Saturday, April 30, 2011

FCBD Signing Tour

JayJay here. I wanted to mention that Jim and J.C. Vaughn are doing a signing tour of three stores next Saturday on Long Island. So if you are around next weekend, come on out!

Scoop - FCBD Shooter, Vaughn Triple Signing on Long Island

Friday, April 29, 2011

Storytelling Lecture, Suggested Reading

JayJay here. Jim and I are working on the next part of the Storytelling series, but we came up with a list of our favorite books for comic book creators.

For general all-around drawing information, the famous Andrew Loomis books are great.
Figure Drawing for all it’s Worth - Jim said, “Figure Drawing For All It's Worth has the best section on perspective I've seen.”
Drawing the Head and Hands
The Andrew Loomis books are out of print but can be downloaded here:
http://alexhays.com/loomis

Our buddy Kyle has done a wonderful, essential book on cartooning and comics:
Kyle Baker, How to Draw Stupid and other Essentials of Cartooning

Will Eisner has some highly regarded books available. Best for more advanced students:
Comics and Sequential Art: Principles and Practices from the Legendary Cartoonist

The classic style guide no writer should be without:
The Elements of Style by Strunk and White

Some good information on writing are Syd Field’s Screenwriting books:
Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting


The Screenwriter's Workbook (Revised Edition)

The Screenwriter's Problem Solver: How to Recognize, Identify, and Define Screenwriting Problems

Also:
The Craft of the Screenwriter by John Brady

William Goldman: Five Screenplays with Essays
William Goldman - Four Screenplays
These are a couple of Jim's favorite books:
Great to read if you want to write science fiction:
Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space by Carl Sagan

Fascinating book written by a cultural anthropologist:
Our Kind: Who We Are, Where We Came From, Where We Are Going by Marvin Harris


(continued)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Storytelling Lecture, Artwork Part 5

Storytelling Lecture Series, Part 11 (Edited from the transcript of a 1994 seminar)

Now, I'm going to tell you a whole bunch of other stuff that may not mean anything much to you yet, but then I'm going to walk you through a particular comic book and I'm going to show you examples. These are little miscellaneous tidbits of info that I've had beaten into my head by various Learned Masters over the years. Simple little concepts and observations that are useful for artists. As always, writers should understand these things, too. They’ll help you be a better visual thinker. 

As you walk around the world you see things at eye level. Am I right? You don't usually walk around standing on your head, or with your head tilted.  You see things like you’re seeing me now, from your eye level, looking directly at the subject. That is the most common point of view, obviously. That is the easiest one for people to grasp instantly.  Show something, anything, in the way people would ordinarily see it and they have the best chance of understanding instantly what you’re showing them.  So, if I have one shot to let somebody know we’re in a theater, this kind of shot, eye level, is most likely to be clear at a glance.  It’s what you’d see if you were there.  A natural point of view. 

Here's another thing to think about regarding natural point of view—let's say you want to show that a scene is taking place in a restaurant. When you walk into an actual restaurant, what do you see? You see the ceiling, the floor, the walls, a big part of the entire room.  Just looking straight ahead, think about all you can see, all the information you take in. Almost any room you walk into, from your natural, usual, eye-level point of view, you see the ceiling, the floor, the walls, without ever moving your eyes, just looking straight ahead.    

(HERE I MADE A SCRIBBLY SKETCH OF A RESTAURANT SEEN FROM EYE-LEVEL AS YOU ENTER.)

That's an eye level perspective. You'll see tables.You'll see people sitting at the tables.You see waiters. Here's another table. Notice that you’re seeing all these people full figure—that is, head to foot, except, of course when they’re behind something.

(HERE I ADDED A MAITRE D’ IN THE VERY CLOSE FOREGROUND.)

Here's the maitre d', he's real close to us. We can see him from the waist up because he’s very close to us. He's happy to see us. He's got a bow tie. That's what you see if you walk into a restaurant. So if you have one shot to tell people that they are now entering a restaurant, that's probably a good one to remember.  You COULD do a worm's eye view, but I've never walked into a restaurant on my belly. I've come out of a few that way. [laughter]  Shots like that are harder to understand at a glance because it’s not what we’re used to seeing.

Now, once you’ve done this shot, once you’ve made the location unmistakeably clear, then you can do the dramatic Jerry Robinson “through the wine glass' shot,” or other angles. Hold that thought, I’m going to show you examples in a while.

But back to our maitre d’ for a moment. Do you realize how close you have to be to someone NOT to see them full figure, head to toe? Try it.  Get someone to stand there for you and, looking straight ahead, move closer to them until you can’t see their feet. You’ll be surprised.
I hear a lot of talk about panel shapes. My reputation is that I want everybody to draw what they call windowpane grid. Nah. Beginners, I ask to start that way. That did fine for Jack Kirby for his whole career, so I figure for a beginner it’s okay to make him do that till he learns the craft.

But, let me explain to you the theory of panel shape. You didn't know there was one, did you? When comics books were first created they were a little wider than they are now. Remember? Comic book panels were shaped like that.

(HERE I DREW A RECTANGLE WIDER THAN IT WAS TALL.)

Why were they shaped like that? Have you ever noticed how a movie screen is shaped? Why is a movie screen shaped that way? It's because human beings have two eyes side by side, and your viewing area is roughly oblong. If you could mark the edges of your vision, that's the shape you get, well sort of rounded at the edges, but basically like a movie screen, or comics panels originally. Comic book panels weren’t quite movie screen shaped, but, aha! They had balloons at the top so the viewing area was basically a movie screen. 

Then when paper shortages arrived during World War II, they made comic books smaller, narrower. Comic book panels, therefore, became more square.  Since then, though they have balloons at the top, they're not quite movie screens—but still close. That's a good thing to remember, that the oblong shape is close to your natural viewing area. It’s a very comfortable view.  It’s what you would see if you were there. That's why THIS type of panel in comics…

(I DREW A 1/3 PAGE HORIZONTAL PANEL.)

…the third of a page shot, is so good for showing people that a scene is in a restaurant or whatever.

Does that mean you can't use any other shape? Of course not, but when you do it remember what you're trying to do.

(I DREW A “FLAPJACK” PANEL AND A TALL, SKINNY PANEL.)

You give them this (the flapjack) you're making the readers feel like they’re looking through a mail slot, this, (the tall skinny panel) you've got blinders on, or you’re looking through a keyhole. That's what you're telling them. Can you not do that? Of course you can do it. Just understand what you're doing, and do it for a reason. Understand the logic behind these things and use them to serve your purpose. 
Now, about action. Any action you can imagine has a direction, a direction of movement, or else it isn't an action. It has a direction, a vector. The clearest way to show anything is perpendicular to the vector of the action.

(I DREW A STICK FIGURE HITTING ANOTHER STICK FIGURE.)

Here’s Fred hitting George.  Draw a line between them, which of course, is the vector of the action, the punch, in this case. The clearest way to show this action is 90 degrees away from that line or vector.  That’s why this particular angle is called a “diagrammatic shot.”  It’s as clear as a diagram. So if Fred is hitting George, and we’re seeing it from that angle, that's the clearest way. It may be the most boring way too in some situations, but if you're ever stuck for how to show something, start with a diagram! Imagine the diagrammatic shot first. Put your mental camera at 90 degrees, eye level. Then, kind of mentally move your camera around—a little higher maybe? A little lower? One figure closer than the other? Do this until you find the best shot that is still clear. Gil Kane often used to do shots like this from a 70 degree angle. That way one figure gets a little larger than the other, the design is better, you get that great foreshortening going on, it's cool.That what he did. It’s not the only way.  Keep that little thought in mind. I'm going to show you examples of all of this. 


(continued)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Storytelling Lecture, Artwork - The Power and Perils of Reference

Storytelling Lecture Series, Part 10

In my scripts, I always provide a lot of reference for the artist, or links to places he can get reference online. I think it’s important to use reference. Sometimes, it’s just so the artist understands what I’m asking for, a certain angle, expression or gesture. For instance in Magnus Robot Fighter #1, I provided this photo as reference for a gesture and expression I wanted for Leeja…
…because it was easier to find a picture than to explain it.


Mostly though, the reference is because I want something specific, so they get whatever I’m calling for right. For instance, a certain kind of car or a real location, like the Wallkill River Bridge:

I actually provided a number of shots of that bridge from different angles.

But, beyond those sorts of specifics, I recommend that you find reference on anything you don’t know how to draw. Once you use reference for something a couple of times, you’ll learn how it looks and you won’t need to look it up any more. Don’t fake it! If a script calls for carousel, and there doesn’t happen to be one handy, find pictures of carousels, find out what you need to know and draw a convincing carousel. 

Once again, I want to point out that this is not about style, not about photo-realism. It’s about using your eyes, learning to draw and developing whatever your style is on a firm foundation.  I don’t know whether Russ Heath or Carl Barks ever drew a carousel, but if they did, Russ’s would look right and real and Barks’ would look proportionally correct and proper within the context of his style—because, I guarantee you, he knew or would have found out what he needed to know about carousels. Get the info. Do it right.

A word about swiping. Don’t do it. Swiping, in case you don’t know, is tracing someone else’s work. It is a not-uncommon practice in the comic book business, but I think it stinks.  It’s good to look at Ditko Spider-Man figures to get a sense of how Spider-Man moves, but don’t rip him off. There are some guys, even well-known guys, who shamelessly swipe. I’d give you a few examples, but you probably already have noticed that, “hey, this guy crawling up out of the water looks just like a character Neal Adams drew crawling up out of the water.”  Etc.  Neal Adams’ work is swiped relentlessly. Ask him.

And now, the down side of reference. The old saw goes, “Use reference but don’t let it use you.” If you use reference too literally, especially for figures, it can make your work stiff and posed. For example, once, an artist, Fred, experimented with using friends, fellow creators, as models, having them act out a sci-fi fight scene. Archie Goodwin’s comment was:  “It looks like Joe and Susan shooting each other with blow dryers.” The names, except Archie’s, have been changed to protect the innocent.



(continued)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Storytelling Lecture, Artwork - See It, Draw It

Storytelling Lecture Series, Part 9

The first great secret of drawing better is using your eyes.  Don’t laugh.  Once, with another group, I leaned an umbrella against a door and asked them to draw it.  I gave them a minute, I think.  I watched them.  Most of them glanced at the umbrella, then hardly looked up from their paper.  Some got the umbrella more or less right, but made it too tall or too short in comparison with the door.  Some made the door too narrow or too wide.  Some were so worried about the umbrella that they got the door handle entirely wrong.  One guy drew an umbrella that wasn’t furled and strapped—basically, he just made one up, rather than draw the one in front of him.

A lot of people just don’t use their eyes enough.  You need to really look, measure and compare elements of your drawing to each other.  How tall is the umbrella compared to the door?  Does it come up past the door handle?  And you need to draw the actual umbrella.   

I find that even people who draw pretty well just plain don’t look with care at all the elements.  They’ll get most parts of a figure right but fake the wrinkles on the sportcoat.  You see, without trying or even noticing, we’ve all learned a bunch of glyphs—symbols for things—and they have a way of creeping into and weakening our drawings.  You get the sportcoat right, but do your wrinkle glyph on the sleeves at the elbows.  You’ll get a person’s face right, then do your hair glyph.  You’ll get the building right but draw window glyphs instead of the real windows.

The way to avoid weakening a drawing with glyphs is by using your eyes.  Look carefully at what you’re drawing and keep checking the marks you’re making on the paper against it.  Every mark you make on the paper sends a message to the viewer.  Make sure the message is right.

I’m not talking about style, here.  That’s an entirely different subject.  I’m talking about learning to use your eyes and learning to draw.  Once you can draw, then your style, whatever it may be, in built on a firm foundation.  Said another way, C.C. Beck did a very simple style—but Captain Marvel’s collar bone is always exactly where it’s supposed to be.  And Barks?  The perspective is always correct in Duckburg.

Tomorrow….

The Power and Perils of Reference

Friday, April 22, 2011

Storytelling Lecture, Artwork - Part 2

Storytelling Lecture Series, Part 8 (Edited from the transcript of a 1994 seminar)

Around the turn of the 20th Century, two new media were invented. Okay, some scholar is going to correct me and say the first movie was actually made in the 1860’s, and Scott McCloud thinks hieroglyphics were comics, but work with me, here. As mainstream, commercial ventures, film and comics got started in the mid 1890’s. Before that, live performances were pretty much the only visual presentations, unless you count stereoscopes. Some books had illustrations, yes, but they were superfluous. Didn’t need them to understand the story. Live performances, of course, were on stage and seen from a theater seat—and that’s exactly how early film and comics were presented, from a point of view as if from a theater seat. 

Then, one day, some actor walked up to D.W. Griffith’s camera and stuck his tongue out, and when the film was developed, they discovered close ups! Kidding. But, anyway, filmmakers and comics artists soon discovered that there were different kinds of shots. I will now show you the three kinds of shots.

I always get in arguments with Barry Windsor-Smith over this. He says there are nine kinds of shots. I say there are three kinds of shots. You can say whatever you want, as long as you understand the principles, but let's use my definition for the moment because it's me here.

(AT THIS POINT, ON MY BIG PAD I DREW A CRUDE SKETCH OF A HOUSE ALONG THE SHORE WITH PLAINS AND MOUNTAINS IN THE BACKGROUND.  TOOK ME 13 SECONDS, HOW GOOD COULD IT BE…?  THERE WAS A LITTLE TINY GUY BESIDE THE HOUSE.)

This is a long shot. You can see a house here. There are the mountains, here are the prairies, here’s the ocean white with foam.  We must be in America. That's one kind of shot, a LONG SHOT. I hereby arbitrarily define a long shot as any shot that shows great scope, where the scenery is the star, where, if there are people, you cannot make out any meaningful information about the figure or figures, other than they are present.  You can't, the guy's a dot.  This is also known as an ESTABLISHING SHOT, and, by TV types, those weirdos, shooting in a studio, as a BARN SHOT.

(I DREW TWO SKETCHES, ONE OF A COUPLE OF GUYS IN THE NEAR DISTANCE AND ONE OF A GUY WHO WAS CLOSE, BUT FULL FIGURE. TOOK SIX SECONDS. IT WAS A REALLY AWFUL SCRIBBLE.)

These are medium shots. I hereby arbitrarily define a medium shot as any place where you can begin to make out meaningful information about the figure, like the fact that this guy's taller than that guy, up to the place where the figure fills the whole panel, but is not cropped. That's a medium shot.

(I DREW A PANEL WITH A SLIGHTLY CROPPED FIGURE AND ONE OF JUST AN EYE.)

And these are close ups. I hereby arbitrarily define a close up as anything from where any part of the figure is cropped right up to the big eyeball.

Barry would say, "Well, no Jim. There's a long, long shot. Then there's a medium long shot, and then there's a close long shot; there’s a long medium shot, a medium medium shot and a close medium shot, a long close shot…." You get the drift.  Whatever, Barry. You guys can chop the shots up any way you want, but for the moment let's accept my way just to make life easy.

When cartoonists and filmmakers discovered that there were different kinds of shots, they discovered that different shots were good for conveying different kinds of information. They discovered that the long shot was good for setting the locale, showing where the characters are, showing what kind of area it is. Here you see you're in America--mountains, prairies, ocean white with foam. They also discovered, by the way, this shot was also good for what I would call big action. In other words if this mountain blows up, you know if Mount St. Helen's there, you need that shot.

Here's a medium shot. They discovered that this was good for establishing figures, making it clear how tall the person is, how they carry themselves, what they’re wearing…. Again it could be a car you’re establishing, not a figure, but you get the drift.  For the purpose of this discussion we'll call it figures.

Medium depth is also good for human-scale action. Does anybody watch sports on television? That's the depth they use 90% of the time. This depth is so important to understanding human action that they use that almost exclusively. Yes, they give you the dramatic close up of the pile up on the goal line, but you don't know if the guy scored so they show you the medium shot. Ninety percent of televised sports—watch a baseball game. What do they show you? They show you the pitcher, the batter, the catcher, and the umpire, full figures. They show you only four guys, out of the what, 15 on the field…? Because, if they showed the whole field, the players, umps and base coaches, you’d be TOO FAR AWAY to see the pitcher, batter, catcher and home plate ump—the principle actors—well.  To show the principle human-scale action, they’d rather leave out the others and show you the main action at medium-shot depth.  Otherwise, they’d just be little dots to you.  If the guy hits the ball, they pull back to show the play.  Watch a tennis match.  90% of the time they show you the whole court, both players, full figure.  Medium depth.  What Barry would call a long medium.  Boxing?  Occasionally a close up of the fighters clinching, but 90% of the time it’s medium depth, the whole ring, both combatants full figure.  Human action. Establish the figures. So I know this guy is not wearing roller skates.

(HERE I DREW A SCRIBBLE OF A GUY CROPPED AT THE ANKLES.)

This guy might be. He might be wearing roller skates. I don't know. I know basically what this guy looks like.  But, hey, he might be three inches shorter than I suspect, and he might have wheels on his feet.  Prove that he doesn’t!

The great Walt Simonson once drew an entire issue of Thor that never once showed Thor’s feet. I honked at him about it. Walt, who doesn’t take honking well, honked back and we snarled at each other for a while. We later made up. If you ever see Walt, mention that I complained about no feet and he’ll honk at me retrospectively for you!  

So what do you get in a close up? A close up is good for establishing details, faces, whatever you want to call it, let's say faces here. It's also good for interaction, reaction, emotion, expression. Let's “face” it, this is how we recognize each other. Faces. We recognize each other by our faces. So this close up shot, our pioneers found, was good for establishing what a person looks like facially, and if he's crying, or happy, or sad, or whatever, that's a good shot.

So, they discovered that there are three basic kinds of shots. There are no other kinds of shots. If it's a bird's eye shot, of a worm's eye shot, it's still either long, medium, or close. These are the three kinds of shots. They also discovered that using these different kinds of shots convey different information, that they could let the picture carry part of the burden of telling the story.

Yes, of course you can combine them, have a face up close and someone jumping rope in the background.  These are tools not rules.

Yes of course, one can intelligently VIOLATE the non-rules.  In the movie Rocky, there’s a great scene, shot from across the street, of Rocky making up with and hiring the Burgess Meridith character as his manager.  Ordinarily, you’d do a conversation, an emotional scene close up—but Stallone had just done such a scene inside Rocky’s apartment.  So he chose to do the hiring/reconciliation scene at what Barry would call long medium depth, getting across the exchange and emotions with big gestures and body language.  Brilliant.

Once you know, once you have command, you can play.

Grasp the principles. Be bulletproof clear. Then go for the gusto.

Before film, before comics, when you were watching a stage play they couldn't do different shots. You, in the audience, had only one POV. You always had a medium shot. So in Shakespeare plays the Roman generals are always talking about the battle over there, offstage, because he couldn't show it!  No long shots!  Forget the fact that they didn't have the budget to hire the actors. Even if he had 10,000 actors, he couldn't have shown it. Once they discovered with a camera they could do that, worlds opened up. And they don't have to explain it.  No need to have generals giving kind of dorky soliloquies about the battle that you can't see. Once they discovered VISUAL STORYTELLING it opened up all these new worlds. It let the art, the picture carry a lot more of the story so that the writers didn't have to have kind of dumb discussions of things you couldn't see. 


(continued)


JayJay here. This is a Types of Shots guide we came up with at Broadway Comics to help communication between the writers and the artists. The Watchmen and Love and Rockets have always been some of my favorite comics, so I scanned the art from them when I put this together.
CLOSE SHOTS - Good for conveying details, emotion, reactions, expressions.

EXTREME CLOSE-UP - A shot in which a small object or part of an object fills the entire frame, usually cropped.


CLOSE-UP - A shot in which the subject fills most of the frame with little space around it.



BUST SHOT - A shot in which the main subject is fills much of the frame, but more of the surroundings are shown. As in a head and shoulders or portrait type shot of a person.
  

MEDIUM SHOTS
- Good for establishing figures and body language, human size action.

CLOSE MEDIUM SHOT - A shot with the subject near to the camera and clearly visible, but most likely partially cropped.

MEDIUM SHOT - A shot which shows the subject and its surroundings equally well. Usually full figures.

LONG MEDIUM SHOT - A shot where meaningful information and details are still clearly visible, but the subject of the frame occupies less of the space than the surroundings.

 

LONG SHOTS - Good for setting locale, showing location of objects, showing an area, showing big action.

LONG SHOT - A shot at such a distance that few details and little meaningful information about the object of the frame can be readily seen.

DISTANT LONG SHOT - A shot where the object can still be clearly seen, but no meaningful information about the object is discernible at all.


EXTREME LONG SHOT - A shot that is so distant that the main object is a dot or is not visible at all. 


OTHER DESCRIPTIVE TERMS
  • ESTABLISHING SHOT - A shot that shows enough of the surroundings to establish the locale adequate to the telling of the story.
  • HIGH ANGLE or BIRD'S EYE VIEW or DOWN SHOT - A view from an angle higher than normal eye level.
  • LOW ANGLE or WORM'S EYE VIEW or UP SHOT - A view from an angle lower than normal eye level, frequently the ground level.
  • DIAGRAMMATIC SHOT - A view from normal eye level at 90 degrees to the action or interaction of the subjects.
  • STRAIGHT ON or DEAD ON SHOT - A view from directly in front of the subject.
  • OVERHEAD SHOT - A shot from directly above or almost directly above the subject.
  • PANORAMIC SHOT - A wide angle shot which is similar to the viewpoint of a panoramic camera.
  • FULL FIGURE SHOT - A view in which the subject is not cropped. 

JayJay here. Jim has had something come up so we had to skip Monday's (4/25) blog.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Storytelling Lecture, Artwork - Part 1

Storytelling Lecture Series, Part 7 (Edited from the transcript of a 1994 seminar)


I want to get onto the artwork. Writers pay attention. A lot of this applies to you as well. This is a two-part medium. It's visual and verbal.

We're in the business of storytelling. Because of the unique combination of the visual and verbal, a lot of the burden of storytelling falls upon the penciler. The penciler's not just an artist, he's half of the writer. And a writer should not be just a writer, he should think visually, be a visual storyteller, he should be half of the artist.

Sometimes, when the artist and writer are the same person, it really works well, but it often works very well when it's a collaboration like Lee and Ditko, Lee and Kirby, or Goodwin and Simonson. Sometimes a collaboration is even better than a solo act, because two good storytellers in tandem come up with stuff neither one could alone. Two can be better than one. So, writers, if you can't draw, don't despair. But learn to think visually. Pencilers, artists, learn about writing.  I don’t care if you’re aren’t a wordsmith, learn the principles, understand the goals. As they say in Hollywood, “do the math.” Learn how to do the math.

Let me tell you the secrets of visual storytelling. Again, we're in the business of storytelling—that’s our number one priority. We're here to tell a story. What is storytelling? As I was telling you writers, it's conveying information. CONVEYING INFO. As Frank Miller once said, when he had the epiphany and went from being a talented young artist/writer to being a genius, “I get it. We know the story and they (the readers) don’t, and we’re telling them the story!”

I hear a lot of you thinking, “duh, no kidding.” Listen to me. How many comics have you read in which the artist is more concerned with drawing lots of pin-up shots so he can sell the pages for more money at conventions than getting across what’s happening? How many have you read where the writer is so busy showing how cleverly he or she can do snappy patter that they fail to convey who these people are and why we should care about them?

When you get it into your head that you need a good story to tell, and that telling it—well—is the mission, you’re making the same jump to lightspeed that Miller made that one fine day.

So we’re not just doing patter and pin-ups, not just doing bits and scenes, we’re telling a story and preferably a good one. Something dramatic and powerful, with a point.

How does a pencil artist convey information? What does he have to get across? He's got to get across drama. In other words he's got to have his characters be good actors. He's got to be a good actor, or else he won’t understand how to draw the characters expressing emotion. He's got to be able to understand how someone looks when they're upset, or worried, or how they would express the various emotions. He's got to be a dramatist. He also—well this is a still medium so it presents some particular problems—but he also has to understand how things move, and he's got to create the illusion of movement even in a still medium. So drama and dynamics are important. It's even important to drama you have to know how to move somebody's arm to create the gesture. Another thing is just drawing, not surprisingly enough because if you can't draw, it doesn't matter if you can act. If you can't draw it well enough for people to understand it, you're doomed. These things really are key to the penciler's role in storytelling, things a penciler has to master.

Now I’m going to tell you how you can become a much better penciler in a minute, I mean right now.  Pay attention, and you will leave this room a significantly better artist than you were when you walked in.

JayJay here. Oops, we didn't get this into the next blog, but we will soon!

(continued)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Storytelling Lecture, Structure - Part 2

Storytelling Lecture Series, Part 6 (Edited from the transcript of a 1994 seminar)

I'm going to walk you quickly through a movie called Rocky. I'll just touch on a few scenes from Rocky that basically will illustrate some of what I'm talking about in terms of building these things into the story. Rocky's not high art but is impeccably constructed. It's like level two. It's a story, it's a good story because it has a lot of bits in it. I think Stallone did make a stab at trying to say something, but he ain't no Mark Twain.

What's the first scene in Rocky? Rocky's in the ring. He's not in a tux. He's not at the opera. He's in an arena. The guy's a fighter. The event that happens in the ring is a little taste of what the whole thing is about. In a way you can think of it as a comic book. It's a splash page. Hi, here's who I am. Rocky's in the ring and he's fighting, and the manager's screaming at him because he should win this
fight but he's losing. He just doesn't have the killer instinct. However, when the other guy cheats and then it sort of upsets Rocky's sense of justice, fair play, and manhood, then he knocks the guy out. That's Rocky.

In the first 20 minutes of Rocky, what happens? You meet the manager and you understand what his deal is. You meet Rocky and see that he's a failed leg breaker for the mob because that's the only way he can make a living. He's too soft hearted to go and break anybody's thumb but that's the only job he can get. The mobster who uses him is always disappointed because Rocky's failed to break the guy's leg. You meet the girl in the pet shop. You meet her brother. You see the kids in the street. You see that Rocky lives in a poor neighborhood. You see the gym, it's a grungy place--a little tiny place where old guys with cigars come to watch pugs fight. You see the locker room. You see that if a fighter is on his way out they get their stuff put in a bag. Rocky has a locker. Okay so we see all that and it's Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey.

Fine
, I understand this guy. He's an aging pug. Why am I here? Why am I watching? About 20 minutes into this movie something happens--an opportunity, in fact. The aging pug is given a shot at the champ. That's not a problem. That's not a conflict. That's an opportunity. Go into the ring, get hit in the head, fall down, collect a million dollars, go home. I'd do it. That is the element that disrupts the status quo. If it wasn't for that, we'd just kind of watch Rocky get older I suppose and eventually drink himself to death or something. But anyway he gets a shot at the champ.

All that stuff that they showed in the first 20 minutes then comes into play. All of a sudden his relationship changes with the manager, his relationship changes with the pet shop girl, because he's not just a pug anymore, he's a contender. His relationship changes with the future brother-in-law. His relationship changes with the mobster. He's not just a failed leg breaker. He's a contender. The mobster gives him money, “Here you need some money to train.” Takes the cigarette out of his mouth and says, "You're in training. You're the Italian stallion, man. You're our hope." A lot of stuff changes.

You meet the champ, you see Rocky's interaction with the champ. Watch Rocky sometime. Rent Rocky, I don't care if you've seen it. Watch it with a note pad in your lap. Try to pick apart every scene and figure out why it's there. It will be incredibl
y instructional in terms of how to get points across. For instance, parallel construction--the first time you see Rocky jogging to try to get in shape, he runs to the top of the stairs, he's exhausted. Later, while the getting stronger theme is being played, he runs to the top of those same stairs and he feels great. So what Stallone has done is, he said “see he couldn't before, but he can now.” He didn't have him run to the top of a different hill because then you wouldn't know. It has to be the same hill--parallel construction.

Everything that was introduced in the first 20 minutes of that movie is used. Now, I happen to know that Rocky goes to the library on Saturdays and reads Dr. Seuss books. You didn't know that, did you? It's not in the movie. Why? It's not relevant so they cut it out.
 All right, I'm kidding, I made that up, but you see my point. Everything there is used. Nothing unnecessary is in there. Even the kids on the street become important.

There's another instance of parallel construction. Rocky's in a bar, sees the champ on TV and the champ looks great. He's surrounded by reporters, and he's walking through an airport and a reporter says, "Champ you got any words for the children of America?" The champ says, "Yes, stay in school. Become doctors and lawyers. Don't be a fighter like me. It's much too tough." Rocky in the bar is moved. It's like little Jimmy watching Stan Lee. It was wow! So Rocky goes out, remember those kids out in the street
? Well, he takes this one little girl and he says you shouldn't be hanging around on the street. He drags her home and he's giving her a lecture. He's trying to do what the champ did. He's trying to give a message to the children of America. He takes her home and she turns and says, "Rocky..." He says, "What kid?" and she gives him the finger. Parallel construction. The champ does it and gets respect. Rocky does it and he gets disrespect. It sends you a message. It's there for a reason. He's making a point.

Every scene you do should be there for a reason, it has to make a point, or get rid of it. It doesn't matter how clever you think it is.
If it isn't relevant, lose it. You'll use it in the next story. 

(continued) 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Storytelling Lecture, Structure - Part 1

Storytelling Lecture Series, Part 5 (Edited from the transcript of a 1994 seminar)

Let me tell you a little bit about some other structural things that you may need to know. You heard me say, "Introduce your characters” a couple of times. What does that mean? What I mean by that is, whenever you are trying to establish your status quo, Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet, you have the same duty as the newspaper reporter--who, what, when, where, why, how. You've got to give them a clue about what that status quo is so they can understand how it's disrupted. That means also understanding who these characters are.

When you bring your character on stage, on the figurative stage, you want to let the reader know enough about this guy so he's got a handle on him. Now you never stop letting the reader know about the guy. Introducing interesting characters doesn't just end, you keep doing it. When I say introduce the characters what I mean is give the reader a clue. If you go to any professional performance let's say, a Broadway play, a movie, watch a TV show, or read a good book, usually the first time you see a character the author takes great pains to give you a handle on that character. If the guy in a Broadway play is a tailor, almost certainly the first time you see him he'll have a tape, he'll have pins in his mouth, a pair of pants over his arm, chalk marks on his hands, it will tell you he's a tailor. Sometimes they won't. Sometimes there's a scene where he's in a tuxedo and he's going to the opera, but the reason they're doing that is because they are saving it as a surprise--one of the actor's costume splits, is there a tailor in the house? I'm a tailor! That's the kind of thing. You guys watch TV. You see movies all the time. You read books all the time. Start watching movies (good movies) twice--once for fun and once with a note pad in your lap, and the pause button in your hand. Start looking at what the writer did, try to figure out why'd he do that. You'll find that what I'm saying is true. With any professional piece of work the characters are brought on stage, they're introduced. You get to know them enough so that you can now understand what they are, who they are, so that when the disruption comes you can see it. You'll also see writers doing all kinds of tricks, literary devices to get their points across. 


Aside: Just to bring it back to where we live: ever read a Barks Uncle Scrooge?  The first time we see Uncle Scrooge, he's ALWAYS DOING SOMETHING CHEAP OR MISERLY.  He continues being avaricious throughout the story, doesn't he?  But the first time we see him, for sure, he's fishing a nickel out of a sewer grate with some gum on a string or somesuch.  Do it well, make it amusing or dramatic and no one notices that you're introducing the character.

Remember that's what we're doing. We're communicating. If you don't communicate, what's the difference if you have a great story? You'll see professional writers foreshadow things. You'll see them do parallel construction to make points. You'll see them do juxtaposition of scenes to try to drive home a point or create contrast. You'll see them use irony, or contrast, or mood, or imagery. Now I'm not equipped to stand here and have the time to go through all that and try to explain how's it done, and in truth in a collaborative medium like comics it really is much better for me to get on and to show you the artwork and then you'll start seeing how some of these things interplay. Go to the library, but use your eyes. Start examining what you're looking at, the movie you're looking at, examining it, and finding out what the guy's doing and why. Try to figure out what was in the writer's head. You'll find in Star Wars the first time you see Luke Skywalker, they tell you who he is. And I don't mean they just say, "Hey, here's Luke." They show him doing something that is germane to his character. The same with every other character. As I say they don't stop, and every once in a while they'll change up on you, they'll show you something contrary so that they can reveal later that the guy is a tailor, but basically you should look for that.
  


(continued)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Storytelling Lecture, Huckleberry Finn

Storytelling Lecture Series, Part 4 (From the transcript of a 1994 seminar)

(JayJay here. I posted this blog straight from the transcript, but once Jim got a bit of a break, he touched it up. Here is his edited version.)

I like Mark Twain. He was good. Take Huckleberry Finn for example. That’s a great piece of writing. It’s about this boy, Huck, who has been taught since birth that certain people are property, they have no rights, no worth except as slaves, and if you help one of them run away or you let one of them escape, you're going to hell because it's evil to do so. In the story, Twain makes this clear, so we understand the situation, the status quo, and of course he introduces the characters. We read about the disruptive element that sends this story into motion—both Jim the slave and Huck are driven by circumstances to run away.  They fall in together, and travel down the Mississippi on a raft. The conflicts that are raised are wonderfully interesting, and Twain brings the characters alive so well, that we really relate to them.

If you think about Huckleberry Finn, as Huck and Jim travel down the river, everything that they encounter brings the problem into focus. The evidence of Huck’s eyes tells him that this guy Jim is the best man he ever met, like a father to him. Everything he was taught says the guy's property and should be turned in. Every single event further underscores the folly of what Huck was taught.

It’s never heavy-handed.  The events that happen along the way are dramatic, funny and sometimes poignant.  But, think about it, every single one relates to Huck’s dilemma, and Twain’s insight.

And, oh, by the way, think about this.  Jim, alone, would be an obvious runaway,  would be caught and harshly dealt with.  With Huck, presumably his “owner,” he’s safer.  On the other hand, the river is carrying them ever deeper south—not the best plan for escapee Jim. Tension builds…. 

Down the river a ways they run into the Duke and the Dauphin. Now, they didn't run into a rodeo cowboy and a hooker, they ran into the “Duke” and the “Dauphin”—two guys who were ostensibly superior beings to Huck, just as Huck is ostensibly superior to Jim the slave. The Duke and the Dauphin are royalty. And we have a whole adventure with the Duke and the Dauphin. We find out that it's nonsense—that these guys are phonies, driving again home the point to Huck to forget what you've been told about people, there is a dignity in man that transcends the station that we assign to him. That a person’s true worth is not determined by a title, be it king or slave. 

Remember what happens to the Duke and the Dauphin? They get tarred, turned black.

So Huck and Jim get down to New Orleans and Huck finally has to decide what to do because there's a problem. There's Jim and he's found a way out, a way to freedom.  He’s heading for a boat will take him away. Huck knows that if he doesn't yell to a nearby cop, "Get this guy, he’s a runaway slave!" that he, Huck, is going to hell. This is the watershed moment in his life. He has that moment and he says, "So be it. I'll go to hell." That's the climax folks. The resolution is that Jim gets away, just like Little Miss Muffet.

So, back to Miss Muffet—you could add all kinds of stuff to a story to make it better. Action, humor, car chases, whatever. But, if you have some insight, something to say, an observation on the human condition—If you really have what Mark Twain had and you can bring some new light to the world, then it makes it a great story.

Ask a hundred people what Huckleberry Finn is about, and at least 99 will say it’s about two guys floating down a river on a raft. But that’s not it. It’s about human dignity and equality. Its insights are so subtly implanted, its wisdom so deeply imbued that it communicates them almost by stealth, while entertaining brilliantly. Huckleberry Finn will live forever and stealthily bring home its point to people for thousands of years.

That's where we're trying to go if we are writers. That's what you want to do. I've been trying to find something worth saying for 29 years. I'm no Mark Twain and I haven't done it yet, but that's what we should all strive for. That's what you got to go for. If you aim high you might hit it.

it raises in Huck is really what makes this interesting, and really what relates to us. It brings that insight that makes this story live forever.


(continued) 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Even More Questions and Answers

Jens H. Altmann commented on your link.
Jens wrote: "I used to think that there was roughly a 10 year turnover in comics creators -- every ten years or so, some new names would appear and some established names would phase out. What's your observation in that regard?"

Most of the people I worked with were lifers, especially those who started before I did, and those who started after pay and benefits got better. There was a time, from the late sixties till the late seventies when the pay was so bad that a lot of creators who could get other kinds of work -- illustration, storyboards, animation, copywriting, advertising, or writing anything but comics -- jumped ship.  Many came back when things got better.  When I have time I'll give you a list of a few notables who left for other work, and some who came back. You guys probably can make a better list than I can.


kintoun has left a new comment on your post "Secrets of the Secret Wars":
That's fascinating trivia that certain Masters of the Universe items were planned to be used for the Secret Wars toyline at one point. It's easy to imagine accessories like He-Man's Jet Sled being piloted by Captain America and maybe the Wrecking Crew all using Stilt Stalkers. How awesome would it be to see Mike Zeck draw Ultron atop Night Stalker or Wolverine behind the seat of a Land Shark?

By the way, I'd be curious to know if Jim read Mark Millar's 1985 limited series which was pitched as "Marvel's Narnia". This project dealt with well known Marvel villains like the Mole Man, Doctor Doom, and the Red Skull invading the real world so it's sort of a tribute to that era. In fact, the story begins with the protagonist named Toby Goodman visiting his local comic book store and reacting with enthusiasm to a summary of Secret Wars #9 ("Death to the Beyonder!").

Never read it. Sorry.


Tim has left a new comment on your post "The Spider-Man Musical That Might Have Been":
Mr. Shooter, I'm wondering if you could expand a bit on your mindset working on a Marvel script shortly after being fired by Marvel. For me it would seem like a difficult task to undertake so soon after being let go. At this point had you and Mr. Massarsky already discussed buying Marvel?

Thank you for writing the blog. Each post is fascinating, and I am looking forward to next week's entries on comic creation. I'm also enjoying the Dark Horse series that you're writing, and hope that the scheduling issues are worked out soon. After reading about your first year at Marvel and your focus on getting books out on time that this must be frustrating for you. Fortunately each successive issue is better than the one before, and I have great anticipation for the Magnus origin issues coming soon.

I actually never thought of it as being fired by Marvel. I thought of it as being driven out by the corrupt bastards who were running and raping the place at the time:

President Jim Galton, who came to Marvel after being fired as president of Popular Library (a division of Fawcette) subsequent to the company being acquired by CBS Books in 1977. He replaced Marvel President Al Landau who had been caught embezzling. Galton was glad to have any job. He never had any interest in comics. His intent was to segue out of the comics business and into "real" businesses -- children's books, animation, magazines. I altered his plans a little by spearheading the turnaround of the comics publishing sector. No, it wasn't just me, but I certainly played a part. Galton, instead of embracing the success of the comics, used the profits we produced to finance his ill-considered schemes. Marvel Books was a financial disaster, as was Marvel Productions, the animation studio -- known at Cadence as "Galton's Folly."

Executive Vice President Joe Calamari. Calamari was hired right out of law school, as I recall, by Shelly Feinberg, chairman of Marvel's parent company, Cadence Industries,  as a hatchet man. Cadence was a failed conglomerate. Feinberg was recruited to dismantle the conglomerate and get the shareholders out alive. He engineered a miraculous life-support financing deal with the Bank of Boston that is legendary in corporate financial circles.  Calamari and another lawyer, whose name escapes me at the moment, were sent into the various companies Cadence owned to fire people, strip the units down to saleable remnants and dump them. His reward for being a good traveling executioner was a job at Marvel as Executive VP of Business Affairs..  They callously fired the person in that position, Alice Donenfeld, a terrific, capable executive, to make room for Calamari. Alice knew and loved the comics. Calamari, as far as I know, never opened one. P.S. Alice had once been married to Irwin Donenfeld Jr., yes, that Donenfeld, son of one of the founders of DC.

There were other villains. Tell you later.

Both Galton and Calamari were members of the "Gang of Seven" who took Cadence private, the first step in their plan to cash in. They were "CMI," Cadence Management Incorporated. Corporate Raider Mario Gabelli sniffed out their scheme and tried to usurp it. Remember all the "junk publishing" Marvel did in the early 1980's? The No-Prize Book? The Fumetti Book? All the reprints? They happened because I was commanded to generate cash -- some millions of dollars -- any way I could, to fund the anti-takeover battle against Gabelli. Long story.

The last Cadence company, Curtiss Circulation was sold for receivables, a tidy profit for the Six (by that time they had screwed over and gotten rid of one of their own). Marvel had always been a DIVISION of Cadence, rather than a subsidiary, so it didn't have to be SEC-reported independently. That was a way of burying the Crown Jewel, hiding Marvel's true worth by laying off corporate expenses against it. After stripping out $12 million in cash for themselves, the six sold Marvel to New World Pictures at the beginning of 1987 for $45.5 million. All into their pockets. The shareholders received, as I recall, $17 a share, less than half of their real worth. 

The CMI group created nothing. They built nothing. They accomplished nothing. But they got very rich off of Marvel, Curtiss and the pathetic remnants of Cadence.  Welcome to American business. Bilk the stockholders, get rich.

Anyway....

I was fired from Marvel NOT because, as virtually EVERYONE thinks, because of anything that happened that had anything to do with the comics, the comics department, the staff or the creators, contract or freelance. I WAS FIRED BECAUSE WHEN MARVEL WAS SOLD TO NEW WORLD PICTURES I BLEW THE WHISTLE ON MARVEL'S CORRUPT MANAGEMENT. I wrote a letter to Bob Rehme, our new, New World CEO, telling him a few of the totally corrupt, self serving, potentially illegal things that the Marvel top brass, see above, had done/were engaged in. (Note: After acquiring Marvel, New World Pictures changed its name to "New World Entertainment."

A couple of months later, I was fired. That's the chance you take as a whistle-blower.

I was flown out to LA for an exit interview with Rehme. He had looked into the charges I'd levied. He had found that I was absolutely correct, that everything I'd told him was true -- but, he said, how would it look to NWE's investors if they fired top management for being corrupt right after buying the company? Much easier to get rid of the squeaky wheel, and deal with the scum at their leisure.

Rehme said that he had instructed Galton to offer me a deal similar to the kind of deal that studio chiefs get when they leave a place like Paramount or TriStar -- they were going to set me up as an "independent producer." They would fund offices, a staff, and all costs so that I could produce my own line of comics -- which Marvel would distribute and to which, Marvel would have have a package of licensing rights.

Galton and cronies however, were sufficiently annoyed by my whistle-blowing, which caused them serious problems, that they managed to obstruct my "independent producer" deal till it was dead. All I got from Marvel was screwed.

But....

Again, it was evil people, not Marvel doing me wrong. I had nothing against Marvel, the conceptual entity. Still don't.

The idea of buying Marvel came up later, after I'd written the show, at a party at my friend Clark Smith's house. He introduced me to an executive from Chase. I'll tell that story later.

After my bid for Marvel came in second to Perelman's, when I was being interviewed for the job of President of Marvel by CEO Bill Bevins, I expressed my low opinion of Galton et al. His response: "If all of Marvel's upper management drowned in the East River, no one would notice they were gone for at least a month." That's a real quote. We hit it off. I might have been hired, except for the fact that there would have been a bloodbath the day I walked through the door as new boss. I admitted to Bevins that a few I would have to fire, and others would quit or jump out the windows. He told me that they, Perelman's company, intended to take Marvel public, and couldn't afford any drama. Like Rehme, he wanted to filter his guys in quietly and get rid of the scum slowly and quietly. And he did.


JayJay here. As some of you may be aware, Jim’s latest project is a relaunch of the Gold Key characters for Dark Horse Comics.

Doctor Solar: Man of the Atom




















Magnus: Robot Fighter




















Turok, Son of Stone




















The Mighty Samson
A fan web site has been going strong since just before the launch of the line. It includes an active forum and was gotten together by long-time fan, John Rosas.

The Dark-Key Fan Site

The Dark-Key Forum

And excellent complete checklist compiled by long-time fan George Warner is here:
The Complete Illustrated Dark Horse Comics/Gold Key Heroes Checklist

Also, on May 7th, Jim and co-writer Jeff Vaughn will be going on a signing whistle-stop tour of Long Island.



Thursday, April 14, 2011

The $1.98 Storytelling Lecture - Part 3

Storytelling Lecture Series, Part 3 (From the transcript of a 1994 seminar)

Today I'm going to show you how to make the Little Miss Muffet example from yesterday better and then next week I'll discuss some of the craft of being a writer.

How can we make it better? We could add some character. Wouldn't it be interesting to get to know this little girl? All right let's do that. Let's say Little Miss Muffet is a very lonely girl. She's eating lunch alone every day. So she's all alone, she's sitting on her tuffet, she's miserable and she's a very lonely girl. We can infer from the story that she's probably afraid of spiders. So all of a sudden Little Miss Muffet starts coming alive to us--she's a lonely little girl who's scared of spiders. So she's having another lonely lunch, and then along came the spider. Now the spider happens to be a lonely guy too. The guy is ugly. He's a spider. He can't get a date. So he sees Little Miss Muffet and he approaches her. Now every instinct in the spider's body is saying take a chunk out of this babe's leg, and yet he's lonely. He'd like to have a friend. On the other hand this is a high-risk operation, what if she steps on him? Little Miss Muffet is like, "Gee, he's ugly. Gee, I'm really lonely and he seems nice." She waffles around about it for a while and then finally she screams and runs away, proving that Little Miss Muffet is more afraid of spiders than she is afraid of being lonely. It's a better story. You learn something about her, you learn something about the spider. It's already better.

Well there's more you can do to a story. You can add jokes, and bits of business, interesting little events that happen. You can build more suspense. You could actually have the spider creeping a little closer to her on her tuffet. You could do a lot of things. You could add a car chase. So you could take that basic building block and that's where you start being creative. Throw your creativity at this and come up with something really cool. Better still, you could make it relate to me, the reader. Let's face it, that's the kind of stories we like to read when you can say, "Yeah, I felt that way." You could try to figure out something that means something to whomever is reading it. Try to get that across.
  


(continued)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The $1.98 Storytelling Lecture - Part 2

Storytelling Lecture Series, Part 2 (From the transcript of a 1994 seminar)

All right, so you've got this concept that's built into our language and therefore built into our brains. That's why there is a definition of story. So why can't everybody just sit down and be a writer? Well you can. Just let yourself. There's a little more to it than that, which I'll tell you in a minute, but basically I think for most of us, our problem is when we sit down to be a writer we get this big capital `W' in front of that word and we think we have to be Hemingway. Probably you'd all be better off if you would just stand there, tell the story to yourself in a mirror or to someone small enough that you can force them to listen.

We know what the basic unit is, now let's expand that definition. What it was. When I say what it was what I mean is who or what are we talking about, and what is their situation. What is their status quo? Where are they? What are they doing? What's normal? What's going on here if nothing else happened? What happened is something occurs to disrupt that normal status quo. I used to say a problem comes up, and sometimes I used to say a conflict, and then I said, "No, it's not always that. Sometimes it's an opportunity." Something happens though, to kind of rock the boat. So what effects does it have? What develops? What issues are raised? What is at stake? What conflicts arise? What forces are our opposition?

That's all part of that second piece--what happened. I'll give you a memory device for this in a minute. How did it come out includes what decides the things that are at stake, the conflicts and so forth. How did that resolve? Once it does resolve, what is the new situation that's different from the original status quo? And if it isn't, you haven't gone anywhere so it's not a story. Let me give you the expanded definition more simply. A story, and we're assuming characters here, I mean it could be about a car or something but for ease of discussing this let's assume they're characters, a story is the following pieces: you introduce your characters, you establish the status quo, you introduce something which disrupts that status quo--a disruptive element, you develop conflicts, you build suspense, you reach a climax in which the forces in opposition one wins, and then you have a resolution and that is you explain the new status quo.

Okay, how are you going to remember all of that stuff? I'll tell you what, it's all in a little poem called Little Miss Muffet.

Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey; along came a spider, who sat down beside her and scared poor Miss Muffet away.

It's all there. It's a story. Introduce the characters--Little Miss Muffet. Establish a status quo--sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey. She's having lunch. Introduce the element which disrupts that--along came a spider. Build suspense--sat down beside her. Now look this thing could be poisonous, you don't know. It might bite her. Scared poor Miss Muffet--wow, that's the moment where the situation you've created has reached that climax where something's going to happen now. Scared poor Miss Muffet away. She gets away. If you can remember Little Miss Muffet, you can remember everything you need to know about the basic unit of entertainment which is a story.

Little Miss Muffet--introduce the character. Sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey--establish the status quo. Along came a spider--introduce the disruptive element. Sat down beside her--build suspense. Scared poor Miss Muffet--climax. Away--resolution. Now you know the basic building block of entertainment. Is that all you need? No. Little Miss Muffet is a story, it fits the basic building block, it is however a lousy story. You don't know anything about this girl, you don't know anything about the spider. It gets old pretty quick. But we can make it better. 



Tomorrow, I'm going to show you how to make it better and then we'll discuss some of the craft of being a writer. It's more than just knowing the building blocks.  

(continued)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The $1.98 Storytelling Lecture - Part 1

Storytelling Lecture Series, Part 1 (From the transcript of a 1994 seminar)


Story is probably the most fundamental and important element of entertainment in the world. It's a basic building block. It comes into play in virtually every creative medium. Storytelling is the oldest profession. Don't believe what you've heard. People were telling lies long before any other business was invented.


We're in the same business as Homer was. This business has been around for a long time. I think it's going to be around for a long time. It's going to be here forever because it's something that's built into us and it’s something that we really like.


Okay, so what is a story? Well, in the simplest possible terms what a story is:


What it was, what changed it, how'd it come out.


Now a lot of people have probably been to seminars and read books that say, well there's Act I, Act II, Act III. You may have heard a story has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Well, no kidding! What does that mean? How does that give you any tool by which to judge whether or not you've done it right? So forget those people. It's what it was, what happened, how'd it come out. Is that a formula? No. It's a definition. If it isn't that, it's not a story.


Sentences have definitions. A sentence is a complete thought. Shakespeare used sentences, so did the writers of Laverne and Shirley. Didn't limit either of them. It's just a tool. It's just a building block. You've got to know what it is, then you can manipulate it, then you can play with it.


Think of it as a unit of language. The smallest unit of our language is a letter. The next unit up is called a morpheme. That's the smallest group of letters that adds meaning, that holds meaning. For instance the `s' on the end of a word that makes it plural, that's a word, or `ing', that's a morpheme. Then of course there's words, clauses, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and you build from there. Story is just a bigger unit. Just understand what we're talking about here is just a piece of language. That's the story. It should not limit you. It is simply a building block. Why is that a story? Not because somebody woke up one day and said, "That will be what a story is. We're going to write this in Webster's." No. That's a story because it's built into our language. You cannot avoid what a story is. If someone tells you a story and it doesn't have one of the pieces, you may not know the stuff I'm telling you, but you know it's not right.


Let’s all go out and have a root beer someplace. We'll go into a bar, all of us, and there'll be a big guy sitting at the end of the bar, a big, huge guy and you just know the guy played football. So we'll walk up to him and we'll say, "Bronco, tell us about your biggest game." He'll say, "Well, it was the state championship, it's late in the fourth quarter and we're down by six points and we're marching down the field. I'm the running back and we're doing great. I've got this great quarterback handing off to me. On the other side there's the biggest linebacker in the world, but we're getting around him, we're marching down the field, and then all of a sudden I fumble and they got the ball. So here we are we're going to win and if we win, the head cheerleader promised me she'd go out with me. So I fumble. The coach takes me out and he's yelling at me and stuff. The time's running out and our team intercepts a pass on our own six yard line, and there's a few seconds left. I say, 'Coach put me in. I got to get in there.'"


So Coach Rolinski puts him in and then they hand Bronco the ball and he breaks through the lines, through the secondary, he's running toward the goal line, and then the BIGGEST LINEBACKER IN THE UNIVERSE is standing at the goal line. Time has expired on the clock. He dives for the goal line, and the linebacker dives at him and...


We're all wondering whether or not he scored...and whether or not he scored. You can't help yourselves. It's built into the language. Another thing you can't help is if you ask Bronco to tell you a story he will tell you the situation, what happened to disrupt it, what happened, and then he'll tell you how it came out. If he doesn't you'll be really upset. It's built into the language. You will automatically tell a story in the correct order if you just let yourself. Keep that in mind. When you tell a story you're telling what the situation was, what happened to change that situation, and how it came out.

(continued)

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Comics Creator Generation Gap

Storytelling Lecture Series, Introduction (From the transcript of a 1994 seminar)

The comics business went into a steep decline in the '50s and early '60s. During that time a lot of companies folded, a lot of comic book professionals were unemployed, and so, if you were an editor at a surviving comic book company you never had to train anybody, you knew lots of guys who were out of work. The streets were awash with unemployed cartoonists. So what happened is we had a generation gap—relatively few new people came into this business between the mid-'50s and the early-to-mid-'60s. Around that time a few of us started to trickle in. Among the arrivals in the early to mid-‘60’s were E. Nelson Bridwell, Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, Neal Adams, a few others and me. We were pretty much the last guys who got to learn our craft from the older guys--the guys who really invented and built the comic book business.

Among that group, I have kind of a unique history. Most of the others went on to be writers or artists, a couple of them became editors. But most of them went on to follow one discipline. I ended up not only getting into editorial and management, but starting a company (or three)--I had to learn everything. I was an owner, a publisher, I had to learn every creative discipline, I had to learn production, manufacturing, marketing, promotion, advertising; and I had to learn enough Management 101, math and GAAP to understand the business of the business. I took legal seminars to better understand intellectual property law. So I had kind of a unique point of view. It doesn't mean I know everything. It just means that I know some things that few of the others had to bother with.  The bottom line is that I was taught a lot by a number of old pros at DC and by Stan, with whom I worked very closely for the first few years at Marvel, on the Spider-Man syndicated strip as well as the comics.

When I arrived as editor-in-chief of Marvel in 1978 I found out that a lot of people who'd come up after me had not had the benefit of working with the older guys. Either they had no training or they'd been trained by a guy who arrived there 10 minutes before they did.

There was a GENERATION GAP in the comic book industry.  There were some people in their 50’s and 60’s, there were a lot of people in their twenties and early 30’s, but not enough in between.  Because there had been an extended period of decline when relatively few new people came in, we were missing a generation. 

What that meant is that young guys who should have been assistant editors to a forty-something person were instead editors or editors in chief, even though their main qualification was having read 10,000 comics.

I was among the younger guys, but, by virtue of the fact that I’d started at age 13, working with ancient ones – for instance, Sheldon Moldoff, who began drawing comics in the ‘30’s drew my first published story – I had old-guy sensibilities. I often related better to the old guys – Romita, Perlin, John Buscema, Frank Thorne, Win Mortimer, Carmine, Paul Newman, Russ Heath, Stan, Jack, Steve – you can probably fill in the list yourself – than I did the young turks, some of whom had to be reminded which end of the brush to use.

So as editor-in-chief of Marvel I found myself with a lot of talented people around me who needed basic training. What I started doing was working with them and trying to explain some fundamental things. A lot of these guys were brilliant talents. They just hadn't gone through boot camp like I had. So I developed a series of lectures which I started giving as editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics. The lectures were designed not to teach style, not to how to make comics Jim Shooter's way. Just fundamentals. Little tidbits that I learned from the masters, passing on the wisdom of the ancients. Most of it was taught to me by experts.

It's hard to find a guy who worked at Marvel in the '70s or '80s who hasn't heard my famous “$1.98 storytelling lecture.” Ask some of them. Or ask Chris Claremont if he's ever heard my “Little Miss Muffet” lecture.

I think because of my unique history, because I was trained by the ancient ones, who pounded story structure and comics craft into my head, it is incumbent upon me to pass along some of this stuff so that it isn't lost.

And one last thing – I didn’t stop learning things when I was 18.  All along the way I learned from everyone I dealt with.  I learned from Roy, Archie, Neal, Romita, John Buscema, Gil, Vinnie, Giacoia, Veerporten, Roussos, Walt, Louise, Larry Hama, Giraud, many more.  I also learned a few things from some of the young turks, once they figured out that they should use the pointy end of the pencil – Miller, Sienkiewicz, Golden, Lapham; and from some writer-only types like Stern, DeMatteis, Waid and more, including many non-comics writers.  Someday, I’ll do my Hall-of-Fame lists….

Tomorrow: The $1.98 Storytelling Lecture, Part 1