Friday, June 8, 2012

A Book Worthy Of Your Almighty Dollar

My pals Sam Johnson and Mike Gagnon have come out with a really fascinating new comic called The Almighties, and Sam was kind enough to get a copy into my hands (which is brave of him, as he has no idea where these hands have been).

I'm going to pay this comic a compliment that I rarely ever use: I have no idea where it's going. Now, with far too many of today's funnybooks, that's a definite negative. But in this context, I point it out as one of the book's greatest strengths. Unlike a lot of comics, I can't say "well, this is obviously trying to capitalize on the readership of Vertigo titles," or "it's obvious that they're going for a Teen Titans vibe here." The Almighties is very much its own thing, and as someone who takes great pride in trying to make my comics unique, I can appreciate that quality more than most.

Ostensibly, this is a superteam comic, but its line-up is a quirky hodge-podge of interesting characters, including the power-armored Maxi-Tron (who finds himself in need of a testicular exam), Ms. F (sort of a Carol Danvers type, but also nothing like her), Nite Fang (a werewolf), Mason (a mercenary), and Stefanos, who apparently runs a kabob shop between having meetings at the White House and fighting crime with a big skewer of meat (and not the way that Ron Jeremy does).

Now in and of itself, a peculiar line-up of characters doesn't make a superteam book unique, as we've seen similar things in 1980s indy comics like Southern Knights, Justice Machine, etc., and in some ways this book is reminiscent of such great titles (though the Almighties team is odder than most). But the real difference is in the WAY the comic is written, and that's where my job here becomes difficult, as how do you describe an unknown quality without using a "yardstick" of familiarity with which to compare it? If I had to describe the way this story is told, it would be sort of like if you took a more light-hearted superteam comic (say, the Great Lakes Avengers of the Legion of Substitute Heroes), but then you doused it liberally with the sheer oddness of Bob Burden's work (Flaming Carrot, Mystery Men, etc.). There's a certain controlled lunacy to the comic that could be misconstrued as just wackiness, but there's actually a lot more to it than that. In the salad days of the Comics Journal, I think they might've called this comic "dadaistic," which might be as appropriate, and as incomplete, as any other classification.

However you chose to label it, though, I really enjoyed it. There are laughs (my favorite probably being the L'il Jonze character's preoccupation with sex and dips), cool character interaction, and a very fast pace. I would be remiss if I didn't also mention the artwork by Eleonora Kortsarz, Pablo Zambrano, and D.C. White, which is equally hard to describe (again, it would be like if you took the cool indie team books of thirty years ago, but then added an almost underground element...at points it almost looks like the Elementals if Bill Willingham had collaborated with Reid Fleming's David Boswell!), some great coloring by Gulliver Vianei, Jennifer Scott, and the aforementioned Mike Gagnon (oooh, Mr. Multi-tasking!), and first-rate lettering by Kris Johnson.

Again, I'll praise the book in a strange way: it's not for everybody. And thank goodness for that, as I really don't want to read a comic that's for everyone. But I do want to read one that's intended for sharp readers with an appreciation of creators doing something outside the box, and that's what we've got here.

Check it out. The Almighties #1 is published by Actuality Press, Rated Teen+, and is available at www.indyplanet.com and www.thealmighties.com in $3.99 regular and Variant editions. And the $1.99 Digital Edition is available now at www.graphicly.com and www.wowio.com

It's cool to have another comic out there that I actually want to read. I may not give up on this funnybook thing yet...

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

If Luck Be a Lady Tonight, She Doesn't Think You Drive a Cool Car...

Today I saw a link to a FB post that not only got my goat, but bent him over and gave him a Ned Beatty to boot. Here's where you can read it in its entirety if you wish. I'm a bit iffy on something called "We Survived Bush, You Can Survive Obama," as it seems to discount all of us who didn't want to have to survive either of them, but what the hey.

Now, this thingy started off OK, with the author saying that not everyone who is out of work right now is lazy or not looking for work. Okey dokey, I'm with you there. It's a crappy economy right now, despite what the White House might want us to think, and there are a ton of hardworking folks who can't find a job at the moment. That's not debatable; it's simply fact (just like it's a fact that at ANY time in history, there are also going to be far too many folks who DON'T want to work and would rather have other folks do it for them; I don't think these folks are the majority, but they exist).

HOWEVER, then the author goes too far, and ends the piece with this little nugget:
    
"Unless you're a millionaire reading this then we are all running the same race and quite simply some of  have us just gotten luckier in our circumstances than others. That is all that separates us."
OK, Hoss, that's where you lost me. People who have succeeded more than others are ONLY there because of luck?

Bzzzzzzt! Oh, so sorry. You've lost the lightning round.

Is it just possible that in SOME cases, just MAYBE effort, determination, and forethought might have the slightest iota to do with it?
OK, I'm going to use myself as an example here. Bear in mind that my college paid me $19,000 last year, so it'll probably be a while before I can save up to be a millionaire; therefore I guess I have a right to address this "luck" pontification.

In my own case, as most of you know, I occasionally get to write comic books (whereas I'd like to do so more than occasionally). Of course, I'm no heavy hitter when it comes to fame or fortune in comics (99% of comic readership hasn't the foggiest who I am), and by my standards I haven't accomplished anywhere near what I want to in the funnybook realm. But truth be told, I've accomplished more than the MAJORITY of folks who WANT to write comics (not those who actually have, but simply those who have that as their goal). I've been up for some Eisners, I've gotten to work on some fairly major characters, my work is being optioned for other media, and on the rare occasions when I DO work, I've gotten a decent page-rate.

Now, the small success that I HAVE had in comics...is it all because of luck? Well, as I point out to folks when I'm interviewed, I probably wouldn't be doing this stuff professionally now if Jim McLauchlin hadn't wandered by my table at the 1997 Wizard World Chicago convention, noticed my comic Holey Crullers, and bought them and enjoyed them.

Was there an element of sheer happenstance in that? Sure. If Jim had taken a different route around the convention floor, if he'd been distracted by a bug as he passed my table, etc., things might have gone completely differently. THAT could be considered good fortune, as it's not something I could control.

 

Now let's look at the elements that I COULD and DID control. Jim couldn't have picked up my comics had I not made the effort, that year and the six years previous, to go to the convention and peddle my unknown mini-comics (mainly to people who had no interest in reading them, and who had no problems letting you know that). I had to write the comics, find artists for the comics, print them up, fold and staple them, lug them to the convention and back, pay for the table, and push them on anyone and everyone I could.

Beyond that, he might not have LIKED my comics enough to make my comics career possible if I had not spent nine years in college specifically to improve my writing abilities, not to mention the fifteen years or so that I spent working at concession stands, convenience stores, gas stations, mowing lawns, etc. so that I had the money to PAY for those years of college.

If you want to say that a guy who did EVERYTHING that I did to succeed, and then STILL failed, is only separated from me by circumstance, then maybe we might have a topic for discussion.

But to say that ANYONE who doesn't succeed is only different from me because I was "lucky"? Sorry, but you're cuckoo for coco puffs. There's a PROFOUND difference between me and a guy whose only effort to get into the funnybook business is standing around bending the ear of his local comic shop owner about what great comics he would create if the Big Two would only have the brains and the nerve to "give me my shot!"

Nine times out of ten, every success story that seems like mere "luck" has a TON of hard work and patience
behind it. Most overnight sensations happen over years, sometimes decades. But most failure is pretty much instantaneous, and yeah, most of the time it is equally due to what its "victim" has done or not done.

Think of it like the stock market. Is there an element of luck to investment? Sure. A rutabaga crop can be destroyed by a drought, and you lose your shirt. It happens. But most of the time your success or failure in the market is due to which investments you make. If you bought into IBM years ago, you might have made a fortune. If you instead chose to put all your money into New Coke, you F-ed yourself in the A.

Likewise, I made an investment when I decided I wanted to write
comics. Truth be told, it may not have been the brightest investment, as my Master's in creative writing is hardly the key to gainful employment, and the comic book industry is neither stable nor going out of their way to hire unknown folks (they're more likely to hire well-known actors or directors or soccer players than a guy like me).

But that was my choice. If I don't succeed, it's not because the Fates didn't smile on me, nor is it because there are a lot of mean people out there trying to hold me back. The credit or blame for my success or failure rests squarely on one guy, and he's the same one who makes sweet love to my girlfriend whenever possible (and if I ever CATCH that bastard...!).

Are there folks out there suffering because of circumstances beyond their control? Sure, and hopefully we can quit dicking around and put policies in place that will encourage hiring rather than discouraging it.

But to say that the only difference between a guy like myself... and another guy whose biggest investment in his comics-writing career was to buy every issue of Deadpool...is a matter of sheer LUCK?

I'm a comic book writer, but even I can't pass off a fantasy like that...

Monday, April 16, 2012

Speech Therapy

So recently I was fortunate enough to be asked to speak about comics at the Tidewater Community College Literary Festival (there's a mouthful...and yes, that's what she said) in Norfolk, VA, and I have to say, it was one of the best times I have had in recent memory. As is my nature, let me bullet point some of the highlights:

* For me one of the best parts had to be meeting Suki and Wade Tooley, two of the nicest people I have ever met. Suki was responsible for (and deserves all the blame) for my invitation to the festival. She and Wade took it a heck of a lot farther than just being good hosts, though. They treated me like a king (no, not Rodney), they wined me and dined me, and they were the best company anyone could have. Even though I couldn't have spent more than maybe twelve hours with them during the entire trip, I've rarely ever felt so close to two folks in such a short amount of time.
One of the nicest aspects was finding out that they're fairly "like-minded" when it comes to socio-political issues and the like. That might sound like a small matter, but in the charged atmospheres of academia and funnybooks that I patronize, it's NOT. Finding someone who actually (gasp!) dares to think like me is a rarity, and to be honest, in my emails with Suki in lining up the event, I never went into such matters, as far too often it can be a dealbreaker (I know we'd like to think folks are not that closed-minded, but don't kid yourself). But within a short time, it became clear that these two actually GET it. and we groused about stuff like we've known each other our whole lives.

They were kind enough to pick me up at the airport (with Suki holding a sign that said "Troy Hickman" and Wade holding one that read "No, really, Troy Hickman," as I recall). They took me by the theater to see and get a photo of me standing under my name on the marquee (you wanna talk about surreal). They let me ride along with them to the Mark Wheatley speech the night before mine (I think Mark and I had met years ago, and we both vaguely remembered it). They took me out to dinner...and more dinner...and after dinner...and I think they were even present during my dinner with Andre. They did a hundred other things to make sure I had a grand time while I was there.

And you know the best part? Truth be told, I may sound like a sappy goof when I say this, but when has that ever stopped me before? The best part is that I sincerely feel like I've made a couple of new friends, and that's not something I do too often, and it means a hell of a lot. They're wonderful people, and very smart, and exceedingly funny, and I'm so glad to know them (and right now, anyone who knows me is thinking "so why would smart, funny people hang out with you, T-Bone?").

* Speaking of smart, funny friends, I was about twenty minutes into my speech, squinting out into the crowd (they never really turned down the lights, so I couldn't see very far into the vastness of the place), when I noticed there was a young woman down front who was smiling and laughing at everything I said. My first thought was "there's a nitrous oxide leak in the theater!"

Eventually, though, I realized it was my friend Sondra, whom I've known for ten odd years, but had never actually met before. Over the last decade, she's also been incredibly kind and supportive towards me, so it was a tremendous thrill to see that she'd made it to the speech (she lives nearby). Sondra is an absolute force of nature, by the way. I try to surround myself with people who are bright and quick-witted (to make up for my obvious limitations), and she's just freakishly good, so much so that she should really be in stand-up or some other area of the business of show. She went with us to "dinner" (OK, it turned out to be a Sprite) after the speech, and at one point, in a forty-five second window (yes, I notice stuff like that), she went from a southern belle accent to a high British accent to what might be best described as a "Maury show guest" accent, and all with top-notch ad-lib material. She's like what Robin Williams would be if he were funny. And, like Suki and Wade, just one of the best people I have ever had the privilege of knowing, just so normal and decent and kind, but then, I've known that for years. Sweet baby gherkins, why are such people associating with a reprobate like myself?

* I got to stay at the Marriott Waterside, a really nice hotel downtown. Is there anything cooler than having your own hotel room? I'm one of those folks that uses absolutely EVERY amenity they provide, from the ice bucket, to the steam iron, to the shoe polishing cloth. They had some great facilities, too, with a really complete exercise room, a 24 hour laundry, etc.

I did have a brief moment of terror, though, when I went outside to take a look at the outdoor hot tub, only to realize that I couldn't pull the door back open once I was out there. There was NO ONE else around, and it was only an hour or two before they were going to come and get me for the speech, so I began to panic, worrying that I'd miss it because I was trapped out there with the hot tub.

Of course, then I realized that the door opens in instead of out. You know, for ostensibly a fairly bright guy, I can be quite the dullard. That photo on the right, btw, was taken about thirty seconds before I started panicking...

Here's a fact that will tell you everything you need to know about Troy Hickman: the first night at the hotel, I rode the elevator to every floor (there are 24 of them) to check out what soft drinks were in each vending room.

* The food was just fantastic during the whole trip, and I'm sad to admit I probably put on ten pounds in the couple days I was there. On Wednesday, after the Wheatley speech, there was a FANTASTIC spread of food at the reception, and I gobbled it up in a manner that would've shamed PacMan (and frankly, he needs shaming). Then, because that's not enough to sustain my brobdingnagian girth, Wade and Suki took me out to a great place for sushi and tempura and about a dozen other things that I wolfed down. Of course, after half a night's sleep, I had to get down to the hotel' BREAKFAST BUFFET (hey, it was included in the hefty price of the room). Then there was my pre-speech meal (a great plate of fish and chips), followed by the reception food, followed by the buffet again the next morning, and---well, let's just say that I left Virginia looking like Mr. Creosote...

* The speech itself, if what folks are telling me is true (and not an attempt to spare my Cindy Brady-like feelings), went very well. The theater is a beautiful old place, and they gave me mine own dressing room (it had a wall-length mirror with lights around it, just like in the movies!), brought me down for a mic check (and yes, I said "sibilance, sibilance" just like you'd expect me to), and set me up with a cool remote control for my slide show.

I was nervous as hell at first, but after a few minutes I loosened up and got on with the business of explaining how I'd gotten into funnybooks, and more importantly, how I'd managed to keep loving them while dealing with them as a business.

Folks seemed to dig it, and at the signing in the lobby afterwards, the good folks from Barnes and Nobles sold out of the Common Grounds trade paperback. I also met some fantastic people (I was especially taken by the two little kids, (Isabelle and her brother, I believe), who showed their fine manners and upbringing by coming over before they left and shaking my hand, saying "it was nice to meet you, Mr. Hickman." What a sweet, sweet thing.

And Suki presented me with a lovely silver engraved cup as a memento. I'm going to tell people it was given to me by the people of Virginia for saving them from the Stone Men of Saturn...

Anyway, it was just a wonderful trip (and the moolah doesn't hurt either!), and I sincerely hope I can do more of this sort of thing in the future. Thanks so much to Suki, and Wade, and Sondra, and all the fine folks at Tidewater, and even to the lady at the hotel restaurant who seemed mad that I only tipped her the FIRST day I was there for the buffet (hey, it's hard to know what 20% of zero is!). I love comics!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hey, Kids...Comics!



Hiya! It’s been a while, and yeah, I really have to post here more often. So I will! What I wanted to gab about with you today was a quite sublime afternoon I had not long ago. As you may know, I have my own home now, and like the house in which I grew up (which is a mere seven feet north of my new digs), there’s a great porch where I can sit and read on a warm day (or sit an freeze on a cold one if I want; hey, it’s my place, so it’s my frostbite!).


Anyway, not long ago I took a bit of “me time” on a Sunday afternoon, and I perused a stack of comics sent to me by my pal Sebastian Piccione. And what a grand time I had! What you have to realize, folks, is that between teaching, writing, taking care of the new house, etc., I don’t have much time for reading, and that includes comics. Also, to be honest, if I DO have time for funnybooks, I’d much prefer to read some of my unread Silver Age acquisitions, rather than the doom-and-gloom, Character X-is-so-bad-ass, big-thing-of-the-month comics that currently hit the stands.So imagine my joy when I sat down with Seb’s stack of comics, and actually ENJOYED some current sequential art for a change. Let me go into some specifics about each book:



Cat. 5 – This is a very cool comic about a solo heroine (the kind of comic that tends to be hard to do successfully, if years of Wonder Woman, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Woman, and various other comics are any indication). It has a really nice, breezy feel to it. For me, though, the most interesting thing is our gal’s origins. As I was reading it, I said to myself “wow, it really feels like the kind of character that grows out of superhero gaming.” And sure enough, when I got to the editorial page at the end, yup, that’s from whence she came. Folks, that’s no small deal to me, either, as most of the characters from my (everybody together now…Eisner-nominated) series Common Grounds were originally either player characters or NPCs in my fifteen-year Champions RPG campaign. I’m guessing a lot of Seb’s other characters stem from his gaming as well. Clever, coherhent scripting, and solid art (nice use of grey tones). It reminds me of the self-published indy superhero comics from the eighties that I dug so much.


Allied Forces – Yes! A very well-done WW2 comic. At the moment, my pal Stan Timmons and I are working on a pitch for a WW2 superhero comic, so reading this really put me in the right frame of mind. I really dig the multi-national heroes. It reminds me of something Roy Thomas would’ve done thirty years ago, and that’s high praise. I really appreciate the attention to detail. The artwork is very clean and appropriate to the time period (with some excellent coloring work). I’m anxious to see where this goes.




Heroic Tales – A very cool superhero anthology (and man, we don’t see many of those these days). The first tale features Conversion, and deals with our hero turning matter into energy (some cool possibilities there), and dealing with the villainous Brickbat (given Seb’s penchant for puns, you know I have to enjoy this stuff). Again, a very nice light superhero feel to it, the kind of thing that would bring me back to mainstream comics in droves if they could manage it (but I’m afraid that far too many current creatures have a heart that’s two sizes too small). The second feature is the U.S.A. (United Super Americans), and has a great team with pun names that I envy (I wish I could’ve made people wince with ‘em!). Really top-notch artwork throughout the comic.




Never Look Back #2 – A very well-done anthology about the denizens of Charlton City, who tend to be up to their eyeballs in crime and corruption. A great noir feel here. Seb’s piece is the best (great allusions to Charlton the comics company, btw), but the whole book is snazzy. I love the concept, as it allows for all sorts of great human interest stuff. If they do more of these, they should put me down for a spot, as it plays to the sort of short self-contained pieces I like.

All in all, the best time I've had reading comics in a while. Thanks so much, Seb.

Cat. 5 can be found here: and HEROIC TALES #1 here. (And I believe Seb said Allied Forces would be available there soon).

Hey, comic industry, put more fun into comics, both for the reader, and more importantly FOR YOURSELVES, and you'll get me sitting on my porch more often.

Also, put more fun into comics by hiring me for more stuff. I'm just saying...

Friday, February 10, 2012

I May Be Just a Writer, But This Is Where I Draw The Line

A couple of folks have asked me about the Gary Friedrich matter and my take on it. So here it is.

As most everyone reading this knows, you will not find too many folks more adamant about intellectual property rights than me. And in the strictest sense, Marvel may have a legal case, given work for hire contracts.

But personally, do I think they should be trying to get 17K out of him for Ghost Rider related prints and such at cons? No. First of all, if they ARE going to do such things, they'd damned well better do it equally to every creator at a con who in any way uses the image of one of their properties. And they're not going to do that, because there would be a mutiny among their artists, some of whom make a fair chunk of change from selling artwork and sketches at cons. Secondly, while Gary may not own the rights to the character, I don't think anyone is disputing that he played a part in GR's creation, and that should allow him a certain leeway, even if it's an informal one.
Let me put it this way. There were something like a dozen or more artists involved in the making of Common Grounds #1-6. Those guys are more than welcome to do pics of said characters at conventions if requested, for profit or gratis, as far as Troy Hickman is concerned, and I hope that the good folks at Top Cow feel the same.

Now, yeah, if those pics were being done in the nude (the character, not the guy drawing it), or someone were claiming they created the character when they didn't, or they were creating new stories with the character rather than a pin-up, that might be a different thing. But that doesn't seem to be the case here.

I sat about twenty feet across from Gary at a con not long ago, and he sure didn't seem to me to be doing anything that would bring any harm, financially or otherwise, to the publisher. He just seemed to be doing the same thing that I do at conventions: associating myself with something I created, and hopefully getting more folks interested in the characters.

Either way, I think this is going to be a PR fiasco for the folks involved...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Hmmm...

If "I was born this way" is a valid rationalization for stuff, why do the cops keep arresting me when I leave the house naked and poop in the middle of a crowd of strangers?