Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Reno Recap

Hey y'all!

So I'm still in recovery mode from my fantastic trip to beautiful Reno, NV, where I gave a presentation on fighting game storylines at the Wizard World Reno. Again, I did not know I'd be going to Reno. I thought the Youmacon was going to be the last event of 2015. So I had to quickly find a plane ticket and a place to stay.

In lieu of a hotel, I crashed at my best friend's house (yeah he just happened to be living there now. Ain't God good?!). It was like being in college again. To thank him for his hospitality, I hooked him up with a pass for the event and he hosted the panel along side me, which was so awesome because I played so many fighting games with him growing up. So it was cool to see things come full circle.

I networked with so many people out there, and I think I'll have some wonderful people to introduce you to for Five-Q, including comic book legend Jim Shooter. I had a fascinating conversation with him about diversity in comics during his run at DC comics and I can't wait to share his insight with you.

Soon I'll be dropping a podcast to recap the month, an analysis of the Skullgirls storyline, as well a new Five-Q from my favorite Australian author, Aiki Flinthart. It's an honor to know her and I had a fantastic time learning about her path to successful writing.

Stay tuned. Have a great Thanksgiving week!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Why The Devil Sucks!: Kazuya Mishima and Doctor Faustus

Have you ever wanted something so bad that you'd do anything to get it? Would you sell your soul to Satan?

Let’s make one thing clear. Ambition is not a sin. Every major character in the Bible, including Jesus, had ambition. What determines good or evil are the emotions behind our ambitions. It’s why the Bible says that “selfish ambitions” (not ambition by itself) are one of the acts of the sinful nature (Galatians 5:19-26).

Such is the case with Tekken's Kazuya Mishima and Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. There are certainly others in the Mishma family that I could have paired with Faustus. I think Kazuya is the best comparison because he’s the only character that, like the good doctor, shares a relationship with a demonic spirit and his story details how that relationship shaped the events thereafter.

First, for all my non-literary readers, let’s get you caught up on who Doctor Faustus is. To start, Marlowe’s story originates from a Germanic folk tale called “Faust.” The story is about a doctor who has learned all there is to know about science and philosophy, but still hungers for more knowledge. So after speaking with some magicians, Faustus learns necromancy and summons a demon named Mephistophilis (Meph), a representative from Hell. Meph helps Faustus strike a deal with Satan. He’ll have the power to do whatever he wants for 24 years in exchange for his soul. I’ll leave you to draw your own allegories for how that story works out. This is the first “deal with the devil” story of the modern age.

Kazuya path to the devil seems different on its surface, but there are actually more similarities than you’d expect when you look at the story’s narrative structure. Kazuya, according to the best official sources that I could find, was a sweet kid born to an abusive father who wanted him to be strong. In the ultimate act of abuse and neglect, Kazuya’s father drops him off a cliff. On his way back up, Kazuya is approach by the devil, who promises to grant him the strength to defeat his father. I think it's safe to say that Kazuya's story might be the first "deal with the devil" story of the fighting game genre. (And to all my hardcore Tekken fans, yes. I am completely ignoring the "Devil Gene." The whole Devil Gene plot device is extremely inconsistent. And until Namco Bandai fixes it, this is the story I'm rolling with because it's the only one that's readily available).

Both stories are unified by the idea of making a deal with a demonic spirit. The motivations for doing so, while different, still originate from negative emotions. For Kazuya, it's revenge. For Faustus, it’s curiosity. Both curiosity and vengeance are things that demand satisfaction, like hunger or thirst. Most often, though, the devil does not allow his victims any true satisfaction. And in the end, the deal always goes bad for the human. In the case of Faustus, dude goes to Hell. And Kazuya’s father, after beating him because the devil distracts him, drops him into an active volcano, which is just about as bad as going to Hell.

The lesson: Don’t enter into any negotiations with the devil or his representatives. You’ll lose.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Five-Q with Comfort and Adam, The Comics Couple

I can't begin to express how extremely honored I am to have Comfort Love and Adam Withers on this week's edition of Five-Q. I personally consider the duo to be the first family of modern independent comics in the digital world. In addition to excellent stories like The Uniques and Rainbow in the Dark, the couple also offers their expertise on comics, writing, art, and business at several major comics conventions.

They're also based out of Michigan, my hometown. I don't pretend to hide my gleeful bias. As always, there are five questions and a follow-up for hitting them up on social media. I got a chance to meet them at the Youmacon earlier this month. My only regret is that I didn't get the opportunity to talk with them more extensively because my schedule didn't allow it. Regardless, I hope you enjoy!

Aaron David Harris: What was the motivation for publishing your own comics? Was it out of necessity? Or did you purposely avoid dealing with publishers/distributions?

Comfort: It was a little of both, actually. At first, we couldn’t get publishers to believe that anyone would like our art. At that point, the only way we’d be able to make comics is if we made our own and proved to them that our work was valid and there was a fanbase who would support it.

Adam: What surprised us was that self-publishing proved to be a perfectly viable career path. You think that making comics on your own is this huge financial risk, and it is, but working for most publishers isn’t any more stable or “safe.” In terms of the money, we don’t have to sell half as much as publishers do to make the same profit, because we aren’t having to support an entire bureaucracy off our book sales. The two of us keep everything we make.

Comfort: And personally, it’s much more gratifying to be making our own stories and doing it our way. We only answer to ourselves and our fans, and that’s very freeing.

ADH: Creative teams typically have a creative process. What’s yours? Give us a snapshot of how Comfort and Adam would execute an idea for a comic.

Adam: We split all creative duties 50/50. We both write, both draw, both color and letter, all together.

Comfort: So, I’ll write the first draft of our scripts (after we’ve nailed down the outline together), and Adam does the second. Then I’ll do a third and him a fourth and so on, back and forth until we have a version we (and our editors) think is solid.

Adam: Then we divide up the scenes and each of us lays out those pages. When drawing final lines, it used to be that I would do foregrounds and she’ll draw the backgrounds and crowds, but these days we tend to divide it character by character. For color, Comfort colors the foregrounds and sets up the lighting schemes and does some of the special effects, and I color the backgrounds, add textures, and do the rest of the special effects. 

Comfort: When lettering, I divide the script into balloons and lay out the eyepath on the page, and Adam tightens those down and adds tails, cuts them into corners, adds sound effects and that sort of thing. Lettering is like our last pass at editing, too, so we’ll work out any final adjustments to the text while we’re putting the balloons together.

ADH: Like most creative professions, it’s next to impossible to live solely off your works when you’re just starting out. What did you do (or do you do)? Did you hold jobs in the creative field?

Comfort: We were teachers for a long time, teaching comics art to teens and kids in Kendall College of Art and Design’s continuing education program. We also did some freelance stuff for RPG companies like Palladium and Green Ronin, and did a lot of conventions.

Adam: We were lucky, though, that our work on The Uniques was successful enough that we were able to make it our full-time job a year after we started. It took some huge sacrifices, and we learned to live very lean, but I don’t know if an artist can put out a comic at any kind of realistic pace if they’re only drawing part-time. 

Comfort: Plus, since we both do this together, we don’t have another person in the house who’s working a “normal” job to cover our butts while we worked our way up in comics. We were either going to succeed together or fall together. Thankfully, we’re still chugging along at full-steam all these years later.

ADH: The two of you co-wrote an excellent book called The Complete Guide To Self-Publishing Comics. Talk about the process of creating that book. How different was it from creating your own comic? Was it something you had to pitch to an agent first? 

Comfort: Random House actually approached us. An editor saw a series of our panels on creating comics at a convention in 2012, and we got an email the next week asking if we’d ever considered doing a how-to book. And we totally had!

Adam: Yeah, like we said – we had been teachers for a lot of years. Mentorship, passing on our knowledge, that stuff is extremely important to us. We wouldn’t be where we are if other comic creators hadn’t shared their time and knowledge with us, so we feel like it’s our responsibility to do the same. We had always intended to make a book like The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing Comics

Comfort: We just assumed we’d have to self-publish it!

Adam: Yeah, it’s ironic that the only book we didn’t self-publish is the one on self-publishing.

Comfort: And it was a lot different from making the comics. Long-form prose writing just takes different brain-muscles from comic scripts. We approached it from a place of being very casual, very conversational; we wanted the book to feel like we were just talking with you. Open, honest, and thorough.

Adam: Making it as comprehensive as we did meant it was a long process to create it. Hundreds of pages of text, hundreds of new illustrations made just for the book, coordinating with over 70 other comic, webcomic, and manga creators to have sidebars covering a huge range of material – it took us years to complete. Years that we were also finishing work on Rainbow in the Dark.

Comfort: It was a very busy time for Comfort and Adam, that’s for sure.

ADH: You seem to have a really good handle on independent/digital comics. I’ve seen works like The Dreamer by Lora Innes collected in print by IDW. Is that something you want, too? Do you want to see your work published by Image, Dark Horse, Oni Press, etc.? Or are you at your happiest publishing your own work?

Comfort: It isn’t something we’re against, but we aren’t actively pursuing it either. It would have to be the right deal at the right time to convince us to jump ship.

Adam: You find out fast in this business exactly how much a publisher will do for you – and how much they won’t do. There are some great people out there working hard to elevate the work of the indies like us, but there are some really bad deals, too. 

Comfort: We’ve more or less figured out this self-publishing thing. It isn’t perfect, there’s a lot we can’t do, and it takes an enormous amount of work day-to-day. We’re constantly learning more things we have to do, and more success makes things harder instead of easier, in some ways. But we also like doing this. I don’t think we’d necessarily have an easier time with a publisher than we do on our own. It would just be different. So, like I said, we aren’t anti-publisher, and if a deal appeared to us that made sense and gave us better than we have doing it on our own, we’d listen. But we aren’t really pursuing anything, either.

*ADH: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me. How can fans keep up with you?

Comfort: You can find all our stuff – including free comics – at ComfortAndAdam.com! 

Adam: Yeah, and that’ll link you to our Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, deviantArt, all that jazz.