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.
As a writer, I’ve long-been jealous of visual artists’ social media pages, especially during this time of year. Traditionally, Inktober is in full swing, and if like me, you follow a lot of artists, you look forward to the myriad of posts which dominate your timeline in response to various art challenges. As a writer, I wanted in on the action. I wanted a way to get more eyes on my page, and to connect with the community of visual artists with whom I might collaborate in the future.
Last year, my friend Gene Hoyle, a long time comics writer and publisher, organized a project called Pagetober, where writers and artists were supposed to collaborate on an inktober project: writers would write something for artists to draw throughout the month of October. It was a great idea, but it kind of fizzled out, and I’m not sure if any of the projects were completed.
This year, I tried again. I approached Marika Brousianou, with whom I had collaborated before, about illustrating a series of flash fiction and poetry throughout October. Thus, “Into The Darkness Peering” was born. So far, it’s working out well. We are 2/3rds of the way through the month, and so far, we have posted something every day on each of our social media. The reaction to the project has been excellent, and we are going to collect the results into a book later this year, and sell some of the individual pieces as prints as well. I have high hopes for the project, which I hope to have ready for con season next year. I like the idea of having prints at my table, which would give it a visual appeal beyond what I would usually have as “just” a writer.
I recommend all writers consider doing a similar project, especially my colleagues within the indie comics community. Why not take advantage of a popular hashtag to drive more traffic to your page? Why wouldn’t you want to engage with the community of comics artists with whom you hope to collaborate in the future? Why not work towards a modular project which you might be able to sell in different mediums?
Below, I have posted a few samples of our work so far, but I invite you to follow along and see all the pieces, on both my own or Marika’s social media pages.
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 email@example.com.
Soul Custody (illustrated by Marika Brousianou) first appeared in Constellate Literary Magazine. It was the first comic I had published, and it is still one of my favorite stories. It is very different in tone and style than Mr. Stupendous. It is a darker, slice of life, story, that elicits strong emotions from readers.
The Hit (illustrated by Tyler Carpenter) is a neo-noir crime story. It appeared in The Hickory Stump. Though the magazine seems to have gone out of business, but you can still read it here.
I’ve also written a couple of episodes of Sir TweetCivil, an episodic comic that follows a Monty Python-esque knight as he navigates the perilous realm of twitter. Here is the latest episode: Of The Notifications Perilous (illustrated by Alex Sapountzis).
Last week I was, once again, a guest on the Nerds of the Round show. This episode was a discussion of episode 2 of the Disney+ Loki show. Be forewarned, it contains spoilers. Check it out here:
In publishing news, Remnants, the post-apocalyptic sci-fi, horror anthology which includes my story “The Forgotten” has been picked up by Fedowar Press and will be reissued later this year. Check out the info here.
I also have received my copies of The Great Command Meant (Arcane Inkdustries). The comics anthology includes a short story I wrote, illustrated by Christina Castro, as well as a full-page mixed media art piece I made. If you backed the Kickstarter, you should be receiving your books soon (if you have not already done so). Let me know what you think.