“A Frightening Transformation You Can’t Understand” — Talking With the Creators of BEHEMOTH

Behemoth-Panel10Writer Chris Kipiniak and artist J.K. Woodward have both been around the comics industry for years, with marquee franchises like X-Men, Spider-Man, and Star Trek under their belts. But BEHEMOTH — a digital comic series about monstrous mutant teens fighting for their lives — is their first creator-owned project, published by Monkeybrain Comics. Wondering how these two talented dudes came together — and how it’s been going — Letter Better sat them down for an interview to discuss all things BEHEMOTH.  

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Why You Should Write Like Greg Rucka

The reader is smarter than you. The reader is always smarter than you. And the reader knows when you’ve taken a shortcut, or phoned it in, or are trying to pull a fast one. And the reader don’t like it one bit.

That’s prolific writer Greg Rucka, sounding off over on i09 about why he writes so-called “strong female characters,” and, more precisely, why he thinks he is always asked to explain why he writes strong female characters. Of course, as you’d expect, he patiently re-explains that gender isn’t anyone’s sole defining character trait.

But the beautiful part of his in-depth response, the worth-reading part, is his ensuing master class on research and imagination in pursuit of verisimilitude, thus: Continue reading

You’re Not Special Enough to Have Writer’s Block

Slovenly, hopeless Eddie Morra tries to overcome his indecision and fear over his novel with medicine. The pill will instead cause him to get a haircut.

I sometimes wonder if Writer’s Block (the capitalized version, the chronic condition) was invented by pop culture. If your main character is The Writer (the capitalized archetypical version, not the human being) then all he does all day is sit and look at things. To give him a dramatic purpose that looks interesting he needs a conflict, and what’s worse than – by God – not being able to perform the very function you’ve been put in the story to perform?

Writer’s Block as portrayed in pop culture is perfectly embodied by Bradley Cooper’s character Eddie Morra in Limitless – unkempt, dirty, drunk, inevitably bouncing a ball off the walls, staring uselessly at a waiting computer, and lying to strangers in bars about the book’s progress (the anonymous confession making the lie all the more pathetic). In other words, those who suffer Writer’s Block are simply waiting, but nothing is arriving. The writer who is not blocked is also waiting but something does arrive: inspiration, usually a bolt of artistic fire right from the gods above. For Eddie Morra, the external intervention comes in the form of a pill. For Jack Torrance in The Shining, it comes as a malevolent ghostly hijack, actualizing the Writer’s worst fear that the otherworldy lightning may be evil instead of productive. In all cases the Writer’s Block condition is relieved by something other than the Writer.

This, of course, bears no resemblance whatsoever to actual writing (the lowercase version, the human action). Writers don’t wait, they do, which makes them no more special than anyone else who does things – plumbers, baristas, pet groomers, dairy farmers. Writers make decisions; to sit down and focus, to turn on the computer, to deliberately create a specific thing. Writers who can’t write are being accosted by the same things that accost anyone who can’t make a decision, things like being distracted by the fight you had with your parents the night before, or fear that the end product will be terrible, or even regular old Lazy-Sunday-I-Don’t-Want-To-Do-Nuthin’-itis. I just took an hour away from this piece to make another pot of coffee and look at some tech blogs under the false pretense that I might buy an iPad, for no reason other than that I didn’t want to finish this paragraph. How much nicer it would be to say that it wasn’t my fault! How nice it would be to blame it on a special condition that only afflicts me.

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Characters Always Drive the Story — So Say We All!

Starbuck (Katie Sackhoff) smoking a cigar in Battlestar Galactica.

Michel (Jean-Luc Belmondo) smokes a cigarette in Breathless. (Via French New Wave)

I’ve noticed that writers, when discussing the process of writing, often (maybe even always?) describe their work as “character-driven” as opposed to, I assume, “plot-driven.” I’ve made this mistake, too, without even thinking about it. I’ve caught myself telling writers, while editing, that they’re too excited about the plot twists and not excited enough about the characters experiencing the plot when in reality they should be paying equal attention to both. But I get why we’ve developed this natural antipathy to overly plotted entertainments. We’ve become somewhat beaten up by bad writing that gains wide acceptance simply because of the “gotta find out what happens next” factor at the expense of everything else. People – avid readers especially – get tired of it.

The worst offender here could be the pop serial and its necessary gimmicks. Ask any superhero comics writer for advice and they will tell you to spend 21 pages resolving the previous issue’s cliffhanger while also building towards the new cliffhanger on Page 22, leaving readers on the hook for another month in a never-ending cycle. The first job of a serialized storyteller is to get people to come back next time, which can read to literary types as an imbalanced list of priorities. Serialized action-based narratives gave birth to single-chapter versions (or fewer-chapter versions), popularized by the likes of George Lucas, Robert Ludlum, Ian Fleming, and on and on, becoming widespread and extremely noticeable.

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Why Books are Better Than the Internet — That’s Right, I Said It

The Folger Library in Washington, 1938 -- Harris & Ewing Collection (Library of Congress)

The internet is overwhelming; that much is clear. The murky part comes in trying to define exactly how it fits (or should fit) in our lives. This is the subject of a recent wave of books that all take different positions and are all expertly reviewed by Adam Gopnik in a recent issue of the New Yorker. Gopnik divides these prevailing internet philosophies into three schools: the Better-Nevers (“the internet will destroy us all!”), the Ever-Wasers (“eh — this conversation happens with every new technology, everyone calm down”), and the Never-Betters (“the internet will save us all!”). Though all arguments are interesting (as is the article), what struck me most of all was Gopnik’s comparison of the internet to a library, which got me thinking — for the first time, much to my surprise — of how the internet compares to books, and how this might help us find a tree to hold on to in the information flood.

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Good Books and Hard Work

Working for Ralph Vicinanza, as I did for a few months right out of college, was a master class in the publishing business. While at work, Ralph didn’t have much time for anything besides work, so there were none of the long philosophical happy hours and lunches and weekly check-ins that became the norm in all my following relationships with bosses. What I got instead was clear direction and brief, efficient interactions, often with quick, almost accidentally imparted insights into his many years of accumulated wisdom, if I was paying attention. The man lived books and spent his entire career making them more widely available, so it made sense that he would casually drop more book knowledge into a conversation about the broken copy machine than some industry pros can pack into a lecture. My time at that agency was barely a blink but I consciously recall more lessons from it than I do from all my following jobs combined.

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