Developing Characters In Comics Part 1

 

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It’s hard to believe that Flying Sparks is midway through its 7th issue, with art being complete for issue 8 and writing half done for issue 9. It seems like just yesterday that I was uploading my first image to appear on the website August 23, 2010.

I assume most folk who follow this blog do so because they’re Flying Sparks fans or they know me personally at this point in my career. Though I do have other short stories out there in both prose and comic form, the comic’s where I get most of my attention.

It’s been no secret that in the blog section of the comic, I often comment on my favorite pages being the ones where my characters are “just” talking. Whether falling down a darker path, growing in relationships or just giving some witty humor, that’s the most fun part to do as a writer. Not that the action’s bad, but you can only write:

Panel 2: And Johnny uses his electricity from his hand to burn the baddie to a crisp… again. 

so many times. I’ve actually started to give my artist, Jethro Morales, more leeway in the action parts to just follow my script as a guideline for how it needs to pace and end up because we work so well together, and I know those are the most fun parts for an artist to do. So might as well give creative freedom where I can, right?

But despite the “talking scenes” being my favorite parts of the story, comics are a visual medium. So it can get REALLY boring, if I’m not careful. Which is why Flying Sparks has so much action, and has traditional superhero plots weaved throughout. I’ve made it more a point to have a standalone or two issue plot where there’s a goal accomplished on either the underworld or superhero side (or both) and then weave the relationship into a couple pages, pushing it along.

It came to my attention in the last couple months that when I talk about Flying Sparks, and other people talk about it, they bill it more of a romance than the actual pages of the comic turn out to be, which is because of my fear of pacing for comic readers used to Avengers, X-Men, Spider-Man, or the like’s relentless action. But those books all have something in common: there is NO real character development because they are being forced into a cycle where they can “be classic enough” that they appeal to a moviegoing audience for when the next blockbuster comes out.  So is it a good thing to emulate them?

The answer is yes and no. I still think having an action based plot that provides some cool visuals is essential. Flying Sparks is a superhero/romance blend, and getting the blend right is what makes it interesting, or not, depending on your point of view. So it serves the overall story well to have Johnny going after some mafia guy who killed his father, or Chloe working with Detective Liu to hunt down some criminals. My characters even got frustrated with an inability to see each other there in issue 5, and split up because of it. So in some ways, the action plot drives the romance and vice versa.

Now I promised someone over a month ago that issue 9 was going to really focus on the relationships and the action was going to take a back seat. In writing my outline, I couldn’t keep action out of it completely, but so far I’ve developed this chapter of the story to have much more of an interpersonal element, and much less baddies throwing cars around and causing property damage.

But I’ve realized that I’m not breaking my promise by throwing a little fight scene into a story. Action’s okay, and characters can even develop through the action sequences if they’re done right.

Next week, I’ll go through some of the individual beats in which our characters really changed or developed, and how I scripted that for a visual medium. This will cover some talking scenes and action scenes as I finish writing issue 9 (no issue 9 spoilers will be in the post though! Keep reading the comic!).  See you then. Same Meta-time, same meta-channel.

Only Superhuman Review

Well then, this is fast becoming a book review blog, though that’s not my intention. I just have a lot of books I feel like commenting on lately!

Today I tackle Only Superhuman, by Christopher Bennett.

I picked up this book based on a limited interaction with Mr.Bennett, in which I asked about a picture he had as his avatar on a message board. It was very cool looking, in a style that seemed very familiar. It was the cover to his book, Only Superhuman, and it turns out the art was done by a semi-prominent Magic: the Gathering artist (which is where I recognized the style).  Put the book on my “to read list” and picked it up when I saw the paperback at B&N.  Some background on him: it turns out he’s written several Star Trek novelizations and done some prose based on marvel superheroes again. A great pedigree for a first original fiction novel.

Anyway, I finished the book today, and here’s my review:

The first aspect of Only Superhuman that needs to be discussed is its genre. Mr. Bennett was exceedingly ambitious in his primary concept which is a down the middle blend of hard science fiction and superhero. For non-genre readers, this creates a nearly impossible task for a novel, because hard sci-fi readers are notoriously difficult to please, as are comic readers. There are certain tropes and “rules” that both need to follow, and if you deviate, you get some less than positive reaction in my experience. In this genre blend, I feel like Mr. Bennett very much succeeded in creating a hard sci-fi world and problems with superhero characters and resolutions, and nods to both genres in the process. The attention to detail is beautiful. A lot of reviews I’ve seen have harped on aspects where it’s “too juvenile” (i.e. too superhero in genre) or “too boring (i.e. too hard sci-fi in genre). Which tells me he rode the line in between genres perfectly.  If you like good genre mixing, you’ll probably enjoy this.

Only Superhuman takes us into a world a couple hundred years from now in which humanity’s colonized the asteroid field, mars, and created orbital habitats everywhere in between. He does a great job of setting up a very intricate geopolitical environment as well as giving us detail about how these habitats exist. The primary world building element that’s right in our face though is genetic modification. All of the politics in the story, and all of the characters are shaped by genetic mods and their reactions to it. It’s really well done, very detailed, and lends plausibility to the superhero concepts that come from it.

Our hero Emry is in a group called the “troubleshooters” who act as police in some of the outer asteroid worlds, using their superhuman talents to bring justice. It’s a fairly simple concept but it ends up being pretty complicated as the story progresses. It’s very political and makes you think about the consequences of genetic modifications, and of course the old moral of “with great power comes great responsibility.” I thought the plot built nicely, forced the main character to have to make moral decisions on every step of the way and left her changed over time.

As far as characterizations, I can give pretty good marks at some points in the novel, not so good in others. Early on in the book and toward the middle there’s points where the characters fall a little flat. A lot of it is because of the heavy focus on action and sex (which I’ll get to later) that don’t give the tertiary characters a lot of dimensions other than their purpose for the plot. There’s surface level work given to many of the Troubleshooters, but it’s mainly cosmetic more than depth. That said, I do care what happens to Emry by the end of the book, so the main character doesn’t so much suffer from that. She’s perhaps got a perfect genetically altered body, but she’s struggling with some real issues that make her fun. I also enjoy the change in Eliot Thorne over the course of the book.  As much as the world building and backstory set ups were beautiful and some of the most intricate work I’ve seen in novels, I wish more work was spent here , which is why I ultimately give the book 4/5 stars.  There was enough to keep me reading and going for the main character, but not much beyond that.

Now to the sex issue. You can’t turn a page in this book without a character thinking about or engaging in sex, ranging from mild to extreme. It’s not just a “make my mother blush” sort of situation, but it’s to the point where it distracts from the story. I think a choice was made in this book at some point where it was seeming “too juvenile” so this aspect of the world was upped to an extreme to try to counter that.  I don’t think much purpose was served by turning every character into a sex addict or sex pawn as it may be. There’s one character who utilizes pheromones and other genetic alters to manipulate people by seduction, and I think that character would have been FAR more impactful if everyone wasn’t engaging in that.  There were points because of this where I almost put down the book, but I suggest a reader gloss over that and look at the meat (no pun intended…) of this beautiful world.

The prose is pretty good. There’s a lot of superheroic fighting banter which I think really gives a nice nod to mainstream superhero comics. Puns are EVERYWHERE and I love it. The “tech” words sound great, realistic. And I don’t usually comment on things like this – but I really loved the attention to detail of the chapter titles. They were really cool, and I usually don’t pay attention to those.

Overall, the story was pretty fun. High action. It enters you in action, and departs in it so it’s very high energy. The backstory is imparted over time in chapters titled “Origin Stories” another nice nod to superhero comics which made me smile. A good first effort for an original novel, and this world is so in depth that I really hope Mr. Bennett visits it in the future. And if he wants to try to do a comic line and wants someone to script it out, I’d be thrilled to J

4/5

What Am I Doing This Christmas?

Well, I’m going to hang with the family and eat food, watch my kid open presents and… oh, you didn’t mean what I’m doing for Christmas as in the mundane Christmas festivities? You meant what’s going on in the Jon Del Arroz wondrous world of writing. Well then…

Flying Sparks

Probably most of you care about this, my semi-famous webcomic which has gotten me most of the small notoriety I have thus far. Many people may have noticed that it hasn’t been updating in a few weeks. Well, I learned that long time colorist Shannon Perkins got far too busy in life with a new job, and consequently was unable to continue. She hoped to finish out the issue, but just couldn’t muster the time. Former colorist Sanju Nivangune has been contracted to finish the rest of issue 7, and when he’s done with that we’ll start posting again.

Issue 8 is mostly in the bank for the line art, thanks to Jethro Morales, my favorite artist of all time.

Issue 9 is currently in progress in the writing. Finished the outline, about 1/10 done with the script.

I don’t have any side plots or bus tours or anything like that going right now, but have dozens of ideas. We’ll see if we get time in 2014 for any of them.

I kinda want to make t-shirts and stuff. Any graphic designers out there want to help me get a café press going?

Novels

Starcrossed, my Space Opera universe’s first book is about 70% complete with the 2nd draft. This will for sure need a 3rd substantive draft, perhaps a 4th.

The Adventures of Baron Von Monocle, my YA Steampunk’s first draft is complete as of yesterday. Took a break from Starcrossed to knock this out.

Now I’m trying to debate what to do for my third… so many ideas, so little time.

Short Stories and Random Stuff
3 short stories out for submission, 2 of which have been out for a really really long time. I’m going to assume that’s a good thing until notified otherwise.

Colors are started for my comic miniseries “Pistol Whipped”. Doing this first issue as a test all around to see if I should continue with it. Lisa Lamb is the colorist, who’s doing a wonderful job.

All of this while I’m about to move, and am remodeling a house!

Right now I’m reading: Carpe Diem by Steve Miller and Sharon Lee as well as The Ship Who Won by Jody Lynn Nye and Anne McCaffrey.

Here’s a baby picture.

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G’night!

Buy Your Friends Books For Christmas (And My Other Top Books of 2013)

Been quiet on my blog lately, will address that in a later post. For now…

Are you looking for Christmas gifts? Well then, support some great writers, why don’t you?

This week I’m making a big push to support authors I both love personally and professionally. These are all books that came out in 2013, by people I know to be really great people, and that I can honestly say I really enjoyed and would recommend as reading as well.

These will also round out my “Top books of 2013” list, which I feel obliged to make. Books that I’d consider the best in 2013 that are not here are: A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, and Killing Jesus by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. 

1. Divinity and the Python by Bonnie Randall – This book’s a mix of thriller and romance. The main character is being stalked, some crazy supernatural creepy things are going on around a new business she’s about to open, all while she meets a man she shouldn’t in theory be compatible with, but she finds that there’s more to him than meets the eye. (Adult content warning!) 

What I liked about this book: the characters and pacing. I got the shivers from this one for real. I’m not a big horror fan and I don’t think it falls too far into the horror genre as much as thriller, but this was the hardest book for me to put down outside of Suzanne Collins’s Catching Fire that I read this year.

http://www.amazon.com/Divinity-Python-Bonnie-Randall-ebook/dp/B00EXA6YU8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1386701615&sr=8-1&keywords=divinity+and+the+python

2. Channel Zilch by Doug Sharp – Hard Sci-fi mixed with comedy. I’m even going to go so far as to compare Doug to another Doug, the great Douglas Adams. While this book doesn’t go all out zany all the time like Hitchhikers, there are a lot of laugh out loud elements in this caper to steal a space ship and produce a reality show. (Adult content warning!)

czlg

What I liked about the book: The aforementioned light-hearted comedy mixed with a very serious plot. This book tries to pull off so many different genres, different elements of writing and different moods that it’s staggering—and it succeeds on every front. The creativity is jawdropping.

http://www.amazon.com/Channel-Zilch-Hels-Doug-Sharp-ebook/dp/B00EWQ1FTS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1386701859&sr=8-1&keywords=doug+sharp+channel+zilch

3. Sutherland’s Rules by Dario Ciriello – A buddy drug running thriller. This is akin to the movies Blow or Trainspotting but very much not on the dark side. Two friends revisit their crazy youths for one last hurrah as they dodge the authorities and try to navigate Afghanistan to smuggle hashish.  (Adult content warning!)

What I liked about the book: Very fun and compelling characters, and a good quick ride. Not my usual book topic or genre of choice, but I was completely entertained by it. When reading out of one’s normal comfort zone, you can’t ask for more than that.

  http://www.amazon.com/Sutherlands-Rules-Dario-Ciriello-ebook/dp/B00BC17284/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1386702012&sr=8-1&keywords=sutherland%27s+rules

4. Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson – YA Superhero/Dystopia. A superhero dystopia? That’s right. You probably have already heard of this book, but it was phenomenal on all levels.

What I liked about it: The characters, the twist. And you don’t even know the twist I’m talking about. Read it and I’ll talk to you about it.

http://www.amazon.com/Steelheart-Brandon-Sanderson-ebook/dp/B00ARHAAZ6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1386702097&sr=8-1&keywords=steelheart

5. When the Hero Comes Home 2 edited by Gabrielle Harbowy and Ed Greenwood. This is a fantasy anthology of short stories surrounding a theme. It’s got the weight of Mercedes Lackey’s name to support it but much more importantly contains stories by both my friends Juliette Wade and Robert Neilson. You don’t need to read When the Hero Comes Home 1 to understand this, it’s all original short stories.

 

What I liked about it: One, that it’s an anthology. I think we don’t get enough good anthologies in general these days, and am very glad Dragon Moon Press continues to put out great ones. I’m going to speak to Bob and Juliette’s stories specifically because they’re the most important to me – so creative. Bob is the master of the twist and Juliette’s take on the theme is so original it’s wonderful. These two deserve to be household names. 

 http://www.amazon.com/When-Hero-Comes-Home-Volume/dp/1897492715/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1386702390&sr=8-1&keywords=the+hero+comes+home+2

 6. Understanding Eschatology: Why It Matters by Rob Dalyrmple – Christian Theology non-fiction. This book delves into the end times and gives an interesting take on what Revelation was really trying to say to both us and its original intended audience.

 

What I liked about it: This book single-handedly changed my mind about everything I’d been taught growing up about The Revelation of John. But more, it delves into other elements of the Bible in terms of the end times, from Daniel to what Christ said in the Gospels. It’s a must read for people who are into intellectual theology.  

http://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Eschatology-Matters-Rob-Dalrymple-ebook/dp/B00EJNXJUW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1386703001&sr=8-1&keywords=understanding+eschatology+why+it+matters

These books are in no particular order. And of course I gotta plug at the end of this the Irony of Survival, an anthology by Zharmae Press in which I have a short story published: http://www.amazon.com/Irony-Survival-Zharmae-Anthology-Kavan-ebook/dp/B00EY3OAN2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1386704324&sr=8-1&keywords=irony+of+survival

Happy shopping!