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VH-1’s Behind the Music for comic books

Wouldn’t it be stupendous if there was a show like VH-1’s Behind the Music for comic books. Imagine an hour long analysis of what happened to the dispute between creator A and creator B on Comic C. That’s not about to happen. But failing that, what about a show that dissected the writing process of comics? OK that’s not about to happen either. But what if a book was sold that did just that?

Now you’re in luck, thanks to the efforts of Nat Gertler, who through his company About Comics, has just released the sequel to his book about comic book scripts, Panel One. The name? It was a simple choice: Panel Two: More Comic Scripts.

Rather than try to break down the book, I’ll let Nat’s press release do my work:

“Included in Panel Two are:

• Peter David’s full script for a SpyBoy one-shot with commentary by artist Pop Mahn.

• A panel-by-panel plot by Mark Evanier

• Gail Simone’s script for the start of the Killer Princesses miniseries, with commentary by artist Lea Hernandez

• Scott McCloud’s layout script for an issue of Zot! which was rendered by Chuck Austen

• Actors-turned-writers Bill Mumy and Miguel Ferrer provide a rare example of a collaboratively-written story. This example includes not only the original plot to this “Trypto the Acid Dog” story, but also the story layouts by artist Steve Leialoha, and the dialog script based on those layouts, plus commentary by Bill and Steve.

• Sara Ryan’s very first comic book story, “Me and Edith Head”, brought her an Eisner Award nomination. We have that script with commentary by artist Steve Lieber

• A Fatman: The Human Flying Saucer script by the legendary Otto Binder

• A drawn script for Nexus by Mike Baron with commentary by artist Mark Heike

• Judd Winick provides excerpts of both parts of his unique two-part scripting style from his hilarious Barry Ween, Boy Genius”

The book, which goes on sale this Wednesday (March 19), is a godsend to aspiring writers, as it shows writers’ varying perspectives. There’s no single “right” way to write a script. Just as there are different art styles, there are different writing styles and creative processes. In addition to this value, Gertler has incorporated the creative insight of some of the artists involved in the comics. My personal favorite piece was actually artist Heike’s take on how a creative process can go wrong. There’s nothing better than learning from one’s mistakes, or for readers like us, learning from other’s mistakes or challenges.

For non creative folks like myself, there’s another element of value to this collection. Some of these comics and creators (I will not name which) are products or people that I’ve not always completely appreciated. Getting to view some of these folks’ scripts I gained insight into some of what they were trying to do with the story. Just because the writer has certain intent, this does not mean it is something that an artist can effectively convey. This brings a new level of appreciation to some of the works for me.

In a sense, this book is like a DVD commentary. But imagine if you were able to buy a DVD commentary for several different movies, all in one 206-page book for $20.95. In my opinion, it’s worth the investment for fan and aspiring pro alike. Check it out.

Scott Mills’ Latest: My Own Little Empire

It’s appropriate that in the same week I should review Panel Two and the latest offering from the new publisher, ad house books, Scott Mills’ My Own Little Empire Why is it appropriate? Well, Mills is kind enough to provide a mini version of Panel Two-type material in his own book with a Behind the Scenes look at how My Own Little Empire was created.

Rather than try to describe the book and not do it justice, here’s the official take:

“This 128-page graphic novel is the closest that Mr. Mills has come to an autobiography. Taking place during the 1990s, we get to see “Joe” (aka Scott) take in a Morrissey concert, experiment with drugs and yearn for a girl. My Own Little Empire is your chance to see how one of the most prolific comic creators today spent his teenage years.”

I first became aware of Mills thanks to James Schee (more on James later in this column) telling folks about Mills’ first graphic novel, Big Clay Pot (which was nominated for two Harvey Awards: best original graphic novel and best new talent).

In this new work, Mills tackles a unique task. Trying to tell the story of a teen’s life, but to a certain extent through a view tinged from by the years that have passed since the events. Fortunately for Mills, I think this distanced perspective allows the work to be more humorous than it could be if written by the teenager when the actual events were happening.

The slice of life Mills focuses on is a particularly unique point in time in a teen’s life. You have certain responsibilities (in terms of money to make), but you’re still having to worry about homework at the same time. And then there’s the whole pain of teenage infatuation/love.

Some folks may wince or completely disagree when I make the comparison, but to a certain extent reading this book reminded me what Kevin Smith could be (that is if he could draw and didn’t have that whole borderline homophobia problem plaguing some of his work.

My favorite part of the whole book is the buildup and actual Morrissey concert (or course the fact that I always disliked Morrissey made me enjoy this story aspect even more).

At 128 pages for $9.95 I genuinely think it’s worth every penny. The art style is definitely unique, but Mills’ storytelling lies in his ability to convey so much with a simple line and a great ear for dialogue. With both aspects he’s effectively economic.

Plugging Some Friends

Rich Watson is a great columnist, as frequent ORCA visitors realize from his column, A View from the Cheap Seats. Cheap Seats has a few different homes and message boards. Well at his Slush Factory home, Rich has started posting a piece of short prose in parts, check it out and consider that good fiction is rarely free, this is one of those rarities.

James Schee has been knocking around the comic book industry for a few years in various capacities as a pundit. For too brief a time, he and I worked together at the Comic Reader website. That’s where I grew to appreciate his work. Well after too long of an absence from regular writing, James has launched his own review site, Quality Comic Reads. It’s very much in the vein of Johanna Draper Carlson’s Comics Worth Reading and like her site, Schee’s is a refreshing perspective that I can often take issue with (as with any subjective medium) while still respecting the manner in which the opinions are offered—in a reasoned and informed manner.

Remembering Kim Yale

My last column remembered Archie Goodwin. This sparked a discussion with John Ostrander that the week of March 3, 2003, marked six years since the passing of his wife and collaborator, Kim Yale, from cancer. The following Q&A ran at CBEM that week and is rerun here with my permission.

I asked John if he’d be willing to discuss Kim for a bit and he was willing. There are some interviews where I feel wholly inadequate with my questions. Thankfully my questions mattered little, as is often the case with John Ostrander, his words and thoughts could have carried the interview without me. And in fact they did. My thanks to John for his time and thoughts. If you didn’t know about Kim Yale before reading this interview, do yourself a favor and seek out her work. You won’t be sorry.

O’Shea: Kim’s spirit lives on in many ways, one of the most prominent is the Friends of Lulu Kim Yale Award for Best New Talent. Do you feel that in a sense, through this award, Kim continues to mentor creators?

Ostrander: Certainly and Kim would have loved it and been very honored. There are many stories of Kim’s kindness to artist and writers, especially new ones. She also loved seeing other women coming into the field that she loved so much.

O’Shea: I know that you once noted at a con a few years back that one way Kim helped improve your writing was her ability to catch and flag continuity concerns. In what other ways did she help make you a better writer?

Ostrander: Kim was the FINER writer of the two of us in that she was the more careful craftsman. She was the better STYLIST of the two of us, I think. Certainly, she was more aware of it than I usually was. She was also very tuned to the EMOTIONAL impact of a given scene.

O’Shea: What was the greatest lesson (be it in life in general or in terms of your creative skills) that you feel you learned from Kim?

Ostrander: You have today. Use it. Don’t count on tomorrows but celebrate them as you get them.

O’Shea: Despite her passing six years ago, she still continues to help you creatively I sense, as you wrote to me in an e-mail that you “Even talk TO her now and then in my heart” Would you care to elaborate upon that line?

Ostrander: Less creatively and more personally. I have a new partner in life, Mary Mitchell, who also knew and loved Kim and we sustain each other. Every now and then lately, however, we’ve encountered some hard times and I’ve asked Kim, if she was watching, if she could send some help our way. In each case, help came.

O’Shea: Another way that the spirit and talent of Kim Yale lives on is through her work. You probably know her work (with and without you as a collaborator) better than anyone understandably. From your perspective, for folks who want to read the best of Kim Yale, where would you direct them?

Ostrander: Her essays probably show her off best, particularly the ones she did for the Comics Buyers Guide. At some point, I’ll get around to having a website and I’ll make sure they are accessible there. In her comics work, the later issues of MANHUNTER were all Kim. The “ORACLE:YEAR ONE” story that we did together was the last thing we really collaborated on and some of the scenes in there are pure Kim.

O’Shea: Kim had and still has a number of fans. Does knowing that many folks (including myself) still miss her bring some slight measure of solace to you, knowing how many people she touched and influenced by her talents?

Ostrander: I’m not really in need of solace any more. I’ve gone through the grieving period and accepted Kim’s death and my life goes on. The fact that people remember Kim as fondly as I do is a source of joy to me. Mary and I often tell stories about Kim and we laugh and remember. I still love Kim and hold her memory dear but it’s largely without pain these days. There are times when you think of how things were and could have been and wish they might have been. But her memory is joy these days.

O’Shea: Are there any of her writings or concepts that remain unpublished that you may try to release posthumously in some form at some point?

Ostrander: Kim had many ideas that she never got around to doing and some I have or will try to get off the ground. However, I still have my own writing to do. We cannot live the lives of those who have died for them. She does have some poems and, when I get an Internet site up, I may gather some of those there plus other assorted writings I think appropriate.

O’Shea: Would you or could you ever consider writing a story about or inspired by Kim (excuse my ignorance if you already have)?

Ostrander: Well, I’m always inspired BY Kim and traits of her character creep into other characters. I have a prose story in mind if I ever get around to it that might catch more of it.

O’Shea: Is there anything you’d like to say about Kim, your life (both personally and creatively) with her, that I may have not asked?

Ostrander: When I remember Kim, it is not only her strengths and virtues; it is also her foibles because they were, in ways, part of what made her human and Kim was so profoundly, gloriously HUMAN. She wore her heart on her sleeve and led with it. Sometimes that would cause it to get terribly bruised and hurt but she never allowed it to make her bitter. She was a glorious mass of contradictions and that was were her essence lay. Contradictions in people, in characters, do not need to be and, in some case, cannot be fully explained but they should always be fully explored. It is a key to our humanity and Kim showed that to me. Just one of the things for which, every day, I say, “Thanks, Kimmie.”