This review/interview has appeared on Bonzuko (aka Daily Cross-Swords)
I recently was given the honor of reviewing former colleague Kevin Casey’s new book The Ninja Mind. Enjoy the review below and the interview with Mr. Casey following. ~Prof. Jenn
Book Review: The Ninja Mind by Kevin Casey
Martial arts centered books tend to slant in one of two directions: either the spiritual side of things (which makes many of them read like self-help books), or the physical side (which turns them into a how-to manual for instructional use). Casey manages to combine both sides in The Ninja Mind, along with a generous throughline of personal narrative. It’s difficult to define this book therefore: it’s part instruction, as he describes various exercises one can try on one’s own; part memoir, as he recounts memories of his earliest forays into the exploration of the kuji studies in his martial art; part ode to his instructor, which to be honest turns into a bit of a Stephen K. Hayes worship-fest; and part storytelling, with the addition of the Hanzo tale at the end of the book.
This makes for an interesting mix, for sure, and each chapter is in bite-sized chunks, so anyone who is interested in the work can digest and manage each bit thoroughly before moving on to the next. It’s also a good move on Casey’s part to focus so much on his personal journey, as especially since he’s writing about a mental, spiritual practice (not mere physical technique), it perforce can’t really be explained other than on the individual level. His personal narration puts us there with him as he describes various fears, obstacles, and the overcoming of such.
The main problem with The Ninja Mind is the near-fawning over (albeit excellent martial arts teacher) Stephen K. Hayes. It of course makes sense that one would admire one’s teacher and, in the style of memoir, describe one’s impressions of him/experiences in learning, etc. But it goes just that much too far into putting Hayes on the demigod-guru-worship-pedestal, which tends to be off-putting in the midst of such sincere recounting of personal growth.
Bottom Line: If you can get past the teacher-worship and enjoy the personal narrative, The Ninja Mind is a detailed foray into one practitioner’s journey through the depth of martial arts spirituality in practice.
MinInterview: Kevin Casey
1) what made you choose To-Shin Do in the first place? What makes you stay with it as an art?
Unlike many of my friends that had followed ninja legends since youth, I seemed to stumble across this lineage as a series of random events. However, within just a couple of months, as a brand-new white belt in 1998, I realized that there were some larger forces at work that brought me to To-Shin Do. I had been looking for a very authentic and embodied spiritual path since early childhood. By the end of college, I had explored many different spiritual traditions and found them all to be either institutionally fossilized or irresponsibly unhinged. In frustration, I gave up on being part of a community of seekers and became determined to forge my own path to inner and outer spiritual truth. Just at that moment, I found To-Shin Do, and I was amazed to see that it already embodied so much of what I was trying to define for myself.
Now I’ve moved past the validation stage of trying to determine whether the lineage is legitimate and I am worthy. I’ve had a chance to get oriented within the landscape of To-Shin Do and the massive backstory of the ninja tradition. With that framework in place, I can really explore and develop myself as an artist and a seeker. The advanced stages of ninja training are a conversation between teachers and students, helping the students evoke their own potential in the most authentic way. My teachers provide the support, experiences and wisdom to help me realize the inner vision that was a whisper in my heart from my earliest memories.
2) why did you include the Hattori Hanzo anecdote at the end of the book?
The fiction piece at the end of the story seems to polarize readers – they either immediately resonate with it, or find it strange and out of place.
I see three major ways of relating to spiritual reality. One way I call the mythical way, where we gather stories that give the emotion and energy of the spiritual lessons. The stories are usually fantastical, over-the-top, and bring the lessons vividly to life. They are usually understood not to be literally true or historical. The Hanzo fiction is an example of this.
The second way I call the rational way. This is where we study and explain spiritual experience. This is exemplified by psychological and social analysis of how spiritual experiences work and what benefits they give us. It’s very detailed and intellectual.
The third way I call the mystical way. The mystical way is an integration and transcendence of the mythical way and the rational way. It brings the observational precision and intelligence of the rational way, but it infuses our literal, living histories with spiritual significance and emotion like the mythical way. We are the heroes of our stories. This is ultimately what I would like to offer to my readers.
The difficulty is, the mystical way is hard to transmit. Some will need a lot of explanation and data because they are rationally inclined. Others will need a lot of stories and emotion because they are mythically inclined. The Hanzo fiction is there to address that latter group.
I’ll teasingly half-share one more secret… the fiction is not entirely fiction. Fiction can be a place to record stories that are so outrageous that no one would believe they were true.
3) will there be more books addressing the other 8 kuji?
Indeed there will be. I have outlines developed for each of the other eight Kuji books, with lists of stories and examples from my life and others’. As my personal journey continues, I acquire more stories to fill in. An-Shu Hayes and I are having exciting discussions about Kuji book 2, and I have a first draft developed. I hope to submit something to my publisher next spring.
At this point, I feel I have something significant, clear and implementable to share about the first four Kuji powers (Strength, Energy, Dragon-Riding, and Healing). For Kuji five and six (Danger Sensing and Telepathy), I have great and clear stories, but not yet an organized platform for others to try it out. For Kuji seven and beyond, I have amazing stories, but I need a great deal more research to understand them. Luckily, each book takes almost two years, so expect the Ninja Mind of Invisibility around 2029. I should have a little more information by then.
4) have you ever studied other martial arts? Spiritual arts? If so, how do they compare/contrast with To Shin Do?
I have never been a committed long-term student of any other martial or spiritual systems. I have done workshop
training in boxing, fencing, judo, karate, tae kwon do, muay thai, kyudo, and kung fu. I’ve stopped in at Zen centers, Shambhala training, Catholic monasteries, shamanic drumming circles, Wiccan study groups and Jewish temples. I’ve also spent a bit of time here and there with my “cousins” in other branches of the ninja tradition and in Japanese Tendai and Tibetan Buddhist lineages, without formally being a student in those organizations.
I enjoyed all of those explorations, and I found I was never tempted to leave my home in To-Shin Do. There were attributes I admired in other approaches, and because To-Shin Do is intentionally a living framework that evolves with the individual and the culture, I could incorporate those attributes into how I train and how I teach.
To-Shin Do, and its root art of ninjutsu, emphasizes adaptability. This seems to be in contrast to most tradition-oriented systems. Yes, of course, we want to leverage the wisdom and past experiences of our lineage, so in that sense there is a tradition of passed-down methods, but the real heart of the ninja tradition is an unrelenting focus on what works and a commitment to discovering that in changing conditions. As such, we study principles and concepts from history, and then seek to manifest those ideals in the most tangible, meaningful and effective way.
The result of that, when done well, is a profound sanity and capability. To-Shin Do is not immune to the organizational neuroses of every human endeavor, but our values eventually navigate us out of it, or navigate the neurotic out of To-Shin Do.
5) to the extent that you feel comfortable, express how your recent life upheavals have informed your practice as it is laid out in your book.
This year was brutal. It was without a doubt the toughest year of my life so far, and I won’t be surprised if it stands as the toughest year of this lifetime. I’ll tell some of my stories in Book 2.
These experiences forced me to look in the mirror long and hard. Are these practices real? Do they hold up under major crisis?
Although the practices are magical, they do not magically solve your problems. Although they increase confidence, focus, and personal power, they do not remove all suffering from life. In truth, you mostly still have to solve all your problems in fairly ordinary ways.
The difference is, with these practices, you’ll actually get around to it. A lot of the solutions in our life are obvious but difficult. Consider improving fitness, getting a better job, improving finances, or developing better relationships with loved ones. These are critical and life-impacting, and you can Google all kinds of valid advice for free. We struggle not to understand but to implement.
Sometimes we internalize that failure to implement as evidence of character flaw. We get depressed and seek escape. The truth is, though, the failure to implement is a failure of spirit, and spirit has to be developed and maintained through spiritual practice. However gnarly and unfair life can be – and I’ve recently been put in touch with a pretty intense level of it – the only solution is to pick yourself up one more time and do what is needed. You can’t do that just through hollow internal cheerleading. You need a real cultivated perspective of personal power through a set of exercises and practices.
At my worst moments this year, giving up and dying felt like a real option. My spiritual practice reminded me of why I might get up one more time. I made a real choice to survive, and that alone is empowering. I don’t have to be here, enduring this travesty. I am choosing to be here, because there is something greater that’s worth fighting for.
The fact that the ninja tradition acknowledges this dynamic – as opposed to engaging in the fantasy of an untouchable invulnerable super-being who never suffers – gives mere mortals like ourselves a real shot at heroism. When we struggle, endure, adapt, outlast and overcome, we are ninja.
I had the pleasure of reviewing yet another book by an old friend, Ian Healy, again in his Just Cause superhero-laden universe. I also had the chance to interview him using my patented (okay, not really) 5-question format. Below find the review of his latest Just Cause book, Deep Six, and the interview, both of which also have appeared on bonzuko.com. ~ Prof. Jenn
Book Review: Deep Six by Ian Healy
What struck me about the first and second books I read in the Just Cause universe was how like Contemporary Realism they are–the only thing that makes the novels at all fantastical is the superpowers. They take place in the real, contemporary world, with such realistic history and backstory of the parahumans that one begins unable to differentiate between the real quotes from historical figures and those invented, from all the epigrams at the beginnings of chapters. These epigrams are well thought out as far as story structure–they function much like the loading screen of a video game: giving an extra framework to the story at hand.
Deep Six does something that no other super-hero story does: it focuses not on the heroes (or indeed on the villains) but places normal folks at the head of the story as our protagonists. Our main characters are wardens and workers in the prison built for parahumans gone bad, called Deep Six. They all have a touch of the parahuman about them, but none of them have any powers that are spectacular, or, well, powerful at all. Pitting these regular joes against the incredibly scary and powerful villain Misrule puts us readers on the edge of our seats.
When the almighty Misrule turns himself in to Deep Six, ultimate precautions are taken. The advanced technologies that Deep Six boasts, to keep the myriad villains under lock and key, are in place, superhero posse Just Cause is standing by, and the veteran wardens (plus our newbie protagonist) are ready to take him in. he says he’s terminally ill, and wants to do the right thing.
What could possibly go wrong?
The tension of the action is just as compelling as the realistically-drawn relationships, with only the barest touch of repetetiveneness towards the climax. I highly recommend Deep Six–and don’t worry, it stands alone just fine if you haven’t read any other Just Cause books. But of course, after reading this one, you will want to.
MinInterview: Ian Thomas Healy
1) What are some particular challenges in writing about superheroes? What tropes do you embrace, and which do you eschew?
The biggest challenges for writing superheroes are the same challenges as writing in any other genre: the characters have to stand true as believable and three-dimensional, not just cliché cutouts. One of the biggest problems I’ve seen from other writers who write about superheroes is that they focus on the powers first and the characters second. Superpowers should only ever be an aspect of superheroes’ characters, not the defining characteristic. I like to think that my JCU tales would be almost as good without the powers (although most of the plots require them to move forward).
As far as tropes go, I embrace the colorful costumes and nicknames that have been in comic books since Day One, but I also try to make costumes a little more realistic with powers. In Just Cause, for example, I went into a little more detail on Sally’s costume, because I didn’t feel it was enough for her just to throw on a pair of red and yellow tights. Her boots, for example, were designed by a team of an Italian footwear designer and a JPL engineer to make them both comfortable, friction resistant, and to provide traction even when she’s running at five hundred miles per hour.
One thing I’ve rejected overall are the so-called “cosmic-level” powers. Most of the characters in the JCU are fairly down-to-earth as far as their abilities go. Other superhero universes have characters who can toss around planets, or are the offspring of gods, or can accomplish anything through the judicious application of will. There’s nobody in the JCU like that. Mustang Sally is actually one of the most powerful characters on the planet, given her ability to break the speed of sound on foot. She’s an elite-level hero, and doesn’t even really give any thought to that because her day-to-day life and problems are largely the same as anyone else’s.
2) You have strong female characters in all your Just Cause Universe novels. Who are your influences in that area?
Naturally, it has to start with my mom, a strong woman who has overcome a tremendous amount of adversity in her life. I’ve always had a lot of female friends in my life, more so than male for the most part. Pretty much across the board, they are or have grown to become strong, forceful women who I’m proud to know. Some of them are mothers. Others are engineers, scientists, politicians, authors, actresses, and warriors. It’s pretty awesome company to keep, let me tell you. I write for them as much as I do for myself.
3) What can we expect next from the Just Cause universe?
Next spring will see the release of another expansion novel of the JCU, calledJackrabbit. It’s about a character only circuitously connected to the primary team, but who manages to pretty much single-handedly save the entire world from an interstellar menace. Also, he can jump real high. It’s a much more lighthearted approach to superheroing compared to some of the more gritty stuff I’ve done recently, like Day of the Destroyer and Deep Six. Next fall will be the next Mustang Sally book, called Champion. I’m planning to release some additional short stories over the next year and to collect them into an anthology. I’m starting to make plans for the next couple of JCU books to work on after wrapping up my current project load.
4) Are you marketing these books for YA audiences, or adults, or are they pretty universal?
Given the youth of most of the narrative characters in the JCU, I think that they’re pretty universal in appeal. In Just Cause, Mustang Sally has just turned 18. The characters in Day of the Destroyer are all in their 20s. I don’t explicitly state Katie Malone’s age in Deep Six, but she’s roughly 30. I’m marketing stuff to whomever I can, though, because the more people who read JCU books, the more they’ll tell their friends about them.
5) Leap up on your soapbox again for us about self-/online-publishing and traditional publishing.
I think anyone who says they are exclusively for traditional or exclusively for self-publishing is self-deluded. There are things that traditional publishing can accomplish that a self-publisher cannot without expending a tremendous amount of effort. And most self-publishers, like me, don’t have the luxury of time and capital to invest in the marketing and distribution reach that traditional publishers can do. On the other hand, I can bring a completed book to publication in only a couple of months (or less if I’m not going with print). I can make changes after publication if needed. I can respond to the vagaries of the industry faster than a traditional publisher. Also, I get paid faster than do authors through traditional publishers, although they receive advances (or should!) and my income trickles in via royalties. I’m not going to say one is better than the other, because there are positives and negatives to each side. I have a literary agent who is working on selling some of my work, and I hope she is very successful with it, because I’d really like to be working both sides of the publishing fence.
Ian can be found on Twitter (http://twitter.com/ianthealy), Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/authorianthomashealy), Scenic www.ianthealy.com, and on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/author/ianhealy).
Deep Six releases worldwide in print and ebook formats on November 29, 2013. Preorders are available athttp://localheropress.ianthealy.com/pre-order-deep-six-today/. Check out the book trailer athttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKchUGjSN2c.
How many games do you have sitting your shelf that you’ve already played through, and barely even look at anymore? And how many games are there that you’ve been wanting to play – maybe even for years – but you just can’t justify the purchase of them, perhaps even because of the collection you already have? Of course you can trade in old games to corporate companies like GameStop or Best Buy, and even purchase used games. But let’s be honest.. that’s kind of a rip. They don’t give you much for your trade-in, and turn around and sell it as used for more than twice as much.
This is exactly the conundrum a group of gamers was discussing over at Reddit a while back, and developed it into a solution. Now, you can head over to 99gamers.com to trade your games one-on-one with other gamers, and receive and pay amounts much closer to the game’s value. Personally, I love this idea. It’s a process that’s been much-needed in the gaming community for quite a while, and it’s finally here. To hear more about the service, we recently contacted Brandon Kruzeniski of 99Gamers for some questions.
NiB- What is 99gamers.com?
BK- 99Gamers is a video game trading community. Members use 99Gamers as a platform to trade directly with each other. Members add their unwanted video games and sell them to other members for a virtual currency called ‘coins’ which are valued at $1 per coin. Members can then spend their earned coins on other games.
BK- I’m one of the founders of 99Gamers with the other being my brother Jon.
BK- I originally got the idea for a video game trading site when I came across a post on Reddit about how someone would shoot darts at their game collection to choose which game they would play next. I realized that this random person had a bunch of games that I would love to play but just haven’t had the chance to. I turned to my game collection and thought that this person would probably feel the same way about my game collection.
I was also tired of getting ripped off by GameStop, knowing they would turn around and sell the game for double the next day. I knew other video game trading sites existed, but none of them were what I wanted them to be.
I wasn’t sure how many people would be interested in something like this so I decided to post it to Reddit and see what the response was like. I was thinking maybe a few hundred people would see it and I’d be able to get some feedback on the idea, but within a few hours the post was at the top of r/gaming and even hit the front page for a while, resulting in thousands of signups. I then knew enough people felt the same way I did so I went forward with the site.
BK- First, we save people a lot of money. Trading on the site is completely free so you’ll really start to see the savings add up quickly. 99Gamers is built by gamers for gamers with the sole intention of getting more value out of your game collection. We are a platform for gamers to trade directly with each other so the middle man can be cut out. Many people feel like they get ripped off when using trade-in services so 99Gamers can be used as that alternative.
I’ve also found that because you have access to such a large game library you are more inclined to try out games you may have not given a chance before. You are then more likely to purchase the sequel when it comes out. For example I hadn’t played the Dead Space series yet but after getting the games through 99Gamers I ended up buying Dead Space 3 new.
BK- We haven’t received any backlash at all. We’re still fairly new and have been mostly underground so it’s doubtful they know about us yet.
BK- We came out of beta about two months ago and we’re starting to pick up momentum. Just last week, it was nine months since I originally posted about the idea on Reddit so I did a follow up post about our progress so far. We ended up hitting the front page again which resulted in us more than doubling our user base within 24 hours. We went from having 2,300 members to now almost 6,000.
BK- Yes, I believe it has been received quite well. Both Reddit posts reached the front page which shows many people share the same feelings of not wanting to get ripped off by trade-in offers. When members trade directly with one another games can be offered at a lower value and people tend to appreciate knowing that their games will be going to a good home.
BK- Assassin’s Creed III and Far Cry 3 have been popular over the last few months. Now that the new Tomb Raider is out it usually gets picked up quite quickly. Pokémon games are of course always popular as everyone loves playing them. I’ve found people will often buy every game in a series together. The Mass Effect series has been very popular in the past.
BK- I actually had a list of games I had wanted when I came up with the idea and wouldn’t allow myself to get them through anywhere but 99Gamers. A few I’ve gotten are Kingdom Hearts, Max Payne 3, Pokémon SoulSilver and Assassin’s Creed II. One that I hadn’t yet received was Just Cause 2 but after the Reddit post last week I managed to grab it and it’s now on its way!
BK- Up next we’ll be adding PC games and digital codes. The search, browse and profile pages are getting a much improved new look. These will help members discover new and interesting games faster.
Down the road we plan on adding consoles and gaming accessories into the mix as well as some more exciting features. Our main goal continues to make buying and selling games as easy as possible so our members can spend more time playing games.
You can visit 99Gamers here: http://99gamers.com – Hopefully you’ll find something you’ve been wanting. Let us know how it goes!
Ian Thomas Healy Talks Candidly About The Archmage:
Tell us about your latest book.
The Archmage is a sequel to the novel Just Cause, starring the super-speedy Mustang Sally along with the rest of the Just Cause superhero team. In it, I explore the use of magic in a superhero setting. In this case, a character named Wolfgang Frasier has been slaughtering other mages around the world and taking their power for himself. He’s gotten so powerful that there is only one other mage remaining besides him, the hero Stratocaster, who is a member of the Lucky Seven hero team that Sally trained with at the beginning of Just Cause. If Frasier manages to kill Stratocaster, his power becomes absolute and he could plunge the entire world into darkness, becoming its total ruler. This is, of course, his goal. Sally and the other heroes have no choice but to try to stop him, even though his power is so great that he can call armies of the dead out of the ground and turn anyone captured to his side. There’s a nifty bit of time travel thanks to magic going awry that sends the team back to the 1870s, and of course some great intrigue and epic, cinematic battles. At the same time, Sally’s relationship with Jason is growing much more complex and suffering growing pains all its own.
What is Local Hero Press?
LHP is an imprint I created specifically for the release of my novel-length work and collections. I didn’t want to simply release them under my own name as the publisher because with such a wide variety of genres under my belt, I wanted something to tie them all together. This way, if someone buys The Archmage, likes it, and looks to see what else LHP has to offer, they might discover Blood on the Ice or Pariah’s Moon or Troubleshooters.
You do write in a variety of genres. Tell us about some of them.
I don’t like to be pigeonholed, so I don’t force myself to stay in one genre, if I’m interested in writing in a different one. This goes against common wisdom of building a brand, from what I’ve seen on the internet, so I’m forming my own uncommon wisdom instead. That again ties back to the LHP imprint by creating a common thread beyond just my name. I follow my muse, so I’ve gone from superheroes (Just Cause, The Archmage) to funny science fiction (The Milkman), to cyberpunk (Troubleshooters), to fantasy/Western (Pariah’s Moon), to urban fantasy sports (Blood on the Ice), to religious symbolism (Hope and Undead Elvis) and even more. And if my agent sells The Guitarist, I can add “Mainstream Young Adult” to my genres.
You have an agent? I thought you were self-published.
I do have an agent, Carly Watters of PS Literary Agency in Toronto. She represents my Young Adult work only, and when we discussed the possibility of her representing me, we both agreed that she could still effectively represent a portion of my work and I could still effectively release my speculative and adult fiction without interfering with one another. I am, in fact, searching for a second literary agent to represent The Oilman’s Daughter, the epic steampunk/space opera that I coauthored with my dear friend Allison M. Dickson.
What’s it like working with another writer so closely on a project?
I’m not sure I have anything better to compare it to than a successful marriage. We worked very closely together on the project (two time zones separating us notwithstanding!). We had complete trust with each other, and were able to discuss what should have been extremely divisive and difficult issues not only with calm heads, but with a sense of joy that only two opposing viewpoints between dear friends can bring. The best thing about working with someone like that is going back through the manuscript and not being able to tell exactly who wrote which parts. That’s just awesome.
Prof. Jenn’s Custom Questions:
I’ll answer the second part first. Yes, you’ll enjoy it. I have intentionally designed every Just Cause Universe book as a self-contained tale. Yes, it’s part of the larger universe, and there are storylines that carry over from the previous books, but not in such a way that a new reader will be lost. If you have read Just Cause, you’ll find the relationship between Sally and Jason growing and changing, like relationships tend to do. You’ll find Sally’s relationships with other members of her team changing as well. You’ll also see her maturing more, a process which began in Just Cause. She’s a young woman who’s still trying to find her place in the world, and that means a lot of growing pains.
Are there plans for more books in this universe? What direction/s will they take?
I have tentatively planned 19 books for the Just Cause Universe. Yeah, that’s a lot. Besides The Archmage and Just Cause, I have three more novels completed. Some expand the other areas of the universe, focusing on characters only circuitously related to Just Cause. Others deal with prior incarnations of the team, set in the ‘70s, or ‘40s, for example. Remember that Sally is a third-generation superhero. Both her parents and her grandparents were involved in the Just Cause team, so that’s a lot of history to explore.
Any plans to branch out in comic versions/spinoffs?
If any artist reading this wants to talk to me about graphic novel adaptations of my work, feel free to contact me via my website (www.ianthealy.com). At the moment, I’m not looking for any original JCU stories, although that’s certainly an option for the future.
Jump up on a soapbox about self e-publishing. What’s been your experience, and would you recommend it?
*boing* My experience has been almost uniformly positive. My goal has always been to make my work accessible and available for people to read, and it’s been a real boost to get so many positive reviews. That encourages me to continue with my work. That being said, I am still looking to break into traditional publishing via my agent or another avenue. Self-publishing is a slow road, and in spite of the rags-to-riches tales permeating the internet, you’re probably not going to be the one who starts selling a million copies a month. You’re probably not going to start selling a hundred copies a month either. My first month as an ebook publisher, I think I sold five copies total. Now I’m averaging about three copies sold at retail price per day across all platforms. Some of those are novels, others are short stories. I lump ‘em all together because it feels a lot better to me.
I do recommend self-publishing with the following caveats: Short stories, novellas, and cross-genre works make great fodder for self-publishing. If you have a completed novel that might be commercially viable, take the time and the effort to try to sell it traditionally first. If it doesn’t sell that way, then epublish it. Ignoring potential traditional sales and focusing solely on self-publishing (or vice versa) is like only shaving one leg and wearing shorts. And don’t cheat by self-publishing: you still need to do thorough editing and revision, and design (or pay for) a great cover. If your beta readers can’t tell you honestly that your work stands up on its own beside similar traditionally-published work, you need to head back to the editing table.
What’s a favorite book you’re reading right now?
Right now, I’m reading Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter. It’s a Victorian steampunk novel and I’m enjoying it.
The Archmage, book 2 of the Just Cause Universe series, launches from all online retailers on September 1, 2012. Exclusive signed editions can be purchased directly from Local Hero Press (http://localheropress.ianthealy.com).
Author website: www.ianthealy.com
*This post originally appeared at Bonzuko. ~Prof. Jenn
This interview appeared originally at bonzuko.com. Specifically, here: http://bonzuko.com/?p=5661 ~Prof. Jenn
The good folks over at Imagined Interprises connected with me recently, and I had the opportunity to interview one of their authors, Maxwell Alexander Drake. He’s another author that specializes in action scenes and instructing others in the composition thereof. Please to enjoy this interview, and stay tuned on facebook for a promo of his work! ~Jenn
5 Questions: Maxwell Alexander Drake
by: Jenn Zuko Boughn
1) What’s the one essential factor for writers to keep in mind when writing action sequences?
The number one thing a writer needs to keep in mind when writing action is that, well… it is ACTION. So, the words the writer chooses to use, the sentence structure, etc. all plays into how the scene will read. There is more detail in my Anatomy of a Fight Scene handout on my website, but here are the big issues to keep in mind.
1-Use strong verbs. Sally’s fist struck John in the face vs. Sally’s fist smashed John in the face. Smashed is a much stronger verb than struck.
2-Write in an action, reaction manner.
3-Do not write with passive voice.
4-Short sentences read faster, therefore feel faster.
2) What got you into Western Martial Arts? Why WMA and not Asian martial arts?
I like both Western and Asian martial art styles. However, for me I have always been more attracted to the western style of fighting than the Asian. Not because of the actual fighting style, but the culture that each of these has created. What can I say, I like Castles and Knights. There is just something more visceral with the western style. More primal. I am not saying the Asian fighting style is all prim and proper. When two people face off to kill each other, rarely do they do it with kindness. Perhaps it is also that my ancestry is Western Europe. Though I think it has more to do with Dungeons & Dragons than anything else.
3) What’s your favorite weapon / style in WMA?
I like the long sword; a blade that is versatile on the attack in both thrust and swing, and is good on defense. Plus, with the heavier blade, you can really put some weight behind it and cleave off extremities. A great way to end a fight.
4) Cthulhu, Zombies, Western? Wow. Please explain that combination!
Dead Ned is a story that is a long time in the making. It saw many different variations and themes before it became what it is today. Basically, it started out as a challenge. Someone asked me if I could write a story where the protagonist (the hero) was evil. And not in a Despicable Me kind of way that is actually loveable, but a truly vile person. After giving it some thought, I found that the only way to accomplish this would be to make the antagonist an even bigger threat. Then, it was figure out why an evil protagonist would take up the cause to kill the even more evil antagonist, throw in a few gods from other planes of existence, the occasional undead for good measure, and you have a story.
Unfortunately, due to health reasons with the artist, this project is on temporary hold. We are planning on getting back into it by year’s end and hopefully having the first graphic novel out by Comic-con 2013.
5) What action scenes in literature are the best/most inspiring to you? Is there anyone you still try to emulate in your own work?
I am a fan. The quintessential “fan boy” as it were. I love this industry with the unabashed wonder of a three-year-old child. So, basically, everything inspires me. I will walk away with ideas from even the most horrible of movies/books/comics. There is so much to see and experience, it is almost overwhelming.
As to emulating, I am not sure I have ever “tried” to emulate anyone. I do, there is no doubt about that. But it is purely subconscious. Robert Jordan was one of my favorite authors growing up. And my narrative voice is similar to his. Though, while he was heavy on description, I write mostly action and dialogue. It is also why so many equate me to Brandon Sanderson. I had never read Brandon until I was published, so he had no influence on me. However, Jordan was an influence on him, so we have walked similar paths.
However, I think my violence is unlike most. Some say it is closer to George R.R. Martin, though I disagree. I think my violence is a bit more visceral than his. More brutal. More emotional.
A Short bio of Maxwell Alexander Drake
Maxwell Alexander Drake, or Drake as he prefers to be called, is an award-winning Science Fiction/Fantasy author and Graphic Novelist. Drake teaches creative writing around the country as well as for the library district in Las Vegas, NV. Find out more about him at his website, www.maxwellalexanderdrake.com
Two weeks ago, a gorgeous new book was released from Archaia entitled The Wonderland Alphabet: Alice’s Adventures Through the ABC’s and What She Found There, written by New York Times best-selling author Alethea Kontis (The Dark-Hunter Companion, Enchanted) and illustrated by Eisner Award-winning artist Janet K. Lee (Return of the Dapper Men, Emma). It’s a little different from their typical graphic novels as it is more akin to an illustrated children’s book. Regardless, it is delightful and beautifully illustrated and, as a result, appealing to any fan of comic art and/or Alice in Wonderland. Archaia continuously releases top-of-the-line products (as is evident by their six 2012 Harvey Award nominations), and this book is no exception. Kontis provides fun, whimsical poetry that meshes perfectly with Lee’s signature decoupage art style. Even an adult who already knows his/her alphabet can appreciate and love the energy and quality of art (written & illustrated) exuded by this book.
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to speak with Kontis & Lee about their new book. Check out their responses below and when you’re done run out to your local comic book shop and pick it up!
1) First and foremost, congratulations on such a gorgeous book! How did this collaboration come about?
Janet: It all started because of a art show at a local (Nashville) gallery.
I was part of a group of gallery artists who aspired to be book illustrators. Shortly after Jim McCann and I got the green light from Archaia to do Return of the Dapper Men, I agreed to be part of a children’s-illustration-themed gallery show called “Protopulp: Classic Books of the Future”. The idea was that each artist would illustrate a children’s book and show (and sell) it’s pages at the gallery. Naively, I thought I could just show pages from Return, since that was the book I was working on. But of course, no. That can not happen before a book is published. So I was left to come up with a new book idea– and quickly!
During a long drive back from DragonCon in Atlanta, I suddenly thought: I don’t think anyone has ever done an Alice-in-Wonderland-themed alphabet book. (My incessant love affair with Lewis Carroll was at a fever pitch that year.) When I got home, I did some quick research, and sure enough, I was right! Then I did a Very Smart Thing: I asked my friend Alethea Kontis to help me. Alethea was already a published author of two alphabet books, AlphaOops and AlphaOops: Halloween as well and the New-York-Times-bestselling Dark Hunter Companion. Happily, she said yes!
2) Why Alice in Wonderland in particular?
Alethea: Alice is one of the very best fairy tales. It’s absurdism without incoherence. All my first favorite authors–Grimm, Andersen, Burgess, Nash, Shakespeare, Seuss–were dark, smart, and had a playful sense of whimsy–just like me. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass were a natural progression in my literary development. Alice was also a little girl who had magical adventures all in her own head, so these books ere very personal. And Lewis Carroll had snuck puzzles into the book, as if somewhere inside every chapter was a secret message for me to find. This was all Very Important Stuff. (After the advent of Google, I discovered that Julia Margaret Cameron even took a famous photograph of Alice Liddell that is entitled “Alethea” — how crazy is that?)
Janet: I bought my first copy of Alice in Wonderland when I was seven. I think even then I had some grand plan that it was going to be part of a large library one day; the book was bound in red leather and there was gold on the edges of the pages. Like the Bible, or something! And inside there were the most beautiful, bizarre illustrations. John Tenniel remains one of my heroes.
And I’ve simply never grown tired of it. I think I’ve spent my whole life waiting for a White Rabbit with a pocket watch to hop by. I’m sure I’ll see him one day.
3) This year at NYCC I noticed a number of handouts that were focused on showing teachers and educators effective ways to use graphic novels and/or comic books in the classroom. Obviously, in addition to being a work of art on it’s own, The Wonderland Alphabet: Alice’s Adventures Through the ABCs and What She Found There can be used for educational purposes with young children. What are your thoughts on this growing ‘genre’ of educational comic books/graphic novels? Do you have interest in doing more books like this?
Janet: Haha! Funny you should mention that! I actually am contributing a story to an anthology called The Graphic Textbook, which aims to use comics to teach kids national school curriculum. Beyond the many benefits to the students, comics in education provide a benefit to the comics community at large. Classroom use legitimizes comics in a way that’s never been done before, and it introduces kids to comics. Imagine what life would have been like if your teacher had handed you a copy of Superman to help teach you about onomatopoeia, or story sequencing. Imagine children being taught to read– and love–comics in school. The idea makes me a little giddy, and I’m absolutely up for more.
4) You both have such unique and talented artistic voices. Can you describe a little bit about your respective creative processes?
Alethea: Janet and I were just talking about this at HeroesCon actually–the fact that we don’t get our ideas from just one place, they come from EVERYWHERE. It all goes back to “writedraw what you know” eventually, but what we know comes from a million places and a million influences. Some are obvious, and some are not. That amalgam of completely seemingly random stuff is what gives us our voice or our style, and we embrace that. We are by no means breaking new ground, but instead presenting things from a fresh perspective.
Personally, I’m always asking myself a million questions. Why did X happen and Why did P happen really? What’s the story behind the story? How can I fill in the blanks and have this fairy tale or this alphabet make sense?
Janet: If possible, I like to have at least a day to mull over a script before jumping into thumbnails. Honestly, if the story speaks to me, I “see” what the images should be and how they fit on the page and their layers. If I’m having difficulty envisioning a page, I will often just doodle. Draw little sketches. Sometimes they work with the page; sometimes they generate a whole new story idea. Either way, they always help the difficult page to flow.
5) Who are some of your favorite artists/writers out there right now? Who are some of your biggest influences/role models?
Alethea: I am a huge artist fangirl. I love KY Craft, John Jude Palencar, Michael Whelan, Wendy Pini, Charles Vess, and Janet Lee. (But you probably didn’t want me to answer the artist portion of that question.) My writing influences are very heavily old school: Shakespeare, Austen, and Voltaire. In poetry: Ogden Nash, Gelett Burgess, and Dr. Seuss. In fantasy: Diana Wynne Jones, Jane Yolen, Robin McKinley, Anne McCaffrey, Lloyd Alexander, Tamora Pierce…and pretty much every other author in the Juvenile section of the Richland County Public Library in Columbia, South Carolina. Personally/professionally: Sherrilyn Kenyon, John Scalzi, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Janet Lee.
Janet: Favorites out there now: Shaun Tan (The Arrival), David Peterson (Mouse Guard), Jim McCann/Esquejo (Mind the Gap), Layman/Guillory (Chew), Hill/Rodriguez (Locke & Key), Perez (Tale of Sand).
Biggest influences: Winsor McCay, John Tenniel, David Weisel, Chris Van Allsburg, Mo Willems, Mucha, Jon Muth. But it goes on and on. I’m influenced by everything I’ve seen or read.
6) What new projects do you have coming up?
Alethea: My first novel, a young adult fairy tale called Enchanted, launched in May of this year and was just nominated for YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults list. (hooray!) The paperback edition of AlphaOops: The Day Z Went First will be coming to bookstores in July. Right now I am working on the sequel to Enchanted, tentatively entitled: Hero.
Janet: Well, as I mentioned, I have a story in the upcoming Graphic Textbook and I’m also working on the sequel to Return of the Dapper Men. I’ve also got three other projects in the wings that I can’t talk about yet. But soon…
Alethea: The Cook! In a production of Alice in Wonderland in high school, my best friend Casey (a small blonde) got to play the lead role of Alice. For successfully fake-sneezing to cue a scene during audition, my horrid, vengeful drama teacher cast me in the no-lines role of The Cook. I was to stir a pot, throw Frisbee-plates left-handed under a curtain (I am not left-handed!), and mumble “Pepper!” while Alice and the Duchess were talking about axis and axes. I stole the scene every time. On purpose. There are small parts and small players, and I’m not ashamed to say that for that particular production, I WAS BOTH. For that reason, The Cook has always held a special place in my heart.
Janet: Artistically? It would have to be the Duchess. She is creepy and a little scary and so angry. Love the giant head. Love the baby who turns into a pig. But favorite character would have to be the Cheshire Cat. So puzzling and mysterious. He’s also the only once who actually listens to Alice and, though his advise is contrary, speaks to her rather than at her.
5 Questions: Mike Oeming
by Prof. Jenn
It was my great pleasure to have the opportunity to interview Mike Oeming, of multiple comics fame. His latest new project is called Victories (one issue of which I reviewed here). Below is the interview. Enjoy! ~Prof. Jenn
1) One of the most striking things about your bio is the fact that your first job in comics happened when you were only 14 years old. How on earth did that happen? I mean, you’re obviously a very talented artist, and no doubt were even then, but…14?? Please explain.
As soon as I started reading comics and was drawing, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I had started out with a lot of tracing, and when I learned about inking, it felt like a great way to learn to draw, inking over my favorite artists using a vellum overlay. I was sending out my work to editors, mostly looking for feedback when an indie publisher wanted me to work for them. It was Innovation comics. I probably could have continued inking for them, but it didn’t occur to me to ask for more work because I was so young and inexperienced. But that’s a good thing, I needed to learn lots more about inking and drawing before working. But it was super cool.
2) How do you see the world of comics having changed since you started, and what do you foresee in the medium’s future?
Wow, it’s crazy how much things have changed. Back then, in order to get work, you would have to make photocopies and mail out your work to editors and assistant editors, mostly blindly. Then you’d wait weeks for some response in the mail with the SASE you sent with your work unless you were lucky enough to actually get a call. From what I understand, you can’t even mail your work in now, there are standing policies to not even look at it. Everything is web based or meetings at shows.
Back in early 90s there were almost no web comics, and what was there was certainly not much of a scene. Then, if you wanted to be an indie creator, you had to solicit your work to be published, having no idea if you would even have enough orders to go ahead and publish. Now, with web comics and the internet, not only can you put your work out without any printing costs/risks, there was multiple ways of creating income from your creations. Back then it was all about orders to cover your printing costs.
Also back then, comics were labeled as a “dying Market” and that was 20 years ago.
3) Tell us nerds a little bit about working with Valve. How is your process different when working for a large company than when doing an independent project such as Powers?
It’s been completely different on every level. I had never worked in an office before, I’ve never worked in a studio setting even other then sharing some space with other artists like Adam Hughes or my wife, Taki Soma. This was not only a proper office setting, but a business, and a very unique one at that. They are like a giant creator owned company. They own all of their work work and control their own distribution. Working in the offices was lots of fun, it was the only time I made comics with the writers and colorists all working together, basically shoulder to shoulder, reworking the story and art as we went along. We do that on Powers, but there is usually a few weeks before any changes- at Valve we could make changes and adjustments as we were making it. Often a project, a joke or story would change dramatically from where it started into something completely different.
Oh, and there is free candy and soda at the office, so there’s that.
4) I too am a mythology geek, so I commiserate with you on being influenced by Old Story whenever I write. Are there particular pantheon/s that influenced Victories? Would you ever consider making a comic just of “straight” mythology, and if so, where would you start?
In the Victories, I haven’t purposefully dipped into Mythology, but I’m sure that theme will come up if we continue to do other stories. I definitely have more plans to do lots more work with mythology, and yes, I do have one that is a return to pretty hardcore Norse Mythology.
5) You are a writer just as much as an artist. Which role do you enjoy more? Which did you come to first as a creator, and how does your writing process influence your art (and vice versa)?
I can’t say which I enjoy more because 90% of my work is creator owned, so I’m always involved in either writing or co writing the work I do. I love coming up with ideas, and breaking down the story. Dialogue is something I struggle with more, sometimes I think it’s because it takes the longest. Writing the Victories has been great in getting me back into writing full scripts, which I haven’t done in a long time. I write with Brian on Powers, but it’s mostly in outline form broken down from the stories we come up with together. Also, in the Victories, I had to write full proper scripts for my editor Scott Allie to read, it couldn’t be done in a shorthand kind of script I usually do for myself.
After being frustrated for far too long with the comics companies writing to a young, male audience, Jason Enright and Mairghread Scott decided to do something unexpected, they started their own comics company, WE Comics. Long-time supporters of geeky gals everywhere, Jason and Mairghread are both extremely talented and extraordinarily passionate. I was lucky enough to sit down with them to discuss how WE Comics got its start, what they think about the current state of the comics industry, their first few projects and finally, how they’re planning on taking the industry by storm in the future. Read on and make sure to check out their new website and follow them on FB and Twitter
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First off, congratulations to you for the release of your first comic, How I Spent My Summer Invasion (available online and in stores) and the upcoming Jimmy Brass: 2nd Grade Detective (a 5-page preview is available online now). They are both incredibly charming and made me laugh out loud multiple times. Tell me a little bit about how WE Comics got started.
Jason Enright: I manage a comic store and comics are pretty much my life. It had started to annoy me that a majority of the comics seemed aimed at 18-34 year old males and pretty much no one else. I have a lot of female friends and a lot of friends with children, and I felt like there was very little I could recommend to my friends to read. Then this awesome book, Womanthology was announced, it’s like 300 pages of comics created by women, and although it is a great read for everyone, it is kind of aimed at women too. At a Womanthology Panel at Comikaze, I was stating my concerns to the panelists. Bonnie Burton just looked me dead in the eye, and said “Stop complaining and make your own comic!” It was tough love but it inspired me to create WE Comics.
Mairghread W Scott: Growing up, my mother used to buy books for everyone, no matter who they were or what the event. She said there was no such thing as a person who didn’t like books, they just hadn’t found the right book yet. When I started reading comics in college, I kept coming across stories that I knew my mother would love, but she insisted that she just wasn’t a comic book person (something I hear a lot). Well, I refused to believe that and (after years of trying) my mother is a devote Wednesday comic book woman, but with less and less diversity on the shelves (in terms of story-type, characters, art style, all of it) I could see why she felt locked out for so long. WE Comics is our way of getting more stories (and more kinds of stories) out there. Our motto is: there’s no such thing as “not a comic book reader,” they just haven’t read our books yet.
It never occurred to me to even enter a comic book shop until a couple of years ago. Why do you think that comics and gaming have been so focused on men?
JE: I think it’s because the comic business is so tough right now. Print books are dying and comics are one of the last mainstays of the print industry. I think it’s considered good business by the big wigs to look at what is currently selling and only make more books like that. They are dead wrong. Sure, for most of comics history grown up men have been your readers, but with all these comic movies and TV shows coming out, there is much renewed interest in comics. The main problem right now is when a woman or a mom who just took her kids to see the Avengers, walk into a comic book store, there’s very little on the shelf for them. We hope to change that.
MWS: This may sound harsh, but I don’t care why, and frankly it’s not my job too. It’s not any woman’s job to and I am so frustrated as a female reader with having to explain over and over why I matter. My job is to read good comics, write good comics and sell good comics and if someone’s business model wants to give up on the over 70% of the population that isn’t men 18-35, then more for WE. I’ve learned to speak with my dollars. I loved Womanthology so I hired/begged Candace Ellis, a wonderful Womanthology artist, to draw my book. If you like it, buy it; tell your friends to buy it. Dress up as Opal from Jimmy Brass and tell the world you love our books. I can’t say what other companies will do in the future or what they think of your opinions, but I can guarantee at WE Comics if enough people buy a book, we’ll print more and if people tell us they have a problem, we’ll do everything we can to fix it. Period.
What comics to you have in the works right now? Are you going to have more adult-oriented products?
JE: Right now, we are working on 3 books. “How I Spent My Summer Invasion” written by Patrick Rieger and illustrated by Mark Sean Wilson, is a crazy story about two kids on summer break who stumble upon a vacation resort run by aliens. “Jimmy Brass, Second Grade Detective” written by Jake Dickerman and illustrated by Jason Pruett, is about a 2nd grader who solves mysteries for a dollar and his best friend Opal, a kindergartner who keeps him out of trouble. These two books are All Ages stories meant to be for kids, but also very entertaining to adults. Mairghread is doing our first, I guess, grown up book. I’d say it’s for teens and up. Mairghread do you want to tell them about your book?
MWS: Thanks! Triage is the story of a Los Angeles EMT who gets sucked into an underground, super-powered gang war. But it’s also the story about how a woman named Cassie (who’s pretty average) goes from 9-5 job to wanted vigilante, because that’s such a crazy life-choice, I had to explore it. Candace Ellis brings a wonderful expressiveness with the art of Triage and her panels really suck you in. It brings a realism to the story that helps ground it. Good thing too, because you won’t believe how crazy things get.
How have you been choosing your writers and artists? If someone is interested in working with you, are you accepting submissions?
JE: Well, right now we’ve mostly been working with friends. Jake went to school with Mairghread. Patrick, we know through some writers’ groups we’re a part of. Our artists we’ve found at conventions, or through Twitter.
MWS: As a new company, it’s been really important for us to start strong and we’ve been blessed to know some dedicated, wonderful people who’ve shared our dream.
JE: Eventually I’d love to take submissions. We really have to see how this first round of books goes. If all goes well, we will be expanding the line. My plan is to do 5 issue story arcs, then have an off season. Sort of like a TV show. So we’d do Jimmy Brass for 5 months, take 2 months off, and then do another 5 issues. So that way, we always have product out, though I will need to shuffle the series, so as Jimmy is wrapping up, a new series will start. Then as that ends the new season of Jimmy Brass will come back. Right now, other than the 3 current series, we only have one other in the works. So I guess I will have to take submissions eventually.
What are your short-term goals and if those go well, what are some of your ultimate, long-term goals?
JE: Well, right now we are putting out one issue of each book and testing the market. If those go well and get a fair reaction, we will probably have to turn to Kickstarter to fund the rest of the first arcs. My hope would be that each of these series go at least for 5 issues and a graphic novel collecting the 5. Our long term goals would be to write comics for the rest of our lives. I know Mairghread has much more Triage to tell beyond the first 5 issues, and Jake and I have plotted Jimmy Brass stories for at least 3 graphic novels, maybe more.
MWS: Okay, my secret long-term goal: write a holodeck story. I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve loved the idea of a fully explorable, immersive story since I watched Next Generation on my mother’s knee. Honestly, with video games and digital/animated comics, I really think we can do it fairly soon (not the hologram part, though, that’s above WE’s pay grade). I’d love to do the third arc of Triage on an app that lets you see the story from multiple character’s viewpoints or change the ending. I’d love to make a Jimmy Brass issue that you can color in on your iPad or solve the mystery on your own. These things are possible and I (or should I say WE) intend to do them.
I’ve been hearing from long-term comics’ fans that even they are starting to purchase most of their comics digitally. How is your new company going to adjust to this new digital sales realm?
JE: For right now we are selling digital comics digitally through our website. Eventually I’d love to get on Comixology, the iTunes store and everywhere else. The thing that I find interesting is that we actually release our books digitally first. As a small company, if the printer is going to take 2 weeks or more, and I can start making money on the comic now by selling it digitally on my site right now, then why would I wait? So for now, digital will be a strong part of our future and we hope to make our digital selections better and offered on more apps and formats as we grow.
MWS: There will always be a place for print at WE, especially with our kids lines (because I’d love to add activities on our kids books and I can’t read my iPad in the tub), but digital is truly our best friend. It lets anyone in the world try out our books instantly for a minimal fee. It saves paper; it saves us money and if everyone bought WE Comics online, we’d be happy as clams.
What do you think the major comic companies could do to attract more women readers? Are your comics going to be aimed specifically at women and children or just at a broader base than most mainstream comics?
JE: If DC and Marvel want more women readers, they need to hire more women, and write better women characters. DC has a few great female-friendly books right now in Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Batwoman, and Supergirl, but that’s 4 titles out of 52. That’s 7%, not good enough. Also, why not give Justice League to fan favorite female creators like Gail Simone and Renae de Liz? Don’t just let women write or draw women, let them work on the guys too.
Our tagline is Comics for Everyone Else. So maybe you are not a child or a woman, maybe you’re like me, a 26 year-old dude who wants something new to read. I consider myself part of Everyone Else. I hope eventually we’re writing tons of comics, but for now when we had to pick 3 ideas to produce, we chose to focus on women and kids. We even had another funny tagline we didn’t go with, what was it Mairghread? Women and Children First? But it sounded like what they’d yell as the Titanic sunk.
MWS: I know that when we looked into it, we found that the biggest thing women wanted in comics (besides physically possible body types) was thought-out, character-driven stories where people changed and actions had consequences. They responded much more to stories about people dealing with each other, rather than just fighting random monsters, and they hated being ret-conned every six months. Honestly, (and maybe it’s because I’m a woman) this is just good story-telling to me. For kids, the feeling was that they wanted a story that was single-issue sized, but didn’t talk down to them. So that’s what we’re doing. Our children’s comics are aimed at children in the sense that a Pixar movie is aimed at children. Obviously, there are stories that are not appropriate to tell, but the stories we do tell are still going to be told in the best way possible and we think everyone can related to them. As sad as it, is our “female-focus” is us writing 3-dimensional women and having more than one of them per title. Cassie in Triage is like Ripley in Alien: an awesome woman in an awesome story that anyone can enjoy. The only thing we’re doing especially for women is reaching out to them and letting them know WE Comics is here. Like I said, there’s no such thing as “not a comic book person” and WE wants to help everyone find the right book.
Oh. My. Garsh. How awesome were Adam Warren’s responses to my 5 question interview? Answer: Quite. Quite a bit, in fact.
First, please to look here and remind yourself what my review of Empowered: Vol. 7 was like. Then…just revel in the awesomeness. ~Prof. Jenn
5 Questions: Adam Warren
interview by Jenn Zuko Boughn
1.) Rich Johnston once said of Empowered: “It’s so tongue in cheek that the tongue pokes through and blows a raspberry.” How important is snark and self-awareness to your characters, and what made you infuse them with this vibe in the first place?
I probably wouldn’t use the term “snark” in regard to the characters in Empowered, because I tend to characterize most so-called “snark” as a cheap, dismissive, insincere, kneejerk travesty passing itself off as humor. I’d like to think that most of “the funneh” in Empowered is less obnoxious and more warm and inclusive, but (as they say online) Your Mileage May Vary on this point.
Many the characters do, however, possess some degree of self-awareness, though the series’ often-deluded villains rarely can boast such reflectiveness. Of course, in the periodic “metatextual” interludes before and after chapters, the lead characters briefly wax supremely self-aware as they break the fourth wall and address the reader; this just struck me as a fun way to point out “meta” aspects of the stories without directly disrupting the stories themselves.
2.) What artists / writers inspire you? Is there any work that directly influenced Empowered, and is there anyone that you still try and emulate in your own work? Also: why manga?
I have to say that, in particular, the example of one slightly obscure mangaka, Takeshi Okazaki, inspires me greatly. Okazaki debuted with the manga Explorer Woman Ray back when I was still in art school; in the years since, he’s repeatedly reinvented himself as an artist, changing up his art style and narrative approach on numerous occasions. I find that flexibility keenly inspirational—and “aspirational”, to use a current buzzword—given that most comic artists and mangaka tend to eventually plateau, become numbingly repetitive, or even regress in their approaches to art and storytelling.
I’m not sure I can say that any work specifically influenced the creation of Empowered, as the series came about in large part because I wasn’t seeing any comics—or stories in other media—quite like it at that time. After the early stories that would become Empowered were already well underway, though, I did stumble across two superhero-related classics that were not entirely unlike what I was working on: The Venture Brothers and The Incredibles, both of which briefly threw me for a loop. (“Oh, man, I’m doing something vaguely similar… Bogus, yo.”) I soon calmed down, thankfully, once I realized that Empowered was headed off in a very different direction than either of those fine creations.
I also can’t say that I try to emulate any given writer or artist in my work, as I pretty much gave up any interest in directly imitating other creators quite some time ago—as in, decades ago. On the other hand, I constantly pick up wee, discrete elements of artistic riffs and storytelling techniques and fresh approaches from looking at other folks’ excellent work.
Why manga? How about, because it can sometimes be frickin’ awesome?
3.) What other media do you enjoy in your (no doubt copious) spare time? Is there any medium of art you haven’t worked in yet that you’d like to?
Books, books, and more books, with bonus helpings of books, and books as a garnish. I tend to read a great deal more nonfiction than fiction, as my standards for prose quality have become very lofty indeed after a lifetime of reading. Both when working and not, I listen to endless hours of podcasts and sports talk, not to mention podcasts of sports talk (and even occasional podcasts analyzing sports talk, which gets even more recursive). I do happen to own many, many box sets of TV on DVD, but rarely get a chance to watch any of them, thanks to my perpetually overbearing schedule; instead, the DVDs end up getting passed around to friends and relatives—so at least someone is getting entertainment value out of my purchases.
As for art media, I’d love to revisit a few media that I actually have (briefly) worked in, though with little success. My short-lived forays into videogame character work were quite fun, and I’d love to give that field another try. A decade ago, I had a similarly fleeting flirtation with the animation field during a tragically failed pitch to a TV network; I definitely wouldn’t mind giving that collaborative medium another stab, though I must admit that I have my doubts about how effectively I could play with others, given my solitary history as a freelancer.
4.) How has the comics world changed since your career began? What predictions do you have for the future of comics, and your work in that world?
I first began working in the comics field back in the, ahem, “adolescence” of the direct market, which was still some years away from its 1992-ish sales peak. Since then, well, many things have changed in the wider world of North American comics. The market peaked, then collapsed, then kept on collapsing. (Actual quote from an editor, circa 1994: “I can’t imagine sales getting much worse than they are right now!” He was, we soon discovered, a tad mistaken in that assumption.) Manga went from an obscurity to a ubiquity, then began to decline along with the rest of publishing in general. Webcomics sprang into being, and then print comics began a transition into digital formats, and blah blah blah *snore*
Whoops, just bored myself to sleep with the previous paragraph! Sorry, but I prefer to leave the wry analysis and historical recaps and windy pontificating to others with more insight—and more time on their hands—than this chronically overcommitted, comics-creating doofus. (Unless, that is, you catch me at the bar after convention hours are over, at which time I am most certainly prone to the very windiest of pontificating.)
As for predicting the future of comics, I can only quote the ever-quotable Mr. T’s classic line from Rocky III: “My prediction? Pain.”
5.) Animated Empowered? Or even what they’re doing over at Geek and Sundry with other Dark Horse titles? Hm?
No one’s approached me about an animated version of Empowered, sad to say. I do find the Geek and Sundry motion-comic YouTubery to be quite intriguing, though; I doubt that Empowered would be at the top of Dark Horse’s list for such consideration, but a creator can always dream, can’t he?
Ian Healy’s Just Cause is a great superhero book because it creates a world that is so close to our own we almost think that maybe these things did/are really happening, it’s just that we don’t live in the right city, and don’t maybe have that special brick touch pattern to get us to Diagon Alley. Healy creates a realistic setting, characters, and world history to put us right there in the world where superheroes are paid by the government, and the privately owned groups are wannabes.
Setting: we’re not in Gotham, or Metropolis, or another planet, we’re in Denver, Arizona, Guatemala. The settings are described with enough detail that we feel there with our hero, but not so much that, Tolkien-like, the action is put on hold for the descriptions. It’s perfectly balanced. The way the climate affects the characters is spot on and realistic as well.
Characters: the parahumans in this book are just like people we all know, and nothing like the superheroes we know. Okay, maybe you could say that Sally’s speeding powers are a bit Flash like, but as a character she’s nothing like the Flash. It’s heartening to have a female protagonist with just the right mix of honoring her family history while also acting like a teenager about them. It’s refreshing to have the perfect balance between YA relationships, advice from adults, snappy dialogue, and thrilling action scenes. Our hero is neither too focused on revenge, nor too passive, but a compelling, realistic combination of both. The parahumans are absolutely unique (the Christian centered private superhero group is a fascinating idea). I mean, who in comics is at all like Sondra Desert Eagle? And don’t tell me Hawkman. It is a nice thing to have a big sister type helping us out. I wonder how much better Bella’s life would have turned out had she had a Sondra. Does Sondra’s advice get a little didactic? Well, just a little. But again, it is completely within her character to be so, and it is excellent advice for any young readers. Mustang Sally as a hero is just smart, sassy, and young enough that we have fun with her, turn pages waiting to see how she solves the next mysterious piece of the plot puzzle, and we get lectured at so that world details are filled in for us, without the dreaded info dump.
History: each chapter starts with a quote about some aspect of para human politics or machinations. These quotes so thoroughly and realistically build this world, that you might just find yourself looking up the sources to see where the quote came from. Even though they’re made up. The figures from history are completely drawn (and the villains are scary, threatening, not over the top) and we are left with obvious hints at sequels to come, but with a stand alone plot that will satisfy till the next one is out.
Bottom Line: this is a fantastic book for YA and adult readers alike. I literally couldn’t put it down. ~Prof. Jenn
Below, enjoy this documentary by Two Filmingos about Healy’s recent book signing in Boulder, CO.