Saturday, November 6, 2010

Comic Review: Coward by Ed Brubake and Sean Phillips

Scott D. Parker

When you think of comics, I bet you think of superheroes in spandex. Nothing wrong with that. But there used to be a whole other realm when someone mentioned comics—horror, mystery, crime, and terror—in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Then, with the Comics Code Authority, much of what was in comics evaporated and the superheroes were neutered. Crime-focused comics fell under that knife and stayed dormant for decades. By the 1970s, when I began collecting comics, I don’t even remember any crime comics out there. And I’m not including Detective Comics that long ago became just another vehicle for Batman. No, crime comics died and only rarely rose up to see what was going on. The only crime comic title I can think of before the 1990s was Max Allan Collins’s “Ms. Tree.”

The late 1980s saw the introduction of a newfound realism in comics. The emergence of the graphic novel as a medium proved that comic books were not just kids’ stuff. DC Comics launched the Vertigo line of comics intended for mature readers and focused on subjects more intense than Superman trying to get the alien imp Mr. Mxyzptlk to say his own name backward (thus banishing him back to the Fifth Dimension). With this new attention being paid to comics as a storytelling medium, it was inevitable that crime comics would be re-born.

While the re-birth cannot be attributed to one person, there is one man who can take a large amount of credit for the revitalization of crime in comics. Ed Brubaker bounced around the comics’ world, writing his own material that was usually crime-related and putting his own unique stamp on standard heroes like Batman, Catwoman, and the X-Men. In 2007, he and artist Sean Phillips launched a new title, “Criminal” that featured multi-issue story arcs. The first five issues have been collected in a trade paperback.

“Coward” tells the story of Leo, a pickpocket with a genius gift for planning heists. He got the gift from his dad and his dad’s best pal, Ivan. Over the years, Leo has internalized his father’s rules, one of which is always have more than one way out of a situation. Leo lives by these rules and he has survived. The fallout is that he knows when to bail—and does—and he’s earned himself the reputation of being a coward. He’s cool with that, however. As he tells one character, “My ego can take a few morons thinking they scared me.” What Leo realizes (too late) is that his aloofness turns people away, even people who try to get close to him.

Leo’s gone under the radar in the five years since the Salt Bay heist went belly up. He takes care of his dad’s friend, Ivan, now a heroin addict with early onset Alzheimer’s. But an old friend shows up asking for Leo’s help in a heist. It’s a big payday: an armored car full of trial evidence including $5 million in diamonds. Leo says no way. “I’m out of that line of work.” Then his day nurse (the one looking after Ivan) quits. Greta, whose husband died on that botched Salt Bay job five years ago, shows up, cajoling Leo to help. She’s a recovering addict with a kid who needs some medical bills paid. Suffice it to say, Leo agrees and sets out to plan the perfect heist. He’s working with crooked cops and he knows he’s going to be double-crossed. It’s just a matter of time. But what he doesn’t know is that the double-cross is going to allow him and a wounded Greta to get away with the real target in that evidence van. Only when he sees the prize he’s stolen does he start to form another plan, a plan to get himself and Greta out from under the thumb of the guys looking for that briefcase, and, while he’s at it, see about getting paid for his services.

“Coward” is a joy to read. Oh, it’ll slap you in the face with its realism and it’s language, but it’s still a rush. The language surprised me. If filmed, this would only work as an HBO program as the language is rife with four-letter words. But that’s how real criminals talk so no harm, no foul. The plot is tight. Brubaker plays his cards close to the vest, not revealing the true nature of Leo’s actions and outlook on life until late in the book. The artwork is film noir on paper. Sean Phillips uses shadows and light exactly as a director did in the late 40s, giving “Coward” its visual tone that matches the bleak outlook of its text. This is a noir story, not necessarily hard-boiled. There is a bleakness to Leo’s story that permeates most characters as they question their motivations.

In a nice touch, there is a story within a story. The characters all read the newspaper and most of them read a comic strip featuring Frank Kafka, Private Eye. Okay, you can start sniggering now. But the name Kafka and the story being depicted speak to Leo’s story and vice versa. It’s a style Alan Moore used brilliantly in “Watchmen”—except he used three stories.

I’ve been interested in crime comics for a little while now and decided to start with Brubaker’s work. This will not be the last trade paperback I buy. Next up will be "Gotham Central," Brubaker's story of the Gotham City Police working under the shadow of Batman. “ Coward” has merely whetted my appetite for more crime comics, modern as well as golden age. If you like crime fiction, there’s more to it than just novels and short stories. Try the comics and start with Brubaker’s work. Don’t worry: they’re so good, you won’t have to hide them.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Workspace Week: The Missing Post

Okay, those of you who keep a close eye on the blog will know that not only did I miss last week's post (it was a very busy week at the day job, plus I then wound up watching the rather excellent BURIED and finishing the evening at a pub on Thursday night) but because I was off touring, I also missed Workspace week.

So here we are.

How do I work?

Well, that's a whole question in there, but let's look at my workspace.

Starting with wide angle shot, you can see I've cornered off part of my flat to work in. The PC is set up there with my printer and so forth ready for action. You'll notice that desk is untidy. That is part if my thing. I am a naturally chaotic person. One of my former bosses compared me to "Pigpen" from Peanuts. He wasn't far wrong. I don't have a tidy mind, and I find it hard to keep a tidy desk. You'll see DVD covers from things that I watch in between writing bursts, books that I've been using for whatever reason, bits of paper I need to refer to... all kinds of chaos.

But what's that on the wall?

Its a brilliant print by some Spanish artist (iirc, my mum and dad brought it back from holidays once) called Bellver. It is awesome, and I think I can see something of Chandler in the poor guy being smacked by the gun.

And yes, that is my Shamus nomination there, too.

Lots and lots of book covers and promo stuff on the wall, too. Why? For the most part, its books and people I love and serves as inspiration. The notice board has a lot of crap on it, too. Including my business card files and all sorts.

Most weekends and evenings you'll find me in this corner, typing away like a bastard. Other times I might be on a netbook while on a train or in a hotel room. I have a corner of Mum and Dad's place I work when I'm there, too. Essentially I'll work anywhere, but when it comes to proper final revisions, this is the corner where you'll find me.

My writing ritual tends to be a lot of banging at the keyboard. Some standing up and walking around. Some more sitting and bashing. Some swearing. And then taking a break to watch some DVDs. Usually on that lovely screen so I don't have to leave the room and can pause and return to work if inspiration should suddenly strike.

And, yes, mum, I do occasionally tidy up there... but only when I know you're coming to visit...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Reversal by Michael Connelly

I'm a huge Connelly fan. Ever since ANGEL'S FLIGHT, Connelly's had me hooked. (Probably before, but that's the one I really remember.)

THE REVERSAL is his newest novel, teaming defense attorney Mickey Haller up with his half-brother Harry Bosch. You see, this time around, Haller is a member of the prosecution. It's a nice touch, adding a bit of tension to the crime proceedings and giving the reader a look at a criminal trial through both lenses from one character.

In Connelly's previous novel, 9 DRAGONS, the author really pushed the pedal to the metal. Harry Bosch is stuck in a thriller, with great pacing, and moments of insurmountable tension.

What makes THE REVERSAL interesting is Connelly takes his foot off the gas, but the results are no less compelling. Even through the slow first 100 pages, the reader really gets a sense of the characters and what they're up against.

The highlight, of course, is seeing Bosch and Haller--former rivals--work together. And the last 50 pages, Connelly finally hits the groove and pushes the pace back to breakneck.

If you haven't read Connelly before, you might feel you're missing something while reading THE REVERSAL, but if you're a fan this is a must-read.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It's a Director's Medium

John McFetridge

An update on the movie version of Dirty Sweet, if anyone’s interested.

Now that Dannis Koromilas and I have finished the screenplay (and a couple of sets of revisions based on notes from the producers) it’s going out to potential directors.

Things are really starting to get interesting, because as we all know, movies are a director’s medium:

Or an editor’s or an actor’s or even a producer’s – anybody but a writer.

Actually, I think there’s truth in that.

Every once in a while a movie comes along that’s really talky with static camerawork and no editing style and people love it, but that’s rare. And even then, the movie has some editing and some music added and something more than just the words – and someone has to bring all that together.

TV and the movies a are different, of course. When I was working on The Bridge I was asked to hang around for most things involved in the epsiode I wrote (even though I didn’t really write much of the episode). So, I went to the casting sessions and saw the pictures of the possible locations and stuff like that. Of course, the director was making all the decisions about these things but even then the main cast was already in place and the main location is in every show. When the six days of shooting were over the director had two days to deliver an edit (weeks before I’d loaned one of the editors the power supply from my laptop so I was able to get a peek at that edit, but I wasn’t involved). Then the producers had another go at editing and then the network had some notes and a final edit was delivered.

So, for some directors their job is really to get as much filmed as possible, to get every line of dialogue covered in wide shots and close-ups so the producers and the network have lots of choices (there’s a famous story about John Ford only shooting the lines of dialogue the way he wanted them used, only in close-up or only in a two-shot, and studio producers complaining bitterly, but you know, he was John Ford).

But movies are different, of course. Movies are a director’s medium. Directors are usually involved in all the desicions from the very beginning (well, not the very beginning, not that private moment the writer has in the shower or on the bus or some rare instance actually sitting at a desk when the idea for the scene first appeared).

I remember once when I was working as a driver on a movie shoot (wow, that was a long time ago) and I was taking the director and a few other people on the tech survey – the visit to the location before shooting. The director was sitting in the passenger seat of the minivan going through the script and reading things like, “Kathy sits on the edge of the bed,” and saying, “Maybe, maybe not, let’s see what else we can do in that room,” and I realized that in addition to the big decisions like the final draft of the script and casting, he made thousands of these little decisions all the way through, from pre to post production. If the director is good all these little things can add up to something, they can all be part of an overall feel of the movie that comes across without actually drawing attention to itself (that’s really just taste, I guess, I don’t like it when these things draw attention to themselves, but lots of people love these things – Martin Scorsese draws more attention to the direction of a movie than anyone else I’ve ever seen, except maybe Tarantino, and they’re about the two most revered directors out there. Clint Eastwood may be the best known for not drawing attention to the direction, so it really can go either way).

Of course, if the director doesn’t have a clear vision for the whole movie...

So it’s weird for me right now because the script for Dirty Sweet is being sent to directors and they’re quite different – young, old, male, female – and they make different movies.

If all goes well one of them will actually get to make the movie and it wil be, “A Film By___” and have the feel that director wants.

As it should be. But I’ll always wonder if one of those other directors had made a different movie how would I feel about that one?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Making The Time 2.0

By Jay Stringer

Something we've talked about a number of times on DSD is making the time. Dave has talked about making the time to write, the tough-love that if you want to be a writer you have to get down and do it. There have been day-in-the-life diaries on here that show how some of us make that time.

I've talked about something equally important; finding the time to read. It's easy -too easy- to fall into the excuse of, "if only i had the time to read." I seem to get in trouble one way or another when I bring that up, but it is a trap. Find the time. Doesn't have to be a lot of time. Doesn't have to be a major sacrifice.

And it's not just us. This is one of the regular topics among writers and readers. It's probably frequent enough to make it onto Dave's list of writing cliche's, but then it's because it's also true.

As far as I know there isn't a machine yet that can fit more hours into a day. There's still no magic button that stretches things out or freezes everything around us so that we can chill out and read, or stress and write.

If you're anything like me, time is an evil thing. An old work colleague once came up with the phrase 'job creep,' which was his phrase for all the extra jobs that crop up during the working day. You get to work in the morning with a list of about 637 things to do, and by lunch time the list has swelled to 742, even after you'd started clearing it.

Writing can be like that, sometimes. It takes a whole lot of work just to stand still. You might start the morning with a work count of 20k, and then after four hours and much typing you have a word count of 19k. They are better words, it's not time wasted, but to any outsider you would seem to be standing still at best.

I adapt my colleagues old phrase to life creep. You start the week with a million things to do, and the list just keeps getting bigger. Some of them are chores, they are done out of duty. Some are done out of love or respect or friendship, and you don't begrudge them, but you also wouldn't begrudge a little break every now and then.

And on top of the day job, the night job, the washing, the ironing, the cooking, the shopping, the kids, the husband, the wife, the travelling, the stressing and the many buckets of coffee, you also have to fit life. You have to find time to unwind, to watch a movie or read a book. To dress up as a Klingon and re-enact battles that won't happen for several centuries. Then you have to find time to write, and you secretly start to begrudge the people at work who lead "simpler" lives; those who go to work, then go home, and don't spend all their spare time having to cram in all these other things. Their lives aren't simple either, but that doesn't really interfere with that bit of you that wants to hold a grudge against somebody.

And being a writer or a reader, the person you most hold a grudge against is yourself. If you were better as a writer, then you would have more time. If you were better as a reader you wouldn't be needing to make time. If you didn't just flat out suck, then chapter 22 wouldn't sag under the weight of its own disappointment.

And to make matters worse, you get some limey guy preaching at you from a website, busting you to make more time. Screw him, huh?

Making the time has always been pretty straight-forward for me. I like to read books and comics, I need to write, and I like to watch movies and TV shows. Added in to all of this is a full time job that often takes us 6 days a week. I've always taken the -to me- logical step of cutting out the one optional thing from my day. Sleep.

I'd work a full day, then come home and be normal for a while, or go shopping, or get some exercise or be sociable, then I would read for awhile, write as much as I could, watch a few episodes of THE WIRE (or whatever box set I was working through) do a bazillion emails and then slip into bed in time to get two or three hours sleep before doing it all over again.

I've hit a point now where that needs to stop. My body, and more importantly my brain, at 30 has decided that it wants to sleep like a normal person. The people at my day job would rather I turn up in a state approaching alive and my body is a fair way off 'in shape' simply because of the way I stretch myself. I'm also noticing that my writing is starting to suffer for the first time from my brain needing more sleep.

So i'm here to ask a question rather than preach at you. I've told you how I do it. I find a way to stretch the day out for as long as I can. I reckon there's probably a number of you do the same. But for the rest of you, you crazy people who manage to sleep and still make the time, how the hell do you do it?

Monday, November 1, 2010

NaNoWriMo MoMo

By Steve Weddle

Today is the first day of November, which means it is the day I stop what I am doing and focus on one thing: Oh, crap, the mortgage is due.

My lovely bride, who used to be a Catholic, reminds that it's also All Saints Day.

And, if you're that chick from Square Pegs, it's the day you say "rabbit, rabbit" first thing for luck.

But if you're coming here and you're not one of those booger-licking, Saban-loving, rectum-smelling blog spammers, then you're probably already aware -- it's the kick-off to NaNoWriMo.

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

How cool is that? 50k in 30 days -- not quite 2k per day, but it's pretty close. Could you do the needed 1,667 words per day? Heck, I've done three times that in a day. One day. The next I probably didn't get any writing done. Maybe I caught up on the laundry. Maybe it was a double-header on the soccer pitch. Maybe there was a Project Runway marathon on. Heck if I know.

I've had 5,000-word Saturdays and 15-word Tuesdays.

No one writes 50,000 words in a month, do they? I dunno. Here's how I write. The other day I had a picture banging around in my head. My main character is going to meet someone for a chat. Needs to be some place other players in the book wouldn't pop in. No cops. No attorneys. No tough guys. Gotta be the hippie food place I remember in Shreveport.

--at Earthereal, a dark, tight little place up on the hill, under big oak trees, between the smart kids' high school and the little boutique shops in what used to be the nice part of town.--

OK. Nice use of commas, moron. And at some point, I'll have to clean that idea up. Can't you hear Samuel L. Jackson suggesting that I say "little" one more time, futher mucker? And I'll need to hit the Google maps to see if the layout is how I remember it. Maybe streetview that sucker, too. All for a scene that will probably get cut.

So that's what I got. In a day. If you really want to hear about it, as Holden would say, that's what I got last week. Shut up. I've been busy. I'm not writing on contract. I'm not writing for anyone but me. So, there's no external imperative. Unlike my job. My family. The yard. The dishes. The laundry. There's this Laura Kasischke poem with the line: "This is the way the small survive./ The way the small have always survived." This is the way the small write, isn't it? Fits and spurts. It's how I write, anyway.

But you know what? That's the book's fault. At times, it's tough to keep up. I write and the words just flow, unstoppable, like an over-flowing toilet. Sometimes the scenes flow on into another, the next chapter opens and this one closes. I just type what they're saying, you know? And then sometimes I have characters stuck in one place for a month.

I like the idea of NaNoWriMo. Being forced to write, get the words down. It's perfect. I like that idea the way I like the idea of reading that big nonfiction book on some disease in 14th-century Italy and how it helped shape the way we used modern medicine. Sounds good, but I'll just end up returning this one back to the library. I mean, it's due the first of November so I should get that back soon. Heck, I should have already gotten it back to the library. But I'll get it back in the morning. The second will be fine. Right after I swing by the post office and get some stamps for these bills.


Do YOU NaNoWriMo? Good idea, yeah?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Do you like to be scared?

by: Joelle Charbonneau

It’s time for Matthew McBride to get out his chainsaw and DSD's own Steve Weddle to dress poor Gumbo in a silly costume. Yes, holiday fans – today is Halloween. Growing up, Halloween was always special. Mom started working on making costumes for my brother and I long before the big occasion. Halloween was and still is her favorite holiday to dress up and have a scary good time. I come by my love of the holiday honestly.

Not surprisingly, Halloween brings out my love of haunted houses and horror movies. Walking through darkened hallways waiting for people with chainsaws to jump out at you is always a good time. (Yes, I realize I am completely twisted. I’ve come to terms with that part of my personality. Honest.) Haunted houses and horror movies are sheer fun to me because they aren’t real. The zombies, vampires and other worldly creatures are enjoyable to watch, but I have no tangible fear of them. Freddy Krueger and his ilk give me an adrenaline rush without any negative, truly fearful emotions murkying up the waters.

Cinematic thrillers are a different story.

I have a love/hate relationship with big screen thrillers. I love to watch them, but the best of the genre always leave my heart pounding long after the credits roll. The characters feel real. Their motivations to do terrible things ring true. The need to catch the bad guy before he kills the kids at camp make me lean forward in my chair and gnaw my fingernails down to nothing. These movies capture what I love best about the crime fiction genre: the realness. (Is realness actually a word? It sounds totally made up, but it fits what I am talking about so I’m going with it.)

We talk about this kind of thing all the time on DSD. Crime fiction takes ordinary people and plunges them into extraordinary circumstances. As the reader, we immediately identify with the characters and hope to God they make it out alive by the end. And the stories stay with us long after the final page is closed and the story has played out.

My favorite scary cinematic thrillers are ones that fit this mold. The first of the Friday the 13th movies, the original Psycho, The Hitcher are all movies that scare he crap out of me in the best possible way. So – help me out. Today is Halloween and I want to celebrate by scaring myself silly. Which scary movies would you recommend that I try? What are you favorites?