December 28, 2010

CHANGES . . .

I think I'm going to be changing the focus of my reviews. I mean, movie and comic book and book reviews are all out there . . . and easily a dime a dozen. Perhaps even a nickel a baker's dozen.

Originally, with my Nano-reviews, the intent was to just give short, maybe even pithy reviews of movies. Sometimes I succeeded . . . my Star Trek review was short and sweet. My Wolverine review was short, if not sweet. Pan's Labyrinth and The X-Files were probably the best example -- reviews that could fit in a Twitter post. Most times I didn't. Hello, Avatar -- I had a lot to say about you. And Voyage of the Dawn Treader . . . yeah, why'd I even label it "nano"?

My new tactic for film/book/comic reviewing is something I sort of was already doing. Often in a review, I would make comments about the storytelling and the like. I think this is the tactic I will be taking with reviews I do in the future. I'll still be recommending things (or not, depending on the situation), but I'll also be telling you what I learned from the movie or graphic novel or whatever in my own journey of learning to become a better storyteller. And maybe you, gentle reader, will be willing to do the same for me?

~ Ben

December 24, 2010

December 23, 2010

Nano Film Review #30 - Tron: Legacy, the film and soundtrack

Tron: Legacy is a movie that shouldn't exist. But I'm glad it does.

It's a sequel to a groundbreaking (in terms of technology) film . . . that's 30 years old. A film that doesn't hold up well if watched today (unlike the original Star Wars which, aside from some hair styles, holds up well because it was a ground breaking film that relied on physical models, not computer graphics). But the original is a good little film, if you watch it saying to yourself, "It was ground breaking 30 years ago."

Rumor has it that Disney has tried to bury the original Tron so young viewers won't think "they made a sequel to that rubbish?" and choose to spend their money on another movie instead. This is actually probably a good plan, whether they did it intentionally or not.

Tron: Legacy is also a solid film. It's got breath-taking visuals. Even watching the trailer, you can see deliberate symmetry in almost every shot. The graphics are mesmerizing, the action has a fluid motion that you don't find in other movies like this.*

The story is a weak spot. It's not terribly deep or complex, but it has an emotion and an energy absent in other movies like this.*

The characters are likable. Quorra, Sam, and Jeff Bridges as Flynn are all people I wouldn't mind spending time with (Quorra and Flynn more than Sam). The bad guys are cool, and the background characters are strange and interesting.

I saw it in 3D, which was cool and natural. I didn't feel like the 3D got in the way of the storytelling, but it also wasn't needed. I would have liked it just as well in 2D, I think. We'll see. If I see it again.

But the real star, to me, was the soundtrack. I've written about it before. I know nothing about Daft Punk, except that people got excited that Daft Punk was doing the soundtrack. But when I started hearing snippets, I started liking what I was hearing. And now the Tron: Legacy soundtrack has a permanent place in my regular rotation of atmospheric music and soundtrack albums. It's big. It's cool. It gets the blood pumping. And it fits the movie like a glove. To me, the movie almost becomes a visual showcase for the music. Daft Punk actually appear in the movie:


So, do I recommend the movie? Yes, if you want a visually stunning film with a great soundtrack and some fun characters. But Inception this ain't. It ain't meant to be. And that's one thing that I've taken away from the film. Just let your story be what it's going to be. They don't try to make it into something that it's not. It is what it is: a cool, sleek, elegant film with a cool, sleek, elegant soundtrack and cool, sleek, elegant characters. It's a popcorn film, it won't change your life, it's not changing cinema.

Do I recommend the soundtrack? Do you even need to ask?

Speaking of symmetry, I love the way the old poster (below) and the new poster (above) go together.



~ Ben

*When I say "other movies like this" I'm looking squarely at the Matrix sequels, and the first Matrix movie out of the corner of my eye . . .

December 17, 2010

Nano Film Review #29 -- The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader

(Earlier Narnia posts: Read my review of Prince Caspian here. Here's Disney's admittance to releasing Prince Caspian on a bad weekend. And here's the news that Disney was dumping the Narnia franchise, but Fox was picking it up.)


Voyage of the Dawn Treader has some really great acting. Some incredible special effects. Great sets. Brilliant cinematography. Awesome creature design. It's a really good movie.

But, you know what, my review is going to be one of those "it was different than the book" type things. I feel bad even typing it. But it's true.

The kid who plays Eustace is spot on perfect. Edmund and Lucy, the same actors from the first two Walden Media Narnia films, fall into their rolls perfectly. Caspian does better as King Caspian than he did as Prince Caspian. The White Witch, brought back in a larger cameo than in Prince Caspian, is right on.

But they made so many changes. Unnecessary changes. Now, I understand the challenges of taking a story created for one medium and changing it to another medium. Most of my experience comes from comic books. I've taken historical stories and turned them into comic books. I've taken novels and turned them into comics. I've also done some small scale film projects and stage projects doing the same thing. And it is a challenge. Books are not visual, and so lots of action can happen within people's minds and it's really interesting, but on the screen or comic book panel or stage it's not as easy to do. But that's not the problem with Voyage of the Dawn Treader. They actually do a really good job of putting the internal conflicts of the characters on the screen in a visual way.

I understand that Voyage of the Dawn Treader, as a book, is not a long story with a beginning, middle, and end. It's a series of episodes, held together by a vague "quest" for seven lords who left Narnia long ago. There's no big battle at the end, there's no huge climax. So some of the "episodes" get rearranged. Two islands stops are combined into one island, saving a lot of time. The scariest and most dangerous island is moved to the end and turned into a fierce conflict. That all makes sense.

But apparently, rescuing the seven lords of Narnia wasn't enough. So they fall into the Star Trek movie trap: a story isn't big enough unless Earth itself is in trouble. So Narnia itself is in trouble. A vague evil is causing trouble, and it keeps showing up, and will eventually destroy Narnia if it isn't stopped. And the only way to stop it is . . . well, it's in the video below.



Yup, for some reason those seven lords of Narnia have a magic sword to place at on Alsan's table. And now our heroes must find the swords to destroy the evil.

Just curious about the logic here -- if it won't work unless all seven swords are brought to the table, what good could it possibly be to split up? Instead of seven guys working together to get teh job done, you've got seven guys trying to do it alone, and if even one of them fails, they all do . . . and they have no way of knowing if one of the others needed help . . . adding this element didn't help create a stronger story, it took a stable story and gave it a whole bunch of plot holes.

So we end up with a movie that becomes the "book to movie" cliche that they avoided in the first two movies. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian, changes were made to amp up the action and the drama and to make it more epic. But the story remained the same. In this version, action and drama are amped up . . . but sacrificing the original story to do so. Iconic moments from the book are removed -- moments I was excited to see on the big screen brought to life by master visual effects creators. At one point in the movie, I felt like I was watching an '80's fantasy film -- "You must find the magic weapon to destroy the world-engulfing evil!" and I had images of the Glaive flashing in my head . . . normally not a bad thing.

So overall, we get a well made movie with familiar characters . . . but it's just not Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I'll watch it again. My son was excited about this Narnia movie in the same way I got excited about Star Wars movies. Fortunately, he loves the Narnia books as well.

It's not a bad story. It just felt like big budget fan fiction.

Now, were the spiritual elements lost in the midst of this? Surprisingly, no. There's some really good moments with Aslan and about Aslan. The director and writers were trying to be true, I think, to the intent of the book, and Lewis' ideas. For some reason, though, they just didn't have the same goal for the story.

(Let's address the Liam Neesan controversy for a moment. Mr. Neesan said, "Aslan symbolises a Christlike figure, but he also symbolises for me Mohammed, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries. That’s who Aslan stands for as well as a mentor figure for kids – that’s what he means for me." You can't fault him, though, for misunderstanding the difference between Christ and Mohammed & Buddha. Christ is a personal, living part of God who wants a personal relationship with us -- not just a dead mentor. And this shines through brilliantly in the movie. Aslan reveals to Lucy in the end of the movie (and the book) that the reason Peter, Susan, Edmund, Lucy, Eustace, and (eventually, Jill Pole) is so they might get to know Aslan better in our world. That's one of C.S. Lewis' intents for writing these stories as well -- to show us Jesus and help us know him better here.)

So, I do hope Walden Media gets the chance to do Silver Chair, which they should find less challenging to actually use the story as it is. I want to see more of Eustace, and he can carry that film. And I really want to see The Horse and His Boy made into a film (which would allow Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy to appear). But I fear that this is the last we'll see of Narnia on the silver screen. I had hopes for all seven movies to be made, but as of December 15 (six days after opening) Dawn Treader has only made back $112 million of its $155 million budget. It will make money, I think, but it's not a smash hit.

Final thoughts: it's a good movie, it's fun, it's kid-friendly (more than the other two). But I'm a grumpy old man . . .

~ Ben

December 7, 2010

Ruminations on The Weight of Glory Brought on by . . . a Chick-Fil-A Video (?!?)

A friend of mine posted a link on Twitter to this video. It's a video from Chick-Fil-A -- not sure the context. It's too long to be a commercial. And really, other than being set in a Chick-Fil-A restaurant, it's not a commercial. It's actually a touching, beautiful reminder to how we should live our lives.



Recently I got into an online "discussion" with someone, where I was trying to make the same point this video makes. How often do we, wrapped up in our own lives, just choose to forget that every single person we interact with has a life of triumph and tragedy as well. That person whose tailgating us? Could be more to the story than that they are just impatient and inconsiderate. The teller at the store who was rude and not as quick as we'd like? Could be more to the story than just they're a jerk who doesn't care about their job or serving us. The person smiling at us and telling us everything is just fine? Could be more to the story than them just being fine.

A while back I refered to a C.S. Lewis quote from The Weight of Glory (in this post here). Here's the actual quote.

Here's the quote from his essay that sticks with me most, and has become the backbone to my dealings with other people and my own calling to children's ministry:


The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour's glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the are and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations -- these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is with immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit -- immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously -- no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins ins spite of which we love the sinner -- no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat -- the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

This is why we do what we do. Or it should be. It's a pretty tough standard, once you start applying it. (And I fail frequently, not just with "uninteresting" people, but with people in my own family.) But let's be honest . . . would you rather rather fail in trying to achieve a high standard than succeed at achieving a low one?

~ Ben

December 6, 2010

Tron: Legacy soundtrack with extra track . . .

UPDATED!  You can purchase both the original Tron soundtrack ($7.99) and the new Tron: Legacy soundtrack ($9.49, available tomorrow, December 7 UPDATE: $3.99 for how long? Special thanks to my friend John for pointing this out . . .) from Amazon as digital downloads for pretty cheap. Click on the links here or the images below to do so . . . and you'll get an extra track!


Tron: Legacy (Amazon MP3 Exclusive Version) [+digital booklet]


If you purchase from iTunes (not sure how to link for that, but it's as simple as opening iTunes and searching for Tron: Legacy) there are some extra tracks as well.

The soundtrack to the original Tron film is cheaper from Amazon than from iTunes (by $2). Both Tron and Tron: Legacy are $9.99 on iTunes.

I'm just not sure which way I'm going to go. Generally, I'm an iTunes man . . . but today . . . I just don't know. I think I'm just going to have to wait until iTunes puts it up and see how the iTunes extra track previews stack up against the Amazon extra track previews . . . Then again, buying an album on Amazon is supposed to give me $5 for viewing Amazon "on demand" rentals. (Did you know you could digitally "rent" movies on Amazon? I've gotten some credit from items I've purchased, not knowing that I was getting credit . . . it's kinda cool, although not something I'd actually spend money on.)

Meanwhile, I've been avoiding reviews as much as possible. I want to know nothing more about this movie. I'm even avoiding looking at track names on the soundtrack . . . which is going to make comparing Amazon and iTunes track listings quite difficult.

Update: the extra tracks on iTunes are "Father and Son" and "Outlands Pt. II", and are each available for $.99. I just may splurge and spend the extra $2 for the extra two tracks after getting the actual album from Amazon for that incredibly low price . . .
~ Ben

November 24, 2010

Want to Hear Daftpunk's TRON LEGACY Soundtrack?

So I've listened to the samples from Daftpunk's soundtrack for Tron Legacy and I have to say, I will be buying the soundtrack. I will be listening to the soundtrack. When I am writing I will be using this soundtrack as part of my regular rotation. If you read anything I've written after December 7, 2011, the odds are I will have listened to this soundtrack while writing part of it. It's that good.

It (intentionally) reminds me of the original music, a bit, although the original music wasn't anything I'd want to listen to apart from the movie. It reminds me of Vangelis, actually, particularly the soundtrack for Bladerunner. It reminds me a lot of the soundtrack Joel Goldsmith is using for Stargate: Universe, which is interesting in and of itself (and I do hope for an album from his SGU music) because it is a traditional score writer known for great convention television scoring channeling Vangelis with an electronic score. (Most of his music for the other Stargate series was electronic made to sound like an orchestra, with Universe he just puts the electronic music front and center.)

Give it a listen! It's awesome!
Daft Punk - Tron: Legacy (OST) [www.SeekSickSound.com] by seeksicksound

Obviously, it's not for everyone. But truth is, it's for this movie and seems to me it will work. But a good soundtrack , for me anyway, works when pulled away from the movie. A good soundtrack sets a mood without the need for visuals, which is why I use them when I work.

~ Ben

PS -- It's available for pre-order from Amazon for just $12: Tron Legacy

Tron Legacy

You can also get the original Tron soundtrack from them for pretty cheap ($11): Tron
Tron


November 3, 2010

C.S. Lewis on "Choices"

"[E]very time you make a choice you are turning into the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state of the other."

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I heard this quote from Peter Kreeft, in a podcast about Mere Christianity, while I was on my run this morning, and it stuck with me. Mere Christianity is a dangerous book, of course, because it so concisely cuts through a lot of the bull that surrounds what really matters.

Lewis had a similar quote, using a similar word picture but in a different context, in The Weight of Glory. In that context it was not about personal choices making us into one or the other, beautiful creature or horrific beast, but rather seeing other people's potential as one or the other and helping them toward the better one. I'll post that quote someday.

This quote feeds nicely into a werewolf story I've wanted to write for a long time . . . maybe someday . . .

~ Ben

October 29, 2010

Power of Words

Spent a bit of time this morning working on a project that may never see the light of day. Because the whole time I've been drawing this thing, some awful words someone said about me keep creeping back. So I'll toy with working on this project, and then push it away . . .

Interesting how I tend to hang on to THOSE words, and not all the encouraging words from other sources.

I don't think that's uncommon for artists and writers. But it IS unhealthy. I've found myself being more critical of this work because of the words from this guy -- words about a similar project from over a year ago! Can it get more silly than that?

I guess the real question is how to use those words. Let them fuel me, to "prove him wrong"? But what if he's NOT wrong? Try to figure out a way to "use them constructively"? But there was no "constructiveness" to them -- they were just mean, with just enough truth to make it bite. Just ignore it? But if it were that easy, it wouldn't be a problem!

I don't have an answer. Maybe I should stop asking the question! I'd love to go to the guy and ask him to just retract what he said. But to be honest, I'd doubt he'd even remember.

So here's one lesson i can take from this: words have power. More power than we'd like to admit, sometimes. The real question isn't "what should I do about HIS words?" The real question is "what am I doing about my own?"

~ Ben

October 25, 2010

Seeking the Kingdom: Some Thoughts on Prayer

In my reading over the last few days, I made a couple connections I hadn't noticed before.

Many people I know who pray tend to focus on the physical, asking for healing and for the money needed to do this or that. And that's fine. It's something that Jesus actually encourages when he says, "Ask and it will be given to you."

But Jesus also encourages us to go a bit deeper. "And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after these things, and your Father knows that you need him. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well."

I find it interesting how little I hear people talking about wanting to "seek his kingdom" and how often I hear people talking about wanting to expand their own kingdom when it comes to prayer. But I don't know that's what Jesus is talking about when he's saying "ask and it will be given to you", especially when he says, "those things" will be given to you as well . . . when you seek his kingdom.

Jesus also says that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can ask a tree to move and it will. Often, I hear that verse applied to, again, physical things. Rarely do I hear it applied to internal matters. To the "seek first his kingdom" type things.

We can ask the God who can and does move mountains for us to move those mountains in our hearts. The mountians that get in the way of our honest seeking of the kingdom.

~ Ben

October 16, 2010

Nano Film Review #28 -- Superman/Batman: Apocalypse


Superman/Batman: Apocalypse. Terrible film. Terrible, terrible film.

I hate it when films have such great potential for being emotional, character driven action films . . . only to decide to forgo any actual emotion beats to make sure they hit all the action beats.

Here's a film about Superman discovering that he's not the last, living person from his planet . . . only to have his worst enemy convince her to turn against him.

But the emotion in this movie is as flat as the animation. Superman leanrs he has a cousin, and he says with no emotion at all: "Uh, I think she's my cousin."

His cousin gets kidnapped by his greatest enemy, after slaughtering a number of people from Wonder Woman's island? No emotion, just, "Uh, let's go get her."

His cousin is turned evil? No emotion, just a flat line reading of, "Uh, you don't have to do this."

Meanwhile, at the beginning, Supergirl wants to learn what it means to be an earthgirl . . . so Superman takes her to the mall and we get a pretty woman montage. Yup, that's what it means to be an earthgirl!

Batman is Batman, and does Batman stuff. Wonder Woman is Wonder Woman, and does Wonder Woman stuff. Superman is Superman, and does Superman stuff. But it all feels so flat. So dry. So lifeless. I want to see character development. I want to see emotional moments with action based emotional payoffs . . . not action moments with action payoffs. I want emotion, not going through the motions.

The fight scenes are impressive. Even more impressive? If they had taken the time to actually let the characters be true to the emotional elements of the plot instead of just crafting brilliant, brutal fight scenes.

~ Ben

October 15, 2010

Story vs. History

I was listening to Peter Kreeft's "podcast" (in quotes, because technically it's not him podcasting but posting lectures that can be accessed freely) about Imagination while on my walk this morning. Peter Kreeft has become a moprning companion of late. He and I have been talking about story ideas and fundamentals of storytelling and philosophy of fiction. Of course, it's a one way conversation, and he has no idea that he's a part of it.

But he is.

I highly recommend listening to his lectures. They are brilliant and insightful. And he talks about Lewis and Tolkien a lot.

But as I was listening today, I had a thought. It didn't have a lot to do with what he was saying, but I was struck by a thought.

Story is false, but can contain much truth; history is true, but can be interpreted falsely.

There's all sorts of implications that can then be made. History is jaded by our own personal perceptions. Story has power.

And I got to thinking about all these ideas . . . big, philosophical ideas . . . about Art and Truth and Life and Other Big Concepts that I capitalize to make them even more Grand!

And then, I had another thought that brought me back down to earth. With all those concepts and implications and philosophical ideas (which are Good, and deserve thought), there is one Big Durn Ol' Trinity of Truth in Writing:

1. Just write.
2. Do your best.
3. Be honest.

Follow those guidelines, and you're on your way to meaningful fiction . . . or meaningful nonfiction . . .

Just some thoughts. Not sure what they're worth, but there they are.

~ Ben

October 1, 2010

What They Say; What They Mean

And now, for something completely different . . .

With political ads and debates and all that stuff, here's my little guide to what is really being said:

INDEPENDENT: Both sides will be using this word in their ads. The flip side of this word being just not putting what party the candidate actually belongs to. Why? Both sides don't want you to know what party they belong to. Democrats know people aren't happy; republicans know that people aren't happy. And both sides know that it's going to be close.

TOLERANCE: When this word is used, it means, "I accept everyone except those people who don't think like I do."

FAITH: In other words, "Hey, religious people, I have faith just like you." This IS used by people who actually do ACT like they have faith in God. But it's also used by people who just want votes.

TEABAGGER: Whenever you see someone use this phrase, what they are saying is, "I'm going use this word that is also used to describe a sex act, so I can call people in the Tea Party a totally derogatory name right in public and nobody will care." This is incredibly clever and subversive. It's entered the popular lexicon, and there are many uninformed people who unsuspectingly use the phrase now. In other words, people who should know better (politicians, who have at least had the phrase explained to them) are using the phrase, and causing people who don't know better to use it as well. (EDIT: I should have put this in earlier, but a friendly e-mail from a friend reminded me that I should have given you this warning: don't Google the meaning of the word. It is a work that has been given a pretty nasty meaning -- which is WHY Tea Party opponents are more than happy to use it.) 

"IT'S ALL (STILL) BUSH'S FAULT"/"IT'S ALL OBAMA'S FAULT": Nothing is all anybody's fault. Or maybe I should say it's all everybody's fault. First, I can't believe how hard it's been for Obama to get anything done, considering his party pretty much has control over everything in Washington. His inability to get much done has two by-products: 1. It gives the Democrats an easily identifiable enemy for the people to rally against -- Republicans; 2. The Republicans have really rallied together to obstruct almost everything. But here's the real truth -- nothing is really getting done because no one is willing to work beyond party affiliation. Still trying to decide if this is a good thing or not. On one hand, it COULD mean that people are sticking to their principles . . . except when they vote FOR their party AGAINST their principles. On the other hand, this whole two party thing just means there's only two voices in Washington, and I don't think either voice accurately reflects the average American.

Personally, I'm getting tired of "the lesser of two evils".

~ Ben

September 16, 2010

THE WAY OF THE WRITER: Just Write


If I were to start this little series of writings about writings again, I'd call it "Just Write". However, I have a feeling that's been taken. Come to think of it, "The Way of the Writer" is probably taken as well . . . but that's just my own little title to let you know that this blog post is about writing and the creative life.

On a message board I frequent (yes, those things DO still exist) one post turned toward a person who had a blank page because he wasn't sure about how to draw a panel. There are other factors involved, but it got me thinking about the blank pages and the blank screens and the false concept of writer's block.

Yes, I believe it's a false concept. I may be wrong. And tomorrow I may change my belief. But today, just walk with me down this path . . .

Writer's block, in some ways, is just an excuse. An excuse not to move forward because I don't have just the right idea. Just the perfect line. Just the ideal word. Just this, just that . . . when really I need to just write.

My biggest project right now is essentially taking what could be a research paper/essay and turning it into a graphic novel. Make it interesting. Make it visual (or why make it a graphic novel at all?). And it's been a struggle.

One particular sequence really gave me some trouble. The twenty or so page sequence I'm working on right now. For a long time I just sat and looked at it. Tried to figure it out. Puzzled over how to make it pop. Nothing. I wanted to make it just right . . .

In the end, I had to just write. (Ugh . . . just typing THAT makes me feel a little ill . . . but I think I'm leaving it in, cheesy as it may be.)

So I just dove in. Wrote the sequence with what was the best idea I could come up with to present the information. Did the whole thing . . . and then, a couple days ago, while working at Borders, ten minutes before I had to pack up and leave so I could get to something in time . . . another idea struck me.

This new idea was eight thousand times better. This new idea allowed for the information to be presented visually and with some quirkiness and fun.

This new idea meant that the entire sequence needed to be rewritten.

But it's going to be SOOOOOoooooo much better. (Eight thousand times better.) If I hadn't gone ahead with things, and just forced myself to write that draft, even though I knew it wasn't what I wanted it to be, I never would have came upon the idea I ended up with.

So was that earlier draft lost work? Wasted time? No. Unlike staring at a blank screen, unlike staring at blank paper . . . creatively, I was working and engaged in a way that just staring and struggling would never have achieved.

Just write. Just draw. Just play. In the creative arts, and maybe in other things as well, sometimes you have to do it wrong to figure out how to do it right.

~ Ben

PS -- That cheese earlier . . . makes me thing I'm gonna have a grilled cheese for lunch, See? Yet another bad idea leading to a great idea!

August 9, 2010

Bono on the Psalms

I read this years ago, but just recently came across it again.


Bono wrote the introduction to a book that reprinted some of the KJV Psalms from the Bible. His take on the Psalms is interesting, and gives a lot of insight into the music of U2 . . . and also a lot of insight into the Psalms.


Here's some of Bono's thoughts on David:


At the age of 12, I was a fan of David. He felt familiar, like a pop star could feel familiar. The words of the psalms were as poetic as they were religious, and he was a star. Before David could fulfil the prophecy and become the king of Israel, he had to take quite a beating. He was forced into exile and ended up in a cave in some no-name border town facing the collapse of his ego and abandonment by God. But this is where the soap opera got interesting. This is where David was said to have composed his first psalm -- a blues. That's what a lot of the psalms feel like to me, the blues. Man shouting at God -- "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me?" (Psalm 22). 


David was a star, the Elvis of the Bible, if we can believe the chiselling of Michelangelo. And unusually for such a "rock star," with his lust for power, lust for women, lust for life, he had the humility of one who knew his gift worked harder than he ever would. He even danced naked in front of his troops -- the biblical equivalent of the royal walkabout. David was definitely more performance artist than politician. 

And here's some of Bono's thoughts on religion:


Words and music did for me what solid, even rigorous, religious argument could never do -- they introduced me to God, not belief in God, more an experiential sense of GOD. Over art, literature, girls, my mates, the way in to my spirit was a combination of words and music. As a result, the Book of Psalms always felt open to me and led me to the poetry of Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, the book of John...My religion could not be fiction, but it had to transcend facts. It could be mystical, but not mythical . . .


Anyway, I stopped going to churches and got into a different kind of religion. Don't laugh. That's what being in a rock 'n' roll band is. Showbiz is shamanism, music is worship. Whether it's worship of women or their designer, the world or its destroyer, whether it comes from that ancient place we call soul or simply the spinal cortex, whether the prayers are on fire with a dumb rage or dove-like desire, the smoke goes upwards, to God or something you replace God with -- usually yourself. 
Finally, here's some thoughts on the composition of the song "40":



Years ago, lost for words and with 40 minutes of recording time left before the end of our studio time, we were still looking for a song to close our third album, War. We wanted to put something explicitly spiritual on the record to balance the politics and romance of it; like Bob Marley or Marvin Gaye would. We thought about the psalms -- Psalm 40. There was some squirming. We were a very "white" rock group, and such plundering of the scriptures was taboo for a white rock group unless it was in the "service of Satan." Psalm 40 is interesting in that it suggests a time in which grace will replace karma, and love will replace the very strict laws of Moses (in other words, fulfil them). I love that thought. David, who committed some of the most selfish as well as selfless acts, was depending on it. That the scriptures are brim full of hustlers, murderers, cowards, adulterers and mercenaries used to shock me. Now it is a source of great comfort. 


"40" became the closing song at U2 shows, and on hundreds of occasions, literally hundreds of thousands of people of every size and shape of T-shirt have shouted back the refrain, pinched from Psalm 6: "How long (to sing this song)." I had thought of it as a nagging question, pulling at the hem of an invisible deity whose presence we glimpse only when we act in love. How long hunger? How long hatred? How long until creation grows up and the chaos of its precocious, hell-bent adolescence has been discarded? I thought it odd that the vocalising of such questions could bring such comfort -- to me, too. 
 The article in it's entirety can be read here:


http://www.atu2.com/news/psalm-like-it-hot.html


It's quite interesting. If you are a believer, it will get you thinking about some of these common characters and ideas in a slightly different way, I think. 


~ Ben

July 27, 2010

THE WAY OF THE WRITER: Formula for a Great Story


Thinking about yesterday's blog posting, and I came up with the following formula for a great story:

Character + Circumstances + Choice = Change

Repeat as necessary.

The above equation actually seems to work for both writing and, well, life.

What say you? Writing formulas usually are stifling . . . and there really are no rules. However, I this is something that I've been running my characters through when I write . . . although not in this form. It doesn't always work this way, but when I write I want my character's choices to push things forward. Random chance is okay, but only if it leads to a character choice that will push things forward again. And I think, ultimately, what makes a story satisfying is that when the main protagonist changes, and that change helps them triumph.

In other words, your character's choices should drive a plot, not the other way around. Which would be, you know, the plot driving the character's choices . . .

So, gentle readers, do you agree? Disagree? Have a better way to say it? (I thought about a more complicated equation, but I decided I wasn't smart enough to do some sort of "Character divided by circumstance times choice or whatever . . .)

~ Ben

Samurai art by Tim Baron, (c) 2009

July 26, 2010

THE WAY OF THE WRITER: Dramatic Storytelling

Something I was thinking about this morning when I woke up . . .

Dramatic storytelling comes from choices, not circumstances.

Why?

Ask yourself, which is more satisfying to watch or read: a movie with lots of cool action and events and special effects, or a movie where a character faces internal struggles while dealing with lots of cool action and events and special effects?

The best stories are about an interesting, relatable character learning about themselves and becoming a better person in the midst of, and sometimes because of, extraordinary circumstances. Or, sometimes, in inverse: choosing NOT to become a better person in spite of learning about themselves in the midst of extraordinary circumstances -- which isn't as satisfying, but still strikes an emotional resonance. But the best stories are about a character making choices and learning to make better choices, which will help them overcome those great odds to bring the story to its satisfying conclusion.

And I'm convinced we're attracted to these kind of stories because that's the way life works. I think because, at our core level, we know that life is not about random events. Rather, we know that life is about the choices we make. Life is about those times we choose good over evil . . . or evil over good . . . it's about those times we choose to reason and learn instead of being told what to think . . . it's about the times we choose to help someone rather than hurt them . . . it's about the times we choose to sacrifice. I believe that those are the things that we are attracted to in stories because those are the things that make life worth living.


~ Ben

Samurai art by Tim Baron, (c) 2009

July 23, 2010

Comics Worth Reading: FRAGGLE ROCK

A few days ago, I posted an old article I wrote back in 2004. I posted it in reaction to the news that DC Comics is canceling two of their all ages titles.

Those of you who know me, know I've spent much of my career working on all ages comics. (Shameless plug: coming soon -- The Oz/Wonderland Kids!!! Stay posted as I can give more details.)

So I was reminded yesterday while at the comic shop that there was a series on the shelf that I've been talking up with everyone I can talk it up to. (Did that sentence make sense? I need an editor . . .) And that series is Fraggle Rock, by Archaia Comics.

Fraggle Rock, Free Comic Book Day issue

Now, i had no idea that there was going to be a Fraggle Rock comic. Or maybe I did, but I heard about it so long ago that I completely forgot. But when I helped my local comic shop, BuyMeToys.com (also publisher of The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles and The Oz/Wonderland Kids), with their Free Comic Book Day event, The Archaia free comic caught my eye.

"Fraggles?" I said. "Really? Fraggles?" Guess what the first comic in my take home pile was. Guess what the only comic in my take home pile that I've actually read was.

Fraggle Rock #1

I've made no secret how much I admire Jim Henson. Dark Crystal and Muppets and Labyrinth and The Storyteller and Fraggle Rock. These things all helped shape me creatively. Not only that, puppets are a huge part of my life, between the work I do with children and some of the film work I'm looking at doing in the near future. When I was a child, my parents would travel to work at camps and Bible schools and stuff like that, and those puppets were passed down to me.

So, armed with the knowledge that Fraggle Rock is a comic book, but cautiously optimistic (it's EASY to write for a license, NOT easy to do it well) I flipped through the free comic. It looked AWESOME. I read it, and it read AWESOME. They got it.

And I got the next issue. Paid for that one. (And eventually, the other two issues as well.)

Fraggle Rock #2

The Fraggle Rock comic series is an anthology. I don't know how they selected the different artists and writers for the series (but I'm jealous of them), but each issue of the books has three or four different short stories, each one by a different team. There are a number of different styles, but amazingly each style is able to capture the character design without following a "house style".

These books are, simply put, gorgeous. I mentioned in some previous posts about how much I love to flip through concept art. These comic books are similar. I could stare at this artwork forever.

Essentially what you have here is an anthology on the level of Flight . . . except all the stories are about Fraggles.

Not one story looks "wrong", even though each story looks different.

Fraggle Rock #3

But on to the topic that made me post this in the first place: these books are TRULY "all ages". Like the TV series, these Fraggle stories are "for the young and young at heart" (to use an apropos cliche). They are fun. They are energetic. They are sweet. They are even a bit edgy. Just like the TV show.

A hardcover collection is coming out in September, I believe. You can order the Fraggle Rock Hardcover from Amazon for just $10. (That may just be a pre-order deal.) I believe that means that it would be in last month's Previews. I'm going to be ordering mine through my local comic shop (although that means paying more for it) (it also means I'm buying it twice, but I can live with supporting it like that). But for any fan of all ages fantasy and whimsy, this is a must have.

~ Ben

PS -- I understand Archaia is developing both Dark Crystal and Labyrinth comics. Very interested to see what they do with those . . .

Artwork (c) Archaia Comics


July 21, 2010

Marvel Movie Concept Art!!!!!

I love concept artwork. I find it inspiring, and even though I am not an artist one way I get my creative juices going is to sit down with an art book from some sort of genius artist, like The Lord of the Rings Sketchbook by Alan Lee or a The Art of _____ from one of Hayao Miyazaki's movies.

So when I saw that these San Diego Comic Con posters had been revealed, and then saw the actual images, man, I got excited.

Here's Captain America:


And here's Thor:


The first thing I have to say is that, frankly, these FEEL right. They feel iconic. They feel epic. They feel, well . . . RIGHT.

Who knows what the movies will be like. All I know is that these concept paintings look awesome, and I want to see more.

More importantly, I want to see a book of this stuff, to look at when I have some writer's block.

~ Ben

Image from Yahoo! News

July 20, 2010

All Ages Comics

Here's an article I wrote for Comic Book Digest, back in 2004.

With the announcement that DC was canceling Brave and the Bold (although I expect they'll be relaunching that one) and Shazam, leaving only one all ages superhero title in their stable (Tiny Titans) I was reminded of this old article.

It's long, but it still reflects my feelings on the subject of all ages comics. In a nutshell, we need more "all ages" comics -- that truly are for all ages. You know, the kind of thing that Pixar does: make a GREAT movie that can be enjoyed by children and adults. In other words: ALL. AGES.

The bottom line is this: kids DO like to read comics. So what're you gonna do about it, partner?

Oh, and if there are any talented artists out there who'd like to work on some all ages type material, let me know. :)

Anyway, here's that long article . . .


“All-Ages Comics?”

Why We Need More All-Ages Comics and What We Can Do About It

by Ben Avery


I worked the better part of a year recently in a residential treatment center for children who had been removed from their homes for various reasons -- mostly due to behavioral problems. The particular kids I was working with were abuse victims who had, in reaction to their own abuse, acted out against other children. They ranged in age from nine to thirteen, and the children I dealt with were exclusively boys.

You can imagine their excitement when I told them I wrote comic books. Their excitement dwindled slightly when they realized I couldn’t DRAW comics, of course. You don’t know how disheartening it is to have a ten-year-old patronizingly say to you, “No, no, Mr. Avery, you did a great job drawing Superman. Really. Or is that Wonder Woman?” However, I’ve been very blessed in some of the very talented artists I’ve worked with. They loved the drawings I would bring in to them. “What’s that?” they would say. “That’s (insert my latest project here), from a comic book I’m developing.”

The problem? None of these were completed projects. I was able to give them a preview of a book I had just finished, and I was able to give them peaks at the “creative process”, and that was all well and good. They loved that. But they wanted more. So I tried to give them more.

I searched through my old comics -- the ones that weren’t still packed away after our latest move. I found some cool comics I thought they would like. First I brought in a JLA story arc, thinking that these kids were big fans of the Superman and Batman and Justice League cartoons, so they would love reading about these iconic superheroes that everyone can recognize, right?

Wrong. “Why isn’t Green Lantern black?” “Isn’t Hawkman supposed to be a girl?” “Who’s that guy with the fire on top of his head?”

They just didn’t enjoy it. Too much back-story that they weren’t privy to. A plot that went over their head. I found myself explaining everything, from plot points to character back-story essential to the plot.

So I changed my approach. I began looking specifically for the elusive all-ages comics. And the pickings were slim.

I brought in Pakkins’ Land. Pakkins’ Land is a fantasy comic by Gary Shipman that started back with Caliber Comics. It’s been collected into four trades, and it ends on a cliffhanger that will be resolved in number five. They loved it. They could not get enough and were sorely disappointed that they would have to wait for the next volume.

I wanted to bring in Hero Bear and the Kid. I loved that series -- what a beautiful comic book. But I had given it away to someone . . . hey, their slogan is “Remember your childhood and pass it on”, so I did! Turns out not everyone feels that way about it passing it on, though, especially comic dealers, and, well, the collectors market being as it is . . . I just wasn’t going to be able to buy back issues any time soon.

Archie we received well by them. They were familiar with Archie’s Weird Mysteries, which they sometimes watched during breakfast before school, so they knew the characters. The short gags, while sometimes confounding them (I had to explain to them that sometimes, they couldn’t understand the joke because it wasn’t that funny), amused them.

Then I discovered the DC animated adventures reprints. My local comic shops helped me track them down. I read them myself and found that I really enjoyed them. The stories were told with emotion and energy. Respect for the characters (by reflecting the back-story) and the readers (by not getting bogged down in the back-story). And I picked up the Marvel Age stuff. These books were directly aimed at the kids I was working with and I got to see first hand that, for the most part, they succeeded. These boys loved the adventures of May Parker in Spider-Girl. And they enjoyed the classic-but-new-to-them Spider-Man and Fantastic Four adventures retold in the Marvel Age books.

But I ran into another problem when I ran out of material. Frankly, I hit a brick wall.

So I tried an experiment. I brought in some Marvel Essentials. Old? Yes. Anachronistic? Probably. Un- relatable? No. The only problem they boys had was that they were in color. I spoke to one boy’s mother who was so amazed that he was actually READING something. What was he reading? Essential Human Torch. Then I got him started on Essential Fantastic Four. His only problems with them were: 1. Ben Grimm called Alicia “Babe” too much and 2. Johnny Storm was a player. He would look forward at the covers that were coming up and get excited about a Sub-Mariner story -- ‘cause Sub-Mariner was such a bad dude. He wanted to read more . . . and more.

This all caused me to sit back and think about some things. As a creator and as a father. Because I want to write comics that kids and adults will want to read and I want to be able to give my children comics I feel good about, not that I have to worry about. (A friend of mine who owns a comic book shop is very careful about what the kids are allowed to pick up because even in mainstream comics you really never know what’s going to show up. Like a severed head or a rape . . .)

I had to be doubly careful, considering the issues the kids I was working with were dealing with. I had to be very careful about the visuals I was giving to them. Especially concerning women. And I became VERY aware of the treatment of women in comics as I looked for materials suitable for these kids. Some things were pretty obvious -- I mean, you just don’t hand a copy of Lady Death or Vampirella to a nine-year-old. But looking even closer, I realized that the only “strong” women in comics seem to be the ones I call the “scanty panty vigilantes” -- they fight crime in little more than their underwear. What kind of a message does that send? (In two of my own recent projects, one an all ages book, the female protagonists were wearing much less than I’d let my own daughter wear.)

And then there’s the violence. Again, sometimes it’s pretty obvious. Nekkid Zombie Blood Fest will probably not be the most appropriate title for a kid. And some comics are about just how much they can shock the reader -- with creative killing and trying to outdo what has gone before. But look closer -- many superhero comics essentially boil down to solving the problem with their fists. That’s what’s attractive about many comics: cool fight scenes.

Part of this is the medium itself. Comics are a visual medium. Duh. So you need cool visuals, and brightly colored costumed, perfectly muscled people zapping other brightly colored costumed, perfectly muscled people is a cool visual. The ideal female body is a cool visual.

Literature has one purpose, to make an emotional connection. To make someone laugh. Or cry. Or gasp. The easiest way to do this is through shock, not through characterization.

But there’s something more needed. What’s missing? The easy, and most condescending answer, is a moral compass. But it’s not far from the truth. Right now, the people buying comics tend to be kids who have grown up. They bought comics from the corner store with their allowance, and now they’ve grown up. Now they are more mature, so their comics need to be more mature. Unfortunately, “For Mature Audiences” tends to mean it’s got boobies and the f-word . . . lots of the f-word.

And, just as unfortunate, “All-Ages” has come to mean kiddy comics. But true “all-ages” comics have many things in common. First, adults and kids like them. "All-ages" is a hard moniker to live up to. The best Disney movies do it. The best Looney Tunes cartoons do it. Many old comics do it. It appeals to everyone, because it’s not created by talking DOWN to kids. It’s just a good story that resonates with kids, and therefore resonates with the young at heart. They focus on nobility. Honor. Friendship. Positive things.

But these days Superman is commonly referred to as a Boy Scout -- and it’s a BAD THING.

I would say we need more positive affirming stories. Stories that are about what it means to be a hero. That are about nobility. That show that we are human and have our “bad” side, but that also show that we can overcome that.

We need stories that go beyond solving problems with fists . . . or swords . . . or guns . . . or monkey wrenches . . . or steam rollers . . . you get the idea. Stories that focus on characters instead of characters serving the story. I’m not talking about preaching to kids or adding on that “knowing is half the battle” moral, although those things have their place. I’m just talking about fun, positive stories.

A 70's/80's retro comic released recently really excited me because it was something I had grown up on. It portrayed the youngest member of the group -- a kid -- hiding pornography in his room. Here I was so excited about introducing my kids at work to this piece of my childhood. But again, the book was not written for people the age of the kids who originally enjoyed the show, it was written FOR the kids who originally enjoyed the show. Grown up kids who now have disposable income. The tone was violent and bloody. It was decently written, though, and the art was good. I found myself wondering how much it would have hurt to make the comic book all ages? Suitable for younger readers while at the same time appealing to adults with mature well written stories.

This, of course, is more difficult. It means self-censorship. It means a lot more thought in every step, from plots to costume design to format to font size. It means more work.

We’ve had the deconstruction of the superhero. It’s been going on for almost twenty years now. And it reflected the times we were (and are) living in, to a degree. Art emulating life, or the other way around? Who knows? Most likely, a little bit of both. It’s now time for what I would call the re-construction of the superhero. In both life and art, I would say, although that goes a little beyond the scope of what I’ve writing about.

As I said, there are some titles out there. You have to look hard, but they can be found. I told an interviewer last year that the big companies were really missing the mark when it came to kids. Since then (not because of me, of course) that situation has changed. It is becoming much more common, in all different genres, not just superheroes. Bone. The Marvel Age books (although be careful, a Marvel Age label does not equate to all-ages) and heck, even the Essentials (especially the old Spider-Man and Fantastic Four). Herobear and the Kid or The Lab or for that matter anything by Astonish Factory. Astro Boy. Pakkins’ Land. Star Wars. Paul Dini and Alex Ross’s tabloid graphic novels (especially Shazam! Power of Hope). Opposite Forces. Some of these books you may never have heard of, and you owe it to yourself to check them out. They are comic books that appeal to mature sensibilities and resound with youthful optimism.

This doesn’t mean don’t write or draw or buy the stories that deal with mature subjects. MAUS is a powerful piece of literature that I would not hand to a child, but it definitely has worth -- Pulitzer Prize worth. There are many, many worthwhile mature comics out there. (Truth is, some of my own work is not for kids.) But there is also a void that needs to be filled. It’s a statistically proven fact that kids love comics. The best selling Disney Adventures magazine issue is the special all comics one. Archie is the best selling comic out there because parents recognize it, know it’s safe, and it’s visible (in the check out lanes at super markets) and it’s being purchased. But there’s almost a whole generation of kids out there who have missed out on comics. There’s a whole generation of parents who aren’t as likely to buy their kids comics now, because of the misconception that all that’s out there is blood and bullets and T&A.

The future of comics depends on whether we can take Astonish Factory’s advice -- “remember our childhood and pass it on.” But do we pass on ultimitized visions of heroism -- people who are “more real” because they abuse their power, or have perverted sexual appetites, or have dark secrets -- or do we pass on portraits of true heroism. Yes, I know that comics aren’t real and that in real life sometimes people just aren’t like that. But is there anything wrong in aspiring to be like that? Why is pessimism more acceptable than optimism?

We’re just coming through an election, and the battle cry from both sides has been, “Every vote counts.” That is especially true here. We can vote with our pocket books. Buy comics that are all-ages and give them our children or the kids down the street or our nephews or neices (after we read them ourselves, of course!). We need to create a new speculator’s market, where we invest not in the future price of a comic, but instead in the future of comics itself. The young readers who are just around the corner from having their own disposable income but still depend on Mom to buy them stuff right now.

And if you can’t find enough of these books, you can do what some friends of mine (and I) are doing.

Create your own.

Please.

Because I’m running out of reading material for those kids . . .

***

Ben Avery, the script adapter of the critically acclaimed The Hedge Knight, the creator of Hero TV and ArmorQuest from Community Comics, and the co-creator/writer of Lullaby and Mike S. Miller’s The Imaginaries, is a father of three and a seventh grade teacher who wants nothing more than to tell stories . . . many of which he hopes will be enjoyed by people of “all ages”.

July 19, 2010

Star Wars Chibi

I look at this image and I can't help thinking to myself: this artist has caught the complete joy I used to feel when playing Star Wars on the playground or in the backyard of my house in the backwoods of that small Ontario town.
You can find more Star Wars Chibi at http://ericmerced.posterous.com/ -- including Luke and Vader. Normally, Luke would be my favorite because to me, when I watched Star Wars, Luke was the guy I felt a connection with. He WAS me, being drawn into a strange world he didn't understand, discovering it along with me, the viewer. (This element is something that was sadly lacking from the prequel trilogy.) But I just stared at Han solo for a while as I realized what this image really was. Eric drew a perfect melding what I SAW in my mind's eye when I was running around blasting Stormtroopers and what PEOPLE SAW with their own eyes when I was running around blasting Stormtroopers!

I'm excited to see what he does next in his series . . .

I will admit some bias: Eric was hired by my publisher, Zondervan, to illustrate the final two graphic novels in my TimeFlyz series.

But that doesn't change the fact that he's awesome.

~ Ben

UPDATE, July 20: Eric just added Chewbacca . . . and it's loads of awesome.

July 18, 2010

THE WAY OF THE WRITER: Inspirational Quote


A little more from my favorite writer:

"Whenever you are fed up with life, start writing: ink is the great cure for all human ills, as I have found out long ago."

- C.S. Lewis
, Letters of C.S. Lewis to Arthur Graves

Samurai art by Tim Baron, (c) 2009

July 14, 2010

THE WAY OF THE WRITER: Inspirational Quotes from C.S. Lewis


"It is impossible to write one's best if nobody else ever has a look at the result."

"What you want is practice, practice, practice. It doesn't matter what we write . . . so long as we write continually as well as we can. I feel that every time I write either of prose or of verse, with real effort, even if it's thrown into the fire the next minute, I am so much further on."

"I am sure that some are born to write as trees are born to bear leaves: for these, writing is a necessary mode of their own development. If the impulse to write survives the hope of success, then one is among these. if not, then the impulse was at best only pardonable vanity, and it will certainly disappear when the hope is withdrawn."

From The Letters of C.S. Lewis to Arthur Graves

Samurai art by Tim Baron, (c) 2009

March 18, 2010

Jeff Johnson -- new video

It's no secret that I love Jeff Johnson's music. As far as I'm concerned, his is the best background music for writing I have ever heard. My iTunes library's play count confirms this. In college, Dave Zimmerman and I wore out our cassette tape of Songs from Albion and drove our other roommate Brad Reimer crazy with it (among other things), but it fueled our creative nature and allowed me to write some drivel that became the foundation of my current career.

In the years that have passed, Jeff Johnson has been one of the few artists whose output I have watched for consistently (U2 is the only other I can think of that has lasted until now). If you want to know who to blame for my work, he's one of the people. His music has pushed and pulled me through some serious writer's block; it has allowed me some serious contemplation when in both good and bad times in my life; it has transcended entertainment, with a beauty and a spirit that points to God and edifies the soul. It's uplifting, transporting, and transforming. It's Art.

Oh, and often it just sounds cool. He surrounds himself with talented musicians who perfectly compliment the mood needed for the music he wants to present.

Here's a music video he put together recently. From his e-mail about the video:

Inspired by an experience Jeff had in Rocamadour, France one early Spring morning while watching swallows swoop in and out of an old church through an open door, the production features the song from JOURNEY PRAYERSwith an opening reading in french by Jeff’s daughter, Hailey Burgess.

Here is the poem in both French and English:

Hirondelles délicates, votre vol rassemble une prière:
Au-dessous,
En-dessus,
Devant,
Dérrière,
Au côté —
Tout autour.

Little swallows, your flight is a prayer:
Above me,
Below me,
Before me,
Behind me,
Beside me –
All around me…
It's a great video, and a great album:



~ Ben

January 27, 2010

THE WAY OF THE WRITER: Fear


"What's holding me back?"

It's a question I've been asking a lot recently. And I've realized part of the answer.

I've been facing some of that Ye Olde Writer's Block lately. It's not for lack of trying. I just can't get myself to move forward. Something has been holding me back. I think I've figured out the answer to that question . . . although, the answer to the answer is proving a little more elusive.

Of course you, dear reader, have already figured out what I have to say because, frankly, you know how to read. And you've read this far. So you've probably read the title of this entry.

What's holding me back?

Fear.

Whenever I start to work lately, I've found myself wracked with doubt. "What if it's not good enough?" "What if I'm biting off more than I can chew with this project?" "What if no one wants to read it?" "What if people finally figure out that I'm really no good?" "What if I can't support my family doing this?" (That last question has particular power recently, when a client did not pay me for a long period of time, at a time when it was really needed.)

I think these doubts are common for any artist. If an artist doesn't have doubts like this, they are either: 1. Delusional; 2. Arrogant; 3. Genius; or, 4. Terrible.

I think that my current round of fear comes not from a lack of ideas or motivation, but instead from some recent success and failure. The success I've had is prompting the doubt: "You'll never be able to keep this up" while the failure I've had is backing it up with a "See, I told you so."

So there's the answer to the question . . . but what's the answer to the answer?

In nature, fear is a good thing and it prompts the whole "flight or fight" response. In facing off with writer's block? I mean, let's face it, writer's block is nowhere near the same as a deer being stalked by a pack of wolves. Even so, the principle remains the same, I think.

You can face it head on, or you can run away. In my case, running is not an option. And yet it's been the option I've chosen. Instead of writing, I've cleaned my desk . . . repaired the harddrive that was holding some files hostage . . . cleaned my desk again (it gets messy fast) . . . watched Farscape (man, that show is amazing . . . why didn't I watch it before?) . . . cleaned out a filing cabinet . . .

I should be fighting. I should be working.

Hmmm, perhaps I shouldn't be blogging. Of course, writing this blog is a good warm up, right? Or is it just another thing that I'm attaching importance to in an excuse to avoid what I should be doing?

Time to face those fears head on. Time to lower my head, stomp my foot, and launch my antlers headlong into that pack of wolves!

After I make some tea . . .

~ Ben

PS -- I love swamp monsters.

Samurai art by Tim Baron, (c) 2009