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Matchett’s Musings: Working For GrayHaven Part IV

Working At GrayHaven Part 4:  And the rest

During my tenure at GrayHaven there was a lot of evolution and expansion, especially considering the fact that we were smaller than small press.  Our publisher and leader, Andrew Goletz was a fearless man who wanted to make comics that in some way would not only help build the companies profile but also create the comics he thought should be made.

These is why GrayHaven released books that were outside the Gathering, books that we wanted to make and could make because there was no one around to tell us we couldn’t.  Isn’t that the main appeal after all of indie comics?  It may not work out of course but there was no one to tell us we couldn’t try.

These are the tales of those volumes that I penned stories for.  I’m not sure if there as chronologically correct as my previous GrayHaven related articles but I’ll do my best.

Once again this only deals with volumes I was involved with as a writer and is from my own perspective.  Other versions of events may vary, I can only tell you what happened from my perspective

The Dark Vol. 1

The line of comics that would eventually become known collectively under the banner of ‘Limitless’ was, the brainchild of Andrew and one of GrayHaven’s founding editors, James O’Callaghan.  It was basically going to be GrayHaven’s answer to DC’s ‘Vertigo’ line of books where creators could craft ‘darker’, more adult stories.  We very much wanted to keep the Gathering as ‘all ages’ as possible so it was logical for us to create a line of books specifically targeted towards an older audience.

My story in this volume was adapted from a short story I had submitted on a contest the Bendis Board ran back in 2006 or so.  I believe the contest was called ‘the horror story meltdown’ or something like that.  The interest in the contest was low and there were only 3 submissions (including mine) so it was basically declared a 3 way draw.  The story was called ‘In Treatment’ and featured a physiatrist having a session with a seemingly very violent and homicidal patient.  When I was writing it, I took inspiration from ‘horror tales with a twist’ that were frequent staples of shows like ‘The Twilight Zone’ and such.  Basically, at the end of the story it is revealed the psychiatrist is in fact the murderer and she has kidnapped her therapist and is sedating him while torturing him with sessions like the story outlines.

When I wrote my previous article, I talked a lot about how comics can be used like no other medium to ‘mislead’ the reader.  I tried to do that here but I don’t feel I quite pulled it off with the same success I did in ‘The Saloon’.  In truth, I believe that this story was the worst one I produced during my time at GrayHaven (opinions on that one may vary).

The main problem the story had was the amount of words in it.  I just CRAMMED the story full of words that didn’t allow the art to do its job.  Keeping dialogue under control has never been my strong suit (I have gotten noticeably better, I think.  Still working on it.)  I wish I could take a second shot at the story sometime, I think with all I’ve learned in the time since I wrote it, that it would come out significantly better.

I worked on this story with Arcadio Bolanos who was an early GrayHaven workhorse.  Sometimes, Arcadio would illustrate 2 or 3 stories per anthology in the early volumes and was a big help to the company. I actually think his work on ‘In Treatment’ was among his strongest but the story overall is among my worst.  I’m not sure what he’s up to these days, knowing Arcadio I’m sure he is drawing something somewhere.

The Archives

After a period of time, the Limitless line was overhauled and driven by fellow GrayHaven editors, James O’Callaghan and Erica J. Heflin.  One of the main things they wanted to do with this line of GrayHaven books was produce prestige anthologies that had darker themes and fancy things like colour.

The first that Erica wanted to do was ‘The Archives’ which was based on history (either famous history or personal history) and she invited the GrayHaven editorial staff at the time to participate.  I believe at the time her logic was reaching out to people she knew would deliver while we tested out to see if this format would work for us or not.

With all of history available to me, I felt a bit spoiled for choice.  My first instinct was to do a story relating to the Kennedy Assassination (a subject I am fascinated endlessly by).  I then became torn because I also felt like I should do a story involving the Titanic.  Being from Belfast, where the Titanic was constructed and given that it was the 100 year anniversary since the ships doomed voyage, I felt obliged to do a story on it.

The concept stuck with me, so I wrote a story about the Titanic leaving Belfast and its final night, using Thomas Andrews (also from Belfast) as my central focus of the story.  I think I crafted a great story which was wonderfully illustrated by Fabio Jansen.  The story included a jaw dropping double page splash page of the ship in dock that may be some of the best art in any story I’ve ever written.  I believe that Fabio is currently working on a new Inverse project as of this typing.

This was a story I was very proud of and the volume overall was very strong.  I still perhaps need to get around to tell that Kennedy story that was kicking around in my head however…

The Dunes

This was another attempt from GrayHaven to produce a comic that had told one story featuring various different writers and artists.  In many ways, I believe you could almost count it among one of GrayHaven’s first one shots.  It was a murder mystery with a quirky twist that was primarily the brainchild of one of GrayHaven’s earlier unconventional writers in Sasha Makarewicz. 

The story featured a killer that used his victims to make ‘sand angels’ and featuring a protagonist in the style of Dale Cooper by way of Neil Gaiman.  The other writers (including me) were given the first few pages of the story, the overall outline of the story and a specific scene to write.  I was tasked with writing a scene where the protagonist (whose name escapes me) would be questioning the parents of the victim.

I felt I wrote a decent scene and it had some cool stuff I decided to throw in like making a splash page featuring dozens of pictures of the victim formed like mini panels.  I like trying to come up with unusual panel layouts or unconventional ways of telling the story because that takes (to me) as much skill as forming the words on the page.

The segment of the story I wrote also featured a line of dialogue I was particularly proud of.  Essentially the protagonist felt that because he was exploring the latest victims death and absorbing every aspect of her life, he felt he knew her better than even her parents.  The story overall was very non-linear and I felt had an ending that I’m still trying to fathom but was an interesting experiment I was happy to partake in.

The artist who worked on my segment was Gary O’Donnell who is a fellow Irishman.  I didn’t have much direct contact with him on the story and he did a few other projects with GrayHaven.  Last I spoke to him, I believe he was still on the small press scene looking for work.

Hey Kids: Fairy Tales

At GrayHaven it was felt that there aren’t a lot of comics for a younger market.  By and large, comics are usually for older readers with little to no effort put towards getting kids to pick up books.  So we decided to do it ourselves, with a mix of success.  There was a lot of debate during the short lived (as of this typing) ‘Hey Kids’ line about what was or was not appropriate for kids.  For the volumes I contributed to, I very much tried to go along the lines of Disney or Pixar.  I wasn’t looking to talk down to any of my potential readers, I wanted to write stories that not only younger readers could enjoy, but anyone could.

The first ‘Hey Kids’ volume was a follow up to the Gathering’s Fairy Tale issue which had been met with some success.  For this volume, I crafted a traditional fairy tale with a twist that I was very proud of.  In ‘My Darling Hero’, I told a story of a girl who was told by her mother since a young age that the only good way to meet a man was to get herself kidnapped by a brutish monster!

It was very much a tongue-in-cheek tale that sort of turned traditional fairy tale stereotypes on their head, much like Disney’s ‘Enchanted’ or ‘Frozen’ did.  It relied a lot on visual gags that I felt were effectively pulled off by artist, Devon Taylor.

Since his debut in the first fairy tale volume, I fell in love with Devon’s work.  He had a magnificent, highly professional style that I was desperate to apply to a story I wrote.  Poor Devon was likely tortured by my over eagerness but I honestly couldn’t help myself.  As I suspected he would, he knocked it out of the park on the story.  It’s one of my favorites I ever did for GrayHaven.

I think Devon only did a handful of GrayHaven stories, so I was very lucky to have him.  He was long appointed as the artist of a comic the company was released called ‘Tomorrow’ (the status of which I am unsure of) but I hope someone has snatched him up.  If not, I would honestly work with him again any day of the week.

Hey Kids: Superheroes

Another superhero volume after our non-superhero book that everyone thought was a superhero book didn’t perform well in Vol. 3 was always a puzzling decision to me.  Still, at this point I wasn’t involved much in any decision making and since I love superheroes, I looked to contribute a story.

Going again with a slightly unconventional slant, I introduced a rather ineffective group of super villains who look to induct their leaders son into the way of all things evil and such.  The majority of my GrayHaven stories had taken on a darker tone and I loved writing humour so this story (along with ‘My Darling Hero’) let me do just that.

I think this is another story that was restricted by the space I had and was probably too big an idea to cram in to so few pages.  Still, I heard quite a few positive things regarding this story and a lot of people said it made them laugh so…who am I to argue?  I would love to bring these villains back in some fashion (there’s me not wanting to let go of characters again).  Who knows what the future might bring for these characters and all the other ones who I’d like to see more of.

Longtime GrayHaven artist, Nick Francis was my partner on this tale and he did a lot of fun character designs for my cast of villains.  Although a relative latecomer to GrayHaven, Nick did a lot of stories with us and was the penciler for one of the many ill fated ‘Phase 2’ books ’11.59’ which was written by publisher, Andrew Goletz and was bloody good.  I can’t be accused of sucking up either because I left like 5 months ago or so, it really was bloody good.

I believe Nick found himself paying work with another publisher so keep an eye out for his name!

Hey Kids: Sunday Funnies

The idea of this book was to do one page, ‘newspaper’ strip style tales in the style of such classics as ‘Peanuts’ and ‘Calvin & Hobbes’.  This book had a lot of production issues sadly and a lot of drop offs that led me to having not one story but two.

The first was ‘Coltard The Conqueror’, which was a one page light hearted story starring a Dark Vaderish evil space lord in a day in his life.  I basically went ‘Saturday morning cartoon villain’ and went all the way to the end goal with this one.  I had a lot of fun writing it and it all came from when I met someone called ‘Colton’ and called them ‘Coltard’ by mistake.  I thought ‘Coltard’ sounded like the name of an angry villain and the rest, as they say, is history.

I have yet to see this story or recall who drew it sadly.  I’m waiting on my copy of ‘Sunday Funnies’ and let you all know how this one turned out, if anyone out there read it and enjoyed it, let me know!

The second story, featured a meta tale bringing back my haphazard hero from ‘Vol. 3’ of the Gathering, Commander Cosmo.  I was luckily enough to be teamed again with Nathan Lee James on this story and I had a blast bringing the character back with him.  I was even more pleased (and pleasantly amazed) to find that Cosmo featured on the cover which I really was touched to see.

At this stage, I was starting to see the ‘exit’ sign burn brighter and brighter with ‘GrayHaven’ and I wrote this story with that in mind.  I told a story that I felt was funny and ignored nearly every rule that had been drilled into me by various GrayHaven editors over recent times.  I thought the story turned out pretty good (Nathan was kind enough to send it to me) and I hope that somehow, somewhere that Cosmo will live again.

I had some good stories over these volumes.  Largely they were quick hits to keep my writing muscles going while editing was becoming more and more of a priority.

Still, I haven’t even begun to mention the two GrayHaven volumes that would represent my best and worst experiences with the company.

Next:  You Are Not Alone In The Abyss (Except you kind of are)

Got any comments, suggestions or questions? Let me know! Also follow me on Twitter @glenn_matchett

Matchett’s Musings: Working For GrayHaven Part II

Hey everyone!  Sorry about the delay, had some personal issues both comic and non-comic to deal with.  I’m back and will be posting from my regular Thursday (ish) from next week.  

Working At GrayHaven Part 2:  Bigger and Better (Part 1)

Welcome back to my memories of the stories I published with GrayHaven during my tenure with them both as writer and editor.  Last time we spoke about some of the early volumes I was involved with and some of the early lessons I learned as a creator and some lessons the company learned too.

Once again this only deals with volumes I was involved with as a writer and is from my own perspective.  Other versions of events may vary, I can only tell you what happened from my perspective.

I won’t waste much time and take you right to where we left off last time with Vol. 7, which I actually wasn’t in…but I was meant to be.

Note:  This section is a lot larger than I anticipated so I have decided to split in half.

Hope you enjoy!

Vol. 7:  Dreams and Nightmares

I don’t really remember much of the submission criteria for this volume but I do remember the story I put forward.   The entire volume was themed with ‘Myth’, which again was a genre I hadn’t played in much and was eager to explore.  I remember really taking a long time coming up with the story that became ‘Until The End’.

The story featured two wizards named Garth and Rex (short for Rexmus) who represented the light and dark side of magic respectfully.  Starting off in modern times the six page story told a tale of them essentially fighting each other since medieval times.  It was a story I was really looking forward to seeing published and I was paired with a new artist to GrayHaven.  I don’t remember this artist’s full name now but I believe his first name was Robert, who upon initial communication was very eager to bring my warring wizard’s to life.

After the initial communication though, he stopped answering e-mails from me and the editor on the book.  He vanished from the face of the earth and by the time we realized he wasn’t going to draw the story, it was too late to find a replacement.  This was my first experience with an artist who had let me down and flash forwarding to today it is something I have come across far too often.

There was nothing that could be done.  There was some talk of turning the story into a webcomic but that never really came to fruition.  The story likely needs a lot of polishing from what I’ve learned in subsequent years (this story was written in 2011 and I would say I’ve grown quite significantly as a writer) but I would still like to see it come to life at some point.

It is true what they say, there is no such thing as a wasted idea and some of this story may even appear as apart of something else entirely down the road, who knows.

My disappointed was short lived however as I was about to begin my most prolific period as a writer for GrayHaven.  The company as a whole was getting bigger and better and it seemed that I was going to face the challenge to do the same creatively

Vol. 9:  Once Upon A Time

Like I’ve said many times before, growing up my biggest influences to me for the rest of my life were likely ‘Batman The Animated Series’ and a complete collection of Arthur Conan Doyle ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stories.  I can likely link everything I have liked or been passionate about back to those two things in some fashion.  Another big influence growing up that I don’t talk about very often is the steady diet of Disney movies I enjoyed in my youth…and even until today.

I’m a big fan of animated films and it all started with Disney films like ‘Aladdin’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘The Lion King’.  I was really eager to participate in a volume based around Fairy Tales such as Vol. 9 of the Gathering was.  The only stipulation this time was that all stories had to have some moral undertone or ‘lesson’ for readers, just like all good fairy tales do.

I quickly came up with a story where the moral would be ‘always listen to your elders’ and would feature a cast of talking dragons.  I found it hard at the time to think of many fairy tales to feature dragons as protagonists and thought it would be something a really talented artist could sink their teeth into.  Essentially the story revolves around an older dragon telling a younger generation about a volcano where the most dangerous dragon of them all resides.  The young dragons are told to stay away but of course, one of them decides to check out the legend for himself and comes across the dangerous creature first hand.

Upon reflection it’s a pretty simple, straightforward story that really benefits from the art of Paula Cob who I worked with on this story and a few subsequent others.  Paula is a very talented artist whose work I adored when I first saw it in ‘Vol. 3: Heroes’.  She had worked primarily to date with a writer who also happened to be her husband in Ignacio Segura but I was eager to see if she would lend her manga style art to my little fairy tale.

Fortunately for me, she said yes and I’ve had the pleasure of working with Paula on a number of occasions.  I’m still a big fan of her work and find it sad that she doesn’t participate in GrayHaven stories as much as she used to due to her and Ignacio working on a personal project.  Her art style gave my story the scale it needed and I think added a lot to my fairly straightforward tale of doing what you’re told.

I also edited the book but don’t have many memories of it.  This likely means it all ran fairly smoothly which is always something to be celebrated.

Vol. 10:  The Unbelievable Arthur Richmond Is One Smart Cookie

Previously known as ‘the adventure’ volume I believe Vol. 10 is something that to this day sends editor James O’Callaghan into traumatic flashbacks.

A little background about Vol. 10, which began like any other Gathering volume and had people submit stories with a different take on the ‘adventure’ theme.  The trouble was that the amounts of submissions were low so it was decided that the interested parties would take their individual stories and combine them.

The new main story would feature a character called ‘Arthur Richmond’ who would serve as our Indiana Jones style protagonist.  It was up to our editor to figure out how all our individual stories would figure into a larger hole.  For that task, I cannot give but the highest praise to James who took several different stories (including one that had talking birds) and somehow made it work.  I would say he made it work more than any of the rest of us on the editorial staff would have in any case.

My section basically served at the books epilogue where we would discover that the entire tale was one told by an aged Arthur to a pair of young men in an adventurers club.  Of course they don’t believe his story of talking birds and magical cookies (you had to be there) so Arthur goes home, clearly dejected.  The closing scene has him go down in his home to a sizable trophy room, where indeed we discover his stories were all true.

It wasn’t conventional but it somehow did work.  I was proud to be a part of it and thought my epilogue gave it a suitable note to end on.  On this story I was fortunate to work with artist Sam Tung, who was an early GrayHaven fan favorite.   He only worked on a handful of GrayHaven projects before going on to do some production work for Iron Man 3 and GI Joe 2.  Apart from my misfortune regarding my Vol. 7 story, my extremely good fortune with artists seemed to continue.

Volume 11: Silver Age

This volume was a big passion project for GrayHaven publisher, Andrew Goletz.  He wanted to do a volume that would harken back to the classic ‘silver age’ of comics where Marvel where just coming into the eye of the public and comic took themselves a little less seriously.

I was initially tempted to bring back my inept hero from Vol. 3 ‘Commander Cosmo’ when submitting for this volume but it wasn’t an idea Andrew was in favour of.  He wanted to avoid stories that connected to each other as he did not want customers to feel pressured into buying several volumes in order to get a complete story.

Understanding and agreeing with his logic, I decided to do a story revolving around time travel.  I love time travel as a storytelling device and if you meet me for more than five minutes, I would say you’ll soon learn that.  I also decided that I would have a female protagonist as that was something I had yet to do in any of my stories to date.  Regular readers of these articles will know that I feel very passionate about the portrayal of female characters and having more of them in comics, so with that in mind I created Lucy Letwood.

Having stole a time band that her father invented, Lucy was a young woman who finally found herself LOST IN TIME!!!!  I basically wrote this story with a big stupid grin on my face and tried to have as many silver age callbacks as I could cram in.  I was especially proud of having the classic Stan Lee moment where a character would point out that something was crashing through a wall even though we could clearly see it.

It was drawn by an artist named George Amaru who has become something of a GrayHaven staple and is one of my favorite artists to work with.  Not only is George a really nice guy but he is extremely talented.  He gave the story the exact tone it needed and made my silver age multi panel pages work flawlessly.  I’ve worked with George a couple of times since, even tasking him with a Living With Death short ‘The Reporter’ which I released on the comics Facebook fanpage a number of months ago.  I’ve been wanting to work with George on something long term for years but at that time, it wasn’t possible.  These days he is a very busy guy working for GrayHaven, Bluewater and Inverse press on a variety of projects.  When his schedule clears up, I hope to work with George on something long term.

I brought Lucy back in a future volume and would love to tell more of her story at some point.  It was really with this story that I started to get more attached to the characters I was creating.  I didn’t just want them to be there and then gone forever, I saw life in them beyond the stories.

This was when I really wanted to creating larger stories starring some of the Gathering featured characters.  I knew that would have its own problems however.

Next:  More characters I didn’t want to say goodbye to, ghosts that aren’t ghosts and the final Gathering stories.

Got any comments, suggestions or questions? Let me know! Also follow me on Twitter @glenn_matchett

Matchett’s Musings: Working for GrayHaven Part 1

Matchett’s Musings

Working At GrayHaven Part 1:  Learning to Walk and Talk

I spent five years with small press publisher, GrayHaven Comics.  It wasn’t always easy or pleasant but I loved it.  In some ways my heart is still there and my path might lead me back there someday but for now, I have a lot of good memories.

It all started as just something to do for fun that GrayHaven publisher and owner Andrew Goletz suggested on a whim.  It has since become so much more and I like to think I played some small part in that.  Over the next few weeks I’d like to talk about some of the anthology stories I wrote for GrayHaven.  I want to talk about how I came up with the stories, who I worked with, some stuff I learned and some things the company had to deal with that made it better.

It isn’t always pretty but I hope people will find it informative and interesting none the less.  I’ll only be talking about the anthologies I wrote stories for here and most of my information is based on my own perspective.  Other perspectives may vary.

Thanks to Andrew for some info and his blessing to do this!

Vol. 1: The Thing With Feathers

If Andrew had been physically been in a room with us when he asked who was interested in doing the first anthology that became ‘The Gathering’, I would have shot my hand up immediately.  I’d wanted to work in comics for a few years at that point but I had no clue how to start.  I’d done a few web comics but nothing substantial and this just seemed like a good place to start.

When he found that people were interested and he found a number of talented artists to help out.  He came up with the theme ‘Hope’ because it reflected the feeling a lot of us had going into the volume.  The majority of us wanted to pursue a career in comics and the theme of the first volume perfectly reflected our optimism and dreams going in.

When I was trying to come up with my story, I thought I’d wait to see who I was paired with before really making a start.  I’ll be honest, nothing was hitting me initially and I thought perhaps after seeing what type of artist I was working with would get the creative juices going.

I was extremely fortunate to be paired with Brent Peeples, who after checking out his work seemed as if I could tell him to draw the phone book and he’d make it look amazing sent me back to the drawing board on crafting a story.  I don’t remember much about the initial script and I don’t seem to have it on my computer.  I think I didn’t really give Brent many details beyond the outline when I did come up with the idea.

Throughout my writing for GrayHaven anthologies it wasn’t just enough to write a good type of story.  After editing a number of volumes, I know that coming up with a story isn’t enough sometimes.  You have to sometimes come up with a concept that also stands out a little, something that is good and unique that no one else will come up with.  It’s a tough one to try and balance.

So I opted to go for something completely outside the wheelhouse and do a story about a post-apocalyptic world decimated by aliens.  Because why not?

Essentially I wanted to have a father scourging supplies for his wife who was giving birth.  We’d learn a little about the world, see some creepy images of the world and I was very keen to not actually see the aliens responsible.  I thought it would give the whole story a creepy undertone which Brent of course knocked out of the park.

I was so proud to actually have a story in a real printed comic.  Getting the first volume in my hands is a feeling I won’t soon forget and seeing my name on the back (a feature in early volumes of the Gathering that I miss) is something that still makes me smile. Looking back, I know the quality of Brent’s art carries the story.

It is overwritten, over soppy and has more post-apocalyptic cliché’s than you can count.  The story pales in comparison to the ones written by other long-time GrayHaven staples like Ray Goldfield, Doug Hahner and Jason Snyder.  The story itself did get some praise from comic pro Gail Simone but when I read it, I can’t help but despair.  The biggest problem the story has is the lettering.  Likely because I had written too much for the two pages I had, the lettering was contained all in caption boxes.  This made it difficult to tell who was speaking when and it seemed the letterer took it upon themselves to change the final line that is so cheesy it makes me want to vomit out my window.

There are still some elements of the story I like though.  It was a world I revisited briefly with future collaborator Paula Cob in the short lived web comic ‘After The Gathering’ and some part of me wants to go back to it.  Since then though, shows like Falling Skies have explored similar themes and the story is perhaps too dusty now to go back to.  It holds a special place for me though as my first printed work and was a place where I learned a lot of lessons as a writer.

While I obsessed over every word I chose, Brent only returned to GrayHaven once briefly for the first ‘You Are Not Alone’ volume.  I remember approaching him shortly after the Gathering Vol. 1 was printed, asking if he was interested in expanding the world we had created.  He gave me a very polite no before going on to much bigger and better things with companies like Image and Dynamite.  I hope our paths cross again someday creatively.

The book itself was a big success and despite those awkward first steps some of the creators had, there was a lot of heart and passion in the book.  There were some great talent still contained in the book and it sold well enough to warrant a sequel.  The company still carries on but there was something really special about that first book I was flattered to be a part of.

Vol. 3: Heroes

Ah Heroes, one of our best volumes in terms of quality and due to many mistakes was one of GrayHaven’s worst sellers.

A little background on that, before I get going.  I contacted Andrew about speaking about Vol. 3 and asked him how blunt I could be.  He responded with a list of mistakes and the following quote ‘I have vivid recollections of that disaster.’

Now don’t get me wrong, the book itself is great.  I would still rank it one of the company’s best but the problem was that no one bought it.  The first problem (which I had forgotten about but Andrew kindly reminded me) was that ‘Heroes’ was supposed to be two volumes.  It was supposed to be one volume that would deal with real life heroes along the lines of police, firefighters, etc and a second volume that would deal with the more fantastical comic book heroes.

We knew the latter would be a risk, outside of Marvel and DC it is difficult to get a super hero book to sell.  The market is coming down with super heroes and the consumer we were trying (and had) appealed to would likely not be interested if we made a book involving super heroes.  Sadly, neither got enough of one type of pitch for their own full book so Andrew combined both into one book.

Former GrayHaven art director and art guru Aaron Bir, delivered an amazing cover but it was very much further conveying that this was a book about super heroes…when it wasn’t really. In fact, Vol. 3 contained only a number of super hero stories by really talented writers who offered the stories in that genre with a bit of a twist.  Still even though you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, people did and a comic called ‘Heroes’ with a super hero centric cover did nothing to help it sell.  There have been many talks over the years of getting another artist to redraw the cover and rerelease the volume but that never quite came to fruition.

The final mistake, Andrew revealed to me was that he ordered a lot more of the book than Vol. 1 or Vol. 2 given that both of them had sold well.  Having a big, expensive volume that was geared at the wrong audience with a huge amount of copies was a recipe of disaster.  It pretty much killed any possibility of other super hero orientated stories when we did get more of an audience which shows you how much of an impact it had on the company’s future decisions.

Of course, all this is great in reflection and when coming up with a story I didn’t know what the future would hold for ‘Heroes’, I just wanted to tell a different story.  Since my first story had been quite dark (and wordy) I thought I would go for something more light hearted.  I’ve heard over and over that writing good comedy that actually makes people laugh is the hardest thing to do creatively.  I took this as a challenge and thought ‘well if I can make people laugh I can do anything!’

So I created the super hero Commander Cosmo, who essentially was Superman but a complete idiot.  In ‘My Day With Commander Cosmo’ the intellectually challenged hero would land in the front yard of his biggest fan where he would basically hang around.  In true ‘you should never meet your idols’ fashion the kid would soon get sick of Cosmo and soon remove him from his home.  Sadly for the boy, his mother had a new boyfriend who turned out to be the secret identity of Cosmo himself.

The story hit really well and Cosmo became something of a GrayHaven favorite.  I love writing the big goofball and have brought him back in parody web comics, other strips and he even was on the cover for GrayHaven’s ‘Hey Kids: Sunday Funnies’ volume.

On my part, the story is a bit slow to get going but it really was brought to life by artist Nathan Lee James.  His animated style and perfect comedic timing brought an extra layer to the story and once again, I found myself very fortunate to work with someone very talented.  He’s even been gracious enough to return for most of Cosmo’s subsequent appearances.

One thing in this story that Nathan did which wasn’t in the script, is one of my favorite things in any story I’ve done.

It turns out that Cosmo lands in the front yard after flying into a lamppost because he was too distracted by a *ahem* men’s magazine.  What Nathan included in the background of the initial few pages is the bent lamppost which foreshadows the eventual reveal that it was Cosmo who flew into it.  When I first spotted it, I laughed and thought it was something so small yet so brilliant, I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it myself.

Whether it’s with GrayHaven or not, I hope that Commander Cosmo will someday return but I think it’s safe to say that we shouldn’t hold our breath for ‘Heroes 2’.

Vol. 6:  Further Into The Abyss

The fourth GrayHaven volume was the first horror volume and was a big hit so we quickly did another one.  People seemed to love horror and because of that we’ve done four books under the banner as well as some similar themes and even made a book especially for it.

The tale of said spin off book ‘Tales From The Abyss’ is quite the horror story in itself but that of course, was all ahead of me.  The second volume was also the first one I was involved in editorially.  Not very heavily but this is the book I learned the ropes on until editing a book on my lonesome with ‘Vol. 8: The Fifth Dimension.’  It was also my favorite GrayHaven book for quite some time.  Everyone just knocked it out of the park on this one and it contains a story I wrote that I got quite a few good reviews on.

‘The Station’ originated as a prose novel which to this day sits on my hard drive begging for my attention.  Essentially it features a crew going to check in on a space station that hasn’t sent any communication for a number of days.  It turned out that the space station crew had discovered a special space rock that essentially turned them into monsters.

Every space horror is in danger of ripping off the brilliant Ridley Scott ‘Alien’ and mine was no exception.  The novel I had written really delved into the crew dealing with monsters but in the walls of the station and within themselves.  When I adapted it into a five page story a lot of that was lost obviously but it still made for a good story.  It got a number of shout outs from a few sites that reviewed it, even ahead of one written by former Supergirl writer, Sterling Gates.

Even though it works pretty damn well as its own five page story, I did contemplate writing a pitch for ‘the Dark’ anthologies that GrayHaven would publish down the road that would essentially be a prequel to this one.  I liked to build on universes I had created, even though generally GrayHaven didn’t really like follow on stories.  I think it’s probably best that this story stayed as a one off though.

It was however, the first appearance of the MaX corporation who I tried to cram into every story I wrote afterwards.  Go over all the stories I wrote and the logo will be there somewhere, I’ll wait.

The story was brilliantly illustrated by David Aspmo who brought exactly the right mood and tone the story needed.  He only appeared one other time for GrayHaven following this and I hope another company is putting his considerable talent to good use.

 

Vol. 7: Dreams and Nightmares

Two volumes in a row!  Go me!  I was really thrilled to be a part of this volume because…hey wait.

I’m not in this volume.

I was supposed to be though…the story which I’ll go into more, next week.

Next:  Wizards, Time Travel, Cowgirls and ghost stories that don’t feature ghosts.

Got any comments, suggestions or questions? Let me know! Also follow me on Twitter @glenn_matchett

 

Matchett’s Musings: Here Come The Girls Part 2

Here Come the Girls Part 2: Female creators

Time check everybody! Yes this is indeed 2014. We’re one year away from the day Marty McFly went to the future. Despite the absence of hover boards and flying cars there is one thing in modern times that puzzles me to no end.

There are still woman who are paid less than men for doing the same job. There is no acceptable reason for this. Gender equality is an issue that crosses over many industries and the business of creating comics is no exception. Some of you may wonder why a man wants to discuss this issue. I mean, it doesn’t affect me, right? Well that is wrong. It affects all of us because we could be robbed of awesome stories from very talented people just because of their gender and there is nothing I love more than awesome stories.

At nearly every comics company, both large and small there has been a historical dominance of men both in writing and artistic contributions. Behind the scenes, there has been a bit more of a balance with editorial staff but only in the last 10-20 years or so. Before that time, comics were created, driven and marketed by men.

Last week I talked about how female characters are portrayed and treated by the industry plus the fact that they almost always play second fiddle to their male counterparts. This also seems to be the case for the ‘story behind the stories’. In recent years we have seen an influx of female creators and once again, on the surface it might appear that things are changing. In particular, there are now a number of female artists who get relatively high profile gigs, and some are of the most talented and respected people in comics today. We have the likes of Sara Pichelli, Amanda Connor, Rebekah Isaacs, Nicola Scott and many others. All are great talents who do fantastic work on their respective properties.

Yet they remain significantly outnumbered by male artists working in the industry. You might think that the immediate and obvious problem could be a lack of female artists but I know that is simply not the case. Over the past number of years Image has put out an anthology comprised of entirely female creators and GrayHaven Comics have published three. Having seen nearly every volume of the Gathering that GrayHaven has produced in its five year history, I can say with confidence that each of the All Women’s anthologies are extremely high quality and feature amazing stories by a full cast of female creators.

In my own comics career I’ve worked frequently with female artists and am very proud to share my ‘Sparks’ property with one of the finest female artists in comics today, Kell Smith. It is clear that the talent is out there and like all of us wanting to make an impact in the industry, they are hungry to accomplish more.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much change where writers are concerned. It is true that at the recent New York Comicon, Marvel announced a number of female creators on new titles, but they were all featuring female leads. I’ve even heard from a number of sources that DC comics may have a policy that they only want female writers to pitch to books with female leads.

Why? I’m not sure. If there was a similar policy regarding male writers only writing male characters we would have been robbed of such great runs like Rucka’s Wonder Woman, Alias, the current Wonder Woman book and even the long running fan favorite Spider-Girl. There are a number of incredibly talented female writers in the industry right now and if men can write female led titles, shouldn’t they be granted a chance to write a male-led title at the top of the publishing line? More often than not, even when women write a male-led book it is not a main title or else is a title that features a group of men and women. As I try to think of a female writer that has a really high profile gig on a male-led title the only one I could recall was Gail Simone’s brief run on Action Comics back in 2005 and 2006.

Arguably, Gail Simone is the biggest female name in comics writing at the moment. She has had a long career at DC comics, redefining the Birds Of Prey, the Secret Six and many other fan favorites but she has only had one stint on a top tier male-led title which despite a lot of critical acclaim lasted only eight issues. Is there anyone out there that wouldn’t jump at the chance to read Gail’s work on a title like Amazing Spider-Man or Superman or the Avengers?

There are more female writers out there who deserve higher prominence. Some you’ve heard of, and sadly, many that you haven’t. If the companies perhaps think the market wouldn’t accept a female writer on a main title then perhaps they should look at the success of Harry Potter or the Hunger Games. Talent is talent and I think we deserve to read the stories that could be told if the current gender imbalance was even a little different.

As I said last week, things are changing – but very slowly. If there’s a talented group of comic creators being ignored then the industry is essentially trying to make quality comics with one hand behind its back.

I’m not sure about you, but I’d love to see what comics could become with both arms in full use.

Next: Gathering Stories

Many thanks to Mary Sheridan, a super talented female creator in her own right for helping me put this together!

Got any comments, suggestions or questions? Let me know! Also follow me on Twitter @glenn_matchett

 

Matchett’s Musings: Here Come the Girls Part 1

Here Come the Girls Part 1: Female characters

Good day folks, after a brief hiatus courtesy of a wonderful honeymoon I’m back with more of my thoughts.  For the first few articles I talked a little about launching my own comic and some thoughts from behind the comic creator curtain.  Today I wanted to take a break talk about some issues in the comic industry that are getting a lot of attention.

There are things I feel should be said that aren’t and if no one else is saying them I might as well do it.

Something that has been a major issue in comics for nearly as long as they’ve been around is gender and the balance between female characters vs. male characters and female creators vs. male creators.   Both are subjects that come up time and time again and I’d like talk about both, starting with female characters and how they are perceived/treated in the past, present and future.

Okay, hands up who can tell me who the character above is?  Don’t rush all at once now.  That’s right its Wonder Woman who is not only one of DC’s earliest characters (she was created way back in 1941) but is presented as one of their biggest.  Indeed it could be argued that Wonder Woman is one of the most recognizable fictional characters ever.

Show an image of the character to most people in the world and would at least be able to identify her as Wonder Woman.  This is because she is presented as one of DC’s ‘trinity’ alongside Batman and Superman.  She has featured in TV shows, cartoons and a lot of merchandising.  She’s also been a fairly regular member of the Justice League even at times when Batman and Superman weren’t.

The reason I talk about her now is that despite the fact she is so recognizable and she is represented by DC as a major character, her past often has her playing second fiddle to her main counterparts.  Despite being DC’s third most recognizable character, Wonder Woman has never quite had the same exposure in comics as Batman and Superman.

Almost since their creation, Batman and Superman have had at least two titles each per month and often, a lot more.  Usually Wonder Woman has one book that is her own, a title that in the past has had minimal sales success.  This is not for lack of trying on DC’s part. The company has tried everything from big name creators to relaunching to even having mainstream novelists take over writing duties to raise sales.  To date, every attempt has ultimately met with the same minimal success.

Even today, the Wonder Woman title is coming to the end of a creative run that has not only been critically acclaimed but commercially successful compared to past years.  Whether this will continue after the current team leaves is uncertain but the most recent issue’s sales numbers was available were from July 2014, when the title ranked 77, selling 37,431.

The third most recognizable character DC has to offer and she was outperformed by 76 other books that included the likes of Moon Knight and Archie.  I’m not here just to talk about Wonder Woman but I feel that she is the best way of illustrating my overall point.

No matter how well known they are it seems that female characters are almost treated as secondary to male leads.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t books out there that feature female leads that sell very well because there are lots of those.  However these books generally feature said leads as part of an ensemble cast.  Books like Justice League, Saga, Avenger’s, X-Men and Walking Dead all feature great female characters.  They are however associated with the overall brand rather than the main stars.  Even Wonder Woman’s own book is outsold by one where she is mentioned in the cover but gets second billing next to the books co-star Superman.

Currently the highest selling book that stars a female lead and presents itself as such is DC’s Harley Quinn which in August 2014 (leaving out September due to DC’s wacky 3D variants) number 7 on the chart and sold 71,522 copies on its most recent issue.  This meant that the female fan favorite outsold most of Batman’s books, Wolverine, Deadpool and the Guardians of the Galaxy among many others.

Harley Quinn has been a character that has always played against the odds and won.  A very good friend of mine and talented creator in his own right, Ray Goldfield once said ‘For every Harley Quinn you get 1000 Poochie’s.’  I agree that a female character with adoring fans like Harley is especially rare   The fact that her book is performing so fell on such a consistent basis is a surprise to many.

However, the next female led title is Batgirl which is a whopping fifty-three places below Harley’s Top Ten book at number Sixty, selling 34,590.  Below her is where we find Ms. Marvel at sixty-six and so on and so forth.  In-between are the books that feature female characters primarily as part of an ensemble cast.

For as long as I’ve been reading comics I’ve been hearing the same thing and I’m sure you have heard it too, ‘There should be more female characters in comics!’  Well there are many that feature in a variety of books but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of support for them.

To their credit both Marvel and DC have made quite the effort to have more female led title’s in recent years.  Along with Harley Quinn we’ve also had books like Black Widow, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, Spider-Woman and more.  At the New York Comic Con it seemed that Marvel was intent on announcing a treasure trove of new female-led books because people are asking for them.  They’re even giving obscure characters like Squirrel Girl and new characters like Spider-Gwen/Silk their own titles to meet a demand that people insist is there and that the figures achieved by Harley Quinn would indicate.

Yet with the demand not supported by sales, Marvel has already announced the cancellation of She-Hulk after twelve issues and it could be a similar story for Captain Marvel/Black Widow (although either or both could be relaunched).

Title’s that have a female lead are certainly headline grabbers and do get a good bit of buzz initially.  It seems like a bit of an event when a new female book is announced…almost a novelty.  I think that’s what I find most strange about how female characters are often marketed.  No one would bat an eye if a character like say…Cyborg got his own book but if Thor gets a gender switch it’s time to stop the presses.

I have been fortunate enough to be complimented many times on my handling of female characters in Sparks and Living With Death.  Both books were created with female leads in mind and almost in every interview I’ve been asked ‘How do you write women well?’  I suppose the answer to this is the same reason that I’m writing this article.  I love female characters because I love characters period.  Some of my favorite characters just happen to be women, just like some of my favorite characters happen to be males.

Writer of Game Of Thrones (among many other things) George R.R Martin once said something I really liked when asked how he can embody characters like Daenery’s and Ayra with such life and power.  He simply said ‘I’ve always thought of women as people’.

I think that says it all.  To me we will truly have achieved equal standing for male and female characters when it isn’t talked about anymore.  There will be no headlines about Thor being a women or that Captain Marvel is getting her own movie.  It will just be considered part of the norm and that’s what I want to see., a comic market where female characters are treated the same as male characters.  It will no longer be a big deal that Marvel, DC, Image or anyone has a book with a female lead; it’ll simply be them launching a book like any other.  No one raises an eyebrow when Batman gets a new book but if Wonder Woman got a secondary title there would probably be national headlines.  That is not how it could, or should be.

In closing, yes things are changing.  There are now more female led titles than in the past but it has taken us nearly Seventy years to get to the point where these books are given a chance .  I don’t want to wait another Seventy for comics to take the next step.

Next:  Female creators

Many thanks to Mary Sheridan for helping me put this together!

Got any comments, suggestions or questions? Let me know! Also follow me on Twitter @glenn_matchett

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matchett’s Musings: Creating Sparks Part 4

Creating Sparks Part 4: Selling yourself

I was in high school at the time that the internet was really coming to prominence. I remember sitting in Economics listening to my teacher make the less than radical prediction that the internet would change the way businesses work. It would give small businesses a whole new potential customer base and give businesses a global market to play with.

The same applies to comics, the internet has given small press creators a whole new avenue to showcase their talents. Whether you sell comics directly from your own website (such as GrayHaven does) or market your talents by offering great free content via webcomics (for some exceptional ones check out GrayHaven regular Donal DelaysDaring Adventures’, Jason Snyder and Michael Sumislaski‘s ‘Horntoad Sam‘, Nathan Lee JamesMoonlight Motel‘ & John Clerkin and Ann Harrison’s ‘Bunsen Bunnies‘) it’s now easier than ever to get your work out there if you have a desire to make comics.

The internet has also opened up the door to crowd funding like Kickstarter, Patreon, Indigogo and many more to creators who have the desire or the talent but perhaps not the resources to bring their product to market. Making comic is expensive and you will undoubtedly lose more than you gain but like I said to a fellow writer many years ago ‘if you’re in comics to make money you’re probably in the wrong game’.

When Sparks was released I already had established a few connections through GrayHaven and from my previous solo outing in ‘Living With Death’. I’ve never been to fond of convincing people to buy something from me but no matter what job you do, sales will have some aspect of it, even if you don’t realize it. It’s important in comics to push yourself out there because especially when it comes to super small press work with characters that no one care about but YOU then you’re hardly going to get people banging at your door to buy a copy.

I’ve been to conventions both big and small, some great while others weren’t so great. In both instances I saw small press people sitting watching literally hundreds of potential customers pass them by. Meanwhile I see others who have what my wife would refer to as ‘the gift of the gab’ which means they can draw the attention of people and get people to buy their product. It all depends on your personality of course but tables at conventions (big or small) are pricey and it’s a hard truth that you have to fight hard for every sale.

I won’t say I’m particularly good at it either, I’ve been behind that table and looking at people with an expression likely shared by deer’s moments before an encounter with a car. It takes me a while to get going but like I say, I know no one will come to me so I have to do it. Even top tier creators fight hard to make sure their books are brought to people’s attention. Space in comic shops is precious and creators will want to make sure their books get a spot.

So when Sparks was a released I took advantage of the connections I had and started e-mailing people. I had previously garnered a lot of positive press online and locally for ‘Living With Death’ so it was a little easier. Much to my surprise, people had enjoyed ‘Living With Death’ quite a bit more so were easier to convince to check out ‘Sparks’.

It wasn’t all easy of course. To get reviews you have to supply free copies and like ‘Living With Death’ there were review sites that said they would take the time to look at ‘Sparks’, were given a free copy and I never heard from them again. It’s to be expected because much like space in a comic shop, space on a website can be precious. You’re going to get more hits (and more revenue) talking about the latest Marvel or DC ‘event’ rather than a review of a small press comic. I can only assume the people that I didn’t hear back from didn’t care for the work.

I did get quite a few favorable reviews though thankfully. My efforts paid off as I believe as of this writing both Living With Death and Sparks are the most reviewed books that GrayHaven has produced. This is what happens when you make a little bit of a nuisance of yourself I suppose but like I say, people won’t come to you.

It also meant that Kell Smith got a little bit of a spotlight too. People last week could probably tell I’m a big fan of Kell’s and I want to see her get the success that her talent warrants. Every time I get into a working arrangement with someone on a book I am always eager to share other opportunities I spot for their creative expansion.

People bought the book and seemed to enjoy it. The moment I had worked 12 years for had come to pass. Hearing people’s reactions to the last page of Sparks is often a priceless moment and one I find incredibly gratifying.

Making comics is hard, it can be pricey and it’s something that I have more than once (or a hundred times) considered throwing the towel in on. I’ve lost friends, had people steal money from me, break promises and say things about me that aren’t true. It’s a messy world, even at a level where not many people know who you are.

Moments like the one I described above however make it all worth it. Even if one person read Sparks and demanded more, it means more to me than anything else. Now the book is out of course the journey doesn’t end. You think about what’s on the horizon and doing better than you’ve done before.

It’s easy to make a comic when people don’t expect anything of you. Try doing it when people expect it to be good. That’s the challenge myself and Kell face now and I can’t wait.

Next: I’m headed on honeymoon for a few weeks. When I come back I’ll be talking to Brett about what’s coming up. I’ll be talking women in comics, female characters, the rise of indie comics, Living With Death, editing, some of my GrayHaven shorts and more. Hope to see you all when I get back.

Got any comments, suggestions or questions? Let me know! Also follow me on Twitter @glenn_matchett

Matchett’s Musings: Creating Sparks Part 3

Creating Sparks Part 3: Do you hear that?

Those that know me will probably be familiar with the fact that if you meet me and talk to me for a significant length of time, you’ll discover my passion for Doctor Who. I could write an entire article on that show itself but for now I want to use it for an analogy.

In the show, one of the Doctor’s foes ‘The Master’ was recently revealed to have a constant drumming in his mind. This noise was the explanation for his villainous ways by and large, I mention it because I too have a similar sound in my mind. It’s not a drum though, it’s more like this.

Tick, tock. Tick, tock.

Patience has never been one of my attributes. In an infamous issue of classic X-Factor, Peter David wrote a rather famous bit of dialogue from Quicksilver about how he constantly feels pissed off because compared to him, everyone moves so slow. I’m a little like that but I don’t have super speed to blame, I can sometimes just be an impatient jerk.

I’ve always done things fast in terms of deadlines. In University and in comics I heard people jest that I would have the assignment done before there was even an assignment due. I just liked to be early which was a trait I picked up from my mother who at times liked to be 5 hours early for a flight at the airport.

This expediency can be a blessing, I’ve never missed a deadline and people tell me I’m dependable. Of course it can also be a curse because I work at such a rapid rate, I expect everyone else to as well. I need everything done yesterday and in the world of comics, things tend to move at a general glacial pace. I’ve written scripts for volumes that have seen a year (or more) from me finishing my part to it being in my hands. There are still scripts I wrote back in 2012 that I’m still waiting to see published.

Tick, tock. Tick, tock.

My impatience has led me to make bad decisions, cost me friends and more negative things than I care to remember. It has also allowed me to be an editor at GrayHaven that has more output than any of my peers with regards to completed volumes.

It was this double edged sword of a trait that led to Sparks artist A leaving the book, or rather me asking them to leave. I think they worked on the book for 6-8 months (maybe more, maybe less) and produced 2 character sketches in that time. I tried to be patient with them (or as I could be) contacting them every 2 months or so for a progress update. Eventually I decided to tell them that due to the delay the project had been cancelled.

I did this so I could find someone else. The project of course wasn’t cancelled but I felt this was a decision that was best for the book. I wanted someone who could really dedicate their time and focus to Sparks.  As talented as artist A was, that wasn’t them.

Over this time things had expanded quite a bit at GrayHaven. When I went to Andrew to ask about a replacement artist, he told me that I had to look outside the group of artists working for the company. This made sense to me because since GrayHaven doesn’t pay its contributors, we had to make sure the artists we had were put towards putting out the volumes.

Also by this time, the money I had saved to perhaps pay an artist had been used on another project. I thought back pay was my best option.

The right and wrong of back pay vs. payment is something I will maybe talk about in future. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it here, I just know] what I’ve spent trying to break into comics I have never really gotten back. I’ve even had people steal from me and heard many stories from people who were stolen from. Sometimes making comics isn’t all its cracked up to be.

Along came artist B who said they had a day job, loved the project and back pay wasn’t a problem. A number of months later artist B then contacted me saying they had received an offer for a paying gig and would return ‘if they found the time’.

Tick, tock. Tick, tock.

Being frank, I found that artist B’s work wasn’t suitable to what I was looking for so for a change it seemed that things were in my favour. I needed someone who would care about the project, whose work I liked and someone I could trust. By this time GrayHaven had progressed on with more ambitious projects than my little British set one shot and it seemed to had been largely quietly forgotten. I don’t blame the company because you have to keep going forwards. If you spend your time on each problem project you’ll drive yourself insane.  I was largely left to my own devices and because of that, I went to the artist who I had wanted from the start, just like it was some sort of odd destiny.

I first became familiar with Kell Smith’s work when she did a cover for us for our 8th anthology that centered around the theme ‘myth’. It was a beautiful cover harkening back to the classic sword in the stone tale that featured King Arthur’s discovery of the mythical sword Excalibur. When I first saw the cover my question was ‘Who is this Kell Smith person?’

I was treated to more lovely covers, prints, pencils and colors by Kell who seemed to be a Swiss army knife of talent. I even had the fortune of working with her on the third volume of GrayHaven’s premier horror title ‘Tales From The Abyss’.

I contacted Kell with the story of my (at that time) over 2 years of headache’s and proposed she join me.  Given my misfortune to this date I didn’t expect a yes. I think Kell is immensely talented and GrayHaven was very fortunate to have someone like her, I didn’t think she would be interested in working with me.

It turns out I was wrong. Kell loved the idea and it seemed that fate had led me all the way back to her. She delivered in my view, beautiful work and brought Mel Sparks, Kathy Ericson and Barry Patterson to life. I was left speechless the first time she showed me the cover because I was brought back to that classroom where it had all been conceived and all the pain, disappointment and broken promises were suddenly worth it.

However getting a product in comics is one thing, getting people to buy it is another.

Tick, tock. Tick, tock.

Next: Release, Reviews and Marketing

Got any comments, suggestions or questions? Let me know! Also follow me on Twitter @glenn_matchett

Matchett’s Musings: Creating Sparks Part 2

Creating Sparks Part 2: The Basics and Getting the Green Light

I remember in English class something my teacher said something to me which I feel is very true. ‘The moment you write something and consider it brilliant is when you should stop.’ In essence what she meant was ‘don’t get your head up your own ass too much.’ Indeed you see it all the time in comics, movies, music or any other industry you can think of. You see people struggle and fight for their spot, producing amazing work but then they get their big break. They become a sure-fire hit, they get told their work is genius and after a while that stops being true. The fire, the motivation to really deliver is gone because no matter what you do, people will buy it.

The reason I’m saying that is I never really think you stop learning to write, especially in comics. Literally every work, every project I learn something new. Sometimes it’s something small, sometimes it improves the quality of my scripts a great deal. However when I started out, after creating Sparks which was closely followed by a concept called The Immortals (more on that later) I had no idea how to put together a comic script. I wasn’t even sure how to structure prose properly and so I completed a lot of stories that went pretty much like this.

Turning to the audience, Glenn gives them a big smile.

Glenn: Hello audience!

Audience: Hello Glenn!

Taking a bow, Glenn proceeds to bask in the audience applause.

Around this time I also sent a full letter of ideas forward to Marvel. I posted it all the way to New York and even put in the legal form the big 2 make you sign anytime you want to submit work/ideas to them. Looking back it was so unprofessional and so deluded of me that the entire submission may have been done out in crayon with cute little backwards letters.

There are plenty of books on how to write comics or to write period. The likes of Stan Lee, Peter David, Brian Bendis, Stephen King, etc have all crafted books on how to write.

I’ll admit right now that I have read none of those. I certainly encourage others who would likely benefit greatly from it but I never did. I just learned through buying a lot of comics.

That might sound strange but one of the wonders of the modern age of comics is how much effort put into collected editions. With some of these collections you get an assortment of DVD/Blu-Ray type special features. You get sketches, pin-up art and sometimes you get scripts. Full comic scripts from the best in the industry and how I learned to put together scripts was by reading other scripts.

I also found a number of other writers putting their scripts online, what then has followed is some trial and error. I’ve included some stuff, ditched other things and tried my best to find my own way to do it. I learned the difference between full script and ‘Marvel style’, how to structure a page and some interesting things I never would have realized.

I found that there was no real ‘wrong’ way to do it. Every writer laid out their full scripts differently and I came across quite a variety of styles. I would probably call my own mostly a blend of Neil Gaiman, Ed Brubaker, J. Michael Staczynski and a little of myself.

Being an editor with GrayHaven I have the pleasure of reading literally hundreds of scripts for anthologies and I pick up interesting things here also. Little hints and tips I use to adjust my own style. If there is anyone out there looking to write comics or wants to learn how to do it better (we can all improve) I would highly suggest reading scripts from peers or pro’s. It’s astonishing what you can pick up. Often times whenever I green light a pitch for a GrayHaven anthology I sometimes get the writer going ‘This is great…now what do I do?’ I then send them some strong scripts I have received over the years.

I would like in particular like to mention GrayHaven vets Ray Goldfield, Doug Hahner, Sean Leonard and Jason Snyder who have great instincts when it comes to scripting. There are many others who I’ve found helpful but those guys are top-notch.

Something I really liked from Neil Gaiman’s scripts was the informal manner he wrote in. In her introduction to Absolute Sandman Vol. 3, Jill Thompson wrote how much of a pleasure it was to read Gaiman’s scripts because of this. I thought I would do the same and I do attempt to do so on a regular basis.

Now obviously it’ll depend on the artist and publisher. The majority of the latter I have worked with enjoyed it but others consider it a distraction. When it comes to your publisher, if they ask you to write the comic script standing on your head and reciting ‘Old McDonald’ then you must do so but…more on this later.

So I started to write comic scripts because mainly, I learn by doing. I first wrote a Booster Gold one I published on Facebook for fun. I was loving the comic series at the time and thought ‘Well, why not?’

I also wrote a script for artist Aaron Bir for his then website Sequential Stutter. I tried to find the story and can’t which is a shame because it was the first comic I had published anywhere.

Then came the beginnings of GrayHaven comics. I’ve told the story over and over so I’ll keep it as brief as possible. Good friend and fellow Jinxworld poster Andrew Goletz asked a bunch of us if we wanted to do a comic anthology for fun. It turned into Vol. 1 ‘The Thing With Feathers’.

I could probably (and will likely) craft an entire article on where I get the idea for some of my GrayHaven shorts but my first actual printed comic work was in there. The feeling I got when I heard that first book, saw my name on the back (which I still miss) is something I will never forget. I also got to work on with artist Brent Peeples who went on to much bigger and better things with Images Last Of The Greats and other work for IDW, Zenescope, Valiant, Dynamite. I loved working with Brent and hope that one day, our paths cross again.

Vol. 1 of The Gathering was a big hit commercially and critically. It wasn’t perfect but people liked the potential and what it offered. A publisher was willing to let unknown creators throw themselves out there, for better or worse. Having learned over the years that breaking in was very difficult to those who could only write and not draw, it was great to see somewhere that offered that.

I helped out GrayHaven the only way I could in the early days which was financially and with any advice Andrew was willing to take from me. Time passed, more volumes got released and we even had some great pro’s like Gail Simone and Sterling Gates help us out.

Soon we had over 8 volumes with more on the way. New volumes were being announced, I’d sent pitches and Andrew approved them along with another opportunity. Due to my initial support he granted me a one shot. It was quite something as back then, the only solo work GrayHaven had approved was Doug Hahner and Donal Delay’s My Geek Family which had earned it through winning a contest.

I was over the moon and my mind exploded with possibilities. I went back to the idea that came first, I went back to Sparks. I pitched it to Andrew who liked it but wanted one change, he wanted it to be set in Britain and not the US because back then in the days of 2011 when this all happened it wasn’t all that common. Nowadays we have quite brilliant crime dramas set in the UK like Sherlock, Luthor and Broadchurch but at the time it was a great idea so I was all for it!

He then asked me who I wanted to draw the story and I gave him a list of 4-5 names, the first of which in an interesting twist was Kell Smith. However Andrew went above and beyond to a secure an artist (here thereafter referred to as artist A) who was immensely talented and seemed to be on the cusp of real success.

It was all set! The car was there, the key was in the ignition and it was all a go. I had only one problem. I had an enemy I wasn’t fully aware of. An enemy that had operated in the shadows for years but it seemed that now, just when things were taking off for me they were about to become my archenemies and a frequent pain in my rear.

Sherlock Holmes has Moriarty

Batman has the Joker

Even the Powerpuff Girls have Mojo Jojo

It turns out that Glenn Matchett’s enemy was named ‘impatience’ and we were about to get very well acquainted.

Next: Artist A, Artist B and Kell Smith

Got any comments, suggestions or questions? Let me know! Also follow me on Twitter @glenn_matchett

Matchett’s Musings

Article picGreetings everyone and welcome to what is the first in what I hope will be a regular series of articles. My thanks to Graphics Policy and Brett for giving me this opportunity!

For those that don’t know me and are wondering why you’re reading my ramblings, my name is Glenn Matchett and I’m a comic book writer/editor from Northern Ireland. Having grown up as a comic fan my whole life, its been my dream to write comics for a long time. I love this industry and this medium. I love talking about it, writing about it and even having friendly debates regarding it. Comics are wonderful, special things and I just want to be involved in that wonderful experience on some level.

Pile-of-comicsIn an effort to achieve this I’ve been working with publisher GrayHaven Comics the last few years. I’ve written and edited quite a few of their anthologies that are intended to give up and coming creators a chance to show what they’ve got. I’ve also managed to get some of my own solo work published which has led to a lot of positive reviews and people seeming to get the impression I know what I’m doing.

Working to achieve anything in this industry, it requires a thick skin, a lot of patience and even more luck. I’ve done pretty good for myself but I’ve also had a lot of disappointment and genuine heartbreak. When talking to Brett about what I could contribute to the site, I thought it might be interesting to pull back the curtain somewhat. What are my experiences trying to make it in this crazy industry? What have I learned? What can I pass on to people looking to do the same? It may be useful, it may not be but if nothing else it may give some folks out there a step by step guide on what NOT to do.

Along with my own experiences I want to write some articles about how I feel about certain key matters in the industry as a whole. Of course my thoughts and views are all my own but if nothing else, perhaps they’ll inspire some healthy discussion and/or debate. Please note that my personal experiences are pulled from my own memory. The situations I tell are dependent on my own perspective and should be treated as such. I am not here to name names or shame people. If there are people I have had poor experiences with I will not be naming them here. I will only speak of the experiences because as far as I hear some of those people have had little to no issues elsewhere so it is entirely possible the problem could be on my end, not theirs. I can only tell you things from my experience and what may surprise you is that it doesn’t show me in a favorable light all the time.

I will however be raining compliments on some truly awesome people and name dropping wherever possible

Welcome to my comics world…where sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

Creating Sparks Part 1: Conception

The second of the solo works I have released that I mentioned before was Sparks by myself and Kell Smith (on sale here *coughs*). It was the second work I had produced but actually it came before anything else. Before all the short stories, the other concepts and other projects there was Sparks. The fact that it wasn’t released first is a complex tale I hope to begin to share with you all now.

It’s a story that lasts over 16 years so buckle yourself up and prepare for quite a journey of how I made this comic come to life. My journey as a writer began was I was very young. I would write stupid short James Bond and Sherlock Holmes stories that lasted 5-6 pages. I did it because I loved the Bond films in my youth and I grew up reading classic style murder mysteries like Holmes, Poirot and Miss Marple among others. I was also the kid in class that would really take my creative English assignments as far as I could. In my youth I was basically the author equivalent of the kid who coloured outside the lines in art class (although I did that too).

I loved to read, I always have both prose and comics. Growing up it was a healthy diet of mystery, Stephen King, some R.L Stine books, Harry Potter and the teen ‘Point Horror’ series among others. Comics wise I grew up reading the UK strips the Beano, Dandy and Buster but it was around 9 or 10 when I discovered American mainstream comics. I’d been a fan for years of Batman: The Animated Series and Spider-Man: The Animated Series so having these characters in regular monthly installments was quite a treat for my young mind.

With the expansion of the internet I began to track down as many Spider-Man books as I could because I adored the character (I still do). I worked my way through the controversial Clone Saga and backwards. I absorbed all the Spider-Man knowledge I could but it wasn’t until I was 13 or 14 when I read the Spider-Man comic that would make me want to make comics my career.

I can’t explain what it was about J.M DeMatteis and Mike Zeck’s work on the Spider-Man story ‘Kraven’s Last Hunt’ that affected me so profoundly. It remains my favorite comic work ever and I felt incredibly inspired by it. I’ve read comics that have made me feel the same way as ‘Kraven’s Last Hunt’ but after I finished the final page of that story I decided ‘This is what I want to do.’

Of course like most people starting in comics from scratch I had no idea how to do it. It was like a kid who says they want to be a cop because their dad is in some ways I suppose. I started by creating some of my own Spider-Man stories and jotting them down. It could probably write an entire article about some of the ideas I came up with that have come to fruition in some form or another but even back then, during my period of useful ignorance I realized that I wasn’t exactly going to jump into the ‘big leagues’ right away. As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day and I had read enough online to come understand one of my earliest but most important lessons in comics which was ‘Don’t do what we do, show us what you can do.’ What that basically means is that no one really got very far by being an imitation, they all got their by producing their own work. This then possibly leading on to work for companies that liked their stuff so much, they were willing to pay that person to work on their characters.

I thought about doing something that was all my own. I was 16 and sitting in front of a Windows 95 computer in English class (showing my age) when I first came up with the concept of Melanie Sparks. The first thing I thought was that I wasn’t likely to get very far doing a super hero book. Even before I discovered the wonderful world of non superhero comics I knew that there was no way a hero book I created could stand out. I had to do something else and I went to another genre I felt very comfortable with, the crime genre. I had grown up with it and was a fan of crime shows so I started going ‘if I were to do one, what would I do differently?’

Most of you reading this likely know but crime shows can come in a variety of forms and can have a wide range of tone and quality. You get some shows that I would describe as ‘popcorn crime’ that is fun and you don’t have to think about much like CSI and then you have the more realistic crime shows like The Wire or True Detective. Back before the days of some of these shows I tried to come up with something different.

In a few hours I had decided to have a female protagonist. It wasn’t something I saw a lot of in comics at the time and I was trying to be different. I also decided that the female protagonist would be a Private Investigator working in America (likely California at the time). The concept of what the character would be called came next as I wanted a name that sounded cool and catchy, something that would stick in people’s minds. I also created a slightly inept but lovable secretary in Kathy and the main story of the first issue quite quickly.

Those that have read Sparks know the story, TV soap star Ruth Gates is brutally murdered like the character she portrays on the show she stars in. The initial scene of her sitting alone, miserable while she watches herself talking happily on the television came to me all right there in front of that old PC in English class. The entire thing came together quite swiftly including other characters and something else that I wanted to do that was rarely seen in crime fiction. I wanted to show the reader who committed the crime and show how Mel figured it out rather than keeping it a secret from both. The classic crime show ‘Columbo’ used this device to great effect and even now the TV show ‘Motive’ does the same.

It still wasn’t enough for 16 year old me though. I needed something else because while all these things weren’t the norm there was nothing new…nothing really special that made my story stand out. Then something occurred to me, an idea popped into my head that seemed completely insane. I’ll admit and this might sound strange but the idea initially frightened me. Could I pull it off? Would it work? If I could make it work then it would be unlike anything I could recall experiencing at the time. What I’m speaking of course is the shock twist at the end of Sparks 1 which I won’t spoil here. The last few pages came to me in a flurry and the final image a lot of readers have told me left their jaw on the floor came to me.

It all seemed to come to easily. Surely now that I had what I thought was a killed concept that the rest would fall in line…as if by magic?

I soon learned another important lesson in comics, nothing worth having ever comes easy…EVER.

Next: An idea and writing isn’t the same thing? Well I never!

Got any comments, suggestions or questions?  Let me know!  Also follow me on Twitter @glenn_matchett

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