(pre)View to a Kill

Well, I’m back from the Clockwork Retreat. There was boating. There was talking. There was eating and drinking and the telling of terrible, terrible jokes. There was even a little writing.

We finished the week by doing a signing at the wonderful comics shop, Austin Books. I say “we”, even though the crowd was 90% Bill Willingham fans, and Bill had to sign a metric Jesus ton of stock. Still, Evil Matt Sturges (completely different from regular Matt Sturges, because Evil Matt has a goatee) signed a lot of Dr. Who and Jack of Fables and House of Mystery, and Mark Finn was there signing  Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword #2 with his El Borak story in it. I even managed to sell a few ape and Dracula comics.

Just some friends dropping in. Click to enlarge.

Speaking of which, we’re in the home stretch with ol’ Drac. Dracula: The Company of Monsters #11 is on sale now, and there’s a free preview on FearNet.  It’s the big vampire fight we’ve all been waiting for. (Well, at least I have, and I know the artist, Scott Godlewski, was aching to draw more than people arguing in board rooms.)  Evan, our previously waffling protagonist, implements the plan he’s been working on for the past 4 issues, and Drac brings out a few friends from the old country. I’m just so happy that people are getting to see what we’ve been building toward. #12 will be the final issue, and we complete Evan’s story.

Also on sale starting tomorrow, Planet of the Apes #3. There’s a free preview on Comic Book Resources, where you can see all three variant covers. We reveal a major secret in this issue. I hope you dig it.

Two simians enter, one simian leaves... (Click to enlarge)

What to get your nerd

Hey folks, tomorrow is Nerd Christmas, otherwise known as Free Comic book day. Take your loved one down to the local comic book shop.  I recommend the free, 10-page prologue to Chris Roberson’s Elric: The Balance Lost.  This is an original 12-issue miniseries starting this summer, and based on the characters and worlds of Michael Moorcock.  I’ve read it, it’s beautiful, and I can’t wait for the rest of the series. Chris, who is a Moorcock fanatatic, is guaranteed to knock this out of the park.

And hey, while you’re there grabbing the free stuff, you can pick up Dracula: Company of Monsters #1 for only a buck. BOOM! Studios is doing a special reissue of Drac and a few other of their books for the day. See, BOOM! is all about the teasing and the tempting.

Happy to be your dealer

And now, best blurb ever: “It’s like pages are laced with cocaine, I am so hooked on this damn thing.”

That was Aron Head talking about Dracula: Company of Monsters. I had a BLAST last night talking to Aron and Paul Aponte, the co-founders of the Ideology of Madness website and the podcast Funny Books with Aron & Paulie. Every week Paul, Aron, and their cohort of disembodied voices roll out a rollicking review of the week’s comics. (Which is the  kind of thing I say when I’ve been reading too many Stan Lee comics.)

In the past couple weeks they’ve been catching up on Dracula: Company of Monsters, basically inhaling issues 1 thru 9, and that’s when they gushing started. I usually dislike gushing — where’s the ironic detachment? the cool intellectualism? the hipsterism? — but I make an exception when it’s about me.

The interview will be broadcast whenever they edit out my drunken giggling. (I’d had a lot of really good Thai food before we’d started talking). But on their site now are their reviews.

On the April 24 2011 Episode — “That’s not Bunny Dust!” — the boys discuss the first two trade paperbacks of Drac, covering issues 1 to 8. Tune in around the 55:30 mark.

And on the May 2 2011 Episode — “The Woeful Tears of Paul Aponte” — they review Drac #9 and Planet of the Apes #1. That comes in about 1:14:30.

What I like about their podcast is that they obviously love comics, and like to talk about the books they dig, but they’re definitely not always gushing, and they’re damn entertaining when they argue with each other. I suggest subscribing. They’re coming up on 100 episodes, so they’re in it for the long haul.

The Frostburg Effect

Well, it’s been a productive week here at the Rancho Del Daryl. Going in reverse order, on Friday I finished the final revisions on Dracula: Company of Monsters #12, and I’m really happy with how we used all our ideas — mine, Kurt Busiek’s, and those of our editor, Dafna Pleban — to hit the right notes in this last issue of the arc. It’s been such a great experience working with them on this book.

Then on Thursday I finished the first draft of Planet of the Apes #3, which features some very nice set pieces that Carlos Magno should have a blast drawing. Four words, people: Apes With Gatling Guns.

But back on Tuesday I played the Visiting Writer at Frostburg University, with Andy and Sydney Duncan as my hosts.

 

Andy Duncan

Andy is simply one of the finest writers in SF, and the best readers I’ve ever heard. I once had to follow him in a reading, and it was intimidating.

Sydney Duncan

Sydney, his wife, is one of the organizers of the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. and I met them both when I attended my first ICFA a couple years ago. They’re both faculty in the Frostburg English department, and they invited me in to talk to a creative writing class (taught by  Brad Barkley) and to do a reading.

Plus they fed me! I had a lovely dinner with the Duncans, Gerry LaFemina (also a member of  the English department, who runs the Center for Creative Writing, and who paid for my dinner, despite having to miss dinner himself so that he could help a friend with a dead cat– it’s a long story), the poet Nina Forsythe and her mathematician husband Robert, and Keith — a retired member of the English department whose last name escapes me. Sorry, Keith.

Frostburg’s a lovely town, and I was jealous of their independent bookstore, Main Street Books, whose owner Fred sold books at the reading. (Well, not very many. Sorry about that, Fred.) I read my story “Unpossible”,  as well as the short-short “Digital,” which is about a man whose consciousness moves from behind his eyes to the index finger of his left hand. Thank God people laughed.

What I most enjoyed was sitting around in the afternoon at Sydney and Andy’s house, petting various dogs and cats, and talking about writing, Clarion, and teaching. They told me about the Harry Potter Effect they’re seeing — almost all their creative writing students are writing YA, and by that they mean fantasy YA. One of the students in Brad’s creative writing class told me that they’re all writing genre fiction. This is a complete turnaround from just a few years ago.

The students in the class asked a lot of questions, but here’s one of the most interesting. We were talking about cliches and genre conventions, and the student asked me, If you subvert all the cliches, isn’t that a cliche in itself? This started us talking about the use and abuse of cliches. I said that you always had to be aware of cliches, but they could also be used for effect. I wasn’t sure where my line was, of which cliches I’d allow in to a story and which I’d rule out, though I could talk about some of the cliches I’d intentionally subverted in my own work. But I couldn’t articulate what my line in the sand was, what I would allow or not allow. And I didn’t differentiate between the different kinds of cliches. Were we talking about genre conventions, plot conventions, cliched characters, cliched language…?

I wish I’d given them a better answer. I’m going to think more about this.

Vampires! Apes! Vampire Apes!

Okay, no vampire apes. But that would be cool.

Dracula: Company of Monsters #8 is on the stands now. The Horror News Network has an 8-page preview. I’m excited for people to see this one. One, Scott Godlewski’s artwork in this issue kicks ass. He gets so much emotion out of Evan, our main character, and in this issue we put Evan through the wringer. For eight issues, Evan’s been pushed around–by Dracula, his uncle Conrad, and Marta the vampire hunter–and in this issue he is finally pushed to the brink. This is the  issue that ends act 2 of the story, and launches act 3. The rest of the story arc proceeds at a dead run. (Which would have been a good subtitle for this book.)

And this week, the “official” press release for the new Planet of the Apes book went live, and I’m now drowning in PR tasks. Coming up in the next two weeks, I’ll be doing a dozen email interviews, as well as podcasts, forum chats, and one radio interview — with Sohaib at Fictional Frontiers. I love Sohaib’s show, which is broadcast from Philadelphia, but can also be listened to on the web. He’s had me on to talk about my first novel and had me on again for Devil’s Alphabet.

Oh, about that forum chat. If you’re a POTA fan, you might dig the POTA Community Yahoo group.  You wouldn’t believe all the resources this group has collected. Rare images, trivia, audio files…  And they’re extremely active. You want to talk apes 24-7, they’re there for you.  And I’ll be there for you, at least for an hour.  I’ll be doing a live chat on the forum on Wednesday, March 30, from 4-5pm Eastern.

One more thing — they’re about to release the preview for Apes, and Carlos Magno’s art is unbelievably beautiful. When it comes out I’ll post here, because you have to see it.

Big Week for Dick and Drac

I write to you from the 27th floor of the Westin hotel in lovely Seattle. Last night, Jack Skillingstead and Nancy Kress, Seattle’s science fiction power couple, hosted a lovely dinner, with guests that included Ted Kosmatka (awesome SF writer), and Patrick Swenson, the proprietor of Fairwood Press, who will be publishing my short story collection in the fall. I drop these names not to impress you (though really, you should all be jealous that you didn’t get a slice of Nancy’s gingerbread cake), but to remark on a nice bit of synchronicity. You see, Jack, Ted, and I all have work appearing in a comic book series that’s out now. Lemmee explain.

Each issue of BOOM! Studios graphic novel version of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep includes an essay about Philip K. Dick and his influence on the field. Issue 16 has my piece, “I Am Horselover Fat”, about all the techniques I stole from him. #17 has Jack’s essay, “Truth, Art, and Grocery Money” about key moments in Dick’s life, and #18 has Ted discussing “Philip K. Dick the Shaman.” Did you know that Ted was born on the same day as PKD, only 45 years apart? Me neither. But that, my friends, is only one of the amazing things you will learn when you buy these issues. Oh, and the graphic novels are pretty sweet too. And don’t forget Chris Roberson’s official prequel to Androids, called Dust to Dust, also out by BOOM!

Now, three Impaler-related items:

Dracula: The Company of Monsters #6 is now on sale. In this issue we demonstrate the ups and downs of being undead: (a) Why it’s so handy to be a vampire during contract negotiations, and (b) how  cheesy pickup lines will never work with the hot chick, even if you are a creature of the night. Oh, the fang giveth, and the fang taketh away.

D:TCoM Volume 1, collecting issues 1-4, is now out in trade paperback.This is a great time to finally start reading the comic, Mom. Just ask A Walrus Darkly, who has a nice review of the volume.

Finally, Newsarama has Chris Roberson interviewing me about Dracula, in which he pressures me into revealing exactly how I managed to sneak into the world of comics.

Well, that’s it for now, folks. I haven’t had an espresso in fifteen minutes, and it’s time to get back on track. I love you, Seattle.

The weirdness and wonderfulness of comics reviews

Let’s talk about story, and character arcs, and monthly installments, and reviews.

Way back before I started writing comics — you know, eight months ago — I’d never thought about how odd it is that people review a single issue of an ongoing comic, by which I mean a comic that’s telling a story over many months. As a prose guy, I’m used to people reviewing the complete work — beginning, middle, and end — and evaluating how well the object works as a whole. A confusing middle chapter may be necessary for the ending. An unlikeable character may grow and develop.

Reviewing a single issue seems (at first glance– wait for the second glance below)  akin to reviewing a single chapter of a novel, or the first quatrain of a sonnet. The only questions a reviewer can ask (again, at first glance) are  (a) did I enjoy those 22 pages, and (b) did I want to read more? The reviewer can, optionally, speculate on where the plot is going, opine on whether that alleged destination is anywhere interesting, or reflect on how the new developments change the perception of previous issues.

As an exercise for the reader, please pause now and review this blog post so far.

Everyone back? Cool. Where was I? Oh, right. It seems that the ultimate evaluation of the story’s effectiveness — whether it was worth telling — has to be postponed until the story is done. (If the comic continues publishing… if the readers keep reading… if the creative team doesn’t change its mind and have its mind changed for them by the editors…)

Now don’t get me wrong. I evaluate issues as I read them. And writers know that each issue has to win the trust and commitment of the reader anew. The reader can stop at any time, or more weirdly, start at any time.

And that’s where the second glance comes in. Ongoing comics, it seems to me upon reflection, are a hybrid form, designed to tell a longer story, but by necessity forced to be objects that stand and sell on their own. In that way, they’re more like books in a trilogy. The reviewer is playing the role of play by play announcer or color commentator. They don’t know how the game is going to end, but they can describe what seems to be going well so far, and they can point out things you may not have noticed.

Just this week, Chris Sims of Comics Alliance did a brilliant analysis of Superman #707, Chris Roberson’s first issue at the helm, and he pointed out something on the first page that I completely glossed over when I read it. (Go read his review — you’ll know the moment when you see it.)

As for Dracula: Company of Monsters, it’s still very much in process. Issue #5 is on the stands now, the first trade paperback collecting issues 1-4 is coming out next week (you can order on Amazon), and I’m working on the script for #10. Compounding this, D:CoM is a “slow burn” comic. We start slow, with plot elements falling into place one by one, with an unconventional main character. Evan is not a hero. He’s an ordinary guy, whose main problem is that he’s not yet his own man — he’s constantly being manipulated by strong personalities around him.

A couple of reviews of Dracula #5 came in recently, and both hit on this aspect of the book, which I will call The Problem with Evan. Don McPherson on his Eye On Comics blog says this:

On the surface, this is about Dracula’s resurrection in the 21st century, but in reality, it’s about the human characters and the nasty things they’re willing to do in the name of ambition and self-preservation. Evan makes for an unlikely hero. He’s far from the most ethical man, but his shades of grey are swallowed whole by the blackness of those in his life, even his fiancee, who initially and deceptively comes off as the loyal partner.

Charles Webb over at MTV Geek has been following the book, and he just posted his review of #5, opening with this: “I’m curious how much longer writer Daryl Gregory is going to keep series lead Evan Barrington straddling the fence between between evil and not-so-evil.”

…These two [events in the story] underline the central problem of Evan’s character: he is, for all intents and purposes a jellyfish. Last issue, Dracula had him pegged, that the young executive with some talent but very little ambition and drive “wasn’t anything yet.” Unable to decide for himself, Evan allows others to decide for him; unable to make a moral decision on his own, he quickly finds himself having no clear sense of what the “right” thing to do is.

…Typically, an inactive lead would be a problem for a story, but I suspect that Gregory’s script (based on a story by Kurt Busiek) is pushing Evan towards a point where the young waffler will actually have to pull the trigger on his own.

The entry of the Romanians into the story proper, as well as the enigmatic moves made by Dracula promise to raise the tension of an already pretty tense plot. If only Gregory’s script could push Evan into the forefront of the action as an active participant a bit more… well, then this would shape up to be one of the better 2010-2011 books on the shelves right now.

Alas, my lips must remain sealed. I so want to talk about where the comic is going, but of course that has to wait for at least 7 more issues, when we finish the first main story arc. I will promise you this — the slow burn gets downright incendiary, and I can’t wait for people to see how it ends.

Meanwhile, I’m grateful that there are people out there reviewing ongoing comics, even if they can’t know everything — like what’s happening in issues that haven’t been written yet. So many times a blogger or podcaster has directed me to a good comic I’d overlooked, or taught me something about a book I was already reading.

Besides, what are reviewers supposed to do? Wait until the comic has died from lack of readers until the talk about it? That’s madness, I tell you — madness! So here’s to you , Captains of Reviewer Land — many thanks.