June 30, 2009

THE WAY OF THE WRITER: Intentionality, part 1

This post has two parts.

Intentionality, part 1, is about creative intentionality.

Intentionality, part 2, will be about practical intentionality.

They're both important, but different enough that it made sense to split them up. So I did.

Intentionality is the word that I've started using as I look at my current life-situation. I have to be intnentional about many things. Eating. Exercising. Spending special time with the kids.

And as a creative artist, I have to be intentional about how I spend my time in creative arts. As a full time freelance writer, I must be very careful about making sure I am bringing in money to support my family. This isn't entirely in my hands. Obviously, there are forces at work beyond my control (the economy, book sales, etc.).* But it falls to me.

Also, if I am going to grow as a creative, I must be using my time intentionally as well. Growth cannot and will not happen if the "muscles" used are not exercised regularly, and rigorously. A while ago, I made a joke handout for the people of my writer's group. it said:

Three steps to becoming a writer:

1. Write.
2. Read.
3. Write some more.
It's not a new sentiment. Neither is this:

There are two types of writers: those who want to be writers and those who write.
If you want to be a writer, you must write. You must put those skills to work.

Yes, this is obvious, but why is it so difficult? Some days (especially recently, when I found myself facing a "creative depression" -- it was the result of a number of different factors happening at the same time, and it just crushed me creatively) I just stare at the screen and try to do anything but write.

This is where intentionality comes in. Forcing myself to write. Setting a schedule. I'm not sure how this is going to work. Should I try to force a rigid schedule? Or do I allow it to be more of a loose guideline? I think it's going to take some work to figure out what kind of groove I need to be in.

But the bottom line is that it's going to take work. Anything worth doing takes work. My doctor told me that I need to be exercising about a 1/2 hour a day, and getting my heart rate up to about 140. I'm not going to get into all the details with that he and I talked about. But I spent the next two weeks just doing my regular 1/2 leisurely walk, thinking, "Hey, I already do this! Great!" I can't find my pulse, so I didn't bother with that. At the end of those two weeks, the day before my follow up appointment with my doctor, I bought a watch that can measure your heart rate. Found out that my heart rate on my usual walk barely went over 120. Turns out my leisurely walk was just plain too leisurely. To get my heart rate up to a calorie burning rate, I had to push myself.

But it's worth doing.

I feel bad that some of these life changes are happening when I'm 34. On the flip side, I'm glad they're happening . . .

So now . . . off to work.

~ Ben

June 29, 2009

Comics Worth Reading -- glamourpuss Revisited

I've been reading, buying, and "promoting" the comic book glamourpuss among my friends who care. There aren't many. Partly because it's such a bizarre comic book. There's no story, really, unless you include some possible plot progression about the title character found in bits and pieces in the letters page and introduction pages. The comic itself is divided into two distinct pieces, but they both come from the same purpose: Dave Sim is exploring the photorealistic artwork of the masters. He does this by A. illuminating the history of said masters and mimicking some of their actual illustrations, and B. using those techniques to draw women from photo reference using fashion magazines and in the process parodying said magazines.

It is interesting to me, because (even though I am not an artist) you see him actually trying to draw, stroke for stroke, the same exact illustrations the masters* used, utilizing the same tools (specifically, ink brushes). And then you see him branch off on his own, putting the techniques to the test with the fashion magazine stuff. Unfortunately, for many people, the fashion magainze stuff is a complete turn off.

Well, if YOU'RE one of those people, you'e in luck, because here's a free download that contains all the ART and ART HISTORY material from the first three issues, and NONE of the fashion magazine pardoy stuff.

Here's the link.

Anyway . . . I know this will likely be of interest to very few people who read this blog, but to the few who ARE interested, there you go!

~ Ben

* The masters are Alex Raymond, Al Williamson, and the like -- artists who developed amazing realistic styles in the confines of dramatic and adventure newspaper comics.

THE WAY OF THE WRITER: Inspirational Quote

"To write something, you have to risk making a fool of yourself."

Anne Rice

June 12, 2009

THE WAY OF THE WRITER: Inspirational Quote

"You cannot write for children. They're too complicated. You can only write books that are of interest to them."

Maurice Sendak

(Courtesy @shawnz and @artmaker on Twitter. Oh, check out artmaker's webcomic when you get a chance! It's cool! Fantasy Story Comic.)

June 10, 2009

WAITING FOR THE TRADE: Doomquest & Legacy of Doom


WRITERS: David Michilini, Bob Layton
ARTISTS: Bob Layton, John Romite, Jr. (Doomquest), Ron Lim (Iron Man: Legacy of Doom)

I’d heard of the Doomquest issues of the Iron Man series a while ago, and I was interested in reading them, but never really looked for them. They were issues 149 and 150 and 249 and 250 of the Iron Man comic series.

What got my interest was seeing a paperback copy of the collected edition of “Iron Man: Legacy of Doom” mini-series on the new comics shelf at my local shop. I peeked at the back and saw that it was a sequel, of sorts, to those two Doomquest mini-story arcs. And that those two Doomquet story arcs were about King Arthur and time travel and . . . well, I was hooked.

A quick glance at the old comics shelf revealed a collected edition of Doomquest and the hardcover edition of Legacy of Doom. Cool. I just hoped it was worth it.

Long story short, they were. The first Doomquest story (issues 149 and 150, from 1981) has Iron Man and Dr. Doom thrust back in time, to the time of King Arthur and all his knights. Iron Man allies himself with Arthur, Doom with Morganna, and conflict ensues. It’s exciting seeing Iron Man and Dr. Doom’s technological armor amidst the knights of the round table and the crazy creatures of evil, and the story resolves itself nicely.

The second Doomquest story (issues 249 and 250, from 1988) pushes Iron Man and Doom into the future, where they must once more team up with Merlin to save the Camelot of the future, and the future king of Camelot -- Arthur. There’s some funny twists with Arthur and his legacy and upbringing. Now, Iron Man and Doom are outclassed when it comes to technology, and ultimately this is a fun comic book trip to the future and a nice counterpoint to the first Doomquest story.

Iron Man: Legacy of Doom, a four issue mini-series from 2008, reunites the creative team from those two Doomquest stories and takes up the themes (technology vs. magic) and tropes (time travel, although not as far flung into the future; along with the whole Arthurian thing) and wraps the story up neatly. (And like all good time travel stories, it wraps the story around as an element from the past that shows up in the future is preserved because of decisions in the present. Just read it, you’ll appreciate it.)

I liked these two volumes because it’s a good Iron Man story and a good Dr. Doom story, using these character archetypes in a way that you don’t need to know the convoluted backstories of the characters. If you’ve heard of the characters, you’ll get into the story. I also like the time travel themes that get used, and the technology vs. magic argument is explored in ways that aren’t just conflict, but philosophical concepts.

When the Iron Man movie came out, one problem I had was that there were no comic stories that were as good as the movie. These come close.

Check it out at your local comic shop (they should be able to order for you, and if you're not sure where your closest comic shop is, you can find out here: The Comic Shop Locator), OR you can buy Iron Man Doomquest here and Legacy of Doom here!

Visit the Waiting for the Trade bookstore here, where you can buy many of the comics I'm reviewing!

~ Ben

June 3, 2009

WAITING FOR THE TRADE: Star Trek Countdown

"Waiting for the Trade" is a term that was coined to describe people who, instead of buying monthly comics, waited for them to be put into collections. On my Myth Understanding blog, I have used the term to be the umbrella for my comic book reviews. My reviews aren't ALL about bound collections of comics -- some will be about comics I wish were collected, and some will be about comics I may not have waited for. For the most part, my reviews will be positive: the point here is to point people to works I enjoy, not point out things I disliked (unless I change my mind).

My first review:


Writers: Mike Johnson, Tim Jones (script); Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman (story)
Artist: David Messina
Publisher: IDW

This comic book series basically bridges the gap between the FAR future world of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: Voyager and the NEAR (or nearer, anyway) future world of Star Trek, the new movie.

Spoilers abound in the following review . . . so if you haven’t seen the movie, you may want to skip reading this review. Maybe. So here’s the END of my review: I recommend this book if you are a fan of Trek or liked the movie and want to know more. Fans of Trek should read this before seeing the movie. People who aren’t fans should watch the movie first, and if they want more Star Trek this would be the first place to start.

Let the spoilers (for the movie, not the comic so much) begin.

First of all, the story of this comic was told in Spock’s mindmeld with Kirk on the ice planet. This comic fleshes that part out, though.

I knew the comic was coming out, but my local comic shop sold out of the first issue before I could get a copy because I didn’t know WHEN it was coming out. So I patiently decided to wait for the trade. A four issue mini-series, it tells the backstory of Nero, the villain from the film, and really gives more weight to his anger against Spock. Also, the scientific plot hole from the film is explained with some classic Trek-ish technobabble.

The story takes place after all the Next Generation movies have occurred. We get to see where some favorite Next Generation characters have ended up, and the whole story really serves two purposes: set up Spock and Nero’s backstory, while giving the Next Generation era a proper send off. Fans who believe the Star Trek timeline has been changed to much so that all the original stories never happened, you can be reassured when you see that last page.

The storyline is great, the art is cartoony while retaining enough detail to make the characters recognizable, and not just as caricatures. There were moments in the script that felt just a bit too . . . cute? A clever line, slightly out of place, inserted just for the sake of being clever -- that sort of thing.

But overall, as a Star Trek fan I found this to be a fun comic.

It was also interesting, because it gave insight into the backstory material that the writers of the movie intended for their characters. I like seeing the artistic intentions of creators, and reading this comic book you can see that Orci and Kurtzman, when wrtiting the script for Star Trek, truly did not want to invalidate what people loved about Star Trek. Instead, they embraced it -- all the legacy, all the history, all of what had gone before.

Check it out at your local comic shop (they should be able to order for you, and if you're not sure where your closest comic shop is, you can find out here: The Comic Shop Locator), OR you can buy Star Trek Countdown here!

Visit the Waiting for the Trade bookstore here!

~ Ben

COMING UP: More time travel, superheroes, and teeny, tiny barbarians.

June 2, 2009

THE WAY OF THE WRITER: Holistic Writing

I probably should have written about this BEFORE I wrote my "The Weight of the Writer" post, because this post actually serves as a prelude to many of the thoughts expressed in the "Weight of" post, and also expresses why the "Weight of" post is important.

The term "holistic living" or "holistic health" comes from the word whole. "Complete". I don't need to explain too much, but it basically means that if part of you is unhealthy, all of you will suffer. At least, that's the definition I'm sticking with. I makes sense, though. If you stub your toe badly, you will have a hard time concentrating on, say, multiplication tables even though your toe is what's hurting, not the part of your mind that works out mathematical equations.

I believe that if you are a writer, you need to be aware of your whole self. You need to view yourself holistically.

My friend Mike Maihack (an incredible and funny cartoonist) is at the Gideon Film Festival and Media Arts Conference with me. Together, we're two thirds of the graphic novel/comic book track, and we're teaching some seminars. Mike ended his webcomics seminar with the following:

"Exercise! A healthy body has a healthy mind. A healthy mind creates awesome comics (in theory). Awesome comics make the world a better place."
I believe this to be true.

There are three areas of our lives that we need to be aware, and in control of, as we are setting out to be writers or artists or filmmakers or, really, any creative artist:

Mind. Body. Soul.

This isn't anything new. This isn't rocket science.

Our mind is important because it controls our body. It moves our fingers and our mouths and feet, etc.

Our body is important because it's the series of bones and muscles and whatever it is that holds our guts inside.

Our soul is important because its the part of us that connects with other people and our Creator and our morality.

If we do not have balance in these areas in our life, we will not only be disconnected with ourselves, but we will be disconnected with our art/creative impulse. If we ignore our soul -- our spirit, or katra or whatever you want to call it -- we run the risk of being hollow and insincere and when you are working creatively, sincerity is what connects. If we ignore our minds, we run the risk of becoming intellectually flabby. If we ignore our bodies, not only do our bodies become slow, our minds do as well.

Now, is it possible to be a fat writer? Sure! I am! (Don't plan to be forever, if you see the afore metnioned "Weight of the Writer" post . . .)

Is it possible to be morally bankrupt and paint well? Heck yeah. I know some artists who are amazing, but for money they'll draw anything.

But if you are not considering these areas of your life, you will not be as effective as you could be.

This isn't just about writing -- this is about living. It's not to say you MUST be perfect. Or even that you CAN be perfect. But at all times in our lives we should moving, as C.S. Lewis says, "onward and upward". Closer to God, toward better relationships with other people, approaching excellence in our craft . . .

~ Ben

June 1, 2009

THE WAY OF THE WRITER: The Weight of the Writer

Full disclosure: I'm way overweight.

I'm going to lay it all out, here. I'm 5'10". And I'm almost 300 lbs. And it's not good.

So I'm doing something about it.

Let's face it, this is NOT a problem that only writers face. Indeed, it is something that many people in our society have. Input exceeds output, so the pounds pile on. Being in any sedentary job will do that to you.

One reason I'm laying this out there like this is to encourage fellow writers to do the same. That's the purpose of the "Way of the Writer".

I'm not sure when I first decided to make a change. It may have been that day I had pain near my heart and got real scared . . . only to be told my heart was fine, the problem was that I slouched when I sat at my ddesk. It may have been when my other daughter asked me when I was going to have MY baby. (My wife was a few months pregnant at the time.) It may have been the day that my daughter brought a doll over to me while I was wearing no shirt and tried to let the doll breastfeed. (We had just had our last child.) It may have been when I found out that my family has a history of diabetes. Doesn't matter when it happened, one day I realized that I was going nowhere but down. Er, growing nowhere but out.

So, because of my lifestyle, changes had to be made. I made an appointment with my doctor, got his advice (and some blood work done), and now I'm changing my diet.

Note: I am not dieting, I'm am changing my diet.

And it's not easy. But I've let myself get some pretty bad habits, and these things must be overcome and taken care of.

I want to play with my kids and not run out of breath. They're small now, but soon they'll be hard to keep up with.

I want to fit into some of my cool XL t-shirts that I've kept because they're cool even though I don't fit into them.

I want to not be a stereo-typical comic book guy.

I want to begin treating my body like the temple it is . . . not as a dumping ground for excess.

It's a spiritual thing, not just a physical one. Making these right choices is not easy, and finding the self-control to overcome those seratonin chemicals in my brain that get released when I eat a nice, warm piece of pizza is not just a matter of the flesh. Although I'm understanding more and more that adage "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak". We use food as a drug: to pick us up when we are down, and to celebrate when things are good. I want to get beyond that.

If writing is holistic -- a mind, body, and soul thing -- as I've said before, then the physical state of your body cannot be neglected. While to me the body is a vessel carrying a mind and a soul, and to other people the body is just a bundle of water and dust and electrical impulses, no matter what the shape of your body will hold influence over the quality of your life.

So here's my changes: to make sure my INPUT (the food I eat) outweighs the OUTPUT (the energy burned). My doctor showed me what I think are some baby steps to start with. Keep my caloric input down (he gave me a number based on my age and height) and bring my active energy up (again, based on my age and height, he showed me how to make sure I was getting a cardio workout, which is the way you burn fat). I continue to go on my usual walks, but in doing so I keep track of my heart rate and push myself accordingly, instead of just listening to a radio drama as I stroll along.

It's not easy. But it is necessary.

I will be coming back to this topic, with updates about my weight and health. I thought about taking picture of my belly and doing a time lapse of it getting smaller . . . or putting a number at the end of each post that woud be my weight . . . but I decided I'm not going to lay it all out THAT much.

And I, again, want to encourage all you to do the same. It's not about lengthening your lifespan, it's about increasing the quality of that lifespan, for you and the ones you love.

The Way of the Writer is this: take care of your body and it will take care of you; or, a healthy body is a healthy mind. Yeah, yeah, yeah -- cliched beyond belief. But it's true.

~ Ben