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Newsletter #129: Hidden Gems

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Newsletter #129: Hidden Gems

Shining a spotlight on movies and comics that flew in under the radar; PLUS some comics market thoughts and answering your questions!

Hey guys, it's Scott.

It is Tuesday, March 21st, and a quick reminder before we start that Thursday, this Thursday, two days from now, we are having class—Comic Writing 102, where we look at your work and published work. We're looking at two great pieces, post them again here, Ty, if you can [at the bottom of this post for all paid subscribers!], and also Saga by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples, so I’m really excited. The topic is essentially backstory, how much information to give about your characters, and the world that you're creating when you do a first issue. And I think it's going to be a great discussion. It's open to chat, so you guys can kind of go back and forth with me, I'll give a lesson, but also really, really make sure it’s a communal discussion in a fun way. So I can't wait to do it.

I've been teaching a lot. I have now been helping out my 16 year-old, he started a creative writing club at his high school and they asked me to come guest, so it's very fun, although I have to say like, it's really scary going in front of 16/17 year-olds, like, the blank stare. I haven't taught high school in, oh my God, 15 years. I taught at a BOCES program before I broke into comics and it was for kids that were juniors and seniors, essentially, in their district high schools and socially weren't happy there, but had academic potential. So it was a really interesting group. It was kind of an unconventional way to teach. I loved it. But you know, same thing. It's like you stare out there and you're like, “who's ready to write!” It's just *crickets* *crickets*, but they were great. They really chimed in and by the end it was it was a lot of fun. And I bribed them with pizza. But I'm in teaching mode, so I'm very excited about it. And it's a great way to reconnect with my own priorities before we officially start this Wytches writers room a week from Monday.

So much going on. Like I said, I've got C2E2 coming up. If you're anywhere near Chicago, come hang out. If you're a paid subscriber, you get to jump in early and get your stuff signed with no line. I also might do kind of a meet and greet with you guys. Buy you a drink kind of thing and say hello at some point if I can manage it. And if you're a Black Jackett subscriber, you get into our VIP thing for free. If you're a paid subscriber, I can give you a big discount on it. So it's me and Tony, Daniel, we're having a blast. Come see us, it'll be a lot of fun, I promise.

Okay, so I thought today—it was interesting, Tyler, (best assistant in the world and now we've gotten very close, he’s a dear friend) told me yesterday he went to go see a screening of Midnight Run in the city, and he had never seen this movie.

Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall discussing why they’re unpopular with the Chicago Police Department

If you haven't seen it, it's with Charles Grodin and Robert DeNiro, and it was like, one of these hidden gems in the 80s about a bounty hunter for bail bondsmen that's like, chasing down and traveling with a guy who embezzled money from the mob. And it's funny and it's action packed and it's just one of the tightest scripts that you'll you'll ever encounter. I just I loved it. I remember seeing the theater with my dad.

But it's also one of those hidden gems. Tyler and I were talking, and one of the questions we got a couple times, actually, from subscribers was “what are some hidden gems in the Batman mythos and comics?” That kind of thing. And it got me thinking about this really particular genre of stuff, which is not necessarily, at least for the purposes of this discussion, things that are really, really super indie, which are great and I love super indie and we should absolutely devote time to talking about your favorite super indie books, but almost like, things that are slightly more to the center, more commercial, high concept, and were really good but don't get the attention they deserve.

So a couple things like, we were talking about movies and some of the ones that popped up were, in addition to Midnight Run, What's Eating Gilbert Grape? It's a movie from the 90s and it's one of Leo DiCaprio first big roles, but Johnny Depp and Juliette Lewis are in it and it's just a really, really strong drama.

And again, the thing that kind of unites them, and maybe I'm being unfair to directors, but all these films to me have such good writing. It's really interesting to go back and see how particular and character driven and really, I think, specific and detail-oriented these scripts are. Another one we were talking about—Shoot to Kill. It's like a really hard one to find with Sidney Poitier and Tom Berenger and Kirstie Alley.

If you're talking about different genres, that one's a thriller, Gilbert Grape as a drama, Midnight Run is an action movie. A couple other ones that we thought of more recently—Edge of Tomorrow, a film that was kind of buried by bad marketing, but it's one of the best sci-fi films I've seen in a while. Obviously, it has like, star power with Tom Cruise, but still.

Elysium is another sci-fi one that I've mentioned before that I think came out in the Obama era. And at a time that felt, I think, maybe less contentious, less worrisome, and less anxious. And it has a couple script issues, but overall, it's such an interesting, subversive, and critical look at class stratification. And at the same time, it’s just got great action in it. It's a really amazing portrait of what could happen to L.A. and to the country itself. So another one.

But if you guys have suggestions or things that you say like, “this is a movie or a comic or a book that I think deserves attention that flew under the radar, a hidden gem.” One of the reasons we're bringing them up, and yes, absolutely, if you want to bring up super indie books that you love to please do, I'm not trying to exclude them. But the topic here just to streamline it a little bit, because then everyone can recommend anything. Do recommend and just say, “hey, these are my favorite Super indie books, I just wanted to point them out.” Always recommend them. But for this, we're talking about like, things that just flew under the radar but were kind of designed as a little bit more centrist pieces, elevated genre pieces.

To tail it into the idea of Batman, because someone asked this question specific to Batman stories, a couple of ones for me are Ego, the Darwin Cooke story.

I think The Cult was another one. I really felt like Batman: The Cult didn't get the attention it deserved. I feel like it's getting more now, but really flew under the radar.

I think Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen’s Streets of Gotham run another one with some incredibly good stuff, a lot of Hush stories just didn't really get the attention it deserved.

But things like that, and things like Hard Boiled from Frank Miller and Geof Darrow. Stuff that just kind of came out and was strong and the people might not have noticed.

A huge one for me is Ann Nocenti’s Daredevil run. Ann Nocenti’s Daredevil run has everything. Everything.

And I mean, it's got Romita, it's got all kinds of amazing parts. But it is one of those things that for some reason doesn't get the same attention. It might be because around the same time, there were these kind of seminal things going on with Daredevil from Frank Miller, that kind of thing. But that is one of the greatest runs in comics and definitely deserves your attention. So that kind of stuff, you know what I mean? So I'd love to point them out.

Absolutely if there are new comics that you think fall into this category, things that are coming out now that aren't getting the attention they deserve—I genuinely think that like a good example that could use more attention and more love sales-wise is Kyle Higgins whole Massive-Verse.

Art by Eduardo Ferigato and Igor Monti

It's something that plays right up the middle. It's almost like Power Rangers, but elevated and done in a new way and with absolutely fantastic writing and art all across the board. But this kind of stuff.

And one of the reasons I bring it up is because I have this theory right now about the market. And it's okay, I think, sometimes, to say it's a bull market or a bear market. It was a bull market in comics in 2020/2021 when people were stuck at home with more disposable income and wanted to rediscover hobbies that took them out of the depressing atmosphere I think everything felt like it was in. So you saw a huge spike, and they wanted to speculate. You saw a lot of people gambling, you saw FanDuel pop up, you saw baseball cards, all kinds of stuff that became gambling, gambling, gambling, you saw it across the board. People wanted to gamble, they had money to do it with, and gambling on comics meant speculating on #1s, issues that would essentially become the first appearances of characters who might be in TV, film, all this stuff. And so you saw this big spike, and you saw a variant cover collectability right now that is way down, way down, way down.

So whereas before on a book like Nocterra you could sell 100,000 out the gate with enough promotion and covers and that are now selling 60,000, that kind of thing, I think, is really big, really, really big. Things aren't debuting at like, 60/70,000 or any of that stuff right now. And that's okay. Like, that's a healthy corrective market in a lot of ways, and a lot of the things and the gimmicks and the stuff that people pull to try and boost sales (and in no bad way), now is the time when those things are people recoiling from them, which is fine. And again, it's the ups and downs of a comic market. But right now, I think more than ever, indie books, but also comics that you've loved that maybe didn't get the attention they deserve from the past, from the present, things that you think have appeal to a lot of people in could catch fire, all that stuff. Like, let's talk about them, because I think everything could use a little bit of help right now. It's a good thing for us to kind of band together and talk about books that deserve more attention in a lot of ways.

Again, I think part of it is a cultural moment, I think, aside from just the economics of it, and I'm interested to hear what you guys think. I think it's a moment when things have just sped up where we're much more used to, across the entire cultural landscape, binging things faster, being distracted from things faster, your favorite show is six episodes, you watch it in a day and then you're gone. There's just more shows, there's more streaming networks, the volume is just way up from like, five years ago. So you're bombarded with more things. It's harder for any one thing to pierce the veil and grab your attention. It's almost like there's a huge amount of volume and nothing is getting the attention that it should. And so for writing, I think it makes for a lot of great things for new writers. There's a lot more opportunity, there are a lot more companies, a lot more ways to actually get your comic and your writing out there. The downside is it's much harder to sustain and command interest over time. It's much harder to have something be a viable hit over time. So, again, ups and downs of the market.

So I think right now everything could use a little bit more tension—things from the past, things from the present, but things that you think more a couple more eyeballs could get it to catch fire is sort of the the main focus. Again, feel free to mention your favorite super, super indie books and all of that stuff. But above all, we're looking for things that have maybe flown under the radar when they should have flown above it, okay?

So that was one question. So the other question I got:

jsquillen asks, “How do you think about the mechanics of a fight scene? What are the priorities you bring to it, essentially?”

I love this question. And I love fight scenes. I think about them all the time. Fights are some of my favorite things to write. And I think that's not always the case. I know a lot of writers who hate writing fight scenes and think of them as something perfunctory that has to go into a comic. But I think the way that I like to approach them is to think of—there's the fight scene where, essentially, it's important to have the fight be between characters that are interesting antagonists. I mean, that's just the basics. If you don't have that, then you're a non-starter. But once you have two characters that you know really have something to fight over and are good combatants, then to me, there's like three things you can think about to kind of elevate a fight and make it a fun thought experiment and something that you could add energy to, okay?

  1. Plot. Raising the stakes plot-wise. So if Batman and the Joker fighting, that's fine. But then think about the ways to make that fight hang in the balance at a higher degree. How do you make this scarier? How do you make this something that's going to give the story more impact? So for example, in Endgame, instead of them just fighting down in a cave, they're fighting in a cave at the end, where there's stuff that has been there since the beginning of civilization in Gotham and might be the key the Lazarus stuff and might make them reborn and Joker claims that he's used it to be immortal, and the whole cave is collapsing all around them in the city hangs in the balance above that. The stakes are very, very high plot wise. This fight means a lot to the story. It doesn't have to be a story-shaking ending like that. But however you can elevate them, however you can find something to put in there that makes it a more important fight, go for it.

Batman #40 | Cover by Greg Capullo, Danny Miki & FCO Plascencia
  1. Emotionality. However you can have the fight escalate emotionally between the characters as it escalates plot, super important. So as that fight is happening between Batman and the Joker, they're revealing things to each other about where they are in their emotional conflict. Joker is taunting Batman, essentially saying that he's immortal, Batman will never win, and this is where he'll be buried. Batman is coming back saying he doesn't believe the Joker and he's willing to die, and that he thinks he's bluffing and is calling his bluff. So the emotional back and forth escalates as the plot escalates back and forth.

  2. Thematic contrast/underscoring of the book/scene’s purpose during that fight. Kudos to you if you considered that. It’s going to make it so much more interesting. So again, in that particular fight scene, the whole story is about Joker essentially saying “your actions are meaningless, Batman, because in the grand scheme of things no one will remember. We're all dust.” He's the voice of nihilism and the thing that I hear in my head at that point when I have gotten depressed in the past about the inevitability of death and of things being inconsequential in a way, and Batman is pushing back. And both of them fighting in a cave where everything is measured in geological time at the core beneath Gotham, it puts them in a set piece that underscores how small they are and how big the fight is at the same time. So thematically, it goes along with what the story's about.

Batman #40 | Art by Greg Capullo, Danny Miki & FCO Plascencia

The end of Night of the Ghoul, the big fight happens. Plot, stakes, everything depends on winning against this monster at this point, because otherwise, civilization will fall. Emotionally, we learn, without spoiling the story, who was the true villain behind the Ghoul, and it's a surprise to readers, hopefully, and so there's an emotional raising of the stakes back and forth and a revelation on the part of the main character of what he needs to do to be a good father, all of this. And then thematically, it happens in the original studio where the film was made and the fire happened that burned everything to the ground. And the whole book is really about this push and pull between egotism and solipsism and this idea of doing things that you think are important and actually doing things that are important in the world, and making your life mean something. And so it’s set against this idea of this film studio that was being used to make a film that was supposed to reveal the true nature of this monster and yet was burned down and then became this hollow thing. All of that is supposed to underscore and point to some of the thematic elements of the book

Night of the Ghoul #3 (2022) | Art by Francesco Francavilla

You can find that and We Have Demons, you can find it in Clear—the final fight happens in Clear at the top of a tower where they upload all the filters and the veils that people use to see the world. In We Have Demons it happens at a site like Stonehenge, again meant to underscore the idea that this is a battle that has to do with the nature of the good and bad in human nature dating all the way back to the beginnings of civilization. So all of it is kind of thematically illustrated in the set piece or in the things happening around the fight itself. And y’know, have fun with it, too. Have fun, allow yourself to have somebody pick up something fucking insane and hit the other person with it. Have them race through something like, I was saying last time, a baseball stadium on Bat Day for Batman that you don't expect. Have fun, have fun, have fun. Fights are fun when you enjoy them.

Clear #6 (2022) | Art by Francis Manapul

So anyway, great question. Really excited for teaching. I hope you guys will stop by Thursday night, 9:30pm EST live. And then, again, if you subscribe, it's only $7/month. I swear, I feel like I should raise the price on days. But $7/month, you get all the classes we've done, if you come to C2E2 then you get to come to the early part of the line and skip it, all that stuff. We're gonna have probably a meet and greet, you get a discount on a VIP, and if you're a Black Jackett member you get into the VIP with me and Tony for free. So come, let's have fun the rest of this month, and thank you guys again for everything!


P.S. This truck’s parked right at the bottom of my driveway. It’s been hours. Send help.

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