I haven’t done one of my birthday stocktakings in several years, but now seems like a good time, as I’m in the midst of a number of transitions.

Let’s start with some recent notable accomplishments:

  • I completed the writing of a new textbook, “Comics: A Global History, 1968 to the Present,” with my co-author Dan Mazur. That’s pretty big! When I look back, I can see that I announced that I was just getting started a little after my 35th birthday–three years ago! It was a great project to undertake, but boy am I glad it’s over. I’m feeling very much reading to focus on creative work again. It’ll be out in June of this year–more announcements to come.
  • I launched a new web series–Two for No, in collaboration with Tym Godek. I’m very happy to have an experimental series to work on, and I’ve wanted to work with Tym for years, so this is a big success in my book! We’ve gone a bit off track of late, but that’s just the kind of project this is–I’m confident we’ll be back to it.
  • I finally put Gingerbread Houses into print form. I’m a little embarrassed about how long it took me to do this, but I’m delighted that it’s done. Find me at a con, and you can get one. (I’ll be at MeCAF this year.) It’s a nice-looking little book that I’m pleased to have my name on. It’s funny how often I forget to include this book among my perceived accomplishments. I keep saying “I need to get a GN published” without remembering that I already *have.* I’m still stuck and int he mindset that “published” means in print through a professional publisher. Never mind that the book is both in print (self-published) and professionally published (online, through Modern Tales). Why is it so hard to convince myself that counts?
  • I sold a story to a new science fiction anthology: “The Mammoth’s Ivory, The Glacier’s Stone” will be out in “The Girl at the End of the World” very soon.


And now, goals for the coming year:

  • Complete the new graphic novel I’ve started. This is a collaborative project with a pair of good friends and very talented artists. I’m very optimistic about this project, and feel confident that this will be the book that gets me into professional print. I haven’t the slightest idea on a time frame for this (and working in direct collaboration right from day one of scripting alters the time frame considerably), but this is going to happen.
  • Continue submitting stories, and hopefully get more of them published. I’ve been actively working on this without much luck for the past couple of years. But all I can do is keep putting the stories out there. Dealing with this sort of rejection is a complicated problem; if I were just getting form rejections, it would be easy to say that writing fiction just isn’t my thing–my talents lie elsewhere and I should put my efforts where my talents lie. But that hasn’t been the case–most of my rejections are personal and encouraging. Which means I’m consistently coming *close* to selling a story. And it’s hard to give up when you keep coming close.
  • Get more Two for no done. It’s a fun project and a good exercise. I want to get back to it.
  • Write a few more short stories. I’ve been enjoying writing them, even if I haven’t had much luck getting them published. I have a few half-finished ones I’d like to complete, at the very least.
  • Write another graphic novel. One of my own personal projects. Maybe I’ll be able to find an artist and publisher for it, maybe not, but I need to be working on this. I don’t even care which of my projects it ends up being, but one of them needs to get done.
  • Find a new job. I’ve made the decision to cut back on my teaching work, leaving BFIT where I’ve been for the past six years. It was a very good place for me to be for a while, and I will miss my colleagues and many of my students. But I was finding it increasingly difficult to balance the mental drain required by that type of teaching with my ability to continue writing. I’m still teaching comics courses at Emerson and in adult ed contexts, and would very much like to expand my public speaking/guest lecture appearances. In the meantime, I’m looking for something part-time, yet interesting and meaningful to balance out my week. No luck yet, but I’m still exploring possibilities.
  • Expand membership at The Writers’ Room of Boston. This is a new item for me to be concerned about, but now that I’ve become President, it’s an important priority! For those of you in the Boston area–The Writers’ Room is a non-profit organization that provides secure, affordable, 24-hour writing workspace in downtown Boston. We take membership applications on a rolling basis, and are always happy to answer questions.

Coming Monday: Two for No

Some years ago Neil Cohn posted an essay exploring the idea of visual poetry: rules-based comics built on formalized structures. It’s an idea very suited to  my way of thinking, and a creative exercise I’ve wanted to dabble in ever since.

For at least as long, I’ve been hoping for the opportunity to collaborate with Tymothi Godek, whose formalist works have long delighted me, especially his Xeric-award-winning !.

Starting Monday, both will be happening! Look for Two for No at twoforno.net, beginning in just three days.

Don’t worry, I’ll remind you again later.

Things are Happening

Okay, I know it’s been a very long time since I last posted to this blog, and even longer since I last posted new comics. But good news! That’s all about to change!

For the past couple of years, I’ve been wrapped up in a book project, a comics history textbook co-authored with Dan Mazur. Along with teaching and parenting, my time has been pretty well spoken for. But just today, I turned in the last major chunk of text to the publisher; aside from a few loose ends, the textbook is done! Hooray! It should be out from Thames & Hudson sometime next year. I’ll let you know when that happens.

And I am thrilled to now be turning my attention back to creative work! There’s even a series already to start up. Over the past year, I’ve been noodling on some ideas with Tym Godek, an artist I’ve been wanting to work with for years. And guess what: it’s happening! We have 9 pages done and ready to go already, so you can expect to see it soon. I’ll tell you more about it next week, but for now, keep an eye out for “Two for No.”

I have several other projects in early stages as well, and would love to say more about them, but it’s definitely too soon. But the rest of my summer is going to be dedicated to making creative work happen, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Ryan Estrada’s The Whole Story

Conflict of Interest Notes: The following review is based on complimentary press copies. Plus, I’m friendly with Ryan Estrada. Also, I hope to submit work of my own to future iterations. That said, I wouldn’t want to contribute my own work if I didn’t honestly think what Ryan is doing is pretty great.

Ryan Estrada has launched a fascinating new publishing venture. “The Whole Story” deals entirely in self-contained e-books (nothing serialized), sold on a model inspired by the The Humble Indie Bundle video game sales. Briefly: a varied group of titles are packaged together and sold on a “pay what you want” system, but with additional rewards unlocked by choosing to pay at a higher rate. The bundle will only be available for a limited time, so if you want it, you need to grab it now.

I’m fascinated by this packaging method, as it seems like a great way to get readers familiar with one creator interested in the work of lesser-known creators packaged with them. Not to mention that web distribution as a whole is still struggling to find a good model for publishing longform narrative comics, which just don’t lend themselves to succeeding on the same model as humor strips. This is the first iteration of this model that Estrada is running, and I’ll be waiting eagerly to hear his report on how successful it was. I’m very hopeful that it will do well enough to justify further such attempts in the future.

The base package, for which you can pay as little as one dollar, includes three books: Estrada’s own “The Kind,” Box Brown’s “A Heart of Stone Work,” and the collaborative experiment anthology Fusion Elementary. As you go up the pay ladder, the books that get added in include a second collaboration experiment (which I’ll explain in a bit) “Fusion Future,” two more Box Brown Titles “Walk Like a Sumerian” and “The Great Dissapointment,” and the “You Can Do It Dong Gu,” the US debut of Korean artist Nam Dong Yoon. Additional rewards include audio commentaries, original art, and additional gift downloads for friends.

The core books of the set are Estrada’s and Brown’s, especially as the latter fills out just shy of half the books available. Estrada’s The Kind is a sweetly horrifying story of new love and inadvertent violence, about a smitten couple, one of whom happens to turn into a bloodthirsty monster every time the moon is full. The awkward romance comprises the bulk of the story, slowly building up to the hilarious grievous bodily harm of the action-filled climax. It’s light hearted and fun, with Estrada’s usual odd humor. If you’ve like Estrada’s comics in the past, you’ll probably like this one to.

Box Brown’s books were more revelatory for me, especially as I hadn’t quite understood the appeal his work seems to hold for so many people prior to reading these three books in a row. I think I’d read the wrong pieces before—most of what I’d seen were journal comics, and were fine as journal comics go, but it’s a form I’m pretty done with. The stories in these books, though, show Brown working out a set of concerns vitally important to him, though mixed fiction, non-fiction, and autobiography. They all relate to faith, documenting Brown’s own journey to comfortable atheism, but also his fascination with various mythological traditions, from the beliefs of ancient Sumerians, to spiritual philosophies of Buddhism, to the bizarre hucksterism of rapture cults. “The Great Disappointment” was the standout of Brown’s books for me, and possibly my favorite of the whole package, and I especially liked the books conceit of bookending the content with quick pictorial summaries of all the major world religion’s creation myths (“Alpha”) and Armageddon myths (“Omega”). The piece detailing Brown’s desired funerary rites in particular has stayed with me, for the intimacy and strange calm that it possessed.

You Can Do it Dong Gu documents several weeks in the life of a six-year-old, and authentically captures the intensity of a child’s equally compelling need to master trivial and impossible tasks.

The most unusual books in the set are Fusion Elementary and Fusion Future, both of which follow the reverse collaboration model of providing writers with completed art, and asking them to make up text to fit. (I was a fan of, and contributor to, Ryan North’s similar Whispered Apologies experiment, so this grabbed my interest right away.) Both exclusively feature the art of Nam Dong Yoon, which is fine, as his art is vibrant and fun. The major difference between the two is that Fusion Elementary gave each creator a standalone short story to work with, while Fusion Future attempts to string all of the pieces written by different creators together into a cohesive story. And it does ultimately create a comprehensible plot, but the need to do so left a number of the pieces along the way less satisfying than they might have been. There are certainly enjoyable bits in there (Shaenon Garrity wrote one of them, after all), but it’s the ones that do the best job of standing alone that are most memorable. As a result, Fusion Elementary, which allows all of the pieces to simply stand on their own, is the more successful of the two books.

For interested readers on a budget, I the sweet spot is the $25 pay level, which gets you all of the books except for You Can Do It Dong Gu. The latter book is enjoyable, but not enough to justify the jump to the $50 pay level, unless you’re really into the audio commentary file also packaged with that level. Six full-length books for $25 dollars is an excellent bargain, though, and well worth the cost.

If you’re not on a budget, then go right ahead and pony up the 50 bucks to get the fun Korean book too. That works out to just a smidgeon over $7/book, which is still a pretty sweet deal.

Update: Ryan adds “And if people post a review after paying any amount, I will upgrade them to the $50 bundle. So you can get ‘em all for a buck, if you want!”

Essays and Articles Reorganized

I’ve just finished reorganizing the pages for my the Essays and Articles category of my publications. Rather than browsing full blog archives, you’ll now find succinct links with representative quotes to make it much easier to find an article you’re interested in.

Most of these are old pieces, but some continue to be perennially relevant, particularly those in the On Writing category. And I hope the creator Interviews remain interesting, even if the works they refer to aren’t all current anymore.

Publications Archive

I’ve added an archive page for my fiction and poetry publication. Not that I write much poetry anymore, but might as well make what’s out there more accessible. I do hope to see the list of fiction publications growing in the coming months.

The Essays and Articles archive has been rolled into the broader Publications archive. Now I just need to give that section better organization.

The Widow Reminisces Over a Plate of Vegetables

(The original poem from which the comic was adapted.)

She has learned to love the sound of ducks,
because they remind her of her husband’s hands:
the way they smelled of oil and gun-metal.
In those last years, he
couldn’t even hold a pen to sign his name.
But when he presented her with a fresh carcass—
his hands were perfectly steady in those moments,
the moments of his pride.

She cleaned the bodies dutifully,
stripping away the feathers, the feet, the head—
such things had been the gift of man for woman
for thousands of years, and he still believed
these ducks were prizes for the woman he loved.
She never faltered as she worked on the little bodies.
She never loosed the bile in her throat,
even as they shared the meat at dinner.

When she eats alone—every night
for almost two years now—she thinks of
those meals that she hated so much…
and then she thinks of how he would softly touch her lips,
filling her with the gun-metal smell of his hands.

And now, whenever she hears ducks,
she wishes them dead—every one of them—
if only he could bring them into their kitchen himself,
one feathered carcass at a time.

EXCERPT: The Fathers of Dead Children

Here’s the opening to the story I’ll be reading, in its entirety, at Emerson’s Bill Bordy Theater on Thursday:

Images of the dead are a form of gravity. We were pulled inexorably into orbit, spiraling down along the curves of space, clicking “next” and then “next” and then “next.” T-minus six months and the boy slaps one hand into a cake shaped like a rocket. Our orbit degrades, the well of gravitation drags us down. T-minus two weeks and the boy dances naked through a sprinkler. We burn in his atmosphere. T-minus twelve hours and the boy is in his father’s arms, each grinning like he’s won the world. The longer we looked, the more the boy collapsed in on himself, the more inescapable he became. He was a black hole; we never knew him, never would know him, would only ever know his crushing force.

And because we couldn’t resist the photographs, inevitably the fathers of dead children came. They didn’t come for the dead boy’s father, of course. He was now one among a plurality of solitude, a fraternity of nuclear shadows. In joining them he had been cut free to sink wholly into the singularity of his son. No, the fathers of dead children came for us, the ones still in orbit, still clinging desperately to our own tiny satellites. We heard them before we saw them; the fathers’ molecules emitted a deep gut tumbling thrum that hovered on the brink of nausea, vibrating at the frequency of unspoken recrimination. For themselves. For their wives and lovers, the mothers of their dead children. For the children themselves. For you. Resonance was achieved: our bellies turned over as our bodies hummed in response.

If you want to hear the rest, come to the reading!