This post is part of a weekly update I will be making consistently available to my patrons on Patreon. I will still post some updates here to my blog from time to time, but will most likely be focusing on the flash fictions and short stories predominantly. If you want to see what I’ve been working on lately, check out my Patreon page at http://www.Patreon.com/NicholasEskey.
One positive thing can be said about forcing yourself to work; it creates momentum.
It’s not the same as forcing yourself out of bed and on your way to the typical 9-5 job; not to me, anyway. With writing, the eventual temporary curse is doubt. Doubt of your work’s value, doubt that you can write anything good again, doubt that it all matters. Consistently writing, namely creative writing, builds a momentum that propels you forward, often breaking the brick walls of doubt and writer’s block that seemingly jump onto the tracks. An eventual and wonderful side-effect of this momentum is walking up, eager to jump back behind the keyboard and get back to creating. Fuck doubt.
The best I can equate it to is the same kind of high gym rats get after a good workout session. The first few workouts, or probably more accurately the first few dozen, will feel like Hell, leaving one drained and asking themselves: Why did I want to do this again? But then, it gets better.
I’m quite happy with the momentum that I’ve built this week. It allowed me to get up first thing yesterday morning and get straight to work on a flash fiction idea that had been eating at me for a couple days, after which I then went right back to working on my novel. Momentum makes you hungry for more.
The flash fiction I wrote is called When You Don’t Learn. It’s a sci-fi work that plays with feelings of isolation and disconnectedness. Flash fiction works for this type of story, as the cap on words already makes the story a microcosm compared to short stories. It’ll post both on my blog (Typesetboogaloo.com) and Patreon page (Patreon.com/NicholasEskey).
As for my novel, My Personable Demon, I’m still reworking the very first chapter. Subsequent re-readings always come up with more “flaws” that I need to address before I am thoroughly satisfied and can move on. It’s true that the real work comes in the editing process.
Otherwise, I’ve also been investing a sizeable amount of energy into the YouTube channel my friends and I created; Call of the Nerd. Overall, it’s a silly labor, but still fun all the while. As of right now, it has us playing video games and capturing our reactions. I hope to someday soon get into producing skits. For now, I do all the editing and posting of the videos on Call of the Nerd, so I’ve felt pulled every which way this week with work. Yet again, it’s wonderful as it has both given me a break from writing, while still feeding my creative momentum.
The weekend will really be the test of whether I can keep this movement going. Lend your well wishes in that I still can propel forward with the speed of a flying spaghetti monster. Don’t give way to doubt. Fuck it.
In recent years, more teachers and librarians are finally recognizing the educational appeal of comic-books. Yes, we the fans have known of their artistry, their (mostly) great writing, and the sheer enjoyment they illicit, but for many other adults, it still seems like a “nonsense medium.” Perhaps for this reason it is why places like Little Fish Comic Book Studio are needed.
I stepped through the doors of Little Fish, located in San Diego, California, and was met by the always friendly Alonso Nunez. Co-founder and Executive Director of Little Fish Comic Book Studio, Alonso sports a pointed beard and “ear-to-ear” grin that can rival a Guy Fawkes mask. And boy, does he love to talk comics. As for his studio, the walls are completely covered by comics in every sense: The entire left side of the room is lined with thick-black bookcases filled with all manner of hard and paperbacked comics; The right side has more shelves, but instead hold references books, very-used singled comic issues on (roughly) alphabetized shelves, a scanner, and a large printer; The back wall has a movable chalkboard like one would see in an old schoolroom; And the entire bathroom is wallpapered in comic pages.
For many adults who hadn’t grown up with the medium, are not artists, or are not writers, they are hesitant to give comics a chance, let alone recommend them to their kids. This is most likely due to the lack of information regarding the comic-book job market. “What sort of jobs are connected with comics anyways? Artists are known to starve in small apartments. And writers, do these small books even need writers?” Truly, there isn’t a lot of easily accessible information on professions connected with the comic-book industry, which again does largely influence why adults aren’t too keen on introducing comics to their children in the first place.
This is the greatest impact that Alonso and Little Fish can have on the community at large, teaching kids and adults about the comic industry; the art, writing, and other aspects that go into making a comic, and possible opportunities that wait for those who wish to work fulltime in that world. For this reason, I wanted to visit the studio for the first time and ask some questions of Alonso.
As Alonso and myself set ourselves at one of the long-white tables of the studio, a number of teens between 14 and 19-year-old filter through the doors.
“Hey there,” greets Alonso. “I trust you all have your thumbnails?” Last week, Alonso gave some students an assignment to adapt a test-script into comic thumbnails and asked them to bring them back on this day. One boy waves his completed assignment in the air, but a few more look down at their backpacks and fumble with the zippers. “I sort of didn’t,” says one of the girls.
“No worries,” responded Alonso. “Tell you what, you have 10 minutes to get something done for your thumbnails. So, have at it!”
Q. Alonso, what can you tell me about Little Fish?
A. Without making it so “elevator-pitchery”, Little Fish’s mission is that we teach classes and camps utilizing techniques and a love for comic-books, all while advocating for the comic-book art form in the community. That means doing stuff like our Comic Savvy and our monthly free workshop, where the community is invited to come in, hang out, talk comics, see the studio, and take free comics home with them.
Notably, we have a partnership with KPBS, where we are then partnered with their “One Book, One San Diego” program. It allows us to go into schools once a year and talk about whatever graphic novel [the program] selected for the year. This year, they actually selected two. One is Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese, and the other is Jimmy Gownley’sThe Dumbest Idea Ever, which is an awesome book about “the dumbest idea ever” of becoming a comic-book artist.
Q. What age groups do you usually see come to the studio?
A. We work with ALL age groups. Most of our classes run the age gamut, all except one, which is specifically designed for 7 to 10-year-olds, called the “The Young Artist Class.” You can think of it as more of a traditional art class for kids, but in this case with comic-books. But everything else except for that class is designed to be accessible to all ages and all ability levels. A class can have an 11-year-old, sitting next to a 40-year-old, sitting next to a 25-year-old, sitting next to a 17-year-old. It’s one of those things that when we started Little Fish, we were saying, “I don’t know if this is going to work… but let’s try it.” Now, for me it’s a big point of pride. A lot of times parents or students are asking, “Really, this works?” And then when they come in they’re like, “That was a amaaaaazing!”
We have a woman who just started our Thursday class called “Project Management”, which is for people who have projects well underway or a tightly-conceptualized project, and she is in her early 50s. She was like, “I don’t want to be the old lady in a group of kids.” When she came in the first day, she was able to see the level of collaboration and the bouncing of ideas of other people… She found it really cool.
At this point, Alonso takes a moment to excuse himself from the interview looks across the table at his busy students, namely the one who said she didn’t do her thumbnails. He asks, “How’s that thumbnail coming along?” The teen gives a half-hearted reassurance. In response, Alonso says, “Can you at least get one more done in ten minutes? No, wait. How about this; You have ten minutes, knock out another one. Move with the speed with we usually reserve for the opera.”
Alonso looks back to me and explains that last comment. “We have a cool partnership with the San Diego Opera where we go and sketch during their 2nd dress rehearsal of their performances. It’s really neat.”
Q. What other “Hydra-tentacles” do you have out there?
A. Well, we have that partnership with the San Diego Opera, we’re partners with KPBS, we also have a strong partnership with the Kevin Workman Foundation, which is a foundation that operates out of Qualcomm that advocates for art, technology, and community; Through them, we do a once-a-week workshop at the “Monarch School” in downtown [San Diego]. The Monarch School is for kids who are somehow impacted by homelessness, so it’s really cool to get in there and to teach art to kids who don’t have access to art programs.
Q. What’s your favorite thing that you do through Little Fish?
A. Mm, wow… I think it might be the annual One Book, One San Diego stuff. In the last couple decades, comics have gained more of a mainstream recognition; we’re now accepted as a legitimate artform. But there’s still this lack of awareness from the larger world of what comics are really are about and what they can do as an artform.
So with the One Book, One San Diego program, we kind of sneak in via the “serious” prose-book selected as the book that all of San Diego is supposed to read because it has themes pertinent to San Diego or it’s by a San Diego author, and being the young-adult companion graphic novel, we get to be involved in everything, host panels, and talk about why comics are awesome… We get to connect with a lot of people that once they realize “Oh, this is what comics can do,” their eyes light up and they begin to see the possibilities that they can utilize comics with connecting with others. Through that, it’s led to partnering and visiting other schools within the last couple years,
Q. Where would you like to see Little Fish in the next 5 years?
A. I’d like to see us bigger, with more partnerships, since we are still fairly young. We should be getting “501(c)(3)” status any day now, which will open us up to grants, letting us reach out to a wider audience and letting us do more workshops in schools and other venues; A big part of what I want to do. I think we’ve really solidified our camps and classes program.
Q. Finally, what animal would you be, and what superhero would you belong to?
A. Ow, I like this. I would be an octopus, so that way I would have eight hands in which to answer emails and draw simultaneously. Aquaman would be the obvious answer, but I would like to think that I belong to Batman. Then I would have access to the Batcave and that wealth of information.
Alonso Nunez and Little Fish Comic Studio is doing tremendous work in the education of comic-books. The impact that this organization and others like it have on communities, comics, and literacy may not be felt now, but it certainly sow the seeds of what’s to come.
If you wish to know more about Little Fish Comic Studio, visit their website at: www.lilfish.us
It’s not often these days that I get a chance to say “Adios, muchacho!” to what I see as humdrum. Not often that I can leave my “yes sirs” or “no ma’ams” at the door and dress myself in my “that’s so cools” and “what the fucks.” Not often that I can leave my work uniform, my “monkey suit”, in the darkness of the closet, imagining that it will randomly obtain consciousness if I were to let it stay there for too long.
Life is funny in that we are told to enjoy it to the last, but yet we often have to do unenjoyable things in order to keep that life going. To the next person in retail or customer service who tells me with an earnest smile that they “love what they do,” I’ll love the Hell out of their face with my fist.
Perhaps I’m just being too impatient. I’ll graduate someday and then pursue my writing fully. It is hard though to find time now for my own personal writing when I not only have to keep a full-time job, not to mention having to read hundreds of pages a week for my English class and cram my head with French vocabulary to fulfill my required language credits. The prospects of getting my Bachelor’s next summer seems like an eternity away. At least I’m doing my best to keep my writing skills somewhat sharp with the reporting I do for The Beat (a comic and popular media news blog I contribute to).
That blog is actually why I was able to get away recently and immerse myself in the nerd culture of WonderCon, a convention run by the same people behind the well-known San Diego Comic-Con. I had a fantastic time; Walking the sales floor, reviewing and writing up panels for the blog, forgetting that I live on a budget and buying more books than that of my monthly food allowance. Life’s pressures seemed temporarily lessened. It wasn’t that I felt liberated by “acting a dork,” but more instead had the honor of mingling with other like-minded people and was able to “ride-the-wave” of this same “like-mindedness.” Others who enjoy comics, reading, collecting. I loved strolling the rows of “artists alley” and seeing all the art that was created with painstaking care (though I felt guilty that I couldn’t help everyone of them out with a purchase).
The highlight was when I had the surprise and delight of running into someone that I knew, though to be honest I knew quite a few people there. It was unexpected none-the-less. He and I used to teach martial arts in the same organization and always saw each other at tournaments. A very fit individual and my same age, he was there promoting his third fantasy book. I didn’t even know he was a fellow writer! We talked of his works, the series that was projected to be nine-books total, and of my works, the three rough-drafts of different novels that I hadn’t yet the courage to reread and edit. Of course, I had to support him and buy his three books (there went more food money). I was excited for him. He was living the dream, the writer dream that I wanted. My excitement wasn’t just for him though; This encounter rekindled my “writing-fire.” The old adage is still ringing in my head as I write this entry: “If he can do it, so can I!”
We exchanged information (I really wish I hadn’t forgotten my business cards at home) and promised to talk later. I even got his editor’s contact information, who was also there, and promised I’d contact her when at least one of my drafts was worthy to be seen by strangers.
Of course, I had to eventually come home and liberate my waiting suit from the closet. “I knew you’d be back,” I could almost hear the sentient garment say. Yeah, it’ll be a while still before I can just hang it up for good, where in its new sentience its thoughts will eventually drift onto greater-philosophical imaginings. Someday, that door won’t open again, and then you’ll have all the time in the world, buddy. “Will I dream?”, it will say from some raggedy seem, but no one will hear. Just the dark.
But of course, that’s some time away still. Regardless of that fact, my brief escape from the atmosphere was nice. You really can’t tell when something can give a nice jolt to your creative dreams; you just need to give it a chance.
Many an artist of the comic, graphic novel, and manga format will cringe when the respective writer they work with asks for the dreaded “action scene.” Perhaps more confusing than the rendering of hands, the action scene can easily confound any veteran artist; Do I go for a side-profile view, or over the shoulder? Is this running scene supposed to be blurry, sharp, or just vague lines of direction? How the heck do I make this choking scene look believable? To discuss this, moderator Jessica Tseang (comic book historian and founder of Little Geek Girl) gathered industry artists Hope Larson, Andy Park, and Marguerite Sauvage.
Tseang started the ball rolling by asking, “Has your style changed over the years?”
Hope Larson who has produced the webcomic series I Was There and Just Returned, worked on a graphic novel adaption of A Wrinkle in Time, and has her own publishing imprint called Tulip Tree Press, was first to answer. “Oh yes. I’ve been [drawing] action for about five to six years now… And now, I am working on Batgirl,” she said.
Andy Park, Korean comic book and concept artist who’s worked on the Tomb Raider comic and on the Visual Development team for Marvel Studios, also agreed that his art has greatly changed. “I don’t think there isn’t anyone who’s style doesn’t change over time.”
Marguerite Sauvage also chimed in, having the unique position of being an illustrator who later found herself getting into comics. “I’ve been in the comic book industry for three years now,” she said. “As I use to be an illustrator, it was a big change to do full page narrations… [For comics], you have to think of the story you want to tell with the action.”
The depiction of action through writing or art almost come from two different mindsets. On this subject, Larson said it was “about the emotion” that the art can illicit. Park said it was like the “concept art versus creature design” in which he has to deal with during visual development. “For Sony Pictures and Marvel I have to do ‘key frames,’ which mark the beginning and end of an action sequence. My comic book past really helped me a lot with this… like [when I worked] on Tomb Raider.”
Especially for aspiring artists, the thought of “color or black-and-white” will eventually arise. “Sometimes it’s good to do everything in grayscale to get some texture,” said Sauvage. “To me, color just seems like a luxury.”
“I think it works both way,” chimed in Park. “These are tools after all… they can add or detract.”
Perhaps one of the most prevalent questions a veteran artist will be asked is, “What advice can you give to find one’s style?” To this, Sauvage said, “By digesting influences. When I was young, I copied everything that I liked… It’s a long process to find that balance. As if to clarify this, Andy Park added, “Jim Lee was my number-one artist. I wanted to be like him. I’d copy in the beginning [of my art] and study. I really emulated more than copied… I never wanted to be [Jim Lee’s] clone, and didn’t really concern myself with finding my style. I just drew. It should come naturally. Just trust that it will come.”
“You’ll have your own quirks that you’ll lean into,” said Larson still on the subject. “That’s part of your style, so make sure you incorporate them.” And like the others, she added, “It’ll come naturally.”
Getting back to the idea of depicting action, the three artists shared some tips to keep in mind. The most common and basic words of advice they had were to study action, know anatomy, watch videos on fighting like MMA, expand the panel to two or more if what you’re trying to convey is too involved, and to of course read comics or watch animation. “There’s a thing called the ‘One-hundred and eighty degree’ rule,” instructed Andy Park. “What it says is to not switch back between one point of view to the other. If you have to do it, maybe have a transition panel to break it up.”
The idea of conveying quickness is another action detail that varies from artist to artist. Should it be uniform across the board? “It depends on the scene,” said Hope Larson. “Having a preference is why writers work with specific artists,” responded Park. To this, Larson added, “That’s why I like working with a writer who’ve I worked with many times before. It’s not that I don’t like working for other writers, but with those I’ve worked a lot with, I know what they want.”
Lastly, the three artists discussed the validity of changing one’s style purposefully to fit a particular writer or market. “I feel they hire me because of my style,” said Marguerite Sauvage. “If I change, I feel like they would say, ‘What have you done!?’”
Andy Park said, “In my job as a concept designer for film, we are encouraged not to have a style… I feel like I have to take [it] out if I find it creeping in.”
To share the negative side of changing one’s style, Hope Larson had this to say; “I’ve been working for so long that I feel like I get approached for my style. I’m actually working on a book right now where I want to change my style, but when my publisher saw it, they told me I can’t. That if I didn’t do it in my usual style, no one would know it was me.”
More or less digressing into a panel surrounding one’s style than depicting action, the three artists still had valuable advice that any beginning or struggling artist should take to heart.
Ever wondered what the differences were for writing with a book in mind versus that of animation or comics? Are you an aspiring writer who feels they could use this sort of delineation in their writing? At the 2017 Anaheim WonderCon, writers Marv Wolfman, Craig Miller, Ernie Altbacker, and Holly Huckins all discussed the important distinctions that all animation and comic writers should keep forefront in their minds, as well warned of the pitfalls of inauthentic dialogue.
Craig Miller, long time writer and producer, having worked on such shows as The Smurfs, Beast Wars, and The Real Ghostbusters, was the moderator for this panel. He began by saying he originally envisioned only discussing the topic of animation writing, but chose to open it to comics as well to accommodate his friend and fellow writer, Marv Wolfman. Some of Wolfman’s credits are the 1968 Blackhawk, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and the 1984 four-part story line Teen Titans: The Judas Contract. “Today, we will focus on an aspect of writing,” began moderator Miller. “Primarily this was intended for animation, but we will talk some comics as well.”
Recalling a time from when he worked on Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, he shared a moment where actor Harrison Ford yelled at George Lucas regarding a piece of dialogue that he was supposed to say. “You can type this [stuff], but you can’t say it!” What this alludes to is dialogue that reads pretty, but is unnatural to say in regular conversation. “You may think you can write pretty and may want to show off those skills,” said Miler, “but you need to write dialogue that seems natural and real… what you would [normally] say.”
A recommendation on how to make sure what you write is “natural” sounding is trying to say it out loud. Each of the writers agreed that this a great method. Holly Huckins, mostly a writer for comedy animation who’s worked on Rugrats, Recess, and Totally Spies!, says she either gives it to someone to read or tries to be present when the voiceovers do their readthroughs. “It’s hard for people who didn’t write [the dialogue] to read it.” If you need to explain how to read it, it might need some revision. As a last comment on this topic, Wolfman added, “Your job as a writer is to communicate. Don’t try to show off what you think you can do. Try and make it something that you could see yourself speaking.”
Craig Miller shared another story about poor dialogue, this time going even further back in television history. “After the I Love Lucy Show, in one of her many off-shoot shows, there was a part where she’s trying to open a door, but having a difficult time doing it. Then, someone comes in saying ‘Just jiggle it a little, it’ll open,’ but faster than he should of for the line. Of course, Lucy can’t understand this, and another person comes through, saying the exact same thing with the same speed… This must have been a jab at one of the writers, Lucy showing just how ineffectual the writing is in everyday language.” He laughs at this, then tells the moral of his story. “We think we can write just because we are taught it in school. But what we learn there is proper grammar, which in everyday talk we certainly don’t use.”
Another topic for discussion was the manner in which an individual character would speak, from their word choices, intonations, and even their accents. “Every character should sound different; even if you can’t see a face or hear their voice, you should know that [their dialogue] would be something they normally say,” said Miller. Wolfman responded to this, saying, “You need to know about your character inside and out… even if that means making a character sheet for them. A trick that I tell all beginning writers is to think of someone who exists and use them as a template as you figure [your character] out.”
For comics, the art of balancing the amount of dialogue in one frame can be very difficult. “Every panel is like a snapshot,” said Wolfman. “Write out that snapshot, and if it somehow doesn’t fit, cut it into halves, and then cut it into quarters if you need to… You have to get it too fit so it works in the box with the art.” Ernie Altbacker, writer for cartoons and kid shows such as Justice League Dark and the recent animated adaption for Teen Titans: Judas Contract, said that a writer needs to ask themselves, “’What do I need to do to carry the story along with the least amount of information,’ because again, we don’t talk that way.”
At the end of the day, what these veteran writers are trying to impart is that dialogue for animation and comics must sound “natural,” or rather, “authentic.” If it’s how you would see yourself, your friends, your family, and your work mates talking, then it will be both understood better by the people reading/listening to it, and to the voiceovers who have to speak it if you are writing for animation. Don’t get overly involved, but stay true to your characters, true to the story progression, and true to everyday language.
It seems like the same routine every year: I resolve to write more, namely on this blog, resolve to work out more, resolve to live more. And I do so, strongly for perhaps a couple good months until I eventually fall off the edge like Wile E Coyote on that same old cliff that is life’s complications.
Don’t let me lead you to believe 2016 ended entirely poorly for me. There was a lot of positive things that went my way. In the face of fear that I would lose my primary, full-time job, I actually was able to keep it and see a slight raise. I had to leave the martial arts teaching job that I loved because my physical and mental health were at jeopardy, but now both of those are getting back in line again. The cherry on top is that I participated in November’s National Novel Writing Month with my “beastie-besty” Victoria and we both beat the 50,000 word deadline in 30 days!
Now just a couple weeks into 2017, I’m left with a feeling of accomplishment; Things are well at work, I just had a wonderful visit to the kung-fu school that I left, I’m so far doing well in my Spring semester at school, I’m well into editing the rough-draft from NaNoWriMo… things just seem to be getting back on track.
What should that mean then for the rest of 2017? Normally the new year is supposed to signify new beginnings. I don’t see that for myself. Instead, I see getting back to basics. Sure, I’m resolved to travel more. I want to see the sequoias. Since this is the 10-year anniversary of when I went to Japan, I want to go back. But I also see more than that. I see continuing the trend that I finally got a hold of at the end of 2016. I see avoiding all the mistakes and pitfalls that I dealt with in the year prior. There is indeed new growth, but they are from seeds that have been well planted before, and they are also from the cuttings made to dead limbs that were choking everything else around them.
I am hopeful. Ultimately, that’s the best start one could ask to have.
I’m sitting inside a local coffee shop with big picture-windows that look out onto the main-street. The morning light struggles against the fog, succeeding in a diffused illumination against the black-tarred street and the red bricks of the surrounding downtown buildings, as if everything was under the glow of a giant soft-light box. The trees that line the sidewalks sway back and forth, their green leaves invaded by the quickening march of oranges and reds. As I sit here plopped in front of my computer screen, I can’t help but stare out the window and watch the people walking by. “People-watching” has always been a hobby for my family. Today, there appears to be more cars than actual people.
The same can be said about the inside of this coffee shop. Okay, maybe there aren’t any cars lounging about in here, enjoying a nice cup of warmed motor-oil as they gossip about the Henderson car 2 miles down the road which rather recently received a very disrespectable pink paint-job. Instead of a multitude of people crowding in about this time for their morning cups of coffee, dispelling the weight of the weekend placed on their sobering heads on this now Monday morning, there are perhaps a collected dozen strangers milling about. Strangers to me that is, for they all seem to know one another. Greeting the barista or each other with friendly “hallos” and “how ya doins?” Things amble here. There is no impatience, no “fast-paced.” This isn’t the San Diego I know. This is Virginia. Salem to be exact.
Salem, Virginia is a small, independent-city situated in the Shenandoah valley, but was originally founded in 1802 as a town. Like much of the surrounding Roanoke county, Salem is steeped in rich natural beauty, while still celebrating its “ever-living” history. Nature, history, and people, none in conflict but all in co-existence. Local businesses line the streets. Roanoke college thrives here. It’s a city that lives in every respect.
How did I get here? Flatly, I needed to get away. I needed to get away from the monotony of San Diego living, as crazy of a statement as that sounds like. I felt stuck there. I needed to see how somewhere so far removed from my hometown functioned. Someplace with a different mindset and a drastically different past. And no, a “Disneyland getaway” wasn’t going to cut it. Nothing fabricated as to be a “safe-little-bubble” for tourists to be blissfully removed from reality where they can wonder if the $40 stuffed-animal that was made in Taiwan for $1 is a good value. I didn’t want an escape from reality, just the reality I had known all my life.
Virginia is so much different, but all in the best ways. I’ve done the touristy things; I’ve seen the small “roadside attractions.” I’ve taken just enough pictures to make my local tour guide cringe every time I lift my camera. No, I didn’t move. I’ll be back in San Diego soon, hopefully much recharged and with a different perspective of things. I’ll talk in length about some of the sights I’ve seen in another entry. For now, I’m just sitting here in this small coffee shop, watching the people and cars amble by. A customer somewhere behind me is saying, “Well it’s my birthday. I’m forty-five.” The barista at the counter squeals. “It is?! Happy, happy biiiiirthday! Happy, happy biiiiiiiiiirthday……”
Typically, around this time each year downtown San Diego is well underway in a temporary face lift for our very own Comic-Con International. As one of the largest comic and popular media conventions in the world, Comic-Con International has long outgrown the confines of the Downtown Convention Center and has been steadily extending its reach like the tentacles of Hydra (Hail Hydra!). True, most of the parties and events have no affiliation with CCI, but that hasn’t stopped the many vendors who want to participate in the festivities from finding a way to capitalize.
This last Saturday I decided to venture out and see all the early changes for myself. I was quite surprised with what I found.
Though the convention is less than two weeks out, a number of large displays are normally already installed or nearly completed. This year I could hardly find anything in reference to CCI.
There’s actually a lot of other events happening in San Diego this month. Tuesday was the Baseball All Star Game, held at Petco Park, and two days before that was the All Color 5K Run being held for the baseball game. San Diego, aside from being a military town, is also a sporty town. We love our Padres, our Chargers, and even Gulls hockey team. The area around Petco Park in downtown had many signs and advertisements for the All Star Game. You can bet most of the bars also had something in the way of an All Star tie in.
Not only that, but at the end of the week will be San Diego Pride. Though the parade and festival will be centered in the Hillcrest and Balboa Park areas, there will be a lot of focus placed on it. Also, hotels and bars will also see an impact throughout this weekend as Pride parties abound. It’s no wonder why I couldn’t find much in the way of Comic-Con International displays, since the city doesn’t want to take the focus away from this other money making events.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t any changes to downtown in regards to the convention. The MTS trolley system is in full Comic-Con mode with much of their train cars wrapped up in Conan O’Brien advertising (since he’ll be live at the Comic-Con again) and a few odd ones featuring shows like as “Son of Zorn.” Reason for this though is that the skin covers for those trains take a long time to put adhere, so we locals have seen them already for the better part of a month (and most likely will for another month after CCI). On my travels through the city, I even came across a building adorned with the “Funko” name on its exterior. Looking through the windows of the historic “Cracker Factory Building,” I saw human sized Captain America vinyls and a sign toting the 75th anniversary of the hero.
There is most likely more installations like this throughout downtown; exhibits that need more than a week to be put together, and so are completed early. I hear that the San Diego Airport just placed mannequins throughout its terminals that feature all styles of Steampunk Cosplay.
Once the last of our other events are out of way, I don’t doubt there will be PR teams and companies frantically putting together their themed displays. I’ll revisit downtown in a few days and see how the changes have progressed.
*This is the short story that made me fall in love with writing. I had taken an Honors Creative Writing class at my local community college. One of the requirements of the class was to submit three original poems and a short prose to a contest that the school held every year. To my great surprise, my submission for prose won. I still have a copy of the book it was published in sitting on one of my bookshelves.*
A day, like any other day, especially for Dan. Stumbling off the bus, Dan grasped the railing of the bus door with his left hand, and clutched his glasses with his sore right hand to make sure they didn’t slip off and break for the second time this week. Turning around, the bus driver caught a glance of him. Dan was a man in his early thirties, skin black as coal. He wore gloves to hide his fingers, which he was ashamed of because they were yellow from years of smoking. He didn’t smoke for social reasons. He smoked for its calming effect. The bus driver scowled at Dan and said “Are you drunk or what boy? Sober up.” With that the creaky door shut tight and the bus rambled off, blowing heavy exhaust in its trail. Dan looked on while fumbling with the zipper of his jacket. “Asshole!” he yelled at the retreating bus. Pausing from the matter of his coat, Dan gave the middle finger with his free right hand. Dan wasn’t drunk. He was autistic, and with his degree of autism came with it a lack of balance and coordination.
On his right hand a large bandage was covering the lower part of Daniel’s thumb where it met the palm. A month prior he had cut himself on the meat slicer at the deli that he worked at. A good portion of skin went into the freshly sliced meat. The scream he let out startled the deli’s patrons. A couple children began to cry out of fear. Dan wasn’t allowed to leave until he finished his shift. As he made his way to the hospital with his hand wrapped in a bloodied towel, he wondered what happened to his missing skin. Now, on his right hand is a keep scar. It still caused Dan pain. And it was most likely that it would for quite some time.
Inching his way home Dan gave up on trying to zip his jacket. As he cursed it for not cooperating with him and for apparently being a part of the massive conspiracy that seemed to dwell in his life, a bit of drizzle landed on his glasses. He looked up and noticed the collection of clouds that gathered overhead. “Oh fuck” he said while wrapping his arms around himself and picking up his pace. Just another grievance to add to the list.
“Tck, God I hate this face,” Dan said to his self as he saw his reflection in a store window. “Only two more blocks to go, then I’ll be fine” he thought. He had forgotten to take his Zoloft that morning and now felt his depression setting in, one of the most debilitating symptoms of autism. He needed it to function with some degree of normalcy; degree being the key word. The med’s negative side affect was that it made Dan an emotional zombie. But Dan felt he rather not feel anything than feel the sinking depression that was beginning to tighten its hold on him at that very moment.
“Only a little ways to go. I’ll make it” Dan said to himself. His shoulders hung low as if his jacket was made of lead. Dan’s eyes looked on as the world around him seemed to move without him; A world with no pity or patience for the likes of him. Perhaps someday understanding would come, but not today. He was in reach of his apartment. He saw his stoop, the one that badly needed re-cementing. “I’m not going to give you the satisfaction,” he said as he approached his apartment door. After fumbling with his keys and tending to the lock he looked back with a facial expression most curious. “I will not give.” As quickly as he said that, he retreated inside and the door shut tight.
One thing I’ve learned from my experiences so far is that writing just doesn’t “happen”. The whole romantic idea of sitting down at a keyboard, or your preferred writing medium, and just flowing with words isn’t real. If anything, you’re at the mercy of the literary spirits. Sorry. Your mental bubble is undoubtedly burst. How will you ever go on in life?
The famous artist Michelangelo once said in regards to one of his sculptures, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Writing I would have to say is quite similar. The work can’t be forced into the world, but rather the artist must quiet their minds and listen for the voices of their characters to make themselves known. Sometimes they will speak louder than avalanches, facilitating a torrent of words to paper. Other times they will be shy, silent as the grave. In these instances, you almost feel like a medium at a séance pleadingfor your characters to do something as simple as issue the smallest of whispers. Once this is done, it’ll become easier to coax the others into existence.
If you poke and prod beyond their liking, they’ll rebel and leave you in unnerving silence. Even worse, you might get the equivalent of writer’s diarrhea, where to your horror you’ll find what resembles utter, unequivocal crap.
So far, not only do we then find the process less romantic than we originally idealized, as well as more time consuming and tedious, but it also can be extremely nerve racking. Once the words have finally been divinely revealed, you’ll undoubtedly have a moment of clarity akin to when Dr. Frankenstein first looked on his monster with horror, repulsed by his ungodly work. A story is never ready to serve without a little mending. No matter how awesome of a writer you think you are, it’ll take a number of re-reads and editing until the words are arranged in a fashion that isn’t gibberish.
Years ago I was introduced to a wonderful poem by Anne Bradstreet. Her poem speaks about the relationship of an author with their book, and the feelings they have towards it. Because I feel it would be a disservice to “hack” the poem into a sample size, I present it to you in its entirety.
The Author to Her Book
By Anne Bradstreet (1678)
Thou ill-form’d offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth did’st by my side remain,
Till snatcht from thence by friends, less wise than true
Who thee abroad, expos’d to publick view;
Made thee in rags, halting to th’ press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge)
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
Thy visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
They blemishes amend, if so I could:
I wash’d thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
I stretcht thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run’st more hobbling than is meet;
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save home-spun cloth, i’ th’ house I find.
In this array, ‘mongst vulgars mayst thou roam
In critics hands, beware thou dost not come;
And take thy way where yet thou art not known,
If for they father askt, say, thou hadst none:
And for thy mother, she alas is poor,
Which caus’d her thus to send thee out of door.
Bradstreet’s poem speaks about her work, in this case either a book of poems or stories, given to her friends for review. In perhaps their poor judgement, or themselves being too kind in their critique, forwarded her work for outside criticisms, unknownst to Mrs. Bradstreet from what the poem implies. Upon its return with criticism, she was greatly embarrassed. Instead of trashing her book, having spent a great deal of energy on it already, she takes a little more to fix its flaws to the best of her abilities, though she herself admits she’s ill equipped in her writing tools to fashion it just the way she would like it. Never before have I read a creative description of a writer and their work that both was entertaining and true at the same time.
What should be taken out of all my ramblings is that writing is a labor of love. Often times there is no other reward than the satisfaction you get on making something that at least one other person may enjoy. Like any craft, it takes times to hone, hammering away at the dull blade of a novice until it becomes the sharp sword of one with experience. The process itself isn’t all roses and butterflies, but often times harsh reality. It’ll test you and make you question whether or not you’ve chosen to pursue the right endeavor. The finished product may also create more doubt, making you want to throw it out the window, sell your typewriter, make origami of your writing paper, and take a 9 to 5 job.
But in the end, when all the doubt is exhausted and the stars align, you’ll find yourself face to face with what you’ve been striving for; this child that was hidden in the paper and the ink, the writer’s blocks and the long sleepless nights, the doubt and self-loathing, and hopefully what you’ll see will make it all worth it.