matt_doyle: (writing)
The X-Men aren't my favorite superheroes (that'd be Red Robin & Batgirl), and they're not my favorite Marvel comics title (that'd be Runaways), but I am a fan, despite the numerous ways they violate all five tenets of my Comics Theses, and they are easily the most recognizable and iconic team of superheroes who also have depth and complexity to their characters.  (The Justice League is more iconic and recognizable, thanks to the Superman-Batman-Wonder Woman trinity, and the characters in the JL, when appearing in their own titles, have certainly been written with depth and complexity, but tend to default to archetypes in JLA comics... except for the ensemble cast of less iconic and recognizable characters, who are handled well.  Baffling.  ANYWAY NOT THE POINT.)

In any case, as I am prone to do, I spent several hours last week imagining what I would do if I was put at the helm of an X-Men title right this moment.  (Remind me at some point to also share my thoughts on a Bat-family title, because Ra's al-Ghul and Poison Ivy teaming up would be badass.)  Imagining writing an X-Men title is a pretty basic thought exercise because long before you get to petty concerns like plot and theme, you have to decide what your team line-up is.  Wikipedia lists 63 different characters on the team roster, while omitting all characters that are presently dead.  The strength and variety of the ensemble cast -- the differences in their powers, their philosophies, the way they interact and argue, their multicultural background -- this is one of the things that makes the X-Men great, so it's vital to get your line-up fine-tuned.  And you can't go over about ten or twelve characters, counting the primary supporting cast, without losing all control of the story (feel free to argue with me on this point), so any list you assemble will inevitably need pruning.  Below the LJ-cut, I'm going to talk about who I want on my team and why, so two notes:  a)  there will be lots of spoilers, and lots of things I assume you know and don't explain.  Sorry.  b)  I'd really like it if, before reading this, you would think of a list of 5-10 X-Men who you think would make an ideal team line-up.Ideal X-Men would also be a good name for the comic itself... )

I don't have time to get into plot arc details right now, but I'd be interested in hearing what people think of the premise and the line-up.  Next week:  Namor, demons, immortal psychics, underwater leviathans, and a visit to Sealand!

matt_doyle: (Default)
Well. If I'm following my own rules, the first thing I need for a superhero comic imprint is a concept, a way in which everyone gets their powers. It needs to fit neatly into one set of rules, while still giving some variety, a way for people to have unexpected powers or rises to power, that sort of thing.

In this world, all superhuman ability comes from interaction with spirits, all of whom dwell in a single otherworld. These spirits started interfering with human affairs just before WWI, and now most major human governments are dominated by either spirit-gifted people or spirits themselves. I like the spirit thing because you have a wide spectrum of powers based on what gifts a spirit might give you, the type and agenda of the spirit and their relationship to the person in question( e.g. people with part-spirit ancestry, or can summon spirits, or have gifts from spirit patrons, etc.), but still a unified source and theme. Plus I can play around with mythology and fairy tales so there's a lot to draw on.

I have two ideas for titles within this world: one hero-team, Avengers or Justice League style, and one lone vigilante, Spider-Man or Batman style.

The hero-team comic would probably be the flagship comic of the imprint, and naturally explore the world, its origins, and its ramifications.

The team in question is called The White Company, an international police force of sorts, with its origin in the history of the still alive-and-kicking British Empire. The first major spiritual incursion came in England, in 1910- after a year of unrest, with the Spiritualist movement in full swing, Halley's Comet growing larger in the night sky, and a disturbing rise in supernatural phenomena, King Edward the VIIth convened a summit of alleged experts in the otherworldly, to see if some cause for this phenomenon could be discerned.

The assembled psychics, spiritualists, and enthusiasts including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, watched in awe and horror as a Manticore materialized in the hall and devoured the King. The creature declared itself as the new sponsor of the British royalty, and that those present who would bear witness to it, and accept its enlightened rule, would be the new nobility.

So it was that Arthur Conan Doyle was crowned king and head of the House of Doyle- and that the power behind the throne was a very visible and very hungry white lion with a bladed mane. As war broke out, across the Empire and across the world, over the new and deadly masters that appeared in nearly every nation, the King created two groups of spirit-gifted individuals to help keep the world stable. The first was the Order of the Manticore, sworn to carry out the will of the King and his Sponsor, to be the champions of the Empire's new era.

The second was the White Company, created much more quietly and with less fanfare. Their mission was less patriotic- to look after the wellbeing of humanity, and make certain they thrived under their new masters, rather than suffered. King Arthur did not forget how he had come to power.

The White Company would explore the group and its mission in the modern day- doing everything from hunting rogue spirits to discrediting vocal anti-spiritists who threaten the status quo, to traveling into the otherworld itself in search of answers. Cold War counter-terrorist politics with countless factions and agendas- within the group as well as without- would be perhaps the defining characteristic, repeatedly asking the question of whether fractious, violent humanity is better off with its new and powerful overseers, from the spirits to the Company itself.

The vigilante comic would be called Pilgrim.

In any case, the only country in the world that entirely bans spirits and those with spirit talents is Deseret, the independent nation that used to be the state of Utah. Most of the state is off limits to everyone except for Mormons and Jews, but those who wish to escape the influence of spirits are allowed into one huge, towering city called Mount Refuge. Pilgrim is about a Erik Buna, a college football player from the Sovereign Republic of Texas who happens to have the ability to see spirits, even when they are nonphysical. After being framed by a group of body-jumping spirits for the murder of a Texas Ranger, Erik runs away to Mount Refuge, concealing his talent from the border guard and entering the city. He's appalled to find that Mount Refuge actually has a denser spirit population than anywhere else he's ever seen- with spirit talents banned, no-one can detect or regulate their activity as long as they stay nonphysical. So, when the same cabal of bodyjumpers starts operating locally, he's pretty literally the only one who can stop them.

Part of the whole idea of this comic is alienation and isolation- the multiple ways that Erik fails to fit in with Mount Refuge society, the way his individuality and identity is marginalized by having to hide his gift and by being possessed by these spirits- in this great multicultural melting pot (which is very carefully maintained and isolated at the border of a very paranoid and centric state), there are a lot of fun ways to play with the idea of boundaries and liminality- which are always classic fairy tale themes as well.


Since making the above post last January in my old journal, I got together a group of like-minded people to start working on White Company - unfortunately, we suffered from the perennial problem of comics work: we had three writers committed to working on the project, and one artist who was constantly overbooked from other projects, so we did a lot of planning and made no progress.

Also since then, I've had time to think a lot about my original theses, and conclude that I was being far too narrow in scope and specific with them - I think that's tomorrow's post.
matt_doyle: (Default)
This is another old-journal repost, made after the Spider-Man: Brand New Day ridiculousness, and my utter weariness with DC & Marvel's year-in year-out spam of GIANT GROUNDBREAKING CROSSOVER EVENTS.  If you're not interested in comic books as a storytelling medium, this post will bore you.  Otherwise ... I'm hoping for a bit of rambunctious discussion.  I have a lot to say on this subject, and this just scratches the surface, so expect more later this week.  Okay.  Too much introduction already.  On with the post!!

I really really really want to found my own imprint of comics. This is not a new thought for me, admittedly- I want to work as a comic book writer, ideally, and after all the shit with DC's infinite crisis, and Marvel's Phoenix titles, I decided that while I'd still jump at a chance to work on any existing comic, under any conditions, there are some things I really want out of comics, and only a new imprint could do them.

Here's my Comics Theses 95, so to speak:

1) One book per team.
No more Uncanny, Astonishing, Extreme X-Men; no more Amazing spectacular Friendly Neighboorhood Spider-Man. One concept, one title. Period. If you have more stories to tell than a one-book-a month rate can handle, publish two a month. Stop this shit where readers have to buy six monthly titles to understand the context of a single scene.

2) A clear timeline. One book per team/character/whatever makes this a lot easier. Start every book off with the date and time of the first scene. A set timeline makes all your continuity juggling easier, because you know, at any given time, where every character is. It doesn't have to advance at a steady rate from book to book- one comic could cover ten minutes and the next a whole month. But there's no going back. Which leads to:

3) No retcons, no regrets. Dynamic characters, changing worlds, storylines that have permanent impact. This is the most important, most central tenet to this list. Make risky choices, change the lives of the characters forever. It raises the stakes of every story, and makes everything more exciting, I think, when there's something real to fear. No magic wand will ever make all the problems vanish. Life will be messy and complicated. Isn't that great? And so, of course:

4) There are established rules for character death. This rule started off as dead means Dead, but honestly I think that robs a little bit of storyteling magic from what's available. What I want is to know that when I see a beheaded corpse, that individual is forever a corpse, unless previously established methods of resurrection are relevant. So maybe there's a place for undead, and definitely when your hero dies in a fiery explosion and nobody sees the remains, you can still wonder. But even a casual reader should understand when somebody's mostly dead instead of all dead, and that the only thing you can do with a guy who's all dead is go through his pockets and look for spare change. And, if it needs to be said, "all dead" should be the more common kind of dead. With clear rules like this in place though, there's only one more (I think logical) step:

5) One source for superpowers. If your superpowers come from cosmic rays, so do everybody else's. If they're a genetic mutation- well hey, there are many ways to mutate genes, from radiation to difference at birth, but nobody's going to pop up who's a god from another dimension, or who got his super-strength from a magic jewel, or what have you. One continuity, logical in its consequences. There's still room for variation, but the rules of the world need to exist, and to mean something. Some things (like erasing twenty years of continuity) should not be possible at all.

Does all of this make sense? I can be a bit inarticulate some times, and since my objective here is to inject some sane world-building into comics, it would be a shame if that were the case here. If it makes sense, then, tell me: does it sound as good to you as it does to me?
matt_doyle: (Default)
These are a few of my favorite things:

-The Eberron Campaign Setting for D & D. Influenced both by film noir and the sensibilities and aesthetics of steampunk, the world of Eberron gives a substantially different (and I think, richer and more nuanced) feel to the world it depicts than most campaign settings. There's a lot more room for moral ambiguity, post-colonial analysis, and moving beyond the familiar tropes of D & D - but enough high adventure, swashbuckling, tomb-raiding grave-robbing and other archaeologically incorrect dungeon-raiding practices (though they're acknowledged as such) to feel like the same game.

-Planetary by Warren Ellis - a vicious look at a world full of superhumans, approaching the genre from a different angle, telling a story that changes your basic assumptions about the moral and practical ramifications of superhero comics while still being a vehicle for one Hell of a story. Also vicious and cynical, which I'm usually a fan of ... but I also read Spider-Man Loves Mary-Jane religiously.

I am all about alternative takes on classical media. Which reminds me of a rant, actually, (two rants,. more actually) about the reasons why modern, mainstream superhero comics are getting boring and weighed down by the baggage of their own storytelling tropes ... but, um, maybe I should talk about that some other time?

- TV Tropes, which discusses and deconstructs pretty much every convention, theme, motif, metaphor, trope, and genre in any and every media, including real life. WARNING: Even more addictive than Wikipedia, says the guy who once read nothing but Wikipedia and Questionable Content from 10 PM until noon.

We won't talk about how long I've spent on TV Tropes. We really won't.

-Mackerel sushi.
matt_doyle: (Default)
"I don't want to write the Great American Novel," was my refrain throughout college when I introduced myself as a writer. "Besides, Neil Gaiman already did that. American Gods. Read it. Me, I want to reinvent the dime pulp novel. Cheap, exciting, and all about story. I want the reputation for lovable hackwork that Stephen King has."

Naturally, like any claim any writer makes about themselves or their ambitions, that should be treated with suspicion. The truth is, of course, that I plan to be the most prolific and celebrated author in the history of writing, with parades and holidays and such in my honor, universally acclaimed a creative genius the likes of which has never been seen. I wish to simultaneously be the next-generation brainchild of Alan Moore, Gene Wolfe, Joss Whedon, and Neil Gaiman.

I have also, you know, repeatedly told people that by the ten-year reunion of my high school class, I will be living in a refrigerator box tucked in a dead-end alley somewhere, and work my art in haiku form on the wall of the McDonald's men's room.

Writers lie to you. That's what we want to do for a living, after all.

Concretely, though, there are three different types of writing that draw my interest above anything else, that I have focused on so far and intend to continue my efforts in.

First, role-playing games. I learned to play Dungeons and Dragons back in the fifth grade, using a mix of first and second-edition books and five d6. The fact that the rules were utterly incoherent when we attempted to apply them that way was lost on me - honestly, my friends and I had been focused on make-believe games of fantasy worlds, swashbuckling adventure, and hot demon women in chainmail bikinis already; some arbitrary rules and things to roll on the carpet didn't change too much.

But it stuck with me. You can say what you may about high art versus hackwork, but I will tell you that the most rewarding damn storytelling I've ever done has always been sitting at the head of a table of half a dozen creative and impertinent people, trying to keep them spellbound and razzle-dazzled so that they don't out-think my nice neat plot and go off in a direction I haven't prepared for. And in the best games, of course, they always do. I DM two games a week right now, something that's been pretty constant since about my sophomore year of college. I have presided over the rise and fall of armies, empires, and gods, and it's taught me more about solid world-building and fool-proofing my plot holes than any class I ever took. If I could find a place to work professionally writing games, I'd do it in a hot second.

Of course, that wouldn't keep me from writing other things, too. Like comic books. I was never interested in comic books as a kid, and even in high school, until a very pretty and devastatingly intelligent girl who sat next to me in study hall showed me a drawing one day, and started explaining the awesome epic story it was part of. I was smitten, by the story as much as the girl (who is still my best friend), and I still am. I do, however, have Distinct and Literary Opinions about comics, which come not from too much exposure to the works of Alan Moore and Scott McCloud, but from being a long-time Spider-Man fan having to put up with Joe Quesada.

And if what I just said there made sense to you? Tell me, so we can talk about it!

I have also, as you may have heard me mention (six dozen times, if I had you friended on my old journal), just completed my first novel. I have gradually come to conclude that when it coems to books, I am going to be an author of dark fantasy. This was not a conscious decision on my part; I just looked down at the big list of Novels I Needed To Write one day, and realized that they were all lurking somewhere in between YA Fantasy and Gothic Horror.

Except for the Western. But that's different.


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January 2014



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