Saturday, June 28, 2008

Congrats to Eric Stephenson!

News broke today that Erik Larsen is stepping down as Publisher of Image Comics, with Eric Stephenson set to replace him. Eric currently works as Image's Executive Director, and in that role he worked closely with Erik, so he's been pretty well groomed for the job.

When I started at Image (almost 8 years ago!), Jim Valentino was Publisher and Anthony Bozzi was Marketing Director. They made me feel like family, and I grew quite attached to both of them -- to such an extent that when Bozzi left and was replaced by Eric, I was really apprehensive. "Eric Stephenson? The guy who worked on all those old Liefeld comics? What makes him qualified for this job?" I thought.

Well, all my doubts were for nothing. I was living in Southern California at the time, and Eric and I got together one Saturday afternoon and hit it off immediately. For the rest of my time living there, Eric and I (along with Image's production manager, Allen Hui) would meet on Monday nights at a local coffee house to just hang out and talk comics (among other things).

Eric's always been immensely supportive of my work at Image, and our weekly get-togethers is one of the things I miss most about California. Now I have to settle for seeing him once a year when he comes up to Seattle for the Emerald City Comicon.

Anyway, to anyone who's reading this and feel apprehensive about the shake-up at Image, let me be the first to tell you that you've got nothing to worry about. Eric's more than up to the task. Good things are on the horizon for Image Comics.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Thank You Kindly

Before he was an Oscar-winning screenwriter of such movies as CRASH and MILLION DOLLAR BABY, Paul Haggis created and frequently wrote one of the best shows of the late 90s, DUE SOUTH. Created in Canada and broadcast on CBS in the States, DUE SOUTH was about Constable Benton Fraser, of the RCMP, who comes to Chicago on the trail of his father's killers. When one of the killers turns out to be a rogue Mountie, Fraser is basically banished to Chicago for turning on one of his own. So he works out of the Canadian consulate in downtown Chicago, where he solves crimes with his new best friend, a wisecracking Chicago detective. The show has all the hallmarks of a classic cop/buddy show, with lots of humor and action.

But DUE SOUTH was different.

For one thing, the humor oscillated between out-and-out farce and really subtle commentary on how Canadians see Americans, and vice versa. Paul Gross played Fraser as someone just this side of Dudley Doo Right. He was honest, forthright, determined, and incredibly (usually laughably) polite. He had a pet wolf named Diefenbaker, who was deaf. Fraser explains that his eardrums burst when he dove into freezing waters to pull Fraser out. To this, Fraser's pal, Det. Ray Vecchio (played by David Marciano) says, "I didn't know wolves saved people." Fraser earnestly replies, "He will ... if he sees you."

Anyway, for as much humor as there was in the show, there was also a surprising about of gravitas and pathos. Nowhere is there more evident than in the 2-hour episode "Victoria's Secret," which I just watched last night. I've seen the episode at least a dozen times, but last night marked the first time I'd watched it in about a year, and I'd forgotten just how powerful it is.

The story involves Fraser's reunion with "the one person [he] can't face" -- a woman named Victoria (played by Melina Kanakaredes, just before she hit it big with the series PROVIDENCE), who, Fraser explains in a long, single-take monologue, drove the getaway car in a bank robbery in Alaska. The bank robbers then stole a plane and when it went down in the Canadian Yukon, Fraser got involved in the hunt. When he caught up with Victoria, she'd become separated from her partners, and she and Fraser were caught in a blizzard. They spent 48 hours together in a makeshift shelter and it was the best 48 hours of Fraser's life. She begged him to let her go, but he couldn't. He turned her in, and she went to jail, and he's regretted it ever since.

When they're reunited in Chicago, Fraser is quick to overlook her larcenous shortcomings and they begin an affair. But then it appears that one of the other Alaskan bank robbers is on her trail. It seems that Victoria ended up with all the loot, and he wants his cut. I don't want to spoil the episode, but it's not even really the plot that matters. It's how it's told.

The episode was directed by Haggis and was co-written by Haggis and David Shore (who's currently the creator and head writer of HOUSE, MD). It featured a number of songs (to great, haunting effect) by Sarah McLachlan, which really added to the "weight" of the episode. It's one of those stories that benefits from multiple viewings, as you notice little touches that appeared to have one meaning the first time but then, with hindsight, take on a completely different meaning. For instance, when Fraser and Victoria are making love, he takes her fingers and puts them in his mouth (and viewers will remember he put her fingers in his mouth during the blizzard to try to keep them warm after she had passed out). It's an understated gesture. I didn't even catch it the first few times I watched it. A lesser show would've hit you over the head with it, but here, it almost happens out of frame.

Paul Gross gives an amazing performance, alternating between deadpan one-liners and scenes where he's literally crying with despair over what's happened. And Melina Kanakaredes is fantastic. She's utterly believeable as someone who both loves and hates Fraser. The ultimate femme fatale.

These two hours are an excellent example of how to demonstrate character through action. It was established in previous episodes (and even earlier in this episode) that Fraser is unfailingly polite and would never, ever ignore someone in need. Well, when he first catches sight of Victoria on a busy Chicago street, he literally shoves a guy out of his way, which is jarring, to say the least. But it's taken to the extreme when, later in the episode, an elderly woman approaches Fraser in tears and says, "A man just stole my purse. Can you help me?" Fraser looks at her very calmly and says, "No ma'am, I'm afraid I can't." And just drives off, leaving her standing there on an empty street in the middle of the night. It's a great way to show (not tell!) viewers that this Victoria chick is seriously messing with Fraser's head.

The show ends with a devastating climax that would've worked as a series finale, actually. In some ways, I almost wish it had. This was the next-to-last episode of the first season, and while the show went on for three more seasons, it never attained the same level of quality it had in that first season. I attribute this largely to the fact that Paul Haggis -- despite creating the show -- was not asked back after the first season.

The entire series is available on DVD at a shockingly low price. It's currently listed on Amazon for $39.99. That's for all 68 episodes! While quality dipped after the first season, it's still a good series with some truly stand-out episodes.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Double Whammy

I just looked at the confirmed shipping list for books arriving on July 2nd, and lo and behold, NOBLE CAUSES #35 and DYNAMO 5 #14 are both coming out. I know it sounds dumb for the writer of both books to be surprised that they're coming out, but sadly, once we turn our books in to the printer, it's anyone's guess as to exactly when they'll be in stores.

This is an especially big week for Yildiray Cinar, as he drew both NOBLE CAUSES #35, as well as half of DYNAMO 5 #14 (in an effort to help us get that book back on schedule).

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Two years later...

I owe Fran Bueno a lot. Noble Causes first existed as a series of mini-series. By the time we got to the third mini, sales were pretty bad and we ended up printing that mini in b&w in an effort to save money. This resulted, of course, in sales going from bad to worse, as most readers weren't crazy about the change. I was all set to close up shop when Image's own Eric Stephenson made an impassioned plea to continue the book as a regular, monthly, color series. He even had an artist all picked out -- a guy named Fran Bueno, who'd sent some samples to Image. I contacted Fran, he agreed to come on-board, and we relaunched Noble Causes as a regular series with a new number one. Fran stayed with the series for 18 straight issues (plus a lead-in story in one of our Extended Family one-shots), and his stuff was just fantastic. When he decided to leave, it was only because he had become exhausted by the monthly grind. He wanted to take some time off, maybe work on some projects in Spain, and then collaborate with me on something else -- preferrably something finite, that he could take his time with. I asked Fran if there was anything in particular he wanted to draw, and he responded by saying he'd like to something with horror, or maybe crime, with some romance. Those three separate elements whirled around in my head for a few minutes before congealing as an idea about a cop whose girlfriend becomes a vampire. Together, they'd have all kinds of adventures. I even had a title: UNDYING LOVE.

Fran loved the idea, and we decided to do it a mini-series and I wrote the first issue. That was two years ago, almost to the day. Fran's been working on that first issue a little at a time, and it's almost done. The results are astounding. He's drawing and coloring the story himself, and it's quite a leap forward from his Noble Causes work.

The reason I know it's been almost exactly two years is because today I opened up the script for the first issue, and noticed it's dated 06/27/06. So I'll be writing the second issue a full two years later. Oddly enough, I don't seem to have any notes for this mini-series. I usually have some sort of rough outline mapped out, but in this case, I don't. So I'm continuing a story I wrote two years ago, with nothing to go on. It's almost like continuing a story written by someone else. At least, I'd like to think I'm a different (as in, better) writer now than I was two years ago. We'll see. It'll be awhile before we get around to soliciting UNDYING LOVE, because we want to have it completely done beforehand. But in the meantime, feast your eyes on the first few pages...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Urban Myths preview

Urban Myths, my entry in Top Cow's Pilot Season 2008, is off to the printer. Here are the first three pages, drawn & colored by Jorge Molina and lettered by Troy Peteri.

Friday, June 13, 2008

On sale 06/18

It's the second Dynamo 5 trade paperback, and the second issue of Gemini! I'm really excited about both of these books. The first Dynamo 5 trade sold really well, and, like a lot of books these days, we've got a lot of people bypassing the monthlies and just reading the trades.

I'm just about to start the script for Dynamo 5 #16, and I was looking through some files related to the book and saw that Mahmud and I started working on this series over two years ago! It was May 2006 when we decided to team up on this thing. And don't even get me started on how long I've been doing Noble Causes. I started that book in 2001. I pretty much can't remember what my life was like before I had the Noble family swimming around in my head.

Gemini is proving to be loads of fun, too. Jon Sommariva is just drawing the hell out of this thing, and colorist Fco Plascencia is becoming a force to be reckoned with. I just finished the script for issue #4, and Jon is in the middle of drawing issue #3. Each issue's taking a little longer to finish than we'd hoped, but when you see how much detail Jon puts into every page, I think you'll forgive the delay.

Well, I should get back to work now. I've gotta get the script for Dynamo 5 #16 written, so I can jump immediately into the script for Noble Causes #37!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

It's almost here!

Today Image sent me the proofs for the NOBLE CAUSES ARCHIVES #2, which is another 600 pages of NC goodness. These two volumes combined collect everything up until issue #32, which is when the book jumps ahead five years. I couldn't be happier with how these books have turned out, and I'm hearing from new readers who are discovering the series, which is just icing on the cake.

UPDATE: For reasons I can't get into at this moment, this second Archives edition is being delayed until this winter, at the earliest. Rest assured it is still coming. I'll give more details when I can ...