Talking Heads

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Tina Weymouth is still one of my favourite bass players of all time and they did do some brilliant tracks that still sound fresh thirty years later… but it’s not those Talking Heads that we’re talking about here.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks facing writers and artists working in comics is an age old problem for writers everywhere – talking heads. This is when we have characters engaged in dialogue and very little action taking place.

Comics are very reliant on dialogue to carry the narrative forward. Pictures do (obviously) tell the story too but how does the writer create depth while avoiding getting bogged down by ‘talky’ scenes?

This is a tricky one. A balance has to be struck by making conversations and interactions between characters nuanced and believable without ending up with panel after panel of faces. If you look at just about any comic you will see that they do mainly focus on people talking to each other, however, good creators have found ways of getting round this by using techniques to keep the eye engaged.

One of the best things a writer can do is have the protagonists and antagonists engaged in actions that reveal something about the plot, character or themes, as they are speaking.

The other way dialogue can be spread across a page is to have one dynamic image broken into several panels. This utilises the gutters  (spaces in between the panels) to avoid repetition. Click on the link above to see how this works.

numerous examples of how to get round talking heads can also be found over at Colin Smith’s blog. It also contains Wally Wood’s 22 panels that always work – he was a veteran of EC Comics, Marvel and Mad Magazine, for those of you who don’t know.

Anyone who wants to create a comic that is more than two dimensional in its story and themes is going to have to write decent dialogue and have characters speak it to one another. The links in this article should help you find ways of making scenes visually interesting, we hope, while your characters talk to each other.

Pura vida! Hasta luego.

 

 

 

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Why we hate superheroes

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OK we don’t HATE superheroes … we really, really hate them with a passion that passes understanding. ‘You have a title called ASH about a school for superheroes, don’t you?’, I hear you say.

Yes we do, it’s a satirical swipe at the genre but also a love-letter to geek culture in general  as you can see on our main site.

‘Wow’ you may be thinking ‘The Sloth really got out bed on the wrong side this morning.’ OK, I’ll admit, this post is a bit grumpy but even sloths are allowed to get irrate at times.

Let me explain why our particular bugbear wears spandex.

1/ Darkness. Once upon a time superheroes were colourful, fun escapism for children with a bit of psuedo science thrown in to get the kids interested in actual science. Then, along came a bunch of clever writers in the 60s, 70s and 80s and re-imagined these characters – they became progressively more relatable and stories incorporated more ‘real-world’ issues.

But what was initially fresh and interesting quickly got endlessly done to death and we are left with cliches. It’s always night in the city, the only weather is rain, the hero lost his dad in childhood and carries deep emotional scars that lead him (and it’s mostly male characters still) to learn a martial art. Whenever he has a problem he goes to brood over ‘his’ city, the villains are all pyschos.

Now it’s also de-rigueur for Superhero movies to be ‘dark’.  If you are a parent, you have to wait until your kids are teenagers to take them to see a Batman movie. That’s just wrong.

2/ Diversity. Imagine if the shelves of your local bookshop were stocked almost exclusively with detective stories and maybe had a small non-fiction section at the back of the shop. Would you go in and buy anything if you didn’t happen to like Thrillers?

This is, in effect, what most comic shops are like, with seemingly hundreds of superhero titles and a small Indie section at the back where all the interesting stuff is.

You know, the stuff that a wider audience made up of all sorts of different types of people might find interesting… (..if they ever realised that comics aren’t just about superheroes).

Wouldn’t it be good if the wider public found out that there is so much more to sequential art than these avatars of middle aged men’s boyhood fantasies, still fighting crime in stupid, impractical costumes like they did decades ago but now devoid of all humour?

Comics is a medium, not a genre.

On a final note, we’d like this blog to be fairly useful ,so, if you are thinking of writing a superhero comic here are lists of

Out of copyright Superheroes…

.. and villains

Just please don’t bring the finished manuscript to us if you use these links to create a new kind of superhero comic (yawn).

The blog image is of a character created by one of our authors for a comic called Dial H for Hero, published in 1984 (back when superheros were fun). The comic’s editors would invite the readership to create heroes and villains to be featured in the title as the two main characters had these dials that changed them into a new hero or heroine every week. Here is the Wikia page about him, he’s called Fire Devil and although the creators are listed as E Nelson Bridwell and Howard Bender in actual fact it was created by C Cutting (who never did get his T-Shirt from the USA for having his character used in the comic and has been embittered and disillusioned about mainstream comics ever since).

Pura vida! Hasta luego.

Join our Vendetta

An invitation to join Tom and Nimue on a strange island. Hopeless, Maine is interactive!

The Hopeless Vendetta

The Hopeless Vendetta launched some years ago as an accompaniment to the Hopeless Maine webcomic. We had time to spare, and the idea of a weekly newspaper for the Island of Hopeless Maine, running alongside the webcomic, appealed. Of course with the webcomic uploading at a rate of 2 pages a week, the time didn’t always match up very well, but no one minded.

A thing happened, and it was a thing we had not anticipated. People started joining in. They gave themselves Hopeless-style names and characters and started posting comments. Island life expanded, and we were very excited about this.

Then work pressures, and life pressures, and living on a boat and having no electricity or internet most of the time pressures took over, and that extra post and extra drawing per week became too difficult, and we left the Hopeless Vendetta to languish.

Times change… the webcomic has…

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Avoid Cliches Like The Plague.

Feliz Año Nuevo, Perezosos!  I did have something important and dull to get on with tonight so I decided to write a Slog post instead. Never put off till tomorrow what you can put off until the day after tomorrow, as they say back home.

After watching a certain British TV show on New Years Day about an iconic detective , it occurred to me that the writer had committed the cardinal sin of killing off the main female character solely for the purpose of adding dramatic tension to the relationship of the two male lead characters. This is known as ‘fridging’ in the Nerdo-sphere.

See below for a full explanation of this lazy plot device:

TV Tropes

I love actual laziness in real life (obviously) but, paradoxically, can’t stand laziness in fiction. I should clarify that I am a fan of the aforementioned show (in general) but it was this part of the story that particularly grated. Yes, that character dies in the original stories but no, it didn’t work for me.

Back to the point anyway. I think that, for a writer, learning to avoid clichés is a bit like learning how to anchor a rope to a cliff if you are a climber, or, knowing what immunizations to get if you are travelling to Latin America.

I did some web-based research and came across some fun pointers from the world wide web. I particularly liked…

Train yourself to kill cliches…

Or the solid advice of this guy:..

Writing is hard work

We love fantasy here at Sloth so this is an entertaining list to read through and pass away another five minutes …

Silver Blade Magazine

You get the picture anyway. You may say that everyone’s a critic these days and I suppose they are. They have a right to be too! Why should any of us spend valuable time engaging with entertainment that doesn’t captivate our attention? As a writer, being your own harshest critic is only going to make you a better writer, after all.

I will leave you with my pet hate among clichés – an evil mastermind is incarcerated, talks to the protagonist (who is the yin to their yang) and then proceeds to escape spectacularly. This is especially irritating if the antagonist in question is a psychopath.

Happy cliché hunting.

Pura Vida

 

 

 

 

Getting into the comics scene.

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We do a lot of comic conventions throughout the year. Occasionally people will approach us with their work, usually in a portfolio or they may have a story idea they want to pitch. We are really happy to talk to them and offer advice but obviously we want to sell our books so we can’t spend a long time going over the ins and outs of getting published.

With this in mind here is our advice on how to ‘get into’ comics for the newbie.

Firstly, and most importantly, you should be creating a comic because you have a burning desire to tell a story in sequential narrative form. If you are doing it in the hope of getting rich you would be better off becoming a merchant banker, international criminal mastermind or going on a reality TV show (or something along those lines).

A tried and tested path for newbie comic book creators is to publish the story as you create it, in installments, as a web-comic. This means you can also build a readership as you broadcast the story. Social media sites like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook aren’t just a great way of wasting precious time and energy, they can actually be useful with developing your following. Here is a link to a trusted site for hosting web-comics:

Smack Jeeves

Once the comic is done and finished you will want to self publish a print version. This is really handy from a publisher’s perspective. If someone comes to me with an idea and the project is still unfinished or maybe not even started I can’t realistically invest in that. However, if someone hands me a self published, completed comic I can read it and then decide if I want to pick up the title for publication. All the work has been done and I can just send it to the printer. Even better if it has an existing following.

So, you will need to fund the print run – I recommend that you get about 200 copies printed so your front room doesn’t fill up with boxes of books. Getting other people to pre-order a copy via crowdfunding sites is a good strategy. Here are some examples of crowdfunded comics projects:

Indiegogo

Once you have hit your monetary target you need a printer who understands the needs of small press creators and can produce high quality books at a reasonable price. I always recommend the following company as I use them myself, as indeed do a lot of the creators in the UK indie comics scene:

Comic Printing UK

You now have copies of your comic which you can take around cons and leave with publishers as a submission, you can also sell your copies and make profit to reward yourself for your creative efforts. Comic conventions have been sprouting up like mushrooms all over the UK in recent years. Booking a table at one of these shows is a great way to get your story out to new readers and also it’s great for networking with publishers.

So, there you have a rough guide to getting started in comics. Hope this has been useful.

Pura Vida!

 

HOPLESSNESS

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Hopeless, Maine by Tom and Nimue Brown.

About a year ago I was frittering my life away on Twitter when I should have been getting on with something important. I came across a fantastic illustration for The Dream Quest Of Unknown Kadath by a certain Tom Brown. I retweeted it and then went off for a light nap, thinking no more of it. On my return Mr Brown had got in touch and we struck up a correspondence. It turned out he and his wife, Nimue, had a fantastic title, previously published by Archaia Entertainment, called Hopeless, Maine. Nimue wrote the script based on Tom’s vision for the setting of the story, a desolate and dangerous lost island somewhere off the East coast of Maine. Well, to cut a long story short, we decided to publish it and it came out last month. We only publish a few books every year so for us to take on a comic out of the blue and put it into print says a lot about the quality of the title and we are very proud to present it to you in time for Christmas. Actually all this writing is tiring me out, I think I need a siesta, have a look at some sample art on our site . Hasta luego y pura vida as they say in Costa Rica.