One thing that I remember truly enjoying when I was growing up was going to the comic book store after school with two or three of my best friends, and grabbing as much of the newest stuff on the shelves as my little 80’s Velcro wallet would allow! Hehehe! The people behind the counter knew us by name, and we would flip through everything from ‘X-Men’ to ‘Spiderman’ to ‘Batman’ to ‘The Punisher’ to ‘Superman’ and everything in between. I still have almost all of those comic books to this day, and they may not be in the best of shape (I read the HELL out of those books! Hehehe! Repeatedly!), I wouldn’t give them up for anything. Those stories stay with me. And they are what really taught me how to tell a story.
Now, there are a lot of people who don’t get that, and it’s often because they think of comic books as being a bunch of costumed weirdoes going ‘Wham’ and ‘Pow’ and fighting some demented mad scientist or something who wants to take over the world. Something that most parents expect their kids to outgrow by the age of 12. But if anyone were to really take the time and look deeper into the themes and the context of those stories and their fabled characters, they would realize just how meaningful, how emotional, and how very mature those books were. Especially to a teenage mind that was searching for identity and meaning in a world that refused to give him access to anything more serious than bubblegum bullshit.
For example, the ‘X-Men’ comics and its major theme was a product of the civil rights era. As heroes, they were despised and persecuted for being different. They were protested against and spit on, even when they were trying to save these people from destruction. And then you had the peaceful Martin Luther King approach to the problem, and the more militant Malcolm X approach (Professor X and Magneto), who both had the same goals in mind, but could never agree on how to achieve them. I think Magneto was the first comic book villain that I was really able to identify with. He wasn’t just evil for the sake of being evil. He actually had a certain nobility about him, albeit a misguided one. Then you have ‘Superman’ who has to decide whether he should help people all the time, or teach them how to help themselves. Or Iron Man, who had a suit of armor that made him invincible on the outside, but his heart was failing and he had physical and social problems that made him so very vulnerable on the inside. Or Batman who has to constantly try to figure out if he’s Bruce Wayne pretending to be Batman, or Batman pretending to be Bruce Wayne. All of these stories and characters really sparked a fire inside of me when I was younger. They were concepts that made me think, ask myself important questions about morality and justice and conflict and self-image. This was my Shakespeare. This was my ‘Catcher In The Rye’. My ‘War And Peace’. They exposed me to a much deeper view of the human condition as a whole. Sure, it did it with big flashy pictures and super powers and all… but those books entertained me in a way that no other academic reading assignment ever could. And it kept me on edge until the next issue was ready at the end of every month. That was half the FUN! By the time I was in the second grade, I was drawing comic books of my own. I taught myself to draw, just so I could make that happen! (I’m soooo rusty now, though! Ugh!)
Hehehe, I still have those comics I made, too! From the time I was 7 up until my first year of college. I sat down at my desk, night after night, and I used a ruler for the boxes, drew the little speech and thought bubbles, and I went to the art store with a bunch of change at times to get a good grade of blank paper so I didn’t have to put it on plain old notebook paper anymore. I wrote it, drew it, did the dialogue, colored it, inked it… hehehe, I did it all! Does anybody out there remember the book, “How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way”? LOL! Yep! Bought it!!! Shoveled snow for three different apartments on my block to buy it. And I made up my own heroes, my own villains, my own storylines… it was the most fun I ever had. And then I’d get new comic books at the beginning or end of every month, and I’d be greatly inspired to start all over again. I used to actually give them to other kids in class in Junior High to read if we finished a test or something early and had to spend the rest of the class period being quiet, or if we had a bus ride to a field trip. And yes, much like I do with you guys, I made them wait for each and every new chapter as I drew them! So, yeah… they got tortured with that kind of treatment too. 😛
But, while I loved reading actual novels as well as comics… it was the comic books that truly schooled me in how to build a multi-layered story and create complex characters within it. It taught me the essence of inner and outer conflict. And it taught me how to handle a large ensemble cast of characters and have each and every one of them be relevant to the main story being told. I think ‘X-Men’ and ‘The Avengers’ (Particularly the ‘West Coast Avengers’) were the ones that really gave me the skills that I use today when trying to cross character storylines and foreshadow future events. I credit Batman with teaching me how to write villains with intricate backgrounds and motivations… which aren’t always as bad as they seem. They’re just lost. I like that. IT makes a character more interesting, in my opinion.
If you read any of my stories on the site, you’ll notice that all of my series are very character driven. And they are written, for the most part, like comic books. I add to them as often as I can, but even when my readers are angry and frustrated with me and searching for immediate closure… I’m in no real RUSH to cut the series off and just be done with it all. Not if I have more to say with it. I remember when I read ‘Lord Of The Flies’ for the first time, and I was REALLY into it! I burned through that book WAY before the rest of my class! Hehehe! I couldn’t stop. But once I was done… I was just… I was done. The book was over. There was no more to be said. I devoured it all, and had nowhere else to go from there. I could always read it again, I guess… but it just wasn’t the same. Being so used to comic books, I wanted the story to go on. Tell me MORE! You know? The benefit of comics was that you could build these truly iconic characters, and add depth and detail to them as time went on. Different writers, different artists, can come in and interpret and re-interpret who they are. Layers get added, personal complexities… there’s a real sense of connection with this imaginary person. It’s like real ‘life’. Just because you talk about ONE incident in someone’s life, it doesn’t mean that person ceases to exist beyond it. The character can live on. They’re allowed to grow and evolve over time. And other people can pick up where the last creator left off, and put their own spin on it. I’ve always been fascinated by that. I mean, isn’t that just amazing to you all?
Some people want to read ‘Cinderella’, and just reach a point where the story ends and they just live ‘happily ever after’. To me, it was always like…”Oh? That’s it? They just… they murder the main villain, no consequences, and then they run off to live happy forever without any further problems at all for the rest of their natural lives? Um… ok. That was a quick ending, but I guess I’ll have to buy that.”
Comic books were different. There was ALWAYS something new to discover. Actions had consequences. People had demons that suddenly showed up from their past. Characters changed. They went ‘bad’ for a while, then found redemption. Spiderman found love, and got married. Alter egos got exposed. The Hulk changed colors and was actually strong and intelligent for a while. There was always more to SAY! And I love, and want OTHER people to love, my characters in the same fashion. Their story goes on. Your audience should WANT it to go on. Superman has been around for, what…like, almost 75 YEARS now? Nobody reads Superman issue #350 and says, “You know what? I really like this story and the main character… but right now, Metropolis is safe, Lois Lane is safe, the bad guy is in jail… this would be the perfect place to just end it all for good. Let’s just stop it right now. NO more Superman comic books for anybody. Ever. Like… ever. I need closure, and I just want this whole series to be done with once and for all, because I’m no longer interested. This story can’t possibly surprise me any further. Let this be the last chapter.” NO!!! Superman is an icon. A legend. A part of our current folklore. His story goes on and on and on and on! One storyline in his life ends, and another one begins. That’s how mythology works. Indiana Jones, Anakin Skywalker, James Bond, Harry Potter, Vampire Lestat, Zorro, Dick Tracy, Beowulf, Sherlock Holmes, The Simpsons… these are all stories and characters that could literally go on FOREVER, being spread from generation to generation by different authors and storytellers, just like the fables of old. And it’s all because of the relatable and iconic characters involved, and the amazing mythology surrounding them. One adventure after another. That has always been the biggest appeal for me as a writer. Trying to capture that timeless nature of a fictional character, and have them exist so far outside of the limits of just one quick story… that their energy and their impact continues on, outliving the original story and the author himself.
Any writer that can accomplish THAT? That’s immortality in a bag. That’s a true achievement… no matter WHAT the art.
Bottom line, comic books taught me how to be ‘Comicality’. It’s why I can juggle 15 “Billy Chase” character storylines at once. Why I can come up with somewhat interesting back stories for every last member of the lot in “Gone From Daylight”. Why I can remember what’s going on in each story, even after being away for a few months at a time, and why I can throw the occasional ‘curve ball’ in a series when (hopefully) no one is expecting it. I just want these characters to stay with you all long after the story is over. That they will not only bring you joy, but that you’ll spread the word and bring joy to others as well. It’s set in modern times, but I want to create a ‘folklore’ that lasts forever. Who says that our current stories and heroes can’t last, just because they’re recent? I want to create Paul Bunyan. John Henry. Perseus. Robin Hood. Something that will ‘stick’… and still be around long after I’m pushing up daises. Hehehe!
Maybe, one day… another generation of teenagers will find this website… and they’ll be just as excited as I was at their age… checking back every few weeks for that brand new update that will give me the thrill I’ve been craving. That new angle. That new evolutionary jump in the characters that they’ve come to love and trust to always make them smile. Nothing would make me happier than knowing that the characters reflected some part of themselves.
I’m trying to build ‘Superman’ with every word that I write in this place.
Wish me luck! 🙂