Monday, November 30, 2009

Republic of Doyle

By now you're probably aware of my love of private eyes, Canada, and stories with strong family connections. So imagine my delight when I came across this trailer for REPUBLIC OF DOYLE, a new show on CBC this winter:

Monday, November 23, 2009

Odds & Ends

Well, I haven't exactly posted every day this month, but I've been posting a lot more frequently than in the past, right? Part of the problem is that sometimes I'll have an idea for a blog post, and then realize I have enough to say about the subject that it should be one of my Under the Influence columns, which will continue when DYNAMO 5 resumes publication.

And speaking of DYNAMO 5, Julio just turned in his pencils for the last two pages, so all he needs to do is ink them and then he's on to the next issue.

Meanwhile, I'm starting to work out how this story arc will end, and how that will lead into the next arc. And I'm considering playing with our publication schedule a bit. The plan now is for this next arc to be a 5-issue mini-series, then we'll take another hiatus while we ready the next mini-series. But now I'm thinking we might do a special one-shot in between the mini-series. I got the idea from DOCTOR WHO, and how that show's schedule would consist of a short season, followed by a holiday special, then another season, then a holiday special, etc. If I applied that to DYNAMO 5, and worked far enough ahead on the scripts, I could get a different artist working on a one-shot while Julio is working on the current arc. Just something I'm thinking about.

 Joe Eisma is currently drawing NOTORIOUS, which is a new character we've co-created, who will be appearing in an exclusive back-up series when DYNAMO 5 returns.

I blogged awhile back about a 6-page Batman story I wrote for DC's upcoming HOLIDAY SPECIAL. And I just recently got assigned a Christmas story for Marvel, as well. I can't go into any details yet, but there should be an announcement in the next week or two and I'll be sure to post more about it here. I wrote another Marvel story recently as well. It's something that I had a lot of fun with, with some characters I've always enjoyed. And hopefully that will be announced soon, too.

In between comic book scripts, I'm spending my time working on screenplays. I recently wrote a TV pilot, and now I'm in the middle of a movie spec. These haven't sold yet, of course. But I want to branch out into different mediums, and I've got some great representation in the form of Circle of Confusion, so I figure I should stop making excuses and start making things happen. Considering how much TV and movie influence my writing, it feels right to actually apply that stuff to ... well, TV and movies. I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

One Week

I've written before about my borderline obsession with all things Canadian, and it's through that obsession that I came across an excellent indie movie called ONE WEEK. It stars Joshua Jackson (from FRINGE) as a man who sets off on a motorcycle journey across Canada after being diagnosed with cancer. There's no car chases or shoot-outs or crimes to solve. This is a simple character study, filled with great performances, quirky (yet not annoying) characters, a fantastic soundtrack, and gorgeous scenery.
While it's a Canadian movie, you can rent it on Netflix, buy it on Amazon, or download it from iTunes. Here's the film's official website.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

DYNAMO 5: Update

We're a mere two pages away from finishing the next issue of DYNAMO 5. Julio Brilha is doing some great work, and Ron Riley's colors make it look even better. I threw a lot at Julio for his first issue, and complicated that by significantly revising the script while he was drawing it. I hated doing that to him, especially on his first issue, but there were certain things that needed to be changed in order to make the issue work. So the sequence he started drawing as pages 1, 2, and 3 got shifted around are now pages 13, 14, and 15. I don't want to show off too much of Julio's stuff so early, because it's still going to be awhile before we start releasing the book again, but here's a little taste.
Also, for those of you attending this year's Emerald City Comicon in Seattle, I'm thinking of putting together some sort of exclusive DYNAMO 5 ASHCAN. I'll keep you posted...

Monday, November 16, 2009

RIP: Edward Woodward

In my earlier post about location filming, I should've mentioned THE EQUALIZER, a great 80s show about ex-spy Robert McCall, which was filmed entirely in Manhattan.

I bring this up because The Hollywood Reporter that Edward Woodward, the actor who played McCall, has passed away.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bang For Your Buck

And now, a rant.

DYNAMO 5 #25 came out a couple weeks ago. It's our 25th issue, and the finale to a storyline that's been playing out for 6 months or more. It also sets up the next story arc, and changes the characters in a pretty substantial way. As a way to do something extra for the fans, and to go into more detail addressing said changes, we beefed up the issue to include five 5-page stories, each spotlighting a different member of the cast. This more than doubles the size of the book, with all-new, original content. It's not filler. It's not reprints. All the stories were written by me, and are in continuity. Because of the extra page count, we raised the price for this issue to $4.99, which is $1.49 more than our standard $3.50 cover price. That's more than 100% more content for only 42% more dollars.

And yet, there seems to be a disconnect whenever the book was discussed online, on message boards, on blogs, or on podcasts. I'd read/hear people talk about the higher cover price, and then they're shrug it off, like, "Well, it's the 25th issue," or something. The folks making these statements were always very complimentary about the book. Don't get me wrong -- they're fans. And they were talking it up, trying to get other people interested in the book. And I just think that would be much easier if they had said, "This issue is twice as big as a normal issue, and it only costs you $1.49 more."

I love our fans, and I love that people are talking up the book online. And we'll be counting on them to help spread the word when we return from hiatus. I just wish there wasn't that odd disconnect. But it's no big deal. Like I said ... a rant.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

RIP: Dollhouse

So news broke this afternoon that Fox has cancelled DOLLHOUSE, which surprised pretty much no one. I know people are quick to blame Fox (or any network) when this happens, but I think Fox gave the show a fair shake. Frankly, I'm surprised  it got picked up for a second season. I say "surprised" not because the show was bad (it wasn't), but because it didn't do that great in the ratings in its first season. But Fox did the right thing, and gave it another shot. But at the end of the day, not enough people watched. The sad truth is that smart, complex, original shows are pretty much always going to only appeal to a small segment of the national audience. Most people want their TV entertainment to be easy to understand, fun ... stuff that doesn't challenge them.
It's hard to talk about this without sounding like I think the people who don't like DOLLHOUSE (or other complex, cult shows like THE WIRE or BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, etc.) are dumb. They're not, and I don't think that. They just want different things from their entertainment than I do. To me, something that's challenging and even unsettling is entertaining. To a lot of people, it feels like a homework assignment. They don't want to have to think too hard when watching TV. They just want to sit back and be entertained. And there's nothing wrong with that. We (I say "we" because chances are if you're reading this blog, you like at least some of the same stuff I do) just have to accept that we're always going to be in the minority, and we can't expect TV networks to keep shows on the air just because they're good. The networks exist to make money, after all.
In the meantime, I'll try to console myself with the fact that DOLLHOUSE will finish out its season and we'll get a deliberate ending. And I'll occupy myself by catching up on SONS OF ANARCHY, another complex, challenging show that I was slow to discover. But boy am I glad I did!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Location, Location, Location

I'm still thinking about how much I liked STUMPTOWN, and one of the reasons is the very distinct Portland setting. I'm a sucker for a story with a strong sense of place, whether we're talking about prose, comics, or TV/film.
The first mystery novels I ever really got into were Robert B. Parker's SPENSER books, which were set in Boston. I actually got into the books after being exposed to the TV show, SPENSER: FOR HIRE. This was in the late 80s, at a time when pretty much everything on network TV was filmed in sunny California. But SPENSER: FOR HIRE was different. It was filmed entirely on location in Boston, and it looked like nothing else on TV. The producers went out of their way to highlight the city, with lots of aerial shots, and scenes set in distinct locations. I grew up in Pennsylvania, where we saw a decent amount of snow each winter. So watching SPENSER: FOR HIRE, with its cold, snowy landscapes, really caught my eye. MIAMI VICE was another early pioneer of filming somewhere other than Hollywood, but while it was different, it was still trading one sunny locale for another.
In the late 1980s, Stephen J. Cannell was looking for a way to cut costs on his shows, so he started filming them in Vancouver, BC. His reasoning was that they saved money thanks to tax breaks and the strong American dollar, and Vancouver was just a 2-hour plane ride from Los Angeles, and was in the same time zone. A lot of Cannell's Vancouver-based shows simply took place in unnamed cities (like 21 JUMP STREET) or fake cities (like THE COMMISH). WISEGUY was also filmed in Vancouver, but its setting changed with each arc.
Then there was MacGYVER. It wasn't a Cannell show, but after two years in LA, it made the jump to Vancouver -- while the stories still took place in Los Angeles. In the summer, it's not that hard to make Vancouver pass for LA, at least to the casual observer. In the winter, it's a different story. Vancouver gets a ton more rain than LA, and sometimes, even snow. I remember one episode very clearly where "Los Angeles" was covered in a foot of snow. Funnily enough, they didn't even throw in a line of dialogue about the "freak snowstorm" or anything. It was never even acknowledged.
I've watched so many shows that were filmed in Vancouver that I can know pick out a Vancouver production simply by the actors involved. Vancouver productions are legally bound to include a certain percentage of local actors, so the same people keep showing up over and over.
A few years ago, I discovered a Canadian crime drama called DA VINCI'S INQUEST, which has since become one of my favorite shows of all time. And not only is it filmed in Vancouver, it's actually set in Vancouver. The city is basically a character in the show, much like Baltimore is a character in HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET and THE WIRE. In addition to giving the show a distinct visual look, filming on location sometimes has other benefits as well. I remember reading in more than one interview that the HOMICIDE producers felt like they got more creative freedom by being located so far from Hollywood. They were, almost literally, off the network's radar.
As much as filming on location can help a show, not filming on location can give the show a disadvantage (to me, at least). I realize it's cheaper and easier to film in Hollywood on a studio backlot, but NYPD BLUE, despite all its stock footage of New York City, never really felt "real" to me. Sure, they flew the actors out to NYC once or twice a year for location shoots, but most of those exterior scenes were on a studio backlot and it was always glaringly obvious to me. Another favorite show of mine, PICKET FENCES, was set in the small town of Rome, Wisconsin, but it was filmed entirely in LA and again, it showed -- especially when they'd do their annual Christmas episode, and have to make fake snow.
I always had a hard time getting into the Tim Burton BATMAN movies because Gotham City always felt so ... designed. I could never shake the knowledge that this wasn't a real city, it was an elaborate sound stage. I realize it's a silly hang-up to have when we're talking about a guy dressed up like a bat. But contrast that to BATMAN BEGINS, where Gotham City was basically just Chicago. But it felt like a real city.
With my mystery comic, DODGE'S BULLETS, I used a real city -- Seattle. And I went to great lengths to get everything right. I supplied James Francis, the artist, with tons of photo reference for each scene in the story.
I toyed with setting NOBLE CAUSES and DYNAMO 5 in real cities too, but I opted for creating my own fictional cities, much like DC does. This is probably because if I was going to use a real city, I'd get bogged down in making things as accurate as possible ... and then my books would be even later!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Stumping for Stumptown

Sometimes I really hate Greg Rucka.
I just read STUMPTOWN #1, and this is definitely one of those times.
I hate him because this book is just so damned good. It's note-perfect, and he's working with Matthew Southworth, who did a fantastic job.
STUMPTOWN is about Dex, a private eye working in Portland, OR. That's it. No high concept, no mixing of genres. Dex doesn't see ghosts, she's not from the future, and her partner's not a cyborg. It's a straight private eye story told by a pair of creators with absolute confidence in their abilities and an obvious love of the genre.
I've known Greg for years, and while aren't good pals, it's always a pleasure to run into him at cons, and our brief conversations are always fun. He and I share a love of private eye stuff -- both novels and old 80s TV shows, and he's (proudly) wearing his influences on his sleeve with this book. I've been waiting for its release ever since it was announced quite awhile ago, and it actually lives up to my expectations (which is kind of rare, these days).
If you're a fan of Ed Brubaker's CRIMINAL, or the mystery/crime genre in general, do yourself a favor and buy STUMPTOWN. After all, the more successful crime books we have out there, the more likely I am to do one myself!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thank God it's Friday (Night Lights)

Well, so much for posting every day, huh? What can I say? Sometimes life gets in the way.
I was delighted this week to watch the second episode of the new season of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. As a writer, I'm probably not the most fun person to watch TV or movies with. I sometimes have a hard time turning off my brain, and I tend to over-analyze everything.
First, there are the shows that are just terrible. The shows I can't even watch because they're so dumbed down in an effort to appeal to the widest possible audience. And, interestinly, a lot of times these shows are big hits. Go figure.
Then there are the shows that are very close to being good, and this is really frustrating. These are the kinds of shows where I just know that if I'd been able to take a pass at the script, it could've been so much better. Modest, I know.
Then there are the shows that I think are really good, where I marvel at the dialogue and the structure and the plotting and the editing.
Then there are shows like FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. Shows which are so good that I forget I'm even watching something that was constructed. I'm just able to get sucked into the reality that's been created, and just totally enjoy spending time with these characters. Maybe it's because the show is heavily ad-libbed and the actors' movements aren't blocked. Or maybe it's just that it's really, really good. I don't know. All I know is I don't want to analyze it.
And that's my favorite thing about it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Big Things Come in Small Packages

Here's a glimpse at Soldier Ant, a new character who will be making his debut in the pages of DYNAMO 5 this Spring.
This design sketch is by Mahmud Asrar, based on my ideas. Mahmud and I had been working together for over 3 years by the time he whipped up this design, and I guess we're at the point where we're almost perfectly in synch, because when I first saw his take on Soldier Ant, it was as if he'd reached into brain and pulled the design out. I mean, it was exactly what I wanted.
The same could be said for his design for the big villain in the next story arc, but you'll have to wait awhile before you see his design.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Take it Easy

I spent this past weekend doing a whole lot of nothing. And in between doing nothing, I popped in my DVD of THE BIG EASY. And god damn, I forgot how great that movie is.

It came out in 1987, was directed by Jim McBride, and tells the story of Lt. Remy McSwain, whose investigation of a mob war is complicated by Assistant DA Anne Osborne, who's investigating the entire precinct on corruption charges.

Remy's played by Dennis Quaid, and while I really enjoyed Taylor Kitsch's portrayal of Gambit in X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, a better pick would've been to yank Dennis Quaid out of 1987 and use him. With his Cajun accent and his overflowing charm, it's no great leap to see that Chris Claremont was probably inspired by Quaid's character in this movie, and used him as the basis for Gambit.

And I don't blame him. Quaid is just fantastic. His character is admittedly corrupt, but only around the edges. He takes advantage of the "perks," as he calls them (free meals, parking wherever he wants, etc.). But he's a smart investigator, and he's genuinely smitten with Anne Osborne. And it's easy to see why. As played by Ellen Barkin, Anne is smart and likable and has this sexy vulnerability that seems remarkably genuine.

Their first sex scene is one of the best I've ever seen, simply because of the awkwardness involved. These are two people you genuinely like, and are rooting for. It's also interesting to note how early in the movie they hook up. It's not something they build towards until the final act. It happens pretty early, and the rest of the movie is spent trying to figure out -- or even if -- they're going to be together in light of everything that's going on around them.

When I write stories, I sometimes get too bogged down in the plot. I want the mystery to be compelling, I want the twists to be surprising, etc. And those are good instincts, of course. But the best plot in the world will be utterly uninvolving if it's not inhabited by engaging characters. And nowhere is that lesson more evident than in THE BIG EASY. It's got a good plot, don't get me wrong. But the plot isn't what keeps you involved -- it's the characters.

If you've never this movie, do yourself a big favor and check it out. You won't be sorry.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Making Progress

I know when a book goes on hiatus, it's not unheard of for it never to return. So the announcement that DYNAMO 5 was going on hiatus until the Spring was met with a bit of skepticism in some parts.

Well, I'm here to show you that progress is being made on the next issue. Our new artist, Julio Brilha, is almost halfway done with his first issue, and here's a look at some of the first colors, provided by the incomparable Ron Riley.

I think you'll agree that Julio's a great fit for this book. He doesn't deviate wildly from the tone set by Mahmud, but he definitely brings his own flare.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The House of the Devil

I'm not a huge horror movie fan. I guess it's because they tend to be too formulaic, and that formula tends to be: introduce a bunch of characters, and then kill them all. To me, that formula is missing a third act, you know? So I tend to shy away from most horror movies simply because, to me, if you've seen one, you've seen 'em all. Plus, it doesn't much creativity to have something pop out of the shadows accompanied by a loud sound effect.

But occasionally, a horror movie will come along that really works for me. I thought PARANORMAL ACTIVITY was pretty good, although a bit gimmicky. I liked THE STRANGERS for awhile, until it turned into that "two act" formula I mentioned earlier. The last really good horror movie I saw was THE DESCENT, which had engaging characters, a truly original premise, and some fantastic direction.


As I write this, it's in (very) limited release, but is available On Demand. It's a fantastic, low budget horror movie with almost unbearable tension. It's filmed on 16mm film and set in the 1980s, yet it's not played for laughs. There's not a single wink or nudge to be seen. It's played entirely straight, and has atmosphere and creepiness to spare.

The premise is simple: Samantha, a college student with money woes, takes a job as a babysitter in a creepy house with even creepier owners. That's it. Sounds pretty generic, right? And it could be, in the hands of a lesser director. But Ti West (who I'd never heard of before this movie) does a fantastic job of building mood and ratcheting up the tension as the film unfolds.

Be warned that it's a very slow-moving, deliberate film. And I wouldn't be surprised if today's audiences (the people who like SAW, for example) find the film "boring." But if you're reading this blog, I automatically assume you have excellent taste.

So trust me, and seek out this movie.

Throwing down the gauntlet

Okay, so I've had this blog for well over a year now and it's always been updated sporadically, at best. But today, that changes!

I've decided to post every day for the month of November, just to try to get into the habit. We'll see if it takes. Hell, some of what I post might actually be interesting.