each of those people in the comic were then given a subsequent moment, and then another? What if you went back every day and followed their adventures? Could you take the choice that's inherent in writing and, through a massive and persistent world, make it into a choice for readers? You couldn't possibly follow all of these people every day, but could you find your favorites and look out for them?

Could a team of creators take a persistent and massive "world map" like this and tell distinct stories about different characters, who move across the landscape and occasionally encounter each other? Could you create the equivalent of a Massively Multiplayer Online Game, but for comics?

I don't know, and people with brighter minds than mine have probably already considered it. But this one comic certainly opened my eyes to a lot of possibilities. A lot more choices. And hell, the world was already so full of choices.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


The Doctor: Patron Saint of Revising

Have you heard the good news? I’ve found religion! I’ve joined the cult of Revision—please allow me to testify to you about it.
I’ve been a writer for many, many years, but I was always a revision denier. To me, whatever came out of my head and ended up on the page was sacred. A second draft was the one that I ran spellcheck on. On the rare occasions that I did take notes from someone, my goal was always to incorporate them with as few changes to my original draft as possible.

But now I’ve seen the light! My conversion to Revision must be a religious experience, because I’ve been preaching to my writer friends non-stop about it. I realize now that writing is revision, and I was just doing it all wrong before.

So what changed? Well, I can’t say it was any one specific “Come to Jesus” moment, but there were three big events that really opened my eyes.

The first was that I finished and published my first original graphic novel, Hero House. And while I’m immensely proud of it (and you should buy it here, or buy it digitally here!), there were a few nagging things that bothered me about it when it was all said and done. And unfortunately, they were all things that I should have caught in a second draft—mostly characters and plotlines that seemed to go nowhere. I started to wonder if maybe I shouldn’t have paid closer attention before finalizing the script.

Next, I read a book called “The Writer’s Tale” by Russell T. Davies (with Benjamin Cook). It’s just 600 or so pages of email correspondence from the showrunner of the relaunched Doctor Who, written at the time that he was writing and running his final episodes. It’s an amazing, unfettered look into a writer’s head during the entire process of writing, and even if I wasn’t a huge fan of every single episode from this period, seeing how they came together is utterly fascinating.

Davies also has a very similar (although more tortured) process to how I write, sweating out an idea in his head for a long time before committing it to paper. What truly inspired me, though, was watching him revise. He’d come up with an idea, he’d love it, but then he’d thoroughly think it through, and make sure that everything that happened in the script was in service of story. Suddenly, whole plotlines and characters that he really enjoyed would disappear, and the scripts would be the better for it. It was the first time I’d seen what it could really look like when someone committed to revision, and it made a believer out of me. Appropriate for a book about a show about a guy who can change everything about himself when things get dire. You just know the Doctor is a big Reviser.

So now I was a believer in Revision, but I hadn’t yet accepted it as my personal savior and been born again. That can only come in times of crisis, and with the help of a spiritual adviser. For me, that came from working on my first project (not yet announced) with a truly talented editor. I worked and worked on my story, and even did a little bit of revising on my own when my opening wasn’t working for me (although only as little revision as possible to keep as much intact as possible). Finally, proud of what I’d done, I handed it in and awaited notes.
What I saw when I opened the marked up documents was an ocean of red. My heart sank.

But I spoke to my editor and heard his concerns, and suddenly everything he was saying seemed incredibly reasonable. Not just reasonable—obvious. I realized that I was going to have to do what Davies does; I was going to have to truly revise, not just put a coat of polish on it. So I did something I’d never done before: I threw out vast chunks of what I’d written. At least 2/3 of the story was completely cut away and redone. And I’ll be damned if what I ended up with wasn’t worlds better than what I handed in at first.

Obviously this religious metaphor is a bit of a goof, but I’ve honestly come to think (and talk) about revision in spiritual terms. I’ve talked friends’ ears off recently about how writing can be elemental, but revision is taking those elements and truly making them work for you, like what a wizard would do. Revision makes you a wizard. That’s how I sell it.

I may not be the most qualified person to give writing advice, but I feel 100% confident in giving this: don’t try to go it alone. Find a reader you trust and listen to what they tell you. Think about your story based on feedback, and be open to the possibility of changing what you’ve written. If my new religion had a Bible, that would be Page 1.

Unless you’ve got a better idea. I’m open to hearing it.