Comic Book School Presents: Creator Connections, Panel 1 Wins Anthology of the Year in the Independent Creator Awards

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.”

Despite the recognition, the creators of the Comic Book School community are not resting on their laurels. The second annual 8-page challenge is currently underway. Interested creators can join the challenge by visiting the Comic Book School Forums at https://create.comicbookschool.com/forums/forum/8-page-challenge-2/ .

Join the Second Annual Comic Book School 8 Page Challenge

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.

https://www.comicbookschool.com/creative-prompt-8-pg-challenge-2/

My Interview on The Nerds of the Round

Check out my recent interview on The Nerds of the Round Podcast where I talk about my current projects, including Under New Suns (Skullgate Media), the Comic Book School Panel 1 anthology, At The Festival, my one-act play at Black Horse Review, and how my martial arts practice affects my writing. Oh, and that’s me riding a space-shark. What’s a space-shark? You’re going to have to listen or watch to find out.

You can watch on youtube, or listen here:

It’s a longer interview, but you’ll miss my wild hand gesticulations.

On the Flash Fiction Selections in the Comic Book School Presents: Creator Connection, Panel 1 Anthology

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.

You can download the anthology here.

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.

Please download the anthology (for free),  and to follow me on twitter, instagram, and facebook.

Now Available for Free Download: Comic Book School Presents: Creator Connection, Panel 1 Comics and Flash Fiction Anthology

Today is release day for the Creator Connection, Panel 1, an anthology of comics and flash fiction which you can download for free here. I am super excited to share this book with you, as not only do I have two stories in it–one comic and one flash fiction–but I did a lot of editing work for the book as well.

Creator Connections: Panel 1 is a comics and flash fiction anthology. The anthology, which is the culmination of the 8-Page Challenge issued by Comic Book School after NYCC 2019, is now available to download for free at www.comicbookschool.com/titles/creator-connection-panel-1-anthology/.

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 throughout 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 that he wrote for Marvel Comics. Additionally, Comic Book School’s network of pros, including Darren Sanchez, Scalera’s editor at Marvel, and Cathy Kirsch (My Writing Hero), a Columbia University creative writing professor, provided support through live-streamed seminars, personal meetings, and forum posts.  

“This anthology turned out better than I’d expected,” Scalera said. “It’s proof that no matter how bad things are (and 2020 was very, very bad) you can still—to quote Neil Gaiman ‘make great art.’”  

The idea of the anthology was conceived during a conversation at New York Comic Con between Scalera and anthology editor Erin Donnalley at the annual Comic Book School Creator Connection panel.

“Buddy challenged me to write an 8-page comic for New York Comic Con 2020,” Donnalley said. “I wrote myself a schedule and sent it to Buddy for accountability. He thought it was great, and asked me to share it with others from the networking events. Thus, the 8-Page Challenge was born.”

“Every year, aspiring creators leave our educational panels with so much enthusiasm,” Scalera added. “We wanted to create something that not only allows them to sustain that enthusiasm, but also to build on it and sustain their momentum throughout the year. The 8-Page Challenge helped our community members do this and to achieve their goals to create and publish comics.”

The anthology also features a section of illuminated flash fiction pieces, which feature a one-page fiction story 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.

These challenges were the first initiatives of the create.comicbookschool.com forums. The forums, which are housed on the Comic Book School website, are the new 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. Throughout the challenge, the members of the community posted their progress, provided feedback on each other’s work, and held each other accountable throughout the process. 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 an option.

“In some ways 2020 was the best possible year for making comics,” Scalera said. “The lockdown from the pandemic forced many of us to stay in the house. It gave us back a precious resource: time.

It also gave us time to reconsider our priorities. We had to set priorities that we’ve never had to consider before. In 2020, we had to consider the very real possibility of food shortages, household supply shortages, medication shortages, and even death.”

“The global events of 2020 can’t be overstated,” Donnalley said. “We all had a lot to deal with as our worlds turned upside down. But even with everything that happened, we succeeded and created this anthology. We built a community of creators and support for those creators. We hope to continue this 8-page challenge every year, bringing more creators into the world of published comics.”

Join Me For The Comic Book School 8 Page Challenge

One thing that I’m hearing a lot recently, is that we, as artists and creators, should spend our time in “social isolation” working on our craft, and producing art. Writers, take this time to write: artists to draw or paint, etc. Another thing that I hear a lot is that people are feeling very alone and disconnected at the present moment. We are, by and large, social animals, and being apart from our creative communities can be trying, even if it’s for the greater good.

One way that I’m dealing with all of this is by joining the Comic Book School, 8 Page Challenge. For this challenge, comics creators of all types–writers, artists, inkers, letterers–are challenged to create (or to collaborate to create) an 8 page comics short story. Those who complete the challenge will not only have their work published in an anthology by Comic Book School, but also present their work at a panel at New York Comic Con in October, which is pretty damn cool.

Participants will receive feedback and guidance from professional comics creators such as Buddy Scalera (Comic Book School, Deadpool) and Mike Mats (Editor In Chief, AfterShock Comics). Additionally, since the contest is being hosted on the new create.comicbookschool.com forums, creators will also be joining a community of like-minded artists and writers. The forums will help replicate some of the networking and community aspects of the comic cons that have been canceled.

Best yet, the challenge and forums are completely free. There is no charge to sign up or participate.

“Every year, aspiring creators leave our educational panels with so much enthusiasm,” Scalera said. “We wanted to create something that not only allows them to sustain that enthusiasm, but also to build on it and sustain their momentum throughout the year. The 8-Page Challenge helps our community members do this and to achieve their goals to create and publish comics.”

“I’ve been participating in Comic Book School panels for many years and I am proud to be the first professional advisor for this innovative educational program for the next wave of creators,” added Marts. “At AfterShock, we’re always looking for new talent, and this gives me the opportunity to see how these creators work together.”

I, personally, and very excited about this challenge, which kicks off this week. I hope you join me by signing up for the challenge on the forums at create.comicbookschool.com.

Be sure to check out the links page to read some of my published writing, and to follow me on twitter and facebook.

The Size of the Glass

Everyone knows the old test to determine whether someone is an optimist or a pessimist: Show them a glass partially filled with water, and see whether they say that the glass is half empty or half full. The cliché is so far ingrained in our culture, that it has become a popular subject for clever jokes: The glass is all the way full, half with air and half with water; I’m not an optimist or a pessimist, I’m a realist—tell me whether I started with a full glass or an empty glass—did I drink it (in which case it’s half empty) or did I fill it (in which case it is half full); and so on.

Perhaps my favorite deconstruction of the old paradigm comes from the great Sir Terry Pratchett:

“There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world.” Pratchett writes in The Truth,” There are those who, when presented with a glass that is exactly half full, say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty.

“The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What’s up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don’t think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass! Who’s been pinching my beer?”

In this post, I would like to explore how we, as writers, can acquire that bigger glass.

Most writers whom I know are searching for ways to grow their audiences, but our audiences are limited by a number of factors, some of which are in our control, and some of which are not.  Without the backing of  a major publisher, or a professional level marketing and press budget, the extent to which we are filling our glasses is not nearly as consequential to our ultimate success as the size of our glass. Our limits, in terms of time, money, marketing and social media skills, determine the size of our glass, and therefore our potential audiences way more than many of us would like to admit.

Recently, I have come across a strategy to expand my audience which I would like to share with you.  The idea is to grow your potential audience by cross-promoting with a group of other like-minded authors.

I was introduced to this idea twice in the last week, by two very different and disparate sources.

The first instance, came when I was asked by Buddy Scalera, of Comic Book School, to join a group of independent comics creators, which included writers, artist, retailer, and educators in the world of independent comics. This “Coalition of the Willing” as Scalera describes it, agreed to try to keep the enthusiasm of the panels that Comic Book School runs at New York Comic Con (NYCC)  going throughout the year. If successful, this initiative would have a number of benefits. First, if the participants are able to keep the enthusiasm which they had when they left the show, they will be more productive in the coming year. Second, by keeping the discussion going throughout the year, the profile of independent comics in general, and Comic Book School in particular will be raised, giving the organization a bigger platform when it comes time for NYCC to select panels and give out panel times for the following year. (In recent years, there have been fewer professional panels at NYCC, a subject which I will address in a future blog). And Third, and most relevant to this post, the participant will cross promote with each other and with Comic Book School, gaining more eyes on their social media, thereby growing their audiences.

The way an initiative like this can help grow a creator’s audience, can be seen in the first challenge presented to the group. Each member was charged with posting about an independent comic that he or she enjoyed with the hashtags #MakeMineIndie (a play on the old Make Mine Marvel advertising campaign) and #ComicBookSchool, and explain why she or he enjoyed that comic. We each posted about a book that wasn’t our own, and the posts, depending on when you’re reading this, either will be—or will have been—collected on the Comic Book School page. By combining their efforts, liking and sharing each other’s posts, each member of the group raises the profile of all. Through the hashtag, we are also raising the profile of our medium by posting about independent comics. We each bring our own audience, our own glass if you will and pour our water into a larger pool which we all can share. Over time, our pool will grow as we add to it, and everyone will end up with a bigger glass.

https://www.comicbookschool.com/challenge-1-makemineindie/

We can also learn from each other. I am much more successful on twitter,  than I am on facebook or instagram. Some of the other creators are more successful on the other platforms and less successful on twitter. Collaborating in this fashion will allow us to learn from each other as well as bring built-in audiences to the platforms with which we struggle.

I also encountered the idea of pooling audiences in the November/December issue of Poets and Writers. The cover story of the issue, “The Future of Indie Publishing” is comprised of eight stories, written by eight different editors of independent literary presses. Each was asked what independent publishing needed to do be successful in the future. The articles offered a variety of suggestions, but the one which caught my eye—perhaps because I was just starting to get involved with the Comics Book School project—came from Molly Barton, of Serial Box. In her article, entitled, “Right In Front of You + Immersive”, Barton relates a story of “The Silicon Guild” a group of “future-focused business writers who agreed to promote each other’s work through their social channels and newsletters.” By doing this, she claims, “just by combining their individual followings, they suddenly had a direct collaborative audience of millions.” (p67). Barton suggests that this not only raised their profile and expanded their audience exponentially, but that in her professional opinion, they could have started their own publishing company. She suggests that more writers engage in similar tactics, which will not only enhance their profiles, but make them more attractive to publishers as well.

Looking at these examples, one in the field of comics, and one about future-focused business writing cited in a magazine aimed largely at literary writers, I couldn’t help but be struck by the power of this strategy, especially in a world where an author’s social media footprint is so important. I am glad to be part of the Comic Book School group, and hope to find similar groups for the other genres and mediums in which I write (which include literary fiction, Science Fiction and Fantasy, and poetry). That way, no matter the vagaries of the glass—whether it’s more full or more empty—it will become a larger glass.