Monday, October 25, 2010

It's bribery time!

You might have seen a few new images cropping up on the Facebook page—sketches and watercolors by my friend Nicole Le. Well, we’re finally ready to admit what we’re doing.

Masks is getting a new trailer. Specifically, it’s getting two—one from Rae’s perspective, and one from Trevor’s.

This is a product partly of my book-trailer envy, partly of my advancing skills at video-making and partly of the fact that the mixed-media aspect of the previous trailer is just bugging me. Nicole has graciously contributed eleven (!!) watercolor paintings of characters and scenes from Masks, and I’m now in the process of editing them together into something that looks, if not professional, at least intentional. There’s some kickin’ music involved, too. I am pleased.

I’ve decided to post the trailers as a bribe after the Facebook page hits 300 fans. That’s not such a stretch—it’s been hovering around 295 fans for a couple of weeks now, and so if just five of you guys invite at least one other person, well, you get the idea. Heck, if each of Mr. Olson’s minions invited one friend, we’d be at 325, which I think would be worth posting some behind-the-scenes stuff like Nicole’s preliminary sketches (some of which bear very little resemblance, interestingly, to the finished product).

Once again, things are moving interestingly behind the scenes on Masks, and once again I can’t say much about it because a) I don’t want to jinx it and b) I don’t want to get a reputation as a blabbermouth. But having a popular, and populous, Facebook page and blog couldn’t hurt the cause and might well help it. As always, it’s the fans who carry the day on this kind of deal, so thank you once again for all your support. I literally could not do it without you. (Hence the bribery.)

Now get thee to Facebook! Spam away! It’s in a good cause!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Eleven great tastes that taste awful together

I needed something random to blog about this week, so I’m going to publish my wishlist for all of you to mock.

Every fan has one of these. “Oh, if only the comics gods would smile upon me, I would completely redefine … [insert name here].” I’ve listened to dozens if not hundreds of them, and I’ve always found it an informative experience … unless and until my companion decided to remind me of the conversation every day for the next few months, on the off chance I might be one of the comics gods in disguise. I’m not.

But here’s my personal top-ten-plus-one list anyway—the eleven characters I’d most like to take a crack at in mainstream (and occasionally indie) comicdom.

1. THE BLACK KNIGHT. The Dane Whitman version, for those of you keeping score. Short version: the son of a mad-scientist supervillain also called the Black Knight, Dane inherits his uncle’s gear, including a cursed sword that likes to drive its owners insane, and sets out to be a superhero. No, I’m not kidding. I took a shine to Dane waaaayyyy back during his days on the unmemorable team book Heroes For Hire, and mostly forgot about him until my college years, when I needed some extra-credit points in a classics course and re-read all my H4H comics to analyze their portrayal of Hercules for a paper. Unfortunately, the professor was one of those dimwits who genuinely believes that Batman and Robin are up to hanky-panky in the Batcave, and he wouldn’t accept any paper about comic books that didn’t boldly proclaim some character to be gay. Thus Hercules needed a boyfriend, and as he spent half his scenes with the Black Knight … well, I felt bad about it afterward, I really did. I felt so bad about it, in fact, that I tracked down old issues where the Black Knight appeared and got genuinely interested in the character. I like the fact that he’s a doctoral-level physics student who got handed a magic sword and somehow avoided the cognitive dissonance, I like the fact that he’s modeling himself on his uncle the supervillain, and I find hilarious the fact that his various writers keep saddling him with assorted curses that never go anywhere because the title gets canceled first, or the writer leaves the book, or they dump him into an alternate universe, or—you get the idea. (Even Paul Cornell’s Captain Britain and MI13 series couldn’t resist—or at least Dane’s heart being made of stone was a new one on me.) I want to write a Black Knight limited series that explores the physics-magic divide, examines his relationship with that dead uncle, and maybe has a few of those dozens of curses bear fruit. I’d keep Faiza Husain, his love interest from MI13, as she’s one of the best-written Muslim characters in mainstream comics and too much fun to pass up. Oh, and I’m going to use Merlin in the tree, but that’s for another time.

2. STAR-LORD. Ah, the Marvel space hero so dorky they had him blow up a planet by way of rehabilitation. I admit I’m irrational on this one—I liked the old version of Peter Quill, with the goofy element gun and the sentient spaceship that seemed to be in love with him and the knack for running into truly weird stuff on planets no one else ever seemed to find. I liked the sheer Joseph Campbell-ness of his origin story—the lost half-human son of the alien prince, avenging his murdered mother across the galaxy … with a sword, no less! An actual sword! And he fought giant lizard-men! I found Star-Lord through the Timothy Zahn limited series from 1996 that had Ship wandering around, lost, without Peter, and taking on a new partner in the wayward telepath Sinjin Quarrel. (Why the hell has that series never been collected???) Once I tracked down the earlier Peter stories, I liked them almost as much. I also like what Keith Giffen’s doing with Star-Lord now, with a disgraced Peter, playing down his connection to Star-Lord, leading the interstellar butt-kicking Guardians of the Galaxy in the title of the same name. So if I ever get the chance, I’d like to write a Star-Lord series where Sinjin meets Peter and things get interesting. And I’m using the gun-toting Rocket Raccoon and his giant tree buddy Groot, because I have to. Say it with me: I AM GROOT!

3. DR. MID-NITE. I have a thing for blind superheroes. Sue me. And I always liked the utility of Dr. Mid-Nite—in almost every version, a gifted medic and a noncombatant who still went into the field with his superhero team because they needed someone to sew their guts back in. That’s a motivation you don’t see every day. The coolest part for me was that, unlike Daredevil, Dr. Mid-Nite didn’t have much in the way of powers—his only gift was the ability to see in the dark (in bright light, he’s still blind unless he’s wearing special goggles), so he defends himself by throwing “blackout bombs” to blind his foes. And he still runs headlong into bright, flashy superhero fights! Dr. Mid-Nite hasn’t seen much action since the Matt Wagner limited series of the mid-1990s, outside of his regular small appearances with the Justice Society of America for DC Comics. In theory he has his own city to protect, and a rich supporting cast there, and I’d like to see him get back to that sometime. For sheer symbolic value, I think I’d have to start my tale with a city-wide blackout …

4. BUCKY BARNES. I’m happy to let Ed Brubaker write him most of the time, but I’d gladly take the chance to write an eensy character-driven one-shot about Captain America’s tortured former sidekick, who now wears the mantle of his former mentor (but still carries a gun in addition to Cap’s iconic shield). I always liked the “man out of time” element to Captain America—his worldview shaped in the period before World War II, his dilemmas when confronted with the modern world. Bucky offers a chance to play that conflict from a different angle, since unlike Steve Rogers he didn’t have much of a civilian life before the war—he was the “mascot” of an Army camp. The U.S. Army he remembers is gone, and society has changed so profoundly that I can’t resist tinkering. But only briefly. (Ed Brubaker scares me!)

5. THE REVENANT. I am forever grateful to Michael A. Stackpole for “Peer Review,” the 1995 short story that introduced his superhero character Revenant and that showed a certain twelve-year-old that superheroes could be written without pictures. I was careful not to steal from the story when I wrote Masks—I just borrowed the idea of superheroes in prose, really—but I still love the character of Revenant, a spooky and pragmatic “Nightmare Detective” who single-handedly defeats an entire superhero team with gadgets, luck, and a dark sense of humor. I also adore what Aaron Williams has done with the character, with Stackpole’s permission, in PS238 (if you haven’t picked this series up yet—WHY NOT?). But I still want to take Revenant for a very brief spin. Maybe a short story? For charity? And explore just how the hell Nemesis got his phone number?

6. THE GREEN HORNET. Forget Van Williams and Bruce Lee—my Green Hornet nerd-dom goes all the way back to the radio shows. I fell in love with recordings of the radio avenger who took the Lone Ranger concept to its logical conclusion. Where the Ranger was always greeted by somebody saying, “A masked man! He must be an outlaw!” the Hornet removed the “must” from the equation and openly told people he was one. Imagine the hero of a 1930s gangster movie in a slightly more colorful costume … and then imagine that his struggles against gangland rivals conveniently always land them in the hands of the law, and preserve the lives of innocents, while the Hornet himself always gets away. To a kid who wondered why more cops didn’t arrest Batman for doing what he did, the Hornet’s ruse made a lot of sense. I’m pretty sure Seth Rogen is going to ruin the character in his upcoming movie, and Kevin Smith’s interpretation of the character for Dynamite Entertainment has been incredibly disappointing (please note—this is not true of the retro Green Hornet: Year One by Matt Wagner or The Green Hornet Strikes! by Brett Matthews). So in about ten years or so I’d like to take a modern Hornet back to his dastardly roots and pit him against modern organized crime, and use that complicated Reid family tree to my advantage. Assuming The Green Hornet Strikes! doesn’t steal my thunder … in which case I’m still happy, because I get my delicious story without having to do the actual work.

7. SPIDER-GIRL (THE ORIGINAL ONE). Yeah, you read that right. Spider-Girl was a commendable effort to make the best of several bad situations, and I think she’s been criminally misused. Originally a “What If …?” character based on the ill-fated “Clone Storyline” in Marvel’s Spider-Man comics, May “Mayday” Parker became an unlikely little superheroine who could. The comic featuring Spider-Man’s daughter long outlasted the alternate-future universe for which it was created, and the character hung on for more than a decade in various forms, acquiring a rich cast of alt-future versions of Spider-Man’s friends and enemies. The comic usually tried to balance superhero action and teenage soap opera, and as loyally as I followed it throughout its run, I have always felt it suffered from having almost no women involved in its creation. There are some male writers who can write female characters well; Spider-Girl guru Tom DeFalco does not seem to be one of them. Too many of Mayday’s adventures were repeats of Peter Parker’s adolescent exploits, or pale imitations of popular girl-TV shows. The superheroic adventure was fun—but the girl part of it never felt real, not even in the way that Peter Parker’s poor-me life in high school seemed to reflect the self-image of many teenage boys. Mayday was finally phased out recently in favor of Anya Corazon, the superheroine formerly known as AraƱa, in the suit in the present day. Given the chance, I’d take Mayday into areas that male writers don’t seem to think of, like the complex politics of female friendships, or how the classic superhero romantic dilemma plays out when the supporting-player boyfriend is much more likely to be superpowered than the supporting-player girlfriend ever was. Here’s a hint, boys—if you want girls to read comics, it’s time to write girls who act like girls!

8. DARKDEVIL. Yes, you read that correctly. Technically, this is the last pick continued, but it’s an old itch of mine. Darkdevil was the Spider-Girl universe’s version of Daredevil—the ghost of my favorite hero inhabiting the demon-powered body of the son of a Spider-Man clone. If that sounds complicated, it is … but I was always amazed that no one bothered to exploit the tragic consequences of the fact that Peter Parker, now retired from crimefighting and sometimes mentoring his wall-crawling daughter, hates Darkdevil’s guts. Genetically, Darkdevil is part of Peter’s family, and psychologically, half of him is Peter’s now-dead best friend—not that Peter was ever allowed to discover either of those facts. Darkdevil, by contrast, knows the whole story, and seems to have a protective interest in his “cousin”, Mayday, coupled with a strong desire to avoid Peter. (Perhaps he fears the drama overload would endanger innocent civilians.) Meanwhile he’s running around the city as a grim-and-gritty vigilante with a mystic twist and taking a lot of criticism for “sullying” Daredevil’s memory. It’s bugged me for years that no one has explored the conflict inherent in the character, so given the chance, I’d trap Peter and Darkdevil in a stuck elevator during a Spider-Girl adventure and let nature take its course. I can’t promise Peter would be clued in by the end of the story, or that it would end happily for poor exiled Darkdevil, but I just can’t help wondering what family looks like to a guy this messed up.

9. ANYBODY IN A COWBOY HAT. Except for Jonah Hex or the Rawhide Kid, who have both been given thorough revamps and retcons of late, I’d be interested in writing just about any kind of cowboy from either of the Big Two. I developed a liking for the Two-Gun Kid some years back, and was introduced to the rest of Marvel’s Western bunch in the ill-fated “Blaze of Glory” miniseries. Between that and the interesting if limited use of Scalphunter in James Robinson’s Starman, I think there’s some possibilities in a superhero Western with actual history involved. I created the Masked Rider in part to scratch this itch, and let’s just say there’s a reason I tracked down Theodore Roosevelt’s one recorded interaction with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show …

10. PETER CANNON, THUNDERBOLT. This one is completely irrational, and a little background is necessary. Waaaayyyy back in the 1960s, a talented comic-book writer-artist named Pete Morisi finally achieved a lifelong dream and joined the New York Police Department. But he kept doing comics on the side—signing his best-known work with his initials so his bosses wouldn’t know he was moonlighting. His most popular creation, Thunderbolt, was one of the most thoughtful and well-done invocations of Asian culture in Western comics (despite being a blond guy with no pants). Peter Cannon was the current incarnation of Vajra, the hero of the obscure Tibetan Buddhist monastery where he was raised after his missionary parents died of a plague. He had all kinds of nifty mental powers and some low-grade physical enhancements as a result of your basic meditation. The character bounced around for a while in the sixties and seventies, then was revived in the nineties by DC Comics for a short-lived series. I fell in love with this last effort, partly because it was a clever, well-written superhero adventure that explored just how reincarnation affected people in a genre where heroes routinely died and came back to life. It also did a fine job of messing with geopolitics, making Cannon an exiled Tibetan citizen (he was born there, after all, but forced to leave by the Chinese) and an advocate for a free Tibet. The rights to the character currently lie with Morisi’s estate; the creator died in 2003. I’d want to pick up with a thread left dangling when the series was canceled—the possibility that Peter’s predecessor as Vajra, believed executed by the Chinese, might still be alive somewhere in China … meaning Peter isn’t Vajra at all …

11. THE SHADOW. Another radio favorite, done for a while by DC Comics and others. There have been so many conflicting versions of him that I just want to play with the concept. In some versions he was an almost demonic figure, in others just a playboy with a knack for hypnotism, in still others a grim avenger who seemed to stand outside of time, his supernatural abilities never fully explored or explained. I want to roll all those versions around and see what falls out. And maybe play a little with the Shadow’s creator, “Maxwell Grant,” a.k.a. Walter Gibson, otherwise best known as the ghostwriter for Harry Houdini. What sort of trouble could I start with the master escape artist and the master of men’s minds? I wonder …

Okay, gods of comics. The list is out here. (And everyone else—mock away!)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A little fragment I'm proud of ...

A friend recently sent me the photo above, with a note attached: "I'm not sure whether this is Rorschach or the Black Mask ... thoughts?" It reminded me of this passage in Chapter 3, where Trevor searches Rae's hideout, which used to be the Black Mask's, and finds an old fedora that could only belong to one person …

It wasn’t everyone who could wear a trenchcoat and fedora in the waning nights of the twentieth century, but that was the Black Mask for you. It helped that he had haunted Los Angeles since before the talkies were a glimmer in Al Jolson’s eye, but that was only part of his mystique. The Black Mask knew everything, about everyone. He kept files on generations of city governments, whispered in the ears of industrialists and studio chiefs, came and went from police headquarters like a wraith. There were almost no photos, few recordings of the gravelly voice behind the black facecloth — the sound of oil and broken glass, one unauthorized biographer had called it — but everyone knew he was there. The crimes no one could solve, the powerful men no one could touch, the shadows no one could penetrate … they melted away before him like morning fog. Maybe he had powers, maybe he didn’t; it never mattered.

When capes and tights sprouted around him like weeds and the heroes went from front-page news to scandal-sheet trash, he stuck to the trenchcoat and the shadows and the truth. Even the most devout powers snobs steered clear of him, never questioned his right to exist. In other cities, they were metas and superheroes and mysterymen and capes; here they were masks, and could be nothing else. The girl took advantage of that. Ten years after the mysterious explosion that took his life, his hideout was still drawing free electricity from the grid, and no cop in the city would risk pulling over a black Indian with his plates. Just in case. Just in case.

Trevor remembered when he wanted to be the Black Mask someday.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bullies, Grammar, and What to Do About Them Both

There’s been a bit of a manufactured foofaw in the press lately about bullied LGBTQ teens committing suicide. (I say “manufactured” because it recently hit the lucky three-deaths-equals-a-trend sweet spot, and choosing to report on something just because it’s hit exactly three events always seems rather disingenuous to me. It doesn’t make something a non-issue—just artificial in its coverage.) But beneath all the hand-wringing about how persecuted these kids were, and how we need to get every remotely oddball teen out of the small towns and into a nice, safe city where everyone’s magically tolerant of everyone else, there’s another angle nobody seems to be mentioning.

In every news account I read, the dead kids are described as “being bullied”. As someone who makes her living from words, I notice grammar like that. This statement is in what’s known as the passive voice—that odd little syntactic setup where the subject of the sentence receives the action rather than performing it. So, in the sentence, “Fred was bullied,” the subject is Fred and the predicate is was bullied—but Fred didn’t do the bullying. Someone else did. Who? We may never know. All we know is that Fred got the short end of the stick in that sentence.

Grammatically, there are only three good reasons to use the passive voice in professional nonfiction writing (which, yes, includes journalism). The first is in scientific and technical articles where the author, for reasons of professional modesty, is not permitted to come out and say that he or she performed the experiments, did the research, and reached the conclusions now being laid before the public. That’s how we get sentences like “The medications were administered.”

The second reason is that the writer does not know who committed the act being described—for example, “Bob was killed an hour ago.” We probably don’t know yet who killed Bob, but if the body was just found and the death declared a homicide (let’s say Bob was stabbed seven times in the back), it’s only responsible journalism to say that Bob was actively killed by another human being; he didn’t just slip in the bath or choke on a hot dog.

Finally, the third reason we use the passive voice is because we know who did something—we just can’t or won’t say. Sometimes confidential informants are involved; sometimes an individual has been accused of a crime but not yet tried, and the writer doesn’t want to be sued for libel. So even if George was found standing over Bob the Dead Guy holding a bloody knife and babbling, “I did it, I did it, I’m not sorry, he deserved it, I did it,” a wise journalist will merely say that “Bob was killed” and “George was arrested.” After George gets convicted or pleads guilty to the crime, we can say that George killed Bob, and it’s bye-bye passive voice.

But here’s the thing about using the passive voice in the deaths of these children. These aren’t scientific articles. No one is being accused of a crime in these cases (at least not yet). And in many cases, we know who did the bullying—at least in a general sense. Perhaps it would be legally actionable to identify the bullies by name, but we could at least say something like “Other kids bullied Fred.” See how much stronger than “Fred was bullied” that sentence is? And it makes the bullying seem somehow less like it’s Fred’s fault—which is as it should be. And yet nobody’s saying it. Nobody’s saying that other children, many of whom grew up alongside these now-dead kids, tortured them on a daily basis until the victims finally decided that being dead was better than being alive. Or that these other children now have to live with the guilt of what they’ve done—or worse, live without that guilt, because they believe the dead kid got what was coming to him.

Yeah, these are the kids I want running the world in another ten or twenty years.

I have a dog in this fight, I’ll admit. I was bullied in school for about seven years straight. I remember being nauseated every morning at the thought that I would have to get up and face my classmates’ contempt again. I wasn’t doing anything especially wrong—I just happened to have the wrong hair color (one kid actually told me she wasn’t allowed to be friends with non-blondes) and I used too many big words. Everywhere I went, people made fun of my hair, my glasses, the way I talked. And nobody in authority did anything about it. I complained to teachers, to the principal, and was blown off. Consistently.

“Oh, you’re just imagining it.”

“They’re just high-strung.”

“We don’t want to damage their self-esteem.”

“Someday you’ll be a software billionaire and it won’t matter.” (This last is a direct quote—and considering that I was struggling mightily in computer class at the time, not a very funny one.)

After five years, my parents tried to pull me out of that school, and I wouldn’t let them, because I couldn’t stand the idea that the bullies would think that I was running away. That they’d won. That they could do this to anyone else they didn’t like.

So for my last two years, I got in their faces. (After all, what were they going to do, bully me?) When they made fun of me, I mocked them back, harder and meaner. I hung signs on my backpack to protest the school’s (lack of a) disciplinary policy, and made sure that parents saw them for maximum embarrassment value. When I saw younger kids being picked on by younger bullies, I went after them hammer and tongs. I cultivated words as weapons. I learned to box. My stubbornness became my strength, and for a while there I pretty much lost my middle gears between passively accepting abuse and viciously returning it tenfold. I thought of this new side of my personality as the monster in my head, and I hated it, but I needed it, too. When I graduated from that school, I swore not to speak to my classmates again, with two exceptions for fellow nerds.

On my first day of high school, a 250-pound football player followed me around, making fun of my vocabulary. I went home and hit the heavy bag with a vengeance, and began plotting ways to sneak a knife into school. It’s a good thing I was writing Masks, because it made me my first friend around that time, which is probably the only reason I didn’t actually stab anyone. And it’s a very good thing that my new friends were willing to stand by me against bullies—having a small army of girls at my back meant I only had to retaliate when someone really deserved it, and I only had to slug one fellow student between ninth and twelfth grade. Thanks to them, I grew my middle gears back.

But from the descriptions I’ve read, these kids who died recently weren’t as stubborn as I was. They weren’t as angry. And honestly, I’m not sure I’d want them to be. It’s pretty horrible to go through childhood and adolescence thinking up ways to cripple people before they can cripple you. Kids should be free to be themselves, as long as they don’t hurt anyone in the process, and to do so without fear of being tortured by monsters, or becoming monsters themselves. They should have a third option. And while I recognize that the world isn’t perfect and you can’t always get what you want, bullying isn’t a disease or a natural disaster. It’s a behavior, one that’s tolerated and even encouraged by the adults who raised and taught those bullies, and by the other kids who stand around watching as it happens.

To which I say—bullshit. The kids who died deserved better than they got. And if I have anything to say about it, their living comrades—gay, straight, and just plain weird—will get it.

To the kids being bullied—it does get better, I swear. I have two pieces of advice. First, decide who you want to be. Not who they want you to be—who you want to be. As strange, beautiful, and brilliant as you want. Choose courage, or wisdom, or laughter, or anything else you want to be part of this person. Then work on becoming that person, come hell or high water. Hone your skills. Develop your spirit. Grow. It’s all easier when you can feel yourself becoming someone you respect.

Second, find friends, good ones—and accept nothing less until you find them! Find a place (mental, physical, spiritual, or other) where you’re truly loved, even if it’s a weird place or you have to search a long time to find it. It’s a place worth finding, and a necessary one, and just the search will keep you going for a while. Once you find it, too, things get better, usually better than you could have imagined they’d be. Such places exist. Never believe they don’t. Keep looking. I’ve found several already, and—this is the important part—you only need to find one.

To the kids doing the bullying, I have nothing to say. You aren’t reading this anyway. Call me when you’re ready to rejoin the human race.

To the adults who raised and trained the bullies, who tolerate their behavior—good luck sleeping at night. I’m a mild case. I never actually killed anybody, or even tried to kill myself. Now imagine all the other kids who weren’t as lucky as I was … and remember that the ones that live to adulthood will be running your retirement facilities. Don’t like it? Then step in. Tell someone no. Do something. You’re adults. Hell, some of you are mandated reporters. You have no excuses.

To the kids standing by and watching this go on—step in. Trust me. Just step in. I know it’s a scary thought, but once you get past the scary, there’s very little to actually be afraid of. In my experience, any given school has only a few hardcore bullies, and a lot of enablers. If one or two people stand up and object, the bullying stops. If they keep objecting, the bullying really stops. One or two people is all you need. If you see it going on, you’ve already got one person right there—you. If the grownups rely on mob rule to control the students, use it against them. Create a mob for civility. Make friends with the losers. Eat lunch with them, and talk to them like they’re normal people rather than charity cases. They may not become your best friends (although I guarantee at least a few will), but everyone who sees you doing the right thing will remember it. They’ll trust you. They’ll want to be friends with someone who does the unpopular thing because it’s right. You’ll be a better person, and better off, for it. And oh, yeah, you’ll have some of the best friends in the universe.

There’s a scene in Masks where Rae hears the voice of the coyote in her head, whispering suggestions—simple, violent ways to permanently solve her problems. She has to fight against what seems to be a part of herself that nevertheless wants her to do terrible things. The scene is rooted in fact. I still live with the monster in my head that I created to deal with the monsters around me. It’s gotten quieter over the years, as I’ve gotten used to stuffing it back into its dark hole. It never completely goes away, though, especially when I walk into a room full of strangers and my stomach turns over in the old, familiar way.

But I am able to beat it back, mostly because someone took a chance on me. When I was in ninth grade, Amber Kabelitz, one of the sweetest girls in the school, befriended me. She didn’t have to, but she seemed to like my stories, and by extension me. She ate lunch with me most days, and soon other kids joined us. Bullies just couldn’t be mean to Amber; it would have been like stomping a kitten. Being around Amber meant you had to play nice. And all she did to change my life was eat lunch with me.

People think bullying is impossible to stop, that it’s a fact of human nature. It’s not. It happens because no one can be bothered to stop it. The trick is remembering to bother. After that, the sky’s the limit.

As one of my favorite writers likes to say, “We have done the impossible, and that makes us mighty.”

Monday, October 4, 2010

How I made the bookmarks

Do you love how I’m saying “I” made the bookmarks when Nicole did all the work? Well, I paid for the tacos, anyway. And the Alex Ross artbook she called reference and I called a bribe. That’s almost like work, isn’t it?

Step 1: Take reference photos.

The lovely Carolyn Kabelitz modeled for Rae, in a somewhat ad-hoc version of Rae’s costume. My parents’ backyard provided the backdrop. We took a bunch of photos and cherry-picked the best ones.

Trevor was a more difficult task, mostly because I don’t know any guys with the right build and facial structure to double for him. I knew plenty in high school, of course, which is why he looks and acts the way he does, but most of them did eventually get that last growth spurt and are now much taller than I am. So I dug up a photo of a boy playing what looks like flag football and told Nicole to use her imagination. There were extra tacos involved.

Step 2: Lay out the bookmark design

This is the point where Nicole took over. She flopped the image of Carolyn so that she now appeared to be standing with her left hip toward the camera—you’ll see why in a minute—and turned both photos black-and-white. Then she fiddled with layouts until she arrived with something she liked in the right proportions to fit on the bookmarks, which we knew would be 2x6”.

Step 3: Pencil.

Next Nicole printed out the photos at four times their final size (that’s 4x12”, for those keeping score) and laboriously copied the poses. She added Rae’s logo brooch at her hip (the reason she flopped the photo in Step 2) and lengthened her tunic. She also wants it known that she is now going to draw Rae in Chuck Taylors at every opportunity, because Carolyn made them look so superheroic.

The Trevor image was harder, of course, because she had to take an image of a boy running in a loose T-shirt and shorts and translate it into an image of a boy running in long pants and a jacket, and add his signature mask and goggles. It didn’t come out too badly, though. Nicole also changed the position of the boy’s right arm, because “every time I drew it like it was in the photo, it looked weird.”

Step 4: Watercolor

After Nicole scanned in the sketches to back them up in case something went wrong, she began applying watercolor paint to the images—first the black areas, then the lighter shading. We knew we’d be tinting the Rae image red and the Trevor image blue, so the whole process was very much about values of light and dark—making the shadows stand out sharply, capturing the different grays that would represent the hues of their costumes. The final step was to brush gray paint lightly around the figures to create a textured background and a sense of light. Nicole asks me to inform you that she decided to make the area behind Rae’s shoulder darker because she has such ominous forces around her all the time, and she gathered some shadows near Trevor’s front foot because John Lawrence is always showing up overhead and glowing, which would naturally make the sky around Trevor very light.

Step 5: Production

Once the black-and-white paintings were dry, I stepped in again and scanned them into my laptop. There I used PhotoFiltre to remove the penciled boundary lines marking the edges of the bookmarks (the printer asked me to leave 1/8” clear all the way around the design in case of printing issues) and add the text to each image—the quote, plus the information about the book and the blog address. Finally I used the Colorize option to tint Rae’s bookmark red, then turned up the saturation and contrast to get a really vivid hue. I did the same thing to tint Trevor’s bookmark image blue. Then I emailed the two .jpgs to the wonderful Richard Fieger, printer extraordinaire, and let him do his magic.

The result—my best bookmarks ever, which is good because with this much work for a 2x6” piece of cardstock, I don’t want to have to redesign them anytime soon. Although I’m sure I’ll end up tinkering with the proportions just a bit on the next batch … I really need industrial-strength therapy.