Delayed Update / Review of Man vs. Rocks

Hi Everyone,

Phew! It’s been a busy couple of weeks! The orders have been rolling in thanks to everybody’s kind support, and I have been busy packing up the books. It turns out that packing, labeling and sending books takes a lot more time than I had expected, but it’s been happy work :)

DSC00566(some packages getting ready to be sent out)

In addition, two weeks ago I was out in San Fransisco for the 2013 Alternative Press Expo (APE). I managed to get a table at the last minute, which was awesome, considering that I already had tickets to be in the city that weekend.

DSC00572(getting the table ready, it was much prettier when we were finished,
but once the show started I was too busy to take photos)

 The convention was a great time, and I was so excited to meet so many people who were so passionate about both their projects and mine. Brian Soriano, a local artist who does beautiful work, was across the aisle from me. I was lucky enough to stumble over this entirely too cool sketch that he did of the Oracle. Check out his Tumblr page here: wrathcomics.tumblr.com. We also got a great shout out from Clifton Thammavongsa who was working the booth at Rise and Wreck Comics.

There were too many cool people to name them all here (but special shout outs to Trista Musco, Kai Stewart, and BuyIndieComics.com, and Comic Book of the Month Podcast crews), but I did want to bring special attention to one project I stumbled onto at the convention:

Man vs. Rock

Man vs. Rock Cover_103013Story/Writers: Victor DeTroy & Kevin Bieber
Art: Jared Lamp

 I was lucky enough to meet some of the team behind this comic at the pre-expo party/badge sign in, and the exchange went a little something like this:

Me: So what are you guys here promoting.

Victor/Troy: Our new comic, Man vs. Rocks!

Me: Oh, sweet! What’s it about?

Victor/Troy: It’s about man… vs. rocks… You know? Like, F**K ROCKS!

Me: Uh huh…

Victor/Troy: F**K ROCKS!

So, needless to say I wasn’t entirely impressed with the sales pitch. Oh how little I understood! Later that night, over some beers with Miles and Luke (some total homies who helped me out that weekend), I brought up this bizarre project in an… unflattering light. This meant that when he had some free time the next day, Miles made a bee-line for the Man vs. Rock booth, and promptly bought me a copy so I could enjoy it.

I opened the pages, ready to start laughing (not in a friendly way), when the real scope and point of the project struck me. And now, I somewhat reluctantly admit, I think it’s pretty brilliant.

It is crude, juvenile, silly, one-dimensional, repetitive and gratuitous. The first page opens up on a pair of cavemen having sex, and the next two pages are dominated by a naked caveman (his improbable erection hidden behind a black bar) holding a rock aloft while screaming profanity. And yet, what this absurdity hides is that the underlying premise is a brilliant, absurd commentary on humanity.

The plot summary from the website reads as follows: Rocks are plotting to annihilate the human race. If we don’t act soon, those filthy rocks will kill us all during their surprise attack! Only one man has the rocks to stand up to these villains: Buck Stone. Join Buck in his quest to save us from the evils of those granite goblins!

What this plot summary doesn’t reveal is that the whole set up is a satire. At no point in the story are rocks conscious, or active, or actually doing anything. Instead they exist entirely as an outlet for human blame and aggression. While I’m not sure how long the concept will hold up (Volume 1 covers most of human history, but very little of the main story), it proved to be amazingly entertaining for one issue. I don’t want to give away too many of the jokes, especially since they rely largely on shock value and absurdity to land their punches, but I really think that anyone with a stomach for gratuitous nudity and profanity, and an interest in absurdist commentary will really enjoy this.

Man vs. Rock Volume 1 is currently available for free download on their website.

The Laziest Scene In Comics… and Movies, TV Shows, etc…

There is one scene in all of comics that is more pervasive than any other scene. It is repetitive, it is boring, and it takes up precious space in a medium that strains at the limits of its panels. As it happens, it is also the most common scene in crappy television and movies.

What scene, you ask?

Picture this: Two people (usually men) are hitting each other (usually in the face).

Does this scene sound familiar? A little too familiar, perhaps? Almost as if you’ve seen it in almost every comic book? That’s because you have.

Let me be clear. I’m not against violence in comics. All artistic mediums are, in the end, reflections of life. And whether we wish it were otherwise or not, violence is inherent in life. The thing is, while violence may be a part of life, it is not the only part of life, and for the majority of comic readers, it is not the main part of life.

Why then, is violence so omnipresent in comics?

While there are a number of reasons (reader preference, graphic advantage of the medium, emotional venting… we will address these issues at a later date), the main reason seems to be laziness.

There is no scene so easy to write, so basically engaging to readers, as a fight scene. It is the ultimate filler. It is exactly as long or as short as you need it to be, with no required explanation. Where debate is too tedious, where real story is too much of a chore, enter the fist.

Again, let me be clear, I am not against violence in general, nor against fight scenes. I am simply against them being used in the place of real story. Violence does occur in real life. But in the vast majority of cases it occurs as the result of overwhelming emotion. Too often writers try to use backwards implication: people are being violent, so the stakes must be high. This is just a cheap way of justifying both motivations (if a character is willing to fight over something, it must be important), and future violence (if violence has been engaged in once, then it is regarded as the only future means of solution). This bypasses the main duty of storytelling, which is to impart upon the reader the weight and importance of the conflict at hand. When this is done well, small acts of violence can carry great weight. A punch can end a dream. A harsh word can end a relationship.

When this is done badly, the end of the world is meant to make us care about both characters and causes that are otherwise unjustified.

It has long been my rule of thumb that the less violence in a story, the better. This is not to exclude excellent works where violence in necessary (Maus, I Kill Giants, 3 Shadows, etc.), but to say that when looking for good storytelling, avoiding violence is probably the best place to start. Comics are such an amazing medium to use for storytelling. Emotions, backdrops and actions suddenly fall from the verbiage. Story is reduced to dialogue and images. Worlds of interpretation are opened up.

And yet, when watching someone punch someone else in the face, what is there to think, but: “He punched him very hard.”

Starting up a Blog!/Five Things Comic Book Self Publishers Should Know Ahead of Time

Welcome to the site, and thanks for taking the time to check out the blog!

This blog will be updated regularly, and will be a mixture of reflections, reviews and anything else on my mind.

I approved the final printer’s proof two weeks ago, and in less than a week I will have the first installment of books in my hands. It has been over three months since we sold our first run at the Denver Comicon, so, as you can guess, the delays have been belligerent and numerous.

When I first started this project, it was to try to put a story to paper and get it out to the world. While I think authors should certainly be concerned with their stories, for those of you looking to self publish your work, it is equally important to aware of the ins and outs of print formatting and pricing. It will save you DAYS of work in the long run.

Or, in my case, months.

And so, in hopes that my mistakes will not be entirely wasted, and in celebration of never making these mistakes again myself, I present to you:

Five Things Comic Book Self Publishers Should Know Ahead of Time

1). Know your blacks – Here’s a fun fact that ruined weeks of my life this summer: there are different blacks. This may not be the most intuitive those of us without training in graphic design, but it also makes sense when you think about it. When computers are displaying/manipulating colors, they will do so in one of three modes: RGB, CMYK or Grayscale. The letters RGB (Red, Green, Blue) and CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Keyline/Black) in the names represent the types of colors that are mixed in each mode to produce different colors. As each of them are using different inputs, they also have different blacks that are finally produced either as a mixture of three colors (RGB), a pure black infused with low levels of other colors to produce richness (CMYK), or black (Grayscale). Now, here’s the tricky part: different programs are preset to different color modes, and set any changes they make in their respective shade of black. That means that if you’re not careful about maintaining the color mode across any programs that are used in the production (by either the publisher or artists) you can end up having to individually adjust each image.

And if you think you’ve figured out how to fix things before you really have, and go through and adjust each image, and later find out you were wrong, well, you can waste a whole lot of time. The point is, know the color mode that everything needs to be in for print, and make sure to account for it when lettering and cleaning up to the pages, or things are going to look bad.

2). Know your margins – At some point you are going to have to format each page for print, and when you do that, your artwork will have to be fit the correct page specifications. You can get away with a lot if you are staple binding your books, but if you are perfect binding, then you need to consider the amount of space the binding will eat up. That is in addition to any page size/bleed specifications you have. If you are using a standard page size, you can find some good templates out there to help you through this stage, but if not, it’s probably best to reach out to a couple of publishers and get their recommendations for the final page dimensions.

Resizing and adjusting every page because you didn’t provide enough of a gap and you don’t want your pages to be lost is a time consuming process. Having to do it multiple times because you moved forward without a full understanding, takes even longer.

3). (For those letting their comic on a computer) Build a template, and fill it with standardized dialogue balloons and tails – Lettering is an art. It’s a pretty simple art, and most people can do it if they give it a whirl, but there’s art in there somewhere. For those of you who have lettered tons of books, and you have your own way of doing things, then by all means do what works best. But if you are just starting out then trust me, build your template ahead of time, and standardize EVERYTHING. Casting Bones has 102 pages of story illustration, and it’s a pretty quiet book, so let’s say only 75 of those pages have dialogue. If you have never lettered a comic before, then let me tell you, by the time you have lettered your 75th page, you will have fallen into a groove. Unfortunately, the first 25 – 35 pages will not be in that groove, because they will be the ones you lettered before you understood how to control new effects, add more complex sound effects and special speech bubbles. And, since the one thing lettering can do wrong is draw attention to itself, and since inconsistency sticks out like a sore thumb, you’ll have to spend a lot of time tweaking, and fixing the early pages to make them look the same as the last ones.

4). Understand your costs – If you’re self publishing your book, think about your cost margins ahead of time. When you’re starting out, thinking about your retail price and production costs seem so far away and intangible. After all, your book is going to be so fantastic that everyone will count themselves as lucky to pay whatever it costs. Right? <<crickets>>

Of course not. Some costs are unavoidable, but most will depend on what you are able to do, what your friends are willing to do, and how much time you are willing to spend learning new skills. The full range of people you can pay to help you include: pencilers, inkers, colorers (ists?), letterers, the ISBN company, lawyers (if you are incorporating a company), graphic designers, web designers… the list goes on and on. In addition, any customization for your physical book will add to the cost, whether it is special paper, custom page size, full color pages, foil embossing… and on and on. In trying to keep costs down for Casting Bones, I tried (and mostly succeeded) in outsourcing only the art, keeping it black and white (in order to keep costs down both on paying people to color their work, and on the price of the final printing), and not adding any other bells and whistles (although a foil embossed cover would have been sweet…).

5). Establish a schedule – You SHOULD establish a production schedule that you think is reasonable. Then you should double or triple it, or possibly throw it out the window all together. Pulling everything together is an incredibly time consuming process for everyone involved. And if you are teaching yourself these things as you go, it can be a head bangingly, hair tearingly slow process.

With all that said, everyone works better with deadlines. They help us plan and organize our time. Even if you are just setting the deadline for yourself, and you know that it doesn’t really matter, set it anyway. Write it on a calendar. Now do your best to hold yourself to it, and when you miss it, don’t worry too much.