Category Archives: Columns

Writing for comics: how much is too much or not enough?

I don’t talk a whole lot about my day job here; I spend the day doing it, so it isn’t something I feel that inclined to write about. Oh, I love my class. In fact, I’m not shy to tell students it’s the best class in the program. Of course, I’m biased, but I get to talk about comic making all day! What’s not to like about that?

Teaching comic writing in a primarily moving picture program can be tricky. Most of our students want to write for film or television (though we have a growing number of students who want to write novels—which I find funny, because we’re not a program geared to teach that…guess they should do better research!). What they’re taught in those classes—and know that I’m not contracting what they’re taught in the classes that teach moving pictures, I just don’t have that experience—is to write very little “directions” for a director, and of course, write nothing that can’t be filmed.

They often bring that thinking into my class and it’s frustrating to try to convince them that what we’re doing in comics doesn’t negate what they do in moving pictures, it’s just a different “gear,” a different kind of writing.

I’m in several “creator” groups on Facebook and recently a thread went around about details in writing for comics. To sum up, most of the artists complained that the writers don’t give them enough details…and then complain when the art is done that something is “wrong,” or “missing.” I place that blame completely and fully on the writers.

And yet, comic companies often suggest in their submission guidelines to “write only a sentence or two” for each panel’s description. While that may be possible, as noted in the paragraph above, it often isn’t enough.

Comic writers can’t be vague in the writing and expect artists to read their minds or know their intent by words they haven’t written. Comic writers have to give artists all the information needed, and then some. Comic writing can be less than formal; in fact it can be very conversational because the writer and artist are partners in producing.

So how much is too much and how much is too little in a comic script?

My suggestion is always write with the idea that the artist has no idea what you’re talking about and that you’ve never worked with that artist before. Not only do you want to describe to them the (single) action that is happening in the panel, but you can tell them the mood of the panel overall, the mood of the characters in the panel, the tone you want in the panel (and on pages).

Always remember, the comic artist is your collaborator, not your audience.



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Filed under Columns, writing

Thoughts on Fan Fiction

Not long ago, I had a spirited conversation about the “merits” of fan fiction with a small body of students. For those of you who don’t know or have never heard of fan fiction—don’t worry, you’re not really missing much. I’d encourage you to google the meaning for yourself because ultimately the discussion came down to a disagreement as to the definition of fan fiction. But I will confess that the “spirited” nature of the conversation surprised me…for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost is that I’ve been a working writer for the better part of 25 years. Because of that fact, I know a whole boatload of working writer/editor types. It’s not because I’m special or anything of the such, it just happens to be the circles I walk in. Much like musicians seem to hang around and pal around other musicians, it’s just the way it is.

That said, most of the professionals I know don’t read fan fic…nor do they really even give it a second thought. Period. While I’ve never done a poll or seen the results of one, I’ve always felt the general consensus was that the overwhelming majority of fan fiction is simply “fans” exploring their geeky fantasies. Not writers. Fans.

I sat on a panel once called “Playing in other people’s sandboxes” (catchy title, not mine) in which the writers talked about what it was like to write licensed properties (for those who don’t know the score, I’ve done a handful, including Planet of the Apes, Battletech and The Remaining, a recent GN adaptation of a horror flick). One writer, who shall remain nameless because I didn’t run this by him first, who writes for Star Wars said that his contract required him to sign that he agrees to not read any fan fiction at all. It’s a legal thing to protect him and the company. But the point is that “not reading fanfic” is actually being added to writing contracts!

One of the arguments tossed at me what the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, a work I have not read nor do I intend to. It’s a “fan fiction” of Twilight, an original work that I don’t really hold in high esteem. I’ve read reviews of Fifty Shades from sources I trust and the consensus was pretty much “bad writing.” Yes, but it sold incredibly well. That is a fact that is tough to argue. But here’s the thing: hardly any (if any at all!) of the people in my writing/editing circle of friends/colleagues have any respect for that work. Yes, it sold well, but it’s not very good.

And therein lies the real issue with fanfiction. Do I think that all fan fiction is bad? Of course not. There’s so much of it out there that ONE of them has to be worth reading. But the overwhelming majority of it is crap. And, if you’re a writer who hopes to one day make money writing, why would you intentionally put yourself in that category? Why would you purposely do that knowing that publishers don’t have much respect for it?

As a rule, I don’t read fanfic. Just not interested in it. Are attitudes changing and will it change? Obviously, I don’t know, but if I were to guess, I’d say yes. I think as younger editors who have been raised with the internet always at their fingertips are in charge of more and more, I think it won’t matter so much to them.

I dunno, though. What do you think?


Filed under Columns, writing

No Cellphone? Yeah, what of it?

I do not own a cellphone.

There, I said it.

I realize that puts me in the overwhelming minority of Americans, but I’m really okay with that. I can’t tell you, though, the number of shocked and surprised looks I get when this information comes forward. Many react like I’ve told them I don’t own shoes and they simply can’t comprehend what I’ve just said. Of course, it isn’t unusual that folks can’t comprehend what I say. “I” sometimes can’t comprehend what I say.

It’s not that I’ve never had one, I have. Twice.

The first time I owned a cellphone I enjoyed it. It was during those brief months when I worked selling academic furniture (yeah, I know—long story THERE, too!) and traveled the states of Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas. I wasn’t usually gone for more than a couple of days, but I spend considerable time on the road and it was good to have to speak with university representatives, my bosses, and—of course—my family.

This was in the days before the smartphones (that’s one word, right?) and so my biggest concern was actually getting a signal. The “can you hear me now” commercial often applied to my experience. This would have been 2005, nearly ten years ago now.

After that job disappeared, the phone went with it. No, “I” paid for it—but I didn’t see a need for it once I stopped traveling.

Fast forward to 2011 when I took a job in Orlando, Fl., but still owned a home (and a family!) in Oxford, Ms. So, I got another one so that I could keep my family posted during my drive/commute and while I was away. The first year of my employment saw me a week here, week there, etc., so there was a lot of driving. On top of that, eldest child reaches the age where “everybody else has a cellphone, I should too,” wah wah wah. And when she started driving, the idea sounded a lot better.

Fast forward once again just slightly to 2012 when the entire family decides to get on “a plan.” Yep, they sold it to us that way. So, we all got smartphones except for the youngest. Except, this time, I didn’t really see a need for it. We kept them for several months until the entire family finally joined me in Orlando and the provider we had did not(and still does not, I think) service the area. So we got out. But the family wanted a new “plan” in Orlando.

Except I opted out.

Yep. S’true. While I found the smartphone a fun gadget, I didn’t really “need” it (what I needed was to sell my house in Oxford—but that’s another story!) and so I was having a real hard time justifying the expense.

The only time I really regret the decision is when wifey sends me to the grocery store and I find myself staring at product labels. Only then would I really like to have a phone.

Maybe I should try to get one of those Obama phone?


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Exercising my 2nd Amendment rights

Several months back my family had the honored pleasure to be guests at the Dabbs home outside of Oxford (I’ll have you know the first draft of this blog entry read “weeks”) where we fired automatic weapons and blew up a stuffed duck. My family considers ourselves very fortunate to have the Dabbses as friends. Our path to friendship, though, is an interesting one.

I’ve written before (and here)of the trials of moving and as we get situated here in the Orlando area we’re dealing with those things all over again (yes, we’ll take recommendations for doctors, dentists, whathaveyou in the UCF area). I did find a place to get my hair cut; I use the local Paul Mitchell school…but every few months I’ll have to get a “new” student as they graduate.

We hadn’t been in Oxford long when we had to carry Brett to get to the ER to get a staple in his head. We went to the same doctor for the follow up. Liked him just fine. Shortly thereafter, Brittany got sick and we went to see said doctor except that it was his day off. So we saw the other one, Dr. Dabbs. But as we sat in the waiting room, I started noticing these cool war machine models, particularly one really cool one of a Confederate ironclad! So, while he was examining Brittany, I asked the doc who did all the models and we kicked up a conversation. Over the next year or so we had regular conversations and figured out we had a lot in common; he was even friends with Dean Zachary, a very talented artist who I had the privilege of getting to hire when I was an editor at Malibu and Marvel. Most importantly, we had our faith in common.

When we changed churches we were extremely delighted to find the Dabbs family in attendance. The doc told us he lead a small group so BJ and I decided to attend and we enjoyed every class.

We experienced the Summer of the Superhero together at the theaters and other things that cemented the friendship of the families.

Back to the original point: our visit to the Dabbs compound, as it is situated snuggly in a valley with Lake Dabbs just outside the back door, came to fire some weapons the doc has stored up in anticipation of the zombie apocalypse.

Talk about fun! I’d fired weapons before and I’ve accused BJ of being Annie Oakley (the very “first” time she fired my pistol she outshot me, my father and my mother!), but she had some experience with firing handguns. Brett and Brittany had both fired low caliber rifles. But none of us were quite ready for the fun we had shooting that day.

I’m embarrassed to say that I couldn’t really tell you the different guns we fired, but Brett probably could. There were times when he and the doc were talking about weapons and I thought they were speaking in German!

If you get the opportunity to exercise your 2nd Amendment rights in like fashion, I highly recommend it. The experience will be all the better if you have family friends like the Dabbses to share it with.

(I HAD pictures but can’t locate them–If I do, I’ll add a few)


Filed under Columns, Moving

Don’t swear at work…if you want a promotion

I recently heard someone on the radio say that those who swear at work are less likely to get promoted. I wish I could remember who it was so I could give them credit—wasn’t me—I think it was from some job placement ad. Anyway, I found that idea pretty interesting and since I sometimes the language around the offices make me think I’ve stepped on to the deck of a battleship at war, I figured I might see if there was any truth to the claim.

Turns out, there is.

CBS reports that a CareerBuilder survey (maybe it was a CareerBuilder ad I heard?) suggested 80% of bosses said swearing makes their employees appear unprofessional. Here’s the link, so you can go check it out for yourself. There are a lot of other good quotes there, such as “Swearing reflects weak E.Q., emotional intelligence,” and “swearing can also make you appear less intelligent overall, and unable to express what you really want to say.”

I’ve generally been of that opinion, myself. The English language has thousands of words that carry a wide variety of meanings…why use one that does the above? Meaning, why would you want to use a word that makes you appear less intelligent?

And that makes me immediately think of the stereotypes for Southern rednecks; which today is generally a mulletted (yes, I miss my mullet!), beer guzzling, four by four driving, shotgun toting, SWEARING, white dude. As a Southerner myself, the stereotypes have always bothered me…but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Right or wrong, the ideas exist. So why would one choose to use the same sort of language that’s associated with a negative stereotype?

I dug a bit further and found a business site (I lost the link, sorry. I’m not claiming it as mine, so go look it up yourself!) that claimed “strategic swearing” helped co-workers feel more comfortable and at ease. Of course, I LOL’d when I read that. It also went on to claim that water-cooler swearing was one thing, while swearing in anger and swearing-out someone (like a colleague) was a completely different thing altogether. And I guess that’s where that particular site was trying to draw the line.

When I read work for critique, it isn’t unusual that I attempt to challenge the writer to expand their vocabulary instead of swearing. Granted if they’re writing dialogue for an urban street thug, the low vocabulary is anticipated—but see, there we go again with stereotypes…and the stereotypes of people who aren’t that quick on the update are generally accompanied by swearing.


I dunno.

But it’s certainly something to think about.


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Beware of your “private” emails

I’ve noticed something in recent months that disturbs me and I think it’s probably only going to get worse than to get better. While I won’t give specifics or web addresses, you may have heard of it anyway.

Not long ago I ran across a left-wing website that had published the private email response from a rightwing personality. The long of the short of it is that someone from the website (I assume the blog’s author) exchanged emails with the personality, and not finding satisfaction in the exchange, decided to simply publish the private correspondence for all the world to see.

And that’s my problem. I isn’t necessarily what the two parties were arguing or disagreeing about, it’s the fact that what WAS a private exchange between two individuals became a broadcast for the world to see. And while that might not be “legally” wrong, I think it is morally reprehensible.

And that wasn’t the first time I’d seen that happen. While I don’t know that I’ve seen it happen as to call it an epidemic, I think there is a growing attitude in our country—probably mirrored (IMO) from the growing reliance on government and all things public—that we are giving up our rights to privacy.

Now, if you and I have an email exchange and I want to share what you’ve said to me, I’LL ASK. That’s a different story. Me sharing your personal email is a very severe breach of trust and a lack of personal judgment.

Which brings me to…I recently learned something that disturbs me in this same manner. Now, let me be clear that I have not personally seen what I’m about to write about, but several of my colleagues have verified it’s truth…and that disturbs me even more.

It seems an entire “class”  (meaning one graduation class) of students at the University where I teach share information with one another. What’s the big deal, you ask? That’s a great idea, you say. It’s just a study group, you point out.

If that were all it was, I’d agree wholeheartedly. In fact, I encourage all my classes to work hard to turn their classmates into their first ring in an ever-expanding network of contacts. Networking is key to success in the creative industries! It’s vital to their success.

Instead, this class is publicly sharing (“public,” as on Facebook) confidential and private emails and grades from their professors. Now, grades I could probably overlook. It isn’t unusual for students to want to share their grade with a classmate to see who ‘won’ or even see what the student with the lower grade can do to improve. I get that.

Instead, this class is sharing grades to see if the instructors are consistent. That is a noble idea…probably. But not likely.

Where I think the line gets crossed is in the sharing of private communication in such a public way. If I send you a private email, it is a betrayal of TRUST to take that and post it publicly…even in a semi-private forum. The exception, of course, would be threatening or abusive email—and then that should be shared with someone in authority, not the world.

The problem now is, there is no way that I could ever recommend anyone from that graduating class for any position with any of MY contacts. If they’re doing this now, they’ll do it again. And I value all the contacts in my own network—and I wouldn’t want to risk anyone breaching their trust in that way.

It was probably just a kneejerk reaction from a student that started it all…but it should have been shut down by the first instructor to discover it. It’s our job to not only teach our students to effectively tell good stories, but how to conduct themselves in a professional manner in all phases of their career. Sharing “private” email is not professional by any stretch of the imagination.


Filed under Columns

I want to ride my bicycle

I want to ride my bicycle

I want to ride my bike

I want to ride my bicycle

I want to ride it where I like

Okay, so corny opening using the lyrics to a Queen song, but I thought it was appropriate since I’m going to talk about bicyclists today.

Bicyclists are starting to annoy me. They’ve always been around everywhere I’ve lived and for the most part they were off my radar completely. Occasionally one would pop up on the state highway and I’d think “Gee, what a dumb thing to do—you could get hit by a vehicle traveling 60 miles per hour. Worse yet, that vehicle could be an 18-wheeler!”

With the move to Orlando and traveling back and forth between two campuses (I live near one and travel to the other, a distance of about 12 miles), I see a lot of bicyclists. Ordinarily, it still wouldn’t be on my radar. But many of them are just plain rude…AND—if I remember my bicycle safety classes—they break the law and then get mad at car drivers. I nearly hit one recently (which spurred this blog post) and it was his fault! Unless the laws have changed, and I realize that is a real possibly—and no, I didn’t google it before making this post because I’d rather write about it than look it up. That is, after all, the way of the internets, right?—what I remember of the law is that you GET OFF YOUR BICYCLE AND WALK IT ACROSS THE STREET at intersections. This to keep you safe. Only yesterday I witnessed a car hit (not hard) a bicyclist—but the dude was bookin’ through the intersection trying to beat the flashing “walk” sign and then he swore at the car driver for hitting him!

And see, there it is again: WALK. It’s a “walk” sign, not a “ride your bike through this intersection” sign.

It’s hard for me to feel sympathy for folks who act like idiots. And while I’m talking about bicyclists right now, that’s close to a blanket statement for me. NO, I don’t want them to get hurt, but when you point a loaded gun at your foot, don’t complain to me when you shoot your toe off.

One question I have is where did this come from? I realize my own bicycle safety training program was a long time ago…but don’t they still teach that? Or is it that—unlike cars—there is no “licensing” process for bikes. And no, I’m not advocating that, just thinking out loud here.

I saw another guy just this week that shocked me and made me think the same as the highway cyclist mentioned above. As I was sitting in the left turn lane waiting to turn left, the traffic to the left of me began making their left turns (so they were moving from my left to straight ahead). After about 4 cars, a cyclist came zipping through—must have been moving 45 miles per hour. Granted he was traveling faster than most of the cars in the lane and his garb told me he’d logged plenty of miles on a bicycle…but it still struck me as both dangerous and idiotic.

With all of that idiocy, I’ve only once seen people in a vehicle yell at bicyclists. A pair of well-dressed Mormons were crossing the street—walking their bikes—when a car sped by and called out Jesus and some words that I won’t repeat here. To their credit, the pair of well-dressed cyclists ignored them and continued to move through the crosswalk…WALKING.


Filed under Columns