Game Over — a new YA novel

So I've got a new YA novel out.

As you might be able to guess from looking at the cover, it's called Game Over.

It's set in the middle of America in the middle of the previous decade. A group of friends, tired of being picked on, decide to fight back and, as will tend to happen, things get a little out of hand.

How out of hand? Well, here's how the novel opens:
The tanks rolled in just before dawn. 
People felt the rumbling from halfway across town—Ben said later that he fell out of bed, his room was shaking so much. Of course, Ben was known to exaggerate. 
Still, there was no need to exaggerate about this one—it was even more screwed up anything any of us could have imagined, and we had some great imaginations. Our little town, right in the middle of America, under siege. By our own army, sent in by our own government. Roads ripped up by tank treads, neighborhoods sealed off, electricity cut, phones tapped, bank accounts frozen, Green Berets sweeping through our backyards in the dark and a complete news blackout. 
All because of us: a bunch of computer geeks.  
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I should back up and start at the beginning. The beginning of the story, way back in 2004. And the beginning of school. High school, that is. 
So...pretty much that out of hand. Which is to say, really very much so.

Why is it set in 2004? Well, because that's when I wrote it. It was the first novel I'd ever written. At that point, I'd been writing comic books professionally for about six years, and wanted to try prose. I'd written some short children's books during that time, and a series of vignettes the previous decade, and it made me curious to see if I had it in me to stretch out and tell a longer story. And when the idea to Game Over first occurred to me, it was clear it wasn't really a natural fit for the medium of comic books.

So one day I just started writing. And unlike (superhero) comics, which tend to have very definite pages counts you have to know ahead of time, before you've written the first word, with a novel you can pretty much let the story dictate how long it's going to be. So I just wrote and then I wrote and then I wrote some more. And about four months later I was surprised to realize I was on the second to last chapter and then I was done. And then what?

Well, then other projects came up, and I worked on them...and then I found myself going back to a full-time job as a staff editor and that was that for the next several years.

Until a year ago when I thought about Game Over again. I re-read it for the first time in a decade and decided that, yeah, I still liked it. So, knowing an outstanding cover artist, I got a cover for it, and had it proofread and sent it out into the world.

And here 'tis.

Tell your friends. Tell all your friends.


(PS: to those who understandably keep writing, asking about the next Uncivil War installment, this isn't it. But, yes, I do have the next volume in the works. I'll let you know the pub date as soon as possible.) 

Happy Gore Bunny Snuggling

Sometimes it pays to work with the right people.

Genius artist Chris Gugliotti and I are discussing a possible new project and, as it will in such circumstances, the phrase "happy gore bunny snuggling" comes up. Naturally, I mention that that's the name of my forthcoming album.

At which point Chris creates the album art.

Those lovely nails may or may not actually be mine. (They're not.)

Showcase '94 #12

My first writing credit. I wrote about how it came to happen over here. Even now, I still can't believe my first story as a writer was illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze and (although not yet added to the credits box) colored by Mark Chiarello. Crazy.

Batman Adventures #1

My first full editing credit. The great Ty Templeton gave me the first page...and also no end of grief (entirely deservéd) for not catching the misspelling of Sam Agro's name, something for which I had precisely no defense. What can I say? I was young(er) and stupid(er).

The eagle-eyed will catch that wasn't the only mistake I made on this issue, but I'm surely not going to point out the other one, since it's really haunted me ever since. I like to think I got better. Or at least out of the editing game.

Detective Comics #643

My very first credit. Not actually the first comic I'd worked on—at least a half dozen had come out that I'd been the co-assistant editor on, but they all had Kelley Puckett's name on them, since Kelley was the assistant when at least the script had been written and, in some cases, had seen the art through nearly to completion before he left to go freelance. But this was the first issue that I'd worked on from script to printer.

Sharing a credit box with the legendary Dennis O'Neil was, of course, an unbelievable thrill and as a nice bonus, it was written by the great Peter Milligan—the last issue of Detective Comics he wrote during his brief but memorable run, so I just got to sneak in under the wire there.

And it was by Jim Aparo, my favorite Batman artist and the guy who'd been the impetus for me to go into comics in the first place. Naturally, being the nicest guy in the world, when I told him how pleased I was that my first credit was in a book he'd drawn, he sent me the page.

He even added what was for him a fairly effusive note.

I still can't believe I got to work with that guy.

Batman by Graham Nolan and Kelley Jones

One of my favorite shots of the Batman, by the awesome team of Graham Nolan and Kelley Jones.

At that point, Kelley didn't get a chance to ink much, and I knew he loved inking, maybe even more than pencilling, so we put him over Graham—of whom he was a huge fan—and the results were, I thought, pretty spectacular.

The colorist did a nice job, especially considering it was still fairly early days of digital coloring, but it's in the black and white that I think the combination of Graham and Kelley really shines.

Dennis O'Neil

Nearly 23 years after he hired me, I finally got a photo with the reclusive, mysterious, majestical, magisterial Denny O'Neil.

I'd have bet cash money Dandy Denny O'Neil didn't do selfies
And he even paid for breakfast.

(Not pictured, just to my left: Robert Downey Jr. Yes, really. He wanted a photo but I told him I was busy with a real star.)

Kelley Jones

Scott Peterson™ by Kelley Jones©.
How I miss the days of having
lots of thick, dark hair... 
It seems like one day you're a college student rediscovering comic books and the next day one of your first tasks at your new job—actually getting paid actual money to work on the actual Batman books—is to call up one of the artists from what was then your very favorite comic being published and introduce yourself as his new assistant editor.

That was how I met Kelley Jones. Just a few months earlier I'd been devouring his issues of Sandman—still some of my favorites from that amazing run—and now here I was talking logistics with him, as though I were a professional. Which, technically, I was, but, I mean...

And then time goes by and (if I recall correctly) we needed a cover for an upcoming issue of Detective Comics and I suggested Kelley and the boss (the redoubtable Dennis O'Neil) liked the suggestion and shortly thereafter we needed covers for the entire massive Knightfall crossover so Kelley got roped into doing all the Batman and Detective covers for years and years. And it was good.

I was the model for one of the characters
on this cover but I'm not saying which.
Fine, it's the third bat from the left.
And then I left to go freelance and have a billion kids and that was the end of the long, long weekly phone calls. And while having no commute massively beats having a terrible commute, losing those calls was a serious blow.

But times moves on and even though I'm very much not a phone guy, years later I found myself thinking, you know what, I'm going to call Kelley. And even though we had a decade to catch up on, it was like no time at all had gone by. Some people are just like that.

So. One day you're introducing yourself and discussing publishing schedules and somehow the next day or maybe twenty years later you're on the phone with the guy and he's still one of your favorite artists and he not only just illustrated the cover to a middle grade novel you've just finished writing, but the two of you find yourselves exchanging chicken recipes.

It's a weird world. But sometimes it's a good 'un.


The things you find online, man...

Someone sent this to me and, as far as I can recall, it's the first time I've ever seen it, despite having written the text. I mean, I can't actually remember writing it, but it says I did, and it sure sounds like me. (Pace Stephen King's excellent advice, I do likes me my adverbs.)

Lovely art by Alitha Martinez, with whom I don't think I was ever fortunate enough to work again.

Blüdhaven: örïgïn öf ä nämë

So this fine individual with unusually sophisticated and refined tastes posted recently:
This just in: I am apparently the only one ever who pronounces “Blüdhaven” like “bluedhaven”
I responded:
Not quite the ONLY one. :)
but thought I should explain, since the exception in question is not, in fact, me. 

Man, that's some sweet ad copy.
When we were decided to do a Nightwing monthly for the first time, we had to figure out where to set it. Gotham City would have been easy enough, but it seemed like the titular character had made it clear that, while he valued his status as a member of the Bat-family, independence was also extremely important to him. 

So we decided to create a new city, a sort of Newark to Gotham's New York. A dozen or two miles away, a major city dwarfed by its massive neighbor, with problems, in some ways, even more serious than its larger cousin next door. 

But what to call it? Well, it was the mid-90s, when grim and gritty was the order of the day. I thought about New Haven, another of NYC's much smaller neighbors, and came up with "Blood Haven." I decided to smush the two together, tweak the spelling and add a Spïnäl Täpian ümläüt, and badda-bing, badda-boom: Blüdhaven

It was, obviously, a joke. We laughed every time someone said it. Except the more we thought about it, the less stupid it began to seem and the more legitimate, especially after Chuck Dixon came up with its history as a port town settled by German whalers. Suddenly, things started clicking. It was a thoroughly blue collar town, with little to none of Gotham's ritzier sections. A place where, as Chuck said, hockey, not football or basketball, was the sport of choice. A place which had fallen on hard times decades, even a century before, but which just kept on falling, and which desperately needed a superhero. 

Also, literally the first thing we decided to do was to nix the ponytail mullet. You're welcome. 
Enter Nightwing. 

When this splash page first came in from Scott McDaniel, I had to be revived with smelling salts. I mean, seriously—look at that damn thing. 
Despite the ümläütëd spelling, I kept pronouncing it "Bloodhaven," because, duh, America. My wife, fluent in German, however, would have none of it, smilingly pronouncing it the correct way. So now the only time I ever say it "right," is to mollify (or, really, tease) her. 

(But then she went and actually got to sort of co-plot an actual issue, so who got the last laugh? But that's a story for another day.) 

And that's how Blüdhaven came to be borned. 

music for writing

I generally find myself unable to write without listening to something. Ah, but to what is the question.

I so envy my artist friends who can listen to podcasts, or books on tape, or sports, or even movies as they work. So efficient! Unlike many of my writerly friends, I can almost never write while listening to music with lyrics—I have no idea how they even do that—so obviously something with a competing narrative is right out.

For me, it's got to be almost entirely instrumental: mainly classical (chamber music usually works better than orchestral) or jazz or ambient. Keith Jarrett, Brian Eno, Debussy. World music works, too, especially if I'm writing something set in another country. Recently I've been listening to a lot of post-rock, as it tends to be light on vocals.

The past few days I've been listening to a lot of Bill Frisell, especially his solo concerts, or his duets with the great pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz. Here's a similar show where they're joined by a rhythm section, and featuring the work of some composer named John Lennon who, judging by the evidence here, had a way with melody. (If he had any facility whatsoever with lyrics, he might've been a contender.)

Gotham Adventures #20

I don't like cover copy. When it comes to covers, I much prefer a minimalist approach: the title and the credits and other than that, just let the image speak for itself.

But my editor on Gotham Adventures, the indefatigable and redoubtable Darren Vincenzo, wanted cover copy on Gotham Adventures #20 and gave me the first shot. I tried, I really did, but I couldn't come up with anything. Do I not like cover copy because I'm not very good at it, or am I not very good at it because I don't like it? Or maybe they're mutually exclusive? Either way, I drew a blank. I mean...'s Batman (and Robin and Nightwing) eating cereal. What can you say? What really needs saying?

And the moment I opened my comp copies and saw the printed books, I thought, oh, of course: Champions of Breakfast.


Gotham Adventures #42

Once again, one of my favorite bloggers has taken a few quick looks at one of my old issues. In this case, it's Gotham Adventures #42, illustrated wonderfully by guest penciller Craig Rousseau.

This issue has a slightly unusual origin. Some organization, I don't recall who or what, contacted DC Comics about getting some issues to include in some sort of package or packet or something, and they requested a lower violence level than usual. It was going to be a pretty heavy order of books—doubling or more our normal print run, if I'm recalling correctly—so going along was highly encouraged.

I liked the idea of selling more, of course. But even more intriguing was the challenge: I loved the idea of trying to do an entire issue that had every bit as much action as usual but absolutely no violence. I'll be honest: I was always the youngest in my class—and, back then, small for my age—so seeing Batman beat up badguys, whether supervillain or street criminals, was one of the things that first drew me to the character, as well as comics in general, back when I was a wee lad. Although I grew out of that (for the most part), it was still an integral component of how I viewed the character...not to mention an easy and satisfying way to get the visual excitement so important for this kind of story.

So I came up with the idea of having Batman battle a series of fires plaguing Gotham, brought about by a solar storm, rather than villains. And Craig did a fantastic job of bringing it to life.

A few reviews at the time thought the idea of solar storms being dangerous was simply silly. I therefore felt vindicated when, a few years ago, it turned out we'd narrowly dodged a bullet, as a large solar storm almost really nailed us. What's more, it was reported that a solar storm back in the 1800s had caused massive infrastructure damage, and that such a storm of similar size today could conceivably knock out the entire grid for years. Boo-yah!

Mainly, of course, I liked how the Batman was even more badass than usual.

The kicker, of course, is that the deal fell through, so the books never even got into the hands of all those potential new readers, and it was all for naught. Only, not really. Not even close.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

Of all the issues of Gotham Adventures I did with the great Tim Levins, this is one of my very favorite sequences.

See that one that NEARLY got 'im? Yeah, that's me.

A picture's worth a thousand words? Seems like there are way more than ten thousand, then, right there.