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The Indisputable Matt Maxwell Presents:




Well, that was a nice little vacation. And I wasn’t even really planning to take one. The best kind. I’m sure Marc didn’t even mind in the slightest that nothing appeared in his inbox. I bet he won’t hold it against me.

Not until he can really squeeze something out of me, that is.

In the meantime, I went ahead and announced the second STRANGEWAYS book, which will be subtitled THE THIRSTY. Got the same art team working on it, just flip-flopped. Gervasio and Jok (I’m sure they have last names; they just haven’t seen fit to tell me yet) will be working on the main storyline and Luis Guaragna will be illustrating the backup. I suppose it won’t be a surprise to tell you that, like the first book, the backup feature will focus on the antagonist and give a little backstory.

It’s been suggested that I’m shooting myself in the foot doing this. Folks have pointed out that it really doesn’t matter WHY the bad guy does the bad stuff they do. It only matters that they do it in an interesting and suitably threatening fashion. It’s not the why that’s important, rather the what. Which is a little funny having come from the comic book world where origins usually have inordinate importance, enough so that Ed Brubaker was able to get a lot of mileage out of that in SLEEPER, where there were a host of stories within the story, where telling origin stories about one another are kind of a bonding ritual between criminals.

So really, the truth of it is that both carry some weight. Yeah, a lot of writers try to lean heavily on the why and try to pass that off as story, when it’s simply relating a plot. You all know that plot and story aren’t interchangeable, right? Story needs a plot (and really, it needs characters to drive and advance the plot), but plot can exist fine without much of a story being attached to it. Hell, that’s what genre film is, right? Plot in service of particular devices whether or not there’s a story told.

To a degree, the plot is the WHAT of the story and the characters are the WHY. Of course, the characters and what drives them get tied up into the WHAT of the story if you’re doing it right (and I won’t say that I am more than…half the time). Granted, if you have your bad guy stand there and explicate endlessly about how he (or she, in the case of a bad gal) was abused as a child or were jilted at the altar or were the last kid picked for dodgeball, then yeah, that’s gonna be boring. But if you weave the whole into a story, then maybe, just maybe, you can get away with it. And in so doing, add a little depth to the workings. Maybe the antagonist is a dark reflection of the protagonist. Maybe there’s little difference between them at all. Maybe they work against each other symbolically.

Which is one of the reasons why I have a hard time writing, say, an evil chthonic deity of dark and arcane purpose who wants to destroy people just because they’re there. Well, sure, you could spin it into an interesting enough plot, but is there a story to be told there, beyond the plot? Cthulhu makes for an interesting literary device, but as an antagonist you can sink your teeth into, he’s a little lacking. And I say this as a guy who spent a lot of his adolescence reading Lovecraft, who comes back to it from time to time (but my patience for it is diminished with the passing years, probably due to Lovecraft’s arcane and impenetrable language and his inability to fashion a compelling character.) I suppose those devices make for interesting backdrops, but pretty lousy characters. Maybe there’s the cultist who advances his god’s cause on earth for his own reasons and can do so in a suitably interesting manner. Maybe then you have the stuff out of which you could craft a character.

But man, if your bad guys aren’t interesting characters, then it doesn’t really matter how good your good guys are, does it? Now, I can just see the folks lining up, knives out, saying “but you’ve got the main story to show how interesting your villains are, smart guy.” Yeah, I sure do. Hopefully I succeed. And maybe, just maybe, I find them interesting enough that I want to revisit them, to give them maybe more than their fair share of the spotlight.

As for what else I did with my summer vacation, let’s see. I did actually finish the script for STRANGEWAYS: THE THIRSTY, so I feel reasonably comfortable in actually announcing it (proving that the first book wasn’t just some strange fluke and a singular thing). Mostly I spent a lot of time chasing the kids around and keeping them from drinking the bottle of carbon tetrachloride I leave around for cleaning up in the lab.

Oh yes, I got rid of something around half of my old comics. And really, I thought that it would be a much more difficult process than it ended up being. Having collected comics since…1980, I’d managed to accumulate quite a few, even counting the periods of having sworn off comics. That was fine when I could take over as much of the garage as I wanted. Having moved into this house, though, that was needing to change. I’d shoved shortboxes (longboxes are hateful and unstable things) into a bunch of wardrobes that serve as the closet for my new office, but that left no room for…office supplies or anything else.

Something was going to have to go. I thought it was just going to be four or five boxes of stuff. According to my calculations, I’d have been safe getting rid of that many comics…in 1987. As it stood, I’d have to double that or more. I wasn’t looking forward to that, really.

And then I got a piece of advice from my friend Jeff, who I saw very briefly at Comic-Con. I’d mentioned that I was going to have to cull the herd and he said “Oh, that’s easy. Just get rid of any comic that doesn’t inspire you creatively.” It’s both sentimental and brutal, and it’s a good rule to follow. But then Jeff also gave me the advice to chuck all my CD jewelcases and shove them all into big folders so that I could still get to them, but have them take up literally a tenth of the room they used to.

Following that advice, man, there was a lot of stuff to get rid of. I’m not taking any glee in stating that the lion’s share of those came from comics that I bought in the nineties and beyond. For one reason, if the comic inspired me and it was made after 1995, odds were that it was available in a collection (which is the form I already favor.) And really, you can stretch that back to the mid eighties now.

Over the course of about four days, with a little help from my son, I was able to weed out a lot. And it wasn’t awful, most of it. They were competently-produced comics that failed to light my fire after (or even during) the initial reading. There wasn’t anything worth coming back to, even for a second reading. That’s not such a big deal until you start running out of room. Strangely, I kept all of my UNCANNY X-MEN below 200 or so. Maybe not so strange, looking at it. Don’t get me wrong, X-MEN comics from that era are still strange reading, coming at things from a 2008 perspective (So. Much. Text.), but there’s still something charming about them, or about my memory of things as they were coming out. Sure, the thread got lost after that.

Man, I bought a lot of abject crap. I even kept some of it. Remember that DC miniseries OUTCASTS by John Wagner? Yeah, I kept it. STRIKEFORCE MORITURI, too. Not that they were abject crap, actually they were strikingly better than most of what was out there at the time, at least in the mainstream. Looking at books like that, you wonder when things got so safe? Read GRENDEL from that time period and read just about anything now. Safe comics are boring, even when they’re trying to prove that Everything You Know Is Wrong.

Enough of that.

If you’re interested in the next book, stop by the STRANGEWAYS weblog:


Where you can see the first three pages of art from THE THIRSTY, as well as a brief animated preview that sets the stage nicely. And as threatened, I’m looking at doing a web-based serialization first, and hopefully will be able to make a solid announcement on it about the time the next column rolls around.

Two weeks.

Matt Maxwell

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