Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Ads in Old Comics

Scott D. Parker

So far this summer, I have been reading more than writing. Hate to admit that, but it's true. Part of the problem of non-writing is that words just aren't flowing. The other part, however, is that I'm really enjoying just reading. Here's a list of some of past few titles: The Chase (Clive Cussler), Master Mind of Mars, Captain Blood, On Stranger Tides, The Presidents Club, and Emperor Mollusk Versus the Sinister Brain.

When I'm not reading books, I'm reading comics. A LOT of comics. And not only the new ones from DC and "Atomic Robo" from Red5, but old ones, too. I've pulled out many of my long comics boxes and have flipped through them, gazing at all those covers. Inspired by the new "Batman in the 1970s" feature series over at bare bones e-zine, I've started re-reading many of the same titles. It's really neat to rediscover how Batman was portrayed before Frank Miller got a hold of him.

Now, back in the day, the Batman team-up book, the Brave and the Bold, was my favorite, and I recently pulled out #122, the first team-up of Batman with Swamp Thing. I'm not here, today, to discuss the story itself, but everything in the book except the story. The advertisements. In all of my historical research when I had to read and take notes from an old newspaper or magazine, I always loved looking at the ads because they often gave a more clarifying picture into the time of the magazine than the content.

The same is true for comics. Issue #122 had 32 pages, of which 18 told the story. Removing the two-page letter column, that leaves 14 pages of ads. Throwing in the insides of both covers and the back of the book, you actually have 17 pages of ads. Four of those pages are house ads for other DC comics and publications, leaving 10 pages of non-DC ads. (And I'm not including the glorious ad that Shazam starred in for Twinkies. Remember when your favorite hero hawked dessert products?)

The number of ads isn't really what I'm focusing on. It's what the ads are selling. Sure you had the standard ones: Slim Jims, "X-Ray glasses", binders in which to store your comics, magic stuff, and the near omnipresent ads for "100 Green Army Men" (although this one is a naval task force). What struck me were the ads offering up ways for kids to earn money by *working*. Both inside covers display a full-page spread of prizes kids could earn by selling personalize Christmas cards. This was not a page of things they could buy, mind you, but prizes to earn by working. Sell 9 boxes of cards and you could select a pair of walkie talkies, 16 gets your a pocket electronic calculator, and 25 gets you a portable 8-track player. Or, if the young salesman didn't want any of those things, he could pocket $1/box sold. Not a bad deal for 1975.

Another ad was for LaSalle Extension University. Here, readers of this comic book could send off a postcard and receive information on any number of carer opportunities: accounting, dental assistant, automotive mechanics, drafting, interior decorating, executive development, or even the high school diploma program.

What do these ads say about the comic buyer in 1975 ? He (or she) had the opportunity to order more comics (naturally), buy any number of cheap toys ("X-ray" glasses), or buy Twinkies. But it also provided an opportunity (key word there) for self improvement.

I buy comics digitally almost exclusively nowadays and the ads are few and far between. Mostly house ads for other DC merchandise and video games, but that's all that is there, Gone are the ads for trade schools. Candy is still there, too. Gone are the ads encouraging young people to sell stuff to earn extra money.

Might this say something about our culture? What do you think?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Location, Location, Location

By Russel D McLean

Scudder was so drunk. he thought that 'tache was cool
Are some characters wedded to their surroundings?

I watched the 1986 screen adaptation of Lawrence Block’s superb Matt Scudder novel 8 Million Ways to Die the other week. I knew from people who had seen it that there would be problems, but the idea of adaptations intrigues me and I love to see the way film-makers approach novels, often finding that those who have a strong vision produce the most interesting works that don’t always have to be note-perfect adaptations.

However, it always intrigues me when they move characters out of their natural surroundings.

And that’s exactly what they did here with Scudder.

The plot of the film is fairly inconsequential in many ways. It marries together a few different elements from the Scudder books and very quickly sets up his alcoholism after softening (just a touch) the mistake that got Matt fired from the police. Now, what the film has in its favour is Jeff Bridges. Even now he’d be my first choice for Scudder (although the recent announcement that Liam Neeson is to take on the role is not one that I’m opposed to), and here he does a fine job of playing the asshole with the unshakeable sense of responsibility. He’s great struggling with the bottle and acting against his better instincts. But something feels off.

And I realised that its nothing to do with Bridges or the character of Scudder.

It’s the fact they moved him to LA.

LA, the town that has so many personalities it never feels entirely cohesive. LA, where the sun shines and the city sprawls.

Matt Scudder does not belong there. Even the way the script portrays, you know that he is New York man, that he belongs in the crowded, occasionally dirty, always edgy city that is New York. Matt Scudder does not belong near the beach or the houses of the Hollywood stars. He is dirty, grungy, hard-bitten. He is New York. And New York is not LA.

And that’s where everything falls apart. Matt is so out of place in this new location that everything else begins to feel wrong. No matter how good Bridges’ performance is, it never feels right. And let’s not even talk about some of the odd narrative jumps or the strange, hallucinogenic way he gets involved in his “case”. It often feels like we’re missing half the narrative that was meant to explain some of the characters’ motivations here.

Oh, and Andy Garcia’s little pony tail is hilarious. As is his weird accent “Hello, Mr Scooder,” he drawls, pretending to be all Latin American and sleazy.

Following this, I watched SLAYGROUND, an adaptation of the Richard Stark novel of the same name. His character, Parker, is something of a drifter. He does where there’s a job. He’s not wedded to one place, but he is wedded to a country. Which is why it strikes me as odd that they took a book whose sole purpose is to trap Parker in one location (an abandoned fairground) and then move him all the way across America before – for no good reason – suddenly sending him to England where he gets to team up with Mel Smith in a finale that seems almost an afterthought to that great title.

It was bad enough watching this poorly made, poorly conceived adaptation while Parker… sorry, Stone… blundered across America displaying none of the professionalism that we had come to expect from the character in the novels. But when they moved him to the UK, suddenly everything felt deeply, sickly, wrong. The entire mis-en-scene was screwed. The character and his story did not belong there. And there was no strong reason to move either there, other than the script seemed to say it happened.

Location can make a massive difference to character. But not always. Take the adaptation of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, which does not suffer in the slightest from moving to the states after the novel was set in the UK. Why? Because Hornby did not wed his characters to place. He did not create them to be English so much as he created them to be geeks.

Its just something that struck me, especially with these two movies, that some characters are integral and part of the place they come from. They become unstuck when moved, somehow lesser. And the more I think about it, the more we do associate certain characters, especially in crime fiction, with place. Marlowe with LA, Hammet with SF, Rebus with Edinburgh (and look what happened when he moved to London – it really didn’t work), Holmes with London… I guess what I’m saying is, a movie needs a strong reason to move narrative location and has to work twice as hard to make us believe in the change, especially when its characters are not part of that location but come and are a product of somewhere else entirely.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Share The Free

By Jay Stringer

My novel OLD GOLD comes out in under a month. You already know this, because I've been mentioning it in every other post since December.

The story takes place in the region where I grew up, in the Black Country of England. It's a region that took it's name from coal mining and industry, so you can imagine how kind the last thirty years have been to the people there.

I'm aware that buying a book by a first-time author can be a bit of a thing. The reader is having to place trust in that writer in a way that they don't have to for an established author, and at hard times like these that's a choice to gamble with your hard-earned money.

I decided to give people a primer. I've had work published online and in print, short stories here and there, and I've been blogging and writing for websites for a few years now, but I wanted to give people something specific to OLD GOLD.

FAITHLESS STREET is a prequel of sorts. It contains four short stories that set the scene for the novel. Each one features a character (or characters) who show up in OLD GOLD. It adds back-story to these people, and fleshes out the world that you'll be walking in if you buy the book. The novel is narrated in first person by Eoin Miller, a particularly mixed up individual, but he only shows up in one of the prequel stories, so it's a chance to get into other peoples heads. Do we trust Miller as a narrator? Well, that's up to you.

In THE DARK KNIGHT, Heath Ledger's Mr J says, "If you're good at something, never do it for free." But that begs the question, how can people judge if you're good at something? People on my mailing list have already had a week to take a look at an ARC version of the collection for free, and now I'm opening it up to you guys. You'll see it's priced at 0.99 at the moment, but from tomorrow until tuesday it will be 0.00 (unless I've set it wrong....) so that everyone out there can share the free.

Why start out straight away with free? Why not try and make some money first? Well again, I want to get this out to people. And, let's be honest, I want people to buy the novel. I figure giving you all a chance to try out my writing for free for a few days now is better than asking you all to buy a whole book just on faith. Try it out, and if you like it, tell other people while it's still free. Let's share the free with as many people as possible.

And while we're talking about that magic price point, Dave White's brilliant Witness To Death is free right now. Action? Spies? Torture? Go click, do it now.

And one final thing. I've prepared a Spotify playlist. I have to stress that I don't have permission from any of the musicians (although Franz Nicolay kindly allowed me to use his words as the epigraph to the book) so I can't claim this is in any way the official soundtrack album. But it's music that reflects the moods and flavours of the book. Most of it, you could imagine, is the kind of moody guitar music that Eoin Miller would pick, but thrown in there are selections that reflect each of the main characters and the region of the Black Country.

If you don't already, follow me on twitter (@JayStringer) because that's where I'll be announcing when it's gone free tomorrow and when the promotion ends.

If you don't have a kindle but still want in on the free stuff, tweet me before Tuesday and we'll see what we can sort out. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mining Your Unpublished Novels

By Steve Weddle

We're talking about THE LAST KIND WORDS in the DSD book club. Pop over and join in. Feel free to start your own thread, too.

Oh, and here's a cool interview with Julian Barnes. I just read THE SENSE OF AN ENDING and quite dug it. The interview is from a decade or so ago, but still has great insight into reading and writing.

Of course, some novelists have produced only one great book—Dr. Zhivago, The Leopard. In fact, should one be a sort of jobbing novelist and produce lots of books at regular intervals? Why shouldn’t one great book suffice?
Absolutely right. No reason at all why one should go on writing just for the sake of it. I think it is very important to stop when you haven’t got anything to say. But novelists sometimes stop for the wrong reasons—Barbara Pym gave up because she was discouraged by her publisher, who said that her books had become flat. I’m not much of an E. M. Forster fan, but he stopped when he thought he had nothing more to say. That is admirable. Perhaps he should have stopped even earlier. 

Also, PULP INK is free for now. The book has all your favorite authors, so go grab a free copy.

And I've started a thing for your phone/mobile/tablet that I call Shorts2Go in response to friends who've said they like to read stories on their phones. I looked for decent sites that collected stories I liked and wanted to share with folks. Some were cool. None were formatted to work cleanly on your phone. Or my phone. So I started Shorts2Go. For you people. Because I love you. Dave says I should Kickstart it for $100,000 so I can buy copies of WITNESS TO DEATH.

So, anyhoo, I've been working on the next big project.

I have two novels in the drawer. They're the first and second of a series. The first one set things up fairly well, but, for whatever reason, we never closed the deal on it. The second one takes most of the same characters and throws them into another disaster.

You know how this works, so why am I explaining it to you?

Well, I went back to the first novel to streamline it. Keep in mind, this is a novel I started nearly a decade ago. I don't write the same way anymore. I don't have the same, well, whatever it is real writers call "style." My writing is different and I write differently.

So revisiting the first novel is weird as hell.

Anyhoo, I figured I'd take some of what I liked from the first one and some of what I liked from the second one and see could I work something out. They both have similar themes, though the second one is considerably darker than the first.

But they both have good writing in them. I say that with very little pride. I'm just telling you. There's good writing in there. And there's writing that's not so awesome. So, I don't want to just let the characters in there die, never to exist, suffocated in some .rtf file on a hard drive I won't be able to find in a few years.

Have you ever mined earlier works for pieces? I mean, extensive mining? Not running down there and grabbing a scene, but really devoting a year to digging about?

Did it work? Is there a trick to doing it well?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Thoughts on Kickstarter

I don't really have a fully formed opinion on Kickstarter yet, but something about it seems kinda shady to me. 

On the outside, everything seems hunky dory.  I mean, you know people want the book, movie, graphic novel, or TV show because it's crowd sourced.  And then it's like the crowd owns a piece of it.  So that's kind of cool.

But, at the same time, doesn't it seem like you may not trust your work to sell otherwise?  You're basically begging for an advance, and then doling out the material.  You're trying to even the odds.  Which is okay, I guess. 

Also, I'm always curious what happens to the money.  I'm sure it's different with movies, because those are expensive... but with books?  When I self-pubbed WITNESS TO DEATH, I went for it.  I spent money on promotion, cover, and formatting.  It wasn't cheap, but I felt like I was confident I'd make that money back and then some.

And I did.  WITNESS did pretty well, in my eyes. 

But it didn't cost me near what people are asking for when they Kickstart their novels.  So, the question lies, where does the money go?  Are people using it on a mortgage payment?  Author photos?  Or are they doing something with their books I don't know about?

I'm not writing this post to make people angry.  I truly don't know the answer.  I need more information to understand.  My opinion isn't informed yet.  I'm just going on gut reaction....

So, if you could fill me in on Kickstarter, I'd really appreciate it.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Five movies I LOVE

I was watching a great documentary a few weeks ago called Midnight Movies: From the Margins to the Mainstream. I couldn't help but notice that both George Romero and John Waters both said almost exactly the same thing. To badly paraphrase they both said that they were bored out of their skulls sitting around in film school dissecting and discussing the merits of Potemkin and just wanted to get out there and do it.

I once had a conversation with my oldest brother and we were talking about movies from when we were kids that we had watched again recently. We both were surprised that other then surface dating some of these movies had held up surprising well all these years later. Now that I have kids I'm constantly showing them movies that I saw when I was their age.

All of which got me thinking. Its easy to name a movie like The Godfather as a favorite because it really is a great movie and if you bring it up in conversation people will nod in agreement. But if you mention Cyborg they look at you with disdain if they have even heard of it. Some people just can't appreciate the artistry and genius of some movies. So putting aside the genius that is completely evident in movies like The Godfather, Raging Bull, Citizen Cane, Unforgiven etc. lets talk about the real movies that are our favorites.

In the spirit of TNT's "New Classics" I compiled a quick list of five movies (I could have done more) that are among my real favorites.  My love for these movies knows no bounds and I've seen them hundreds of times each.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

It takes time to create art

By: Joelle Charbonneau

This week our very own Steve Weddle started a discussion about the trend in publishing where authors are being asked to produce more than one work in a year.  Sometimes they are asked to create a short story to help promote a book.  Often they are requested to up their production to two books or more.  Steve did a great job of laying out the possible reasons for this in his post – here– even if he did tweak me a bit by saying I have 17 books hitting shelves in the next 2 years.  (6 is more than enough!)

During the ensuing discussion, I saw more than on person comment that creating more than one book a year lowers the quality of an authors work.  I have to admit that the certainty in which those comments were made gave me pause for a minute.  I mean, I have 4 novels due to my publishers in the next year.  The comments on Steve’s blog post made it sound as if I am selling out by writing that much or that my writing will suffer mightily from the commitment.  Um…yikes. 

Then I thought about the arguments and I went from feeling scared to being annoyed – not just at those comments, but the discussion on this issue I have seen across the internet.  People say that writing fast means lowering the quality of the writing. 

Screw that.  

Just because something is created quickly doesn’t lower the value of the work.  You know how I know this?  Because some of the greatest art in history was created quickly and has not only lasted throughout the generations, but with each passing year is more revered. 

Let’s look at music. 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is considered to be one of the greatest composers that ever put pen to paper.  He was 35 when he died.  During his time on this earth he wrote over 600 works that are still being preformed today.  In 1791 alone – the last year of his life – Mozart created over 60 works which included 2 operas, one of which was Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute), symphonies, choral music, concertos etc.  I don’t think that anyone would claim his work suffered from speed. 

And if you think Mozart was prolific, take a look at another luminary composer - J.S. Bach who lived to be 65.  Part of his job as a church composer was to write a new cantata every week.  He wrote 1126 works during his lifetime – that we know of.  Who knows what works were lost to the passage of time and poor documentation.  I guarantee you won’t hear people say they wish he’d written less.

The visual arts also have their share of prolific artists.  Raphael Sanzio – who was better known by just his first name of Raphael – was only 37 years old when he died.  During his short life, he completed at least 100 works that we know of.  And as impressive as that sounds, Pablo Picasso has him beat by a mile.  The total number of artworks created by Picasso is estimated to be around 50,000. 

Am I saying that all writers should be prolific?  NO!  Am I saying that all the artwork that was created by Picasso or the music produced by Bach are at the very highest standard?  Probably not. 

But blanket statements saying that “all writing done quickly is crap” and that “those who take years to craft a book are geniuses” really tick me off.  Each of us as writers—as readers—as people move at our own pace.  Associating the time it takes to create something to its value is just plain wrong. 

Read the book. 

Look at the painting. 

Listen to the opera or concerto and determine based on the work alone if it speaks to you.

If it does, why does the time frame it takes to create it matter?