I apologize for the lack of posts recently. I have had a difficult summer: After breaking both my hands (covered previously in this space), I had to have a series of emergency dental procedures (still not done!), and, as if that wasn’t enough, my whole family got Covid, including yours truly. Still, it hasn’t been all bad. I did manage to get some micro fiction and poetry published, and I represented Comic Book School at Eternal Con in Long Island, hosting multiple panels in early July.
First off, my work was included in the From One Line, Vol 3 anthology. From One Line is one of my favorite writing prompts on Twitter, and they periodically publish anthologies based on their prompts. I am proud number of micro-fictions and poems in the anthology, and feel that the From One Line prompts, which provide a first line which authors must use to start their pieces, bring out some of my best work. You can purchase the From One Line anthology here.
My work also appears in this year’s Serious Flash Fiction winners anthology, which collects the winners of its annual micro fiction contest. This is the fifth year in a row that I’ve had work in the anthology, and it’s a special publication for me, as when I was first published in it 5 years ago, it broke a long publishing drought for me. You can get the anthology here.
As mentioned above, I represented Comic Book School at Eternal Con in Long Island at the beginning of July. I tabled at the con, and hosted a number of panels, both planned and as a full-in for Buddy Scalera who had to miss the show unexpectedly.
Among the panels which I hosted, were the ever-popular Origin Story Interactive Character Creation panel (co-hosted with the always amazing Cathy Kirch of My Writing Hero and Columbia University), and a brand new panel on dialogue based on two blog posts I wrote here.
If you weren’t at the show, you can read those posts here:
Hopefully, the skies will clear for me soon, and the second half of the summer will be better. Thank you for sticking with me during this difficult time.
Believe it or not, I was not always into comics. Sure, I had a Spider-Man light switch in my room growing up, and sure, there was a period in junior high school when I read the Daredevil and Thor comics that were in my orthodontist’s waiting room pretty consistently, but from the time I graduated 8th grade until the time I graduated college, I hardly read comic books at all.
The same held true for my writing. At that point in my life, I was torn between writing “serious” literary prose and scifi/fantasy. I thought it would be my project to marry the speculative and the literary, perhaps incorporating fantasy elements into my writing the way Vonnegut incorporated science fiction into his. I was writing a lot of short stories during this period, and perhaps influenced my writing-workshops at Columbia, where I majored in writing/literature, I had not even begun to consider writing in the comics medium.
My attitude toward comics changed in the early 2000s, because of my love for Neil Gaiman’s writing. I had read and enjoyed Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy early in college, and having completed that series, as well as his two Dirk Gently books, I was eager to read more clever, British speculative humor. I had a friend who had an internship with Adam’s company (where she was working on the Starship Titanic text-based video game), and I asked her what I should read next. She suggested Good Omens, by Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, a book which has had a profound impact on my creative life.
From that point forward, I started working my way through Gaiman and Pratchett’s novels, alternating between books like Neverwhere and American Gods and Pratchett’s Discworld, happy to find authors I enjoyed who were both prolific and coming out with new material.
At this time, I also began to lean into writing witty humor. I had dabbled with it since reading Vonnegut—and after watching Monty Python, which, seemingly, was on a loop in our dorm-room common area—but as I read more Pratchett and Gaiman it began to seep into my writing more and more.
Fast forward to 2003, when I met Neil Gaiman after a reading he did promoting Sandman: Endless Nights. As I blogged recently, during this meeting, he gave me some great writing advice. It was a pivotal moment for me as a young writer with just two published stories to my name.
During the reading, I noticed something else: The majority of the attendees were fans of Gaiman’s comics work. This is not surprising, as the event was in support of the Endless Nights release. I was struck both by the enthusiasm of the crowd for The Endless, and by the quality of the prose in the passage that Gaiman read at the event, which came from the Despair story.
I decided to give comics another try.
At that time, I was working at trade magazine house located on 31st street and Park Avenue in New York City. I was living in Inwood, a neighborhood about as far north in Manhattan as you can get. Every day, on my walk to the subway, I passed by Jim Hanley’s Universe, a large comic book store, which was located directly opposite the Empire State Building on 33rd Street.
One day soon after Gaiman’s reading, I went in and purchased the first volume of The Sandman in trade paperback. The rest, as they say, is history.
I consumed the Sandman series voraciously. I was in Jim Hanley’s about once a week, to buy the next volume in the (of the at the time 12 volumes of the series) over the next few months, and when I finished the series, I continued to visit the store to buy other Gaiman titles.
Eventually, I branched out to other comics creators. Through reading Gaiman, I was introduced to other writers. I started reading Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, and Frank Miller (whom I remembered had written some of those Daredevil books I had read at the orthodontist’s office).
There was something in their writing that I really liked. They were doing something different than what the so-called-literary writers were doing at the time, something innovative, without the pretensions of that was so rampant among the darlings of the moment of the literary world.
Personally—and this is just my preference—I preferred Moore to Franzen, whose prose I always found overwrought, and Gaiman, whose allusions seemed more natural, to Lethem. I not only enjoyed these comics writers, I studied them, and incorporated what I learned into my own writing.
I learned so much about structure from Alan Moore, especially about the circular narrative, a technique which I’ve used in so many of my stories.
I learned so much about dialogue from Frank Miller, both about brevity and about how to write distinct character voices.
I learned so much about characterization from Garth Ennis, both in his Vertigo work, and his more mainstream work.
Eventually, there was Will Eisner, who combined character and setting masterfully in his Contract With God trilogy.
And of course there was Gaiman, from whom I had already learned so much.
This was a literary community with which I wanted to engage, a literary community, which unlike so many of the literary communities which I loved—was contemporary and active.
When I, eventually, decided to try my hand at writing comics, I began by studying Gaiman’s script excerpt, which I found at the back of one of the Sandman trade paperbacks.
This newfound interest in writing comics led me to attend New York Comic Con for the first time, where I discovered Buddy Scalera’s Comic Book School, whose panels furthered my education as a writer and as a fledgling comics creator.
Beyond the influence these trips to Jim Hanley’s Universe had on my writing, they rekindled my love of comics. Gaiman and Moore had both written Batman, and reading their Batman stories reintroduced me to a character I had not been involved with since I watched The Animated Series in the 90s. I revisited the Daredevil and Thor titles I remembered from those visits to the orthodontist slightly earlier. I began to go back even further to characters I enjoyed when I was a kid, like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four.
Moreover, I enjoyed the sense of community I found at Jim Hanley’s universe. The staff, unlike the reputation that many comics stores had at the time, was helpful and enthusiastic. They were kind to me as I was learning, patiently answering my questions and offering recommendations. I remember one employee in particular, I think his name was Larry, who had a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of the store’s back issues. Based on minimal clues I provided about comics I had read 10-15 years prior—and without my knowing the publication date, writer, or artist—he went through the back issues, and found, more often than not, the book for which I had been looking.
Beyond the comics, however, I found that comics fans were also fans of other nerdy things I loved, like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and in another circle back to the beginning of this post, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. There was a used prose books section in the store, stocked with out-of-print science fiction titles, and my first introduction to the great Chris Claremont was through a prose novel (autographed) which he had co-written with George Lucas.
Hanging around the store, I made friends and had (let’s call them) discussions about a wide range of film and literature. These were my people, and I found them at Jim Hanley’s Universe.
Eventually, I moved on. I left the job at the magazine, and my next job was not in the same neighborhood. Jim Hanley’s has moved twice since then, further east, making it less convenient for me to get to. Still, the store held—and continues to hold—a special place in my heart. It still is, n my mind, my local comics shop, though it is no longer, truly, local. Whenever I need a title which I can’t find at the small store in my neighborhood, I order it from Jim Hanley’s, and whenever I happen to be in that part of the city, I make sure to stop in.
Like a good Alan Moore story, life tends to run in circles. And so, after many years of attending the Comic Book School panels at cons, I now co-edit their annual anthology. I’ve had comics published by Comic Book School, in literary magazines, and in anthologies. I’ve continued to publish my prose stories as well, and have won prestigious awards for my writing. I’ve also become a poet, something that young writer who met Neil Gaiman all those years ago would never have imagined in his future. I have had a good deal of success with my writing, and even though I aspire for more, I am grateful for everything that I’ve accomplished thus far on my journey.
My journey is far from over, however. A few months ago, I watched an episode of Comic Book School’s YouTube channel which featured Tom Peyer and Jamal Igle of Ahoy! Comics. After listening to them discuss their company’s vision—and describe their company’s open submission policy—I thought it would be a good market for my writing. The blend of literary and humor which permeated their conversation spoke directly to that part of me who fell in love with Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, and Douglas Adams back in the day (there go those circles again). I submitted a story to them, and it was accepted.
I was thrilled by the email I received from my editor, Sarah Litt, and eagerly awaited the day when my work would appear in a book which would be available at comics shops nationwide.
Thus, it was one of the great thrills of my creative life to walk into Jim Hanley’s Universe last week, and purchase Black’s Myth 5, the comic book in which my story Genesis, Jiggered first appeared, and to see my work on the shelves in the place where my passion for comics was rekindled so many years ago.
Appropriately enough, my first “professional” comics work is actually a prose story—and here is another of those Allan Moore circles coming around again at the conclusion of this post—a satirical fantasy in the mode of Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman.
Though the story is now available for free on the Ahoy! site, if you like it, I encourage you to order the issue to your favorite local comics shop. I hope you have had similar experiences there as I had in mine.
My short story, “Genesis Jiggered,” a satyrical retelling of the biblical creation story, which posits the creator was drunk, will be published by Ahoy! comics in Black’s Myth, issue 5 on November 24th.
Comic Book School mentioned my story in a recent episode of it’s Tuesday night YouTube show.
And speaking of the CBS YouTube show and Ahoy!, I also interviewed Stuart Moore and Mark Russell about the process of creating their stories in the latest issue of Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Death.
I also recently appeared on Flying Ketchup Press’ Ketchup•Pedia radio. I read two pieces on the program, a sonnet which I wrote upon finding my first grey hair, and a flash fiction story which was published in the Comic Book School Panel 1 anthology.
My poem “snow ghosts” will be published in The Bard’s Annual 2021 from Local Gems Press on Dec 5th.
I will be reading at Bard’s Day the annual release event on Long Island. Tickets to the reading and links to buy the book can be found here.
Comic Book School’s second annual anthology, Creator Connections, Panel 2 is now available as a free download from the CBS site. I co-edited the anthology, and have two stories, Mr. Stupendous: In the Clutches of Doctor When (Illustrated by Arielle Lupkin, D. Alley, Michael Grassia, Sebastian Bonet, and Evan Scale), and There Are No Ghosts Here, Only Memories (Illustrated by Joel Jacob Barker). I am really proud of the book generally, and the stories specifically.
I’ve pasted the official press release below, in case you want to find out more about the project or Comic Book School.
Comic Book School Publishes Creator Connection: Panel 2, The Time Inn, its Second Annual Comics and Flash Fiction Anthology Based on the 8-Page Challenge
Features work by members of the Comic Book School community, mentored by pros from the Comic Book School network.
Includes articles offering advice to up-and-coming creators by industry pros Jamal Igle and Brian Pulido
October 11—Comic Book School is proud to present Creator Connection: Panel 2, The Time Inn, a comics and flash fiction anthology. The anthology, which is the culmination of the second annual Comic Book School 8-Page Challenge, is now available to download for free at https://www.comicbookschool.com/8-page-challenge-2-introduction/
Creators in the Comic Book School Community were challenged to create an 8 page comics story—from start-to-finish—over the course of the last year. They were mentored through the challenge by Buddy Scalera, the anthology’s publisher and Comic Book School’s dean of students, who wrote a series of blog posts that covered the creative and publishing process of a story which he wrote for Marvel Comics from start-to-finish. The creators where also mentored through the process by Scalera and pros from his network through a series of live seminars on the Comic Book School youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1_zRjwaA_rcwLD0HtyiK7w).
“Last year, during the height of the pandemic, I pulled together a group of ambitious, scrappy creators who worked together to create an amazing publication,” Scalera said. “To date, the anthology has won three awards, so, of course we capitalized on the momentum. This year’s anthology—the second annual—continues to give new and developing creators a platform to develop their craft and build their respective audiences.”
This year, creators were given a prompt—The Time Inn—which had to be incorporated into each story. The participants interpreted the prompt in a plethora of ways, producing a diverse array of stories and genres.
“The supportive community that has come together to make this second book inspires me,” said D. Alley, the anthology’s editor. “I am extremely proud, once again, of the Comic Book School Community for this great accomplishment.”
The anthology includes seven comics stories, created by members of the Comic Book School Community. Throughout the challenge, the members of the community posted their progress and gave each other feedback on the Comic Book School Forums (create.comicbookschool.com). The forums, which are housed on the Comic Book School website, are the home of the Comic Book School community. They are designed to foster community and collaboration, and to allow members to build connections, interact with and support one another, access educational resources, and share news and accomplishments. Many of the creative teams in the anthology met on the forums, which were crucial, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic when in person meetings and comic cons were not always an option.
“There’s so much talent in this collection,” said Kris Burgos, the anthology’s managing editor, “The stories and artwork will have readers on the edge of their seats. I truly feel that Panel Two is something fresh and exciting that rivals last year.”
The anthology also features illuminated flash fiction pieces—one-page of flash fiction accompanied by a single, full-page illustration. The Flash Fiction Challenge ran concurrently with the 8-page challenge and was also open to all members of the Comic Book School community. This year, the flash fiction content in the book increased exponentially. There are 11 flash pieces in the book, up from 3 a year ago.
“This year, we have flash fiction from a diverse array of authors and artists, ranging from established industry professionals to art students for whom this is their first published work,” said A. A. Rubin, the anthology’s co-editor. “Their creations are weird and wonderful, and represent the myriad permutations of ‘The Time Inn’ across space, time, and genre.”
Additionally, the anthology features articles by comics pros Jamal Igle and Brian Pulido, which offer advice to up-and-comic creators. Both Igle and Pulido also appeared on the Comic Book School YouTube channel over the course of the year-long challenge.
“The hope for 2021 to be “a better year” was often repeated to me with a tired sense of resolve,” Alley said. “Some people worked to advance with determination, others are still dealing with the results of those changes, and time moves forward for everyone. Comic Book School is no different: always teaching, always learning, about all the different aspects of being creators and making comic books.”
“I developed Comic Book School on the simple premise that experience and a strong network can help many creators reach their professional goals,” Scalera added. “I focus on shared, community-based experience around the craft and business of making comics. This second anthology continues to provide those craft and business experiences.” For more information, contact Buddy Scalera at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This weekend, I will be on multiple panels at Inbeon Con, an online comic-con which focuses on creatives.
I will be paneling with Comic Book School on the How to Make an Anthology panel on Sunday, at 10AM to kick off the second day of the show. In this panel, the editorial team responsible for the award-winning Creator Connections, Panel 1 anthology will be sharing our process, and teaching you what you need to create your own comics anthology. Comic Book School will also be paneling on Saturday, when Buddy Scalera and Dan Chichester discuss marketing for creatives.
I will also be a part of Inbeon’s panel on Creating a Character later in the day on Sunday. I recently hosted a panel at Eternal Con on the same subject, and it is a subject which I love to discuss.
For the second straight year, I am editing the Comic Book School Flash Fiction Challenge. The challenge just entered step 2 (but it’s not too late to join), and here is the column I posted for this phase of the challenge on the CBS site, which includes my advice for writing Flash Fiction.
I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one instead—Mark Twain
Writing succinctly is hard. You must say what is essential—and only what is essential, remain laser-focused on what you wish to convey, and avoid digressions. You must drill down to the pure essence of writing, and tell your story in its purest, most distilled form. It is a task that writers like Mark Twain, Blaise Pascal, and Cicero all lament takes time, often more time that writing a longer piece would. For those who are participating in the Comic Book School Flash Fiction challenge, that time is now.
The drafting step of the current challenge begins today on our message boards for Flash Fiction #2, and first drafts are due in fourteen days. Here are three suggestions for how to approach this particular challenge:
1. Consider writing a One-Twist Story:
When writing flash-fiction you don’t have space for complex plots. Eschew all sub-plots, and focus on a single problem in a single dramatic situation. Build suspense around one question, situation, or antagonist. Try to build toward a logical, but unexpected resolution, and hide this resolution from the reader for as long as possible. If you are successful, the reader should be both surprised and satisfied by your story’s conclusion.
The Twilight Zone is the gold standard for this type of writing. Think of the episode, Time Enough At Last, in which Henry Bemis, a bookish man who wants nothing as much as to read finds himself with all the time in the world, surrounded by books. Unfortunately, his glasses are permanently broken. The powerful ending is built on one twist. All of the characterization focuses on Bemis’ love of books and his frustration with a society that won’t let him read. From the opening scene in which Bemis reads David Copperfield at his job, to the scene where Bemis’ wife setting him up for ridicule by first asking him to read poetry to her and then frustrates these attempts and destroys his book, each scene stays laser-focused on the single aspect of Bemis’ characterization that will be important to the resolution. If Bemis had been a character in a novel or a movie, he would need to be characterized more fully, but in the shorter medium, focus is essential.The single twist ending can also be pulled off in comedic form.
In perhaps the most famous episode of The Honeymooners, the 99,000 Dollar Answer, the seeds that hint at the twist ending are sown throughout the early part of the episode. The writers engage in a classic misdirection framing the story around Ralph Kramden’s appearances on the gameshow, partially to hide those seeds, but there is still only one dramatic situation that leads to a perfect surprise twist ending.
In The Duel, my flash piece for the last anthology, I tried to affect a single twist ending. Reader have told me that were surprised by the ending. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it’s only 500 words. Read it and see if you’re surprised, then read it again and try to isolate the techniques I use to affect the suspense and hide the ending.
2. Consider putting your own spin on a traditional trope or cliché.
One of the hardest aspects of writing flash fiction for writers who are used to longer form writing is the lack of space for worldbuilding and backstory. When writing flash fiction, you must build a believable world quickly. Why not let the reader do some of the work for you? By using a trope with which the reader is already familiar, a writer can rely on that reader to do the world building for them. If you write what appears to be a classic fairy tale, a traditional horror, or noir crime story, half the work is done for you. The reader already knows where they are and what is supposed to happen.
The same can be said when using a seemingly cliched or trope-y character. Certain character types are supposed to act in certain ways: Prince Charming, the tragic hero, the undead monster, etc. Moreover, setting your story within a cliched trope allows you to subvert that trope to affect your twist ending. Consider Neil Gaiman’s masterful short story, Nicholas Was. (If you have not read it yet, read it before the next sentence. It’s only 100 words; I’ll wait) At the end of the story, Gaiman relies on the reader’s familiarity with the Santa Claus myth to affect his twist ending. The last three words of the story—”Ho, ho ho”—carry so much weight because the audience is already familiar with Santa Claus before reading the story. Gaiman has used something cliched and familiar to create something surprising and original.
In “The Duel,” I combine two common tropes, the duel at high noon from spaghetti westerns and the traditional high-fantasy wizard archetype, to create a new and different world. Because readers are generally familiar with the Western movie archetype, I could quickly establish the setting with details like the old-west saloon, the tumbleweed rolling across the road, and the townsfolk shuttering their windows. Because readers are familiar with the wizard archetype, I do not have to explain an elaborate magical system that allows the wizards to shoot magic from their staffs. The tropes have done that work for me. But, because I mash-up two unfamiliar genres, the story still feels fresh and new.
3. Consider using an unconventional or experimental narrative technique.
Because flash fiction is so short, it affords the writer the opportunity to experiment with form and language. An unconventional storytelling method can set your story apart and grab the reader’s attention. Readers will stick with an unconventional technique longer in shorter-form fiction, and this gives the flash fiction writer freedom to try out new things.
In her famous short story, The Birthday Party by Katherine Brush uses multiple point of view shifts—including the dreaded second person—to affect the dramatic distance of the reader to the story. In “The Duel,” I use present-tense narration to create immediacy and build suspense. These techniques work better in short form writing than in long form writing. They make the reader uncomfortable, which has the contradictory affect of hooking them in the short term (hmm, this is new and interesting, I’ll give it a shot) and alienating them in the long term (This is just weird/difficult; I don’t want to put in the work to deal with it).
Flash fiction offers you the opportunity to experiment with unconventional techniques and forms without alienating the reader. Take advantage of that opportunity and be creative. Surprise yourself by writing in an unfamiliar way, and you will be sure to surprise your reader.
The drafting phase is the perfect time to experiment with these unconventional narrative techniques. If you write your draft in, say second person, and you don’t like it, it is easy to revise your narrative perspective in future drafts.
There are, of course, many more ways to approach Flash Fiction—many more than I have space for here—and I encourage you experiment with them all. If, however, you are having trouble getting started with the challenge—or if this is the first time you are attempting to write flash fiction—I hope you find these suggestions helpful.
I am thrilled and honored to announce that the Comic Book School Presents: Creator Connections, Panel 1 Anthology, which I coedited along with Dee Alley, recently won “Anthology of the Year” at the Independent Creator Awards. The comics and flash fiction anthology, which is available for free download on the Comic Book School web site, also includes two pieces which I wrote, Mr. Stupendous, a comics story illustrated by Arielle Lupkin, and The Duel, illustrated by Mike Ponce.
In addition, one of the other short stories, Ragnarok Comes, written by Kris Burgos and Illustrated by JP Vilches, won the awards for best one-off comics short.
You can read official Comic Book School Press release below, which includes information about signing up for the second annual 8-Page Challenge, which will lead to the publication of our second comics and flash fiction anthology.
Comic Book School Takes Home Multiple Independent Creator Awards
The Indie Comics Community honored the creators of Comic Book School with multiple Independent Creator Awards, including Best Anthology and Best Short Story/One Shot. Comic Book School congratulates the creators who contributed to the Creator Connections, Panel 1 anthology—especially writer Kris Burgos and artist J. P. Vilchis for their victory for short story Ragnarok Come—and thanks the members of the independent comics community for supporting the anthology with their votes.
The award-winning anthology can be downloaded for free on the Comic Book School website.
“This shows what people can do when they work together, support each other, and focus on what they want to accomplish,” Buddy Scalera, the founder of Comic Book School and the anthology’s publisher, said. “The work in the anthology speaks for itself, and we are honored that it has been recognized by our peers in the indie comics community.”
“The award is validation for me,” said Kris Burgos, who wrote Ragnarok Comes. “After years of telling stories, it’s good to know people are listening and enjoying them. I also know I’m not completely crazy telling stories to myself and having hundreds of characters conversations in my head.”
The anthology was the culmination of the “8-Page Challenge” from Comic Book School, in which creators were challenged to create 8-page comics stories from start-to-finish over the course of a year. They were mentored through the challenge by Scalera and industry pros from his network, as well as through a peer-review process on the Comic Book School Forums.
“The one-year anthology curriculum represents an educational journey 20 years in the making,” Scalera said. “The experience has made us better comics creators and has strengthened our professional networks. It is a natural extension of the Creator Connections panel, and builds on our vision to help people learn the craft and business of making comics.”
The Independent Creator Awards are given annually by Comic Book Advocates to honor the best creators and creations in the independent comics world in four broad categories: Art, Crowdfunding, Words, and Creation. This year, the awards were determined by popular vote among members of the independent comics world in a series of polls posted in a private Facebook group from the beginning of the year through March 14.
“The awards were put together to celebrate the spirit of indie creation,” said Rob Andersin, indie comics advocate and creator of The Independent Comics Awards. “The tenacity and courage of indie creators should be celebrated. While awards may sound silly to some, the ability to be seen during awards season has led people to collaboration—and yes, a little competitiveness—that all leads to more shine on all independent creators when people see what we have to offer after a year of hard work.”
Over the last year, I’ve written extensively about my participation in the Comic Book School 8 Page Challenge. I wrote a comics story and flash fiction story for last year’s anthology, and edited the flash fiction section. This year, I will be co-editing the book and, hopefully, contributing two stories again. I welcome all writers and artists to participate in the challenge, which is starting now. Follow the link below for all the relevant information.
Comic Book School Presents: Creator Connection, Panel 1 was recently released on the Comic Book School website for free download. Not only do I have two pieces in the anthology, a comics story illustrated by Arielle Lupkin and a flash fiction story, illustrated by Mike Ponce, but I also served as the prose editor for the book. As such, I wrote an introduction for the flash fiction section, which I have posted in its entirety below.
Flash Fiction Editor’s Introduction: Why Are There Flash Fiction Pieces in a Comic Book Anthology?
Words and pictures have been intimately connected since human beings began telling stories. As many comics pros have been quick to point out, some of the earliest recorded stories—painted on the caves of France and Indonesia approximately 44,000 years ago, were, essentially, sequential storytelling art. To use a more modern word, comics.
But the history of words and pictures complementing each other is not exclusive to comics or sequential art. From the illuminated manuscripts of the middle ages, to the literati paintings of the Ming and Qing dynasties, to Gustave Dore’s unforgettable woodcuts for Dante’s Inferno and Coleridge’s Rime of The Ancient Mariner, images and text enhanced and illuminated each other even in the most serious literature. Some of the world’s greatest artists, such as Edouard Manet (Poe’s The Raven) and Eugene Delacroix (Goethe’s Faust) illustrated editions of some of the great literature of the 19th Century. Charles Dickens, arguably the greatest novelist ever, worked closely with illustrators on all but two of his novels.
It is only during the 20th Century that illustrated writing—at least for adults—was banished to the funny books and science fiction pulps. Why did this happen? The most common answer is that readers’ tastes, led by literary critics who felt that illustrations placed a barrier between the reader and their experience of the text, changed. A more cynical analysis suggests that as books became widely available, they were produced cheaply for the mass market. Art costs money, and pocket-sized, inexpensively-printed, paperbacks are not the best format for presenting illustrations anyway. Either way, by the second half of the 20th Century illustrated prose, with a few notable exceptions like Hunter S. Thompson’s creative non-fiction, was exceptionally rare.
These days, however, things are changing. We live in a world where illustrated literature is respectable once again. Watchmen appeared on many “Best Novels of the Last 100 Years” lists, and many younger readers are more likely to remember reading a graphic novel for class than one of their teachers confiscating a comic book which they read, surreptitiously, inside the book that they were supposed to be reading. Hollywood has mined the pages of graphic literature to create some of the most popular movies and television programs of our time, bringing the genre out of the counterculture and into the mainstream. At the same time, ebooks (like this one) are now the least expensive form of publication, and have eliminated the cost-related concerns associated with printing illustrations. Still, with the exception of young adult literature, pictures in prose books are still not as popular as they used to be.
They are, however, making a comeback. Many literary journals print art to accompany their selections. Interest in books as art objects, which often contain fancy, illustrated book plates, have become more popular, as well.
It is into this changing landscape that Comic Book School presents the creators who completed the Flash Fiction Challenge. Inspired equally by the classics mentioned above, the old pulp magazines, and early Ray Bradbury short story collections that drew on both traditions, writers and artists from our online community were challenged to create stories that married one page of prose with a single, full-page illustration.
The results speak for themselves. From D. Alley, who like William Blake, wrote and illustrated her piece, The Rescue; to George Dawkins II and Philip Burnette, whose powerful prose and black and white illustrations for The Black Knight are reminiscent of the great 19th Century engraved bookplates; to Mike Ponce, the master of backgrounds, who, like Paul Kibdy did with Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, somehow pulled together the surreal genre mash-up with which I presented him in The Duel.
In each of these stories, the marriage of art and writing enhances the reader’s experience beyond what either could do on its own. We invite you to join us on the vanguard of this revival.