Batgirl

The internet's awesome. Without it, I wouldn't have copies of even half the stuff I've written over the years. Por ejemplo:


I am constantly in awe of how many great artists I've gotten to work with, even if ever so briefly.

Codename: Kids Next Door

Hey, check out what I've got coming out this week.


That's right. The cover don't lie. I'm being published in the same book as Louise Simonson. That's just...insane.

Here's the blurb:
The KND discover something even worse than parents, the Delightful Children From Down the Lane, editors, or even asparagus, when they get caught up in the Super Secret Crisis War! Challenged to a fight by a robot created by the evil Aku, the KND find they're in an impossible situation: win and they're transported Aku’s space station. But lose and... well, they're goners! What's a collection of underage operatives for a super secret global organization to do?
(I can't believe they left in the bit about editors.)

Click right here to check out a preview—featuring amazing art by the great Ryan Jampole.

Buy early, buy often.

Batgirls

Towards the end of my stint with WildStorm—which is to say, towards the end of WildStorm's life—I had the distinct pleasure of working with Jon Sommariva on a book. It was a limited series, so as it was wrapping up, we started discussing what he could/should do next. I'd have loved to work with him again, but didn't have anything free at the moment, so I suggested doing some DC characters, to show the east coast what he could do, offering to give him a rave review as to what it was like to work with him. I knew that the then-current Batgirl artist was going to be leaving the book, but had no idea what the plans were going forward, so thought doing a variety of versions of the character might be a good way to go.

This was the result, and it made me all the sorrier I wasn't able to give him oodles and boodles of work.



By the time he was done with it—after all, he was still drawing a monthly book at that point—the Batgirl book had already gone in another direction. Fortunately, Jon's gone on to do very well for himself...but I'm still holding out hopes of working with him again someday. I mean, just look at that thing. Who wouldn't love to work with that artist?

Game Over: Birth of a Cover

So. I had a novel ready to go. Now came time for the part of the process that I am completely and totally unable to even fake: the cover.

Fortunately, I know Christopher Gugliotti and, far more important, he knows I have information on him which certain foreign governments would be very interested to learn about. Which means he's "happy" to make me some pretty covers. (For a fee, of course.)

I knew the rough elements I wanted on the cover, but there were so many, that I wasn't sure it'd work without being too busy—and the prevailing design trend in YA these days seems to lean more towards the minimalist side of things. What's more, to be effective, a cover really needs to be recognizable at thumbnail size, since that's how big (or, I suppose, how small) most people will first see it on Amazon.

So, with some trepidation, I start. I ask a photographer I know to snap a photo of a school crossing sign.

photo by Melissa Wiley
(Why are these adults going to a grade school? Why aren't kids shown on the sign? For saftey reasons? They're just silhouettes, for pete's sake. Are kids more difficult to properly silhouette than adults? And who are these adults? Are they teachers? Can we see some I.D.? Also, is the man carrying a purse? I make no judgments, I'm just asking.) 

Thusly armed, I proceed to use my advanced knowledge of composition to sketch out a rough design for Chris.

tremble in awe at my graffick skillz!
be awed. be very awed.
I sent both things to him and about five minutes later he replies, along with a note saying "something like this?"


Yes. Something very much like that.

Okay. So now let's add the text.


Hm. I love the yellow filter Chris put over the entire thing, but the title and name placement aren't really working. Let's nuke my original design and swap the text elements. And let's go with a font for the title that says "computer."


Way better. Not loving the plainness of the font for my name, though, even though I've noticed most YA books this year are using a sans serif font for their cover elements. Let's try the same font Chris used on my Uncivil War books.


Oh, I like that so much better. The drop shadow on the title makes a big difference. I think my name's still a tad large, though, and I don't feel like we need the Uncivil War bit—note my bold attempt at going minimalist—so let's take one more pass.


And we've got us a cover.

Chuck Dixon: From Comics to Novels


Chuck Dixon is recognized across the industry as the most prolific writer working in comics today. 

His résumé includes thousands of scripts for such iconic characters as Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Iron Man, the Punisher, The Simpsons, SpongeBob SquarePants and GI Joe.

He is (along with artist Graham Nolan) the creator of the Batman villain Bane, the first permanent addition to the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery in forty years and for which he won 1993′s Wizard Fan Award for best new character. 

An early pioneer in the movement for creator ownership of comic book properties, Chuck is also the creative force behind Lawdog, Sigurd and Slasher, Invasion ’55, The Vanishers, War Man, Seven Block and comics cult classic Winterworld.


  

Dixon was nominated for an Eisner for El Cazador, a pirate epic created for CrossGen comics with Steve Epting.

Along with Jordan Gorfinkel, Chuck created the successful comics series Birds of Prey for DC Comics which was developed for television by Warner Bros. 

Currently, in addition to writing GI Joe for IDW and The Simpsons for Bongo Comics as well as various other projects for comics and motion pictures, Chuck has launched the science fiction novel series Bad Times. The third installment, Avenging Angels, is now available.  




***

Chuck was almost the first professional comic book writer I met. We worked together on (among many other things) Detective Comics, the flagship title of DC Comics, as well as the birthplace of the Batman. I talked to Chuck recently about moving from comics to novels. 

So. Chuck. After 25 years as one of the most prolific comic book writers in the entire industry, writing not only the graphic novel adaptation of The Hobbit but also hundreds of stories for Batman, you've turned into a self-published novelist. 
Actually, I prefer "raconteur-at-large."

Of course you do. What was the hardest part about transitioning to prose?
No artist!



What, if anything, was a pleasant surprise or change?
No artist!



Okay, some joking aside, I had to learn to write real descriptive stuff—actual wordsmithing to create a picture or environment in the reader’s head. In comic scripts I'm describing stuff for the artist to draw. It's informal and sometimes repetitive. "Nightwing jumps again." That won't fly in prose. So I had to put more description in my work. Not too much at first. Then, when I realized I was twenty thousand words short of my contracted length, a whole lot more.

The most pleasant surprise was that novels aren’t like comics in that you don’t have to end on The Big Moment. You’re allowed a denouement. But I still allow myself only brief ones.

"Novels aren’t like comics in that you don’t have to end on The Big Moment. You’re allowed a dénouement."

Have you found that, now that you're self-pubbing prose novels, you're able to write stories you wouldn't have been able to tell in comics? 
In comics I've always tried to hold myself to a PG rating, particularly with superhero stuff that attracts kids. And I'm not really into writing comics that have skeevy or gross-out imagery. My target audience there is a precocious ten-year-old. In prose I'm not as restrained. For my novels, my target is a felon doing hard time with limited choices in reading material. I can be more expletive-laden and what my wife likes to refer to as "frank" in my writing.

"My target audience is a felon doing hard time with limited choices in reading material."

Do you have a daily writing routine? Anything you do to get into the groove?
With comics it’s a lot of walking around and a little typing. An actual workday of six hours or so. With prose it’s an all-day, all-night ordeal and then trying not to sneak back into the office on weekends. It’s like a marathon only with a lot more napping.


You were known for being insanely prolific as a comics writer, averaging 8 pages a day at a time when 4 or 5 pages would have been a really good day for most writers. Now that you're working in prose, do you have a daily page count or word count you try do hit? 
I'm averaging about 10,000 words a week. On a good week.


How much do you think about your story away from the computer?
Constantly. My Bad Times series involved time travel and paradoxes and parallel events. I’m constantly having further paradoxes and complications occur to me and then working back to make sure they fit. My wife insists that writing that stuff makes me schizo. I can’t argue with that even though the little voice in my head insists I should. But what does he know? He hasn’t been born yet!


Do you outline, even in your head—do you know where the story's going to end? How much do most of your stories change along the way?
I hate writing outlines. I’m about the same age P.G. Wodehouse was when he started outlining. So maybe I should start doing that. His excuse was that he was being held prisoner by the Nazis. (It’s true! Look it up!)

I know my Big Scenes. I know what I’m working toward. What changes the most is the layering on of character and event detail. There’s no room in comics for anything but the broadest storytelling (if you’re doing it right). To dig in on stuff like dialogue sequences and internal stream of consciousness is all brand new to me as a writer and I’m more comfortable with it after almost ten novels.

I also get to delve into geeky detail bits like the pseudo-science or some obscure historical detail. Do readers dig those parts or am I going all Melville on them? Cetology, right? Who cares? They can skip those parts if they like. But, if I can believe the reviews, the readers are digging them.

  


How has self-publishing gone? Is it odd to be on your own?
It’s turned out not to be as scary as freelancing. With series work the more books I add to the series the more I earn. It’s like a reverse Ponzi scheme. With each new addition the earlier books sell more. The payments are monthly and add up to decent money annually. But I still have to put the work in. That’s never bothered me.

"With series work the more books I add to the series the more I earn. It’s like a reverse Ponzi scheme. With each new addition the earlier books sell more."


What's the best part?
Just making stuff up wholesale. I miss working with a good editor and the back and forth of that. But I don’t run into that many good, interested, engaged editors these days. And after experiences with producers in film and TV I want to run away and write in a cave.

Oh, and I own it. I mean OWN it with no encumbrances.


What's the least great part?
Marketing myself. I hate that part.

"Marketing myself—I hate that part."

What do you do about the technical side of things? Proofreading, editing, formatting for ebooks, and covers? 
I have an editor, JW Manus, who proofs and formats for me. I send Jaye the files and she sends back a proofed version in Word. She always finds a few awkwardly constructed sentences that she, rightly, suggests I fix. In my most recent book she suggested that I eliminate a couple of sentences that were either redundant or telegraphing too much. Since she's the first reader of the work other than me I always go with her direction. Jaye's not my editor in the truest sense of the word because I'm not really looking for story editing, just content. But she's made observations that were very helpful and one that led to a new running subplot that will lead to an entry in the Bad Times series all its own.

Once that part is done she formats the book and I look over that version before sending it off to Amazon.

The covers are handled by Derek Murphy who does ebook and Print-On-Demand covers full time. I give him the elements I'm looking for and he has something for me to look at in a few days. Since it's a series the covers have a tight format that he came up with. It's just a matter of filling in the two figures that are always prominent on each cover.


Sounds like you're pretty happy with the way things are working. Would you be open to writing for a traditional publisher?
If they backed up a truckload of money or promised a big marketing push or both? Sure.


Titans or X-Men?
Batman and the Outsiders.

Chuck Dixon as interpreted by artist Flint Henry

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.