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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Spinsterella- New Novel I've been Writing

This cover is NOT FINAL! 

There was a reason for all the vlogs for the past few weeks. I’ve been busy for the past few weeks finishing work on my latest novel. And last week I finally finished the first draft of it.

The new novel is called Spinsterella and it’s a romantic comedy. It’s a fairy tale the Shawn James way. If I had to pitch it to a trade publisher, I’d tell people it’s a story about two misfits who find love with each other; a story about facing one’s fears and moving ahead in life. It’s kind of Shrek meets Lydia Deetz from Beetlejuice. If Tim Burton ever made a romantic comedy, this would probably be the end result.

The heroine in this one is a Goth. A 40-year-old Goth. I’ve always had a soft spot for Goths and the Goth subculture and I’ve always wanted to create a Goth character and tell their story. Most people don’t know that Marilyn Marie from All About Marilyn and Colleen Anderson from The Thetas almost became full Goths at the end of their character transformations. However I changed my mind at the last minute.

This time I decided to take the plunge and create that Goth character. I spent the last year studying the Goth subculture, reading Goth blogs, watching Goths’ YouTube Videos and just listening to the people, their language and the way they do things. And I found it to be a very interesting world of cool people with a style all their own. No two Goths are alike and that’s what I love about them. What I loved is that even though almost everyone wears black, there is more than one shade and one texture to the color of the stories and experiences of the people all over the world.

This one is very different than my previous novels. Most of the books I write like those in the Isis series are usually PG or PG-13 in terms of content and almost all ages can read them, but this one is definitely R Rated. There’s sex, violence, and profanity. Quite a few Goths curse, so that’s in the dialogue. And it’s a romance novel so of course there’s sex scenes J. Nothing as graphic as Zane but the sex scenes are pretty steamy. It was a nice change of pace to write something with adult themes, I really haven’t really done that in over a decade. I really wanted to get out of my box and try some new concepts this time.

This one’s also a bit more autobiographical than my previous novels. Yeah the hero is based on me. Again. I decided to make this one a story about what would probably happen if I returned to work at a business after all that I had to deal with after losing my job at City College’s Science/Engineering Library. Re-adjusting to the job market after being out of it for six to seven years is a major life-changing event. And there’s a major character transformation arc as a character has to deal with their personal issues while transitioning from being alone and working on one’s own to learning how to being part of an office with its own unique culture and its own unique social situations.

I know from personal experience that when you’ve been out of the job market for an extended period of time you just shut down mentally and emotionally and you just focus on surviving. In survival mode you tend to tune everyone out and your only goals are getting through a day and having enough money to get to the next one. So when you return to the job market you don’t have much interest in forming relationships and personal connections with co-workers. Because you don’t know whether or not you’re going to be staying anyplace for too long. With the job market being unstable these days you learn to expect the unexpected.

And you don’t know who’s going to stab you in the back. There’s a lot of anxiety and tension entering a new environment like a workplace when you’ve been out of it for an extended period of years like I have. You just keep your distance from everyone in an effort to avoid the predators in the workplace who can cost you everything. Again, you don’t know whether or not you’re going to be staying. So you don’t make plans long term for your career.

I wanted people to understand if a person like myself is very distant when they first meet them on the job that we’re not being hostile towards them. Nor are we being conceited or aloof. When someone like me is out of the job market for a long time we just aren’t looking to be open to others on day one. To protect oneself, from further harm a man or woman may just shut down those parts of themselves and their personality in an effort just to keep surviving. It may take six months to a year for them to just feel comfortable enough to feel free enough to start expressing the parts of their personality they were forced to suppress to get through a day in those hard times. If an employer isn’t patient enough to understand the issues this new hire is going through

These were major story points in developing my hero. It was a fascinating character transformation arc and I felt it was a story that needed to be told. Most people don’t understand how these starts and stops in today’s unstable job market effect people mentally and emotionally, and I wanted to tell that story.

In developing the romance between the hero and my Goth heroine I found myself applying many of the things I learned from YouTubers like the Iceman and others to the relationships and approaches to relationships in this story. Now that I’m aware of Simps and the Simp/Trick paradigm I wanted to take a different approach to relationships than what’s presented in your usual romance novel and my previous romance novel A Recipe For $ucce$$. I wanted to show a man being balanced in his masculinity and present a model for how people have healthy relationships.

Spinsterella is a fairy tale about two rejects. Misfits. And how they find love with each other as they face their fears and overcome their anxieties. It’s a fun romantic comedy filled with a lot of irony, satire, and sarcasm. With the first draft complete, I’ll be working on revisions soon. Right now I’m working on outlines for Isis: Imitation of Life and E’steem: Back to School.  I’d love to have this one out for Christmas, but we’ll see. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Thoughts on the Batman V Superman Teaser

Friday, April 24, 2015

Shawn’s thoughts on Batman V.Superman Dawn of Justice Teaser

I was at the library watching the Batman V. Superman teaser trailer. And everything I hated about modern DC Superheroes was presented front and center in that little snapshot of WB’s newest feature film.

First we get the immoral character calling himself Oliver Queen in the show calling itself Arrow but not featuring Green Arrow on the CW. Now this movie featuring a pair of super-powered pyschopaths.

Shawn has to ask: Why can’t DC Superheroes Be fun?

Batman V. Superman looks like a very ANGRY film. A film filled with doom and gloom. A bitter film made by very bitter people who have no idea what comic books and superheroes are supposed to be. From what I saw onscreen I dare to say many who work at Warner brothers need to get their head examined.

In Batman V. Superman the world hates Superman. They see him as an aloof overlord who does whatever he feels like and seeks to impose his will on mankind. People call him a false god. They don’t appreciate his good deeds. He doesn’t inspire hope in people. Instead he instills fear in them.

This is a far cry from the late Christopher Reeve’s Superman who was considered a friend to the world. A brightly colored hero who inspired hope in everyone in 1978 and even today when Superman: The Movie is broadcast on TV in reruns.

Seriously, everything in Batman V. Superman is NOT what superhero comics are about. It’s not what superheroes are about. It’s the kind of movie that warps and distorts superheroes and their missions. It’s what dysfunctional people who have no understanding of the genre THINK superheroes are, not what they actually are.

Comic book superheroes are not gods. They are not better than anyone else. They are people just like you and me. And they see themselves as people just like you and me. And in spite of their human flaws and frailties, they dedicate themselves to making a difference by helping those in need and sharing their gifts and abilities with others. Again, superheroes are friends to the communities they serve.

Comic book superheroes are about HOPE. They INSPIRE others to DO BETTER. BE BETTER. To MAKE THEIR LIVES COUNT. 

More importantly superheroes instill a sense of community in the kids who read their adventures. They make them understand when people have been given gifts and talents that they must use those gifts and talents make their world better. A Superhero volunteers his or her time to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves and to help those who can’t help themselves. They know their job isn’t about thanks or rewards, it’s about doing what’s right and standing for what’s good.

From an educational perspective, Comic book superheroes help kids make sense of a world they don’t understand. In their brightly colored costumes they do the things kids want to do but can’t. They have the problems kids have, and offer them solutions in their adventures as they overcome the bad guys. Again, they are the friends who brighten up a child’s day and make a rough day for a tween or a teen that much better.

From what I saw in the Batman V. Superman Trailer, the employees at Warner Brothers and DC Comics have lost touch with what superheroes are supposed to be about. What I saw in their teaser wasn’t a superhero movie. It was a movie filled with the stuff of Super-Villains. From the bleak tone and dark visuals, the movie should have been called Ultraman V. Owlman: Dawn of Injustice.

When I heard the line where Batman pondered if he can make Superman bleed it made me cringe. Batman doesn’t act like this. EVER. Batman is dark, but he’s also a Knight, a man with a code of chivalry and honor. People seem to forget that aspect of the character these days.

Seriously, are these the kinds of values DC wants to teach kids? Is this what DC wants their heroes to be about in the 21st Century?

It must be because the same dysfunctional ideologies are projected in the pages of DC Comic books since 2002 are now being transposed onto film. It’s been a decade and a half of dysfunction at DC Comics and Warner Brothers and Batman V. Superman is the cinematic manifestation of the mental illness plaguing the DC offices regarding superheroes.

Batman V. Superman doesn’t feature the actions of heroes. And it’s not a story about heroes. What I saw in that teaser were the antisocial behaviors sociopaths participate in. That may as well have been Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold on in that trailer. Or recent mass murderers James Holmes and Eliot Rodger. If you read their manifestos, they have the same nihilistic views about the world.

I’m really getting tired of these dysfunctional types projecting their antisocial values and ideals onto superheroes. Comic books aren’t supposed to be real. Superheroes are not supposed to grow up with you. Their worlds are made to instill hope and inspire others to be the very best they can be.

I don’t see that in the DC’s Batman V. Superman movie. I don’t see that in DC’s comic books these days. I don’t even see it in their TV shows like Arrow.  All I see is anger, angst and despair.

This is why SANE people are turning away from DC Comics in droves. The world is miserable enough. Who wants to spend $5 to read a comic with no hope? Or spend $15 to watch heroes whose solution is worse than the actual problem?

A long time ago in a ghetto far, far away the superhero comics in my brother’s comic book collection inspired me to become a writer when I was nine years old. I couldn’t draw worth a crap so I used words to make my pictures. Even though I grew up in poverty, I saw hope in those comics. They helped me get through the rough times in a three-room apartment in the South Bronx that had no heat in the winter or made a getting through week in a hell hole of a junior high school like IS 148 or a shithole of a high school like Park West a little easier.

Having those comics to help me get through those hard times was one of the things that made me want to become a comic book writer back in the late 1980s’-early 1990’s before the industry collapsed.

And almost thirty years since I wrote my first story I’m writing my own books. Trying to promote the same messages of truth, justice, and helping the community in stories like those I tell in the Isis series. Trying to promote the same messages of family and friendship I learned in novels like The Thetas. And promoting the concept that good always triumphs over evil in novels like The Temptation of John Haynes.

Comic books were a big influence on my writing. And I always pay homage to them in almost all of my work.

I don’t know if I’d ever want to write comics if I got the chance. If Batman V. Superman and DC’s decade and a half of dysfunction are the standard for the values of superheroes these days then I don’t know if I want to work in the genre. From all the gore and excessive violence in DC’s comics and now being featured in their movies, I’d have to say many who work at DC and Warner Brothers have some sort of mental health issue. It’s bad enough you can’t give a kid a superhero comic these days, but now you can’t take them to see a DC Comics Superhero movie.

Damn. Just Damn.

That’s fucked up. Really fucked up when you consider that comic books are a medium made for children from its inception. 

I can honestly say if Batman V. Superman is the standard for DC Comics I won’t be supporting any of their movies the same way I don’t buy any of their comics or action figures anymore. These are not the values of the DC superheroes I grew up with. When Warner Brothers makes a movie about those heroes, I’ll gladly pay money for a movie ticket. Until then, my wallet remains CLOSED as it relates to any DC related merchandise.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Story Paradigms and Story Models

In serialized storytelling such as comic books there are story paradigms and story models. While some writers use these terms interchangeably they actually mean two different things.

A Story Paradigm is a standard model for storytelling.  

Paradigms are the structure for storytelling. They lay the foundation and framework a writer for telling the story they’re writing.

Paradigms are time-tested models writers have used for centuries to get their stories from the beginning to the end.

An example of a paradigm is a one act arc, a three-act story arc or a five-act story arc. 

For the most part Story Paradigms rarely change. Stories follow a one-act arc, a three-act arc, or a five act arc regardless whether they are short stories, novels, screenplays, teleplays, or comic books.

A Story Model is the sequence of events a writer uses to tell their stories.

Story models are the form a writer wraps around the structure of a paradigm.

Story models are that sequence of events that get a story from the beginning to the middle to its end.

Once the foundation and framework are laid, a writer can get creative and use their imagination towards creating a model for getting their story from the inciting incident to the first plot point, the second plot point, the climax and the conclusion.

In serialized storytelling every character has a unique story model that is distinct. And these story models are just like fingerprints, no two are exactly alike. It’s this model that gives a character’s stories a unique feel. In some cases if the writing is strong enough it creates the “heart” and “soul” for those stories.  

A good story model will give a reader an indicator to what they’re reading from the first page. Usually a reader can tell it’s a Batman story or a Superman story just from the mood or the tone established on the first page.

The sequence of events that establish a Superman story model will not work in a Batman story model. And the sequence of events works in an Batman story model won’t work in an Superman story model. Two different characters can exist in the same world but the approaches used to tell their stories are completely different.

But a writer can turn these story models on their ear to show how their story models are distinct. One of the best examples of story models being flipped around was Superman The Animated Series episode Knight Time. In this story Superman is forced to go into Gotham City to find out what happened to a missing Bruce Wayne. And as he searches for Bruce he has to put on Batman’s cowl to solve the mystery.

And as he puts on Batman’s cowl he soon finds that Superman’s approaches won’t work in Batman’s world. It’s only when he adapts his approaches to crime fighting that he overcomes the challenges of navigating Batman’s world and discovers the true villain of the story: Brainiac.

While story paradigms rarely change, story models do change. Sometimes a writer will change a model to keep things from being formulaic and predictable to readers and viewers. Other times a writer will use a new story model to give a reader a different perspective on a character.

And other times a writer will change a story model because it’s dated. Story models sometimes do get old and what worked in an era like the 1980s and 1990’s won’t work today. Things like grim n’ gritty storytelling or Shock and awe storytelling won’t work in a time like the 21st Century where people have completely different view of the world.

When I’m writing the Isis series sometimes I change the story models to tell a different type of story and present the character from a different perspective. Usually most Isis series adventures are kind of a comic book/fantasy/superhero story model where she takes on bad guys like Amari, Nemesis, D’Lilah, or Raheema Sanders. However, in a story like Isis: All About the Goddess I decided to put the character to a mystery story model to show how the character is a friend to people and how far she’ll go to protect others whose lives are in danger.

In the mystery story model I used in Isis: All About The Goddess a superhero character like Isis really couldn’t use her powers like flying and super strength. So the challenge was getting the character to work in this different story model and showing how she could overcome the challenge of not using her powers to find out who is stalking former child star and current Next School art model Marilyn Marie.

In another Isis series story Isis: Death of a Theta I also go off the traditional superheroine story model of good guys and bad guys. In Isis: Death of a Theta I also wanted to show how Isis was a friend to those she loved and how she had to deal with letting those friends go as she sacrificed the life of her aging alias Andrea Thomas Robinson.

 follow a more contemporary story model while using a singular first-person narrative just like I used in the novel The Thetas. I wanted the story to be similar in tone and style to The Thetas and I wanted events in that story to be consistent with events that happened in The Thetas. Again, the goal was to get readers to see the character’s heroism from a different perspective.

A change in story model can allow a writer to mix things up and keep them from being boring and predictable. In a lot of cases changes to the form can make the structure of the story stronger and give a reader an insight into a character and their mission and help the reader connect with them 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Vlogs Instead of Blogs and Other News

Last week posted a pair of vlogs (video blogs) instead of written blogs. I’m trying some new things in the hopes of expanding my readership.

One of the reasons I’m making videos is I believe that if people saw me and got to know me as a person they’d connect with me. And that relationship with readers would help them see my writing in a different light. I really want people to see the man behind the stories and the blogs form a relationship with him and see there is a person behind the fingers on the keyboard.

The other reason for the vlogs is because I’ve been really busy. I’ve been working on this new romance novel (more news about that coming soon) and it’s really been coming together. I finally found my groove on this story and the words are just coming to me. Characters are speaking to me in their own “voices” and the story is telling itself.  I’m practically writing three chapters a day and I’ve had a lot of fun writing this one.

On top of this new novel I’ve been editing three books for the summer reading season. Two YA, and a nonfiction. I’m trying to get everything right for the Isis/E’steem crossover paperbacks and eBooks and the new Stop Simpin Second Edition. I want the quality on all three to match the benchmark I established for Isis: Wrath of the Cybergoddess last summer that was almost error free.

On top of that I’ve been working posting and promoting eBay auctions. I’ve now got a year of sales experience on eBay and now that I’ve learned the ins and outs of the auction site. Right now I’m using all I learned about sales there towards my book marketing and promotion. Over the last year I’ve built a reputation for excellent customer service, communication and shipping product out in a timely manner. Some say I have the fastest shipping on the site!

And in addition to the novel and the eBay auctions I’m still promoting books. More titles will be coming to Kindle Unlimited this year like the new Isis: Night of the Vampires and E’steem Undercover.

With the Isis/E’steem Crossover Kickstarter being a failure, I have no idea what image will be on either cover. But both books will be out Memorial Day weekend.

In other Isis series news Isis: The Beauty Myth will be returning to Kindle Unlimited. After someone put the book on a site for a lousy Kindle covers, I’m going to turn a negative into a positive. So I’m going to give readers a chance to judge the book by its content, not its cover.

What many readers don’t know is that Isis: The Beauty Myth ties directly into Isis: Wrath of the Cybergoddess, a book which features a cover by Hero Business artist Bill Walko. I want readers to read both parts of the story and they’ll get that opportunity this summer.

Smashwords readers will get the New Stop Simpin Second Edition on Memorial Day Weekend. Just in time for the summer dating season. The New Stop Simpin is expanded with lots of new information and I believe lots of men will learn what NOT to do when it comes to approaching women. Like all the other books in the Simp Trilogy the Stop Simpin Second Edition will be FREE. 

If you want the original Stop Simpin though GET IT NOW. The eBook will be discontinued at the Start of Memorial Day weekend. However, I urge readers to get the new Stop Simpin as the information in it is updated and a lot more thorough in content than the previous version.

E’steem Undercover coming to the site later in the summer. E’steem has a big following on Smashwords and I want to give them an opportunity to add the book to the collection. Once the book is done on Kindle Unlimited in May, I’m hoping to release it there in August.  

E’steem: Undercover will also be the first E’steem book available in paperback. I’m thiking of releasing an Essential E’steem paperback so paperback readers can pick up her adventures. Unfortunately E’steem’s stories are too short to put in single volumes.

Once I finish this new novel, I’ve got to get to work on the editing of it. And writing the next adventures in the Isis and E’steem series. Running outlines in my head for both.

All this work on the SJS DIRECT titles is like a full-time job and I do it all while I continue to look for a full-time job. I believe I’ll get another full-time job. One of these days. Putting in applications and sending out resumes. Even posted several videos detailing what I bring to the table for a business.

A new blog will be up on Thursday I hope. I’m working out a schedule for videos and written blogs and I’m also pondering taking the blog and my YouTube channel in a new direction.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Have Superhero Comics Gone Too Far?

Jaden Smith and the Social Engineering of the Effeminate Negro Male

I was on Facebook and I saw an image of Will Smith’s son Jaden in a dress. Even worse, he was talking about how he liked to buy women’s clothes.

Good Gravy.

Will Smith you have FAILED as a FATHER. And Jada Pinkett you have FAILED as a MOTHER. If this is the fruit you have bared, you should be ASHAMED.


What many don’t understand presenting Jaden Smith’s image like this is part of a long-term social engineering campaign from the White Supremacists in Hollywood to feminize the Black man. Almost every year we see a picture of a Black man in a dress. Before Jaden Smith revealed his interest in dressing in women’s clothes, a few months before there were a series of Black male models walking the runway in cashmere dresses.

Damn. Just Damn.

Over the last 20 or so years there has been a constant stream of Black men presented in media wearing women’s clothes. Jamie Foxx as Wanda on In Living Color. Sheneneh and Martin’s momma on Martin. Larry Johnson as Grandmamma. Jaleel White as Myrtle Urkel. Marlon and Shawn Wayans as White Chicks. Chris Tucker on the Fifth Element. Martin Lawrence in all those Big Momma movies Tyler Perry as Madea.

I could go on and on. But tell me how many White men have been put in dresses over the last 30 years? For every Tootsie, Mrs. Doubtfire, or Ask Harriet with a White guy in a dress there seem to be five or more images a year of Black men in dresses pretending to be women.

And the images of Black men acting feminine like this are increasing not decreasing. Clearly there’s an escalation of the emasculation of the Black man’s image in American media.  

I’m beginning to think Dave Chappelle was right. In order to make it to Hollywood’s A-list a Black man has to degrade himself by putting on women’s clothes.

How is this social engineering? Jaden Smith is the son of Will Smith the highest grossing Black entertainer in Hollywood. He has a lot of influence on the impressionable minds of Young Black boys. And when they see him putting on dresses and talking about how he likes wearing dresses it sends a message to them that it’s socially acceptable.

In fact they think it’s cool. Why? Because if a celebrity is doing it then it’s going to get them cool points. So there may be a possibility of brothers running around in dresses just so they can get the attention of some goofy Black female.

Not understanding how they’ve lost face in front of her. No woman can respect a man dressed like her.

And with those boys thinking wearing dresses is okay, it’s a message gets passed on from one generation to the next. When they have sons they teach their boys that it’s okay.

What’s next Black men wearing makeup? Carrying purses? Wearing heels? Wearing perfume? When are Black men going to put their foot down and put a line in the sand like I did five years ago when I wrote the first blog about Black men in dresses?

What most of these young Black boys don’t understand is that one of the missions of White Supremacist institutions is to destroy the image of the Black man. When an image of Black man in a dress is presented in media it’s there to make a STATEMENT that a Black man is not a LEADER. That he is not strong. That he is NOT the head of the family.

The message these images send are that a Black man has been subjugated and made to submit. That he is BROKEN. In short he is White Supremacy’s BITCH.

Men put into the BITCH position are those that no one sees as leaders. They are not men who are respected by their women and their communities. They are seen as JOKES. Mocked, ridiculed and LAUGHED AT BY THE WORLD.

Jaden Smith is making a statement to the world: He is Hollywood’s BITCH. That he’ll sacrifice personal intangibles such as his DIGNITY and SELF-RESPECT for fifteen minutes of fame. He thinks he’s getting ahead by getting attention but he has no idea that the attention he’s getting will have him LEFT BEHIND.  

That’s the lesson he would have learned if his FATHER were MAN ENOUGH to take the time to teach him how to be a MAN. Not all attention is good attention. And when a man has to sacrifice his DIGNITY to get the attention of others he has sacrificed his personal power and the intangibles of his manhood.

And when a man sacrifices his personal power and intangibles of manhood he has put himself in a position where he loses face in front of other men. No man will take another man seriously when he has lost face in front of them.

When a man like Jaden Smith puts on a dress and talks about how he likes to wear women’s clothes he sends a message to other men: That he is BROKEN. That he is WEAK. That he is someone no one needs to take seriously. That he has no authority and no power as a MAN. That he has no presence. Again, he is a BITCH.

Brothers, the lesson you can learn from Jaden Smith is that a man’s personal power and intangibles of manhood are the most valuable things he can own. They are NEVER to be SACRIFICED. Not for fame, not for money, not for social currency. A man without dignity is a man without a face. And a Black man without a face is just another coon on the White Supremacist slave plantation of Hollywood. Jaden Smith is another slave. Black men, don’t let your kids follow this celebrity slave and wind up with their minds shackled by White Supremacy. Be the leader God made you to be and teach your sons how to be leaders in their own community. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Post Dan Didio Era at DC Comics

I’ve moved on from DC Comics. And I’ve come to accept that there won’t be change as long as Dan Didio, Jim Lee, Bob Harras, and Diane Nelson are in charge. But I also understand that something’s gotta give. Evenutally.  

Publishing is a BUSINESS. And eventually executives at the top are going to get tired of hearing deflections, bullshit, and more bullshit from DC’s current editorial regime. Sooner or later the numbers on the spreadsheets are going to tell a story people like Dan Didio just can’t cover up with excuses and quick fixes like Convergence.

The Dan Didio era at DC Comics is eventually going to have to end. And the next editor in Chief who takes his place at DC Comics will have a HUGE MESS to clean up.

I’m a visionary and a forward thinker. And as an independent publisher I see a rough road ahead for DC Comics. The post Dan Didio era will be a TOUGH one for DC Comics fans and the publisher itself as it makes the efforts to correct its course and navigate itself through a changing publishing marketplace. But I believe the DC Comics brand can overcome the challenges put in front of it if that editor in chief has the vision to see a bigger picture, puts on their hip boots, rolls up their sleeves, and understands the hard work that needs to be done. There’s a lot of GARBAGE that’s going to need to be hauled out at DC Comics and it’s going to have to be cleared out by a fleet of dump trucks. So that next editor in chief better bring a shovel and a rolodex with the numbers of a couple of trash haulers with them on their first day of work.

DC Comics has suffered from over a decade and a half of dysfunction. And that dysfunction has damaged the DC Comics brand internationally. Sales of DC Comics have declined. Sales of merchandise to such as action figures have stalled. Warner Brothers executives have appeared completely clueless as it tries to compete with Marvel Studios in making movies for the DC Comics brand. Overall, the DC Comics brand has lost market share in almost every sector with the exception of its Television division.

Right now the DC Comics brand is in a state of confusion. Most of iconic comic book characters like Superman, Batman, and Wonder woman are unrecognizable with customers young and old due a decade and a half of retcons, costume changes, and multiple reboots in the publishing division. The next editor will face a challenge trying to familiarize both old and new readers with DC’s characters and make their designs and stories memorable in their minds again. 

In the publishing division, the next editor-in-chief will also have to sort out the jumbled mess that is the DC Universe has become. DC’s Universe has gone from an easy to follow continuity to a confusing multiverse filled with enough plotholes and inconsistencies that would confuse a small child. Readers are told everything fits, but everything doesn’t when a reader follows a straight line. All of Didio’s mismanagement has led to a DC multiverse that has become completely Fucked Up Beyond All Repair.

I dare to say it, but to get to that straight line that makes the heroes accessible to new readers, the new Editor-in-Chief may have to hard reboot things in the publishing division. However, with an experienced publishing professional at the helm the DC new Universe would resemble something like it did before Didio was hired. One where The Golden Age is set in World War II, and there’s a clear line for legacy heroes leading to today. A universe where Superman wears red trunks and a cape, Diana Prince is Wonder Woman, Batman is Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson is Robin. Painful, but when you’re dealing with a decade and a half of dysfunction it requires a complete rebuild of a damaged brand. Again rebuilding a brand like DC Comics is a five to ten year plan, and several iconic DC franchises like Teen Titans and Wonder Woman are so systemically damaged by nearly two decades of bad storytelling they need a complete hard restart with brand new origins based on the original origins to get new readers and casuals back on board.

There has to be a plan to get readers to connect with and relate to the characters in the DC Universe. And reconnecting them with their stories. Again, that’s going to take five to ten years minimum, starting with the Trinity (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) and rolling out secondary titles like Green Lantern, Shazam! Flash, Aquaman, and Green Arrow six months afterward. Along with the trinity there should be a Justice Society book to show that the Golden Age left a legacy and that they’re still facing oldschool menaces  like Per Degaton and Solomon Grundy, but the first year of a DC relaunch should focus on building the worlds of the DC trinity and the secondary heroes and end with the formation of the Justice League and the launch of that title.

The second or third year should start with the introduction of other heroes like Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, and Firestorm and end with the formation of the original Teen Titans (new members like Cyborg, Starfire and Raven, coming in a year later). Again, this rebuilding of the DC Universe and the DC Comics brand will take five to ten years minimum, not be rushed together like DC’s new 52.

And in that time writers are going to be forced tell some great tales without the crutch of a gimmick or multi-line crossover event to carry them from issue to issue. Rebuilding is going to separate the hacks from the craftspeople, and when a creator doesn’t have the crutch of gimmicks and events to hold them up, they’ll be forced to get creative. The creators will have to focus on characters, their stories and making them interesting and compelling, using the original stories from classic DC adventures for inspiration, but taking them on modern twists.

And after the next editor-in-chief establishes a structure for the new DC Universe, they’re going to have to establish standards for content with the DC brand. Right now DC Comics are just inappropriate for just about adults let alone children. Yes, comics have fights in them. But the violence has gotten to the point of excessive with gory mutilations, decapitations gratuitous depictions, of death. When it comes to depictions action sequences DC comics today has crossed the line between good taste and…filth. The new EIC has to get the standard back to good taste if they hope to win over new readers in the 21st century.

The standard for most blockbuster films today is PG-13. And I believe comics need to meet to that standard for content if they hope to compete with movies, TV, and the Internet. DC needs to become a family oriented brand just like Disney, and Superman needs to be treated with the same respect Disney gives Mickey Mouse and Disney’s Princesses.

The next editor-in-chief will also have to rebuild the brand for DC’s Super heroines. DC Comics has the best stable of recognizable female characters in comics. Supergirl, Batgirl, Wonder Woman, Starfire, Wonder Girl, Dr. Light, Catwoman and Harley Quinn. A gold mine for licensing and merchandising. But the way the DC’s heroines have been depicted pretty much alienate any female comic fan and casual and alienate most male comic fans. The cripplings, mutilations, and rapes of these characters are sickening and downright disgusting. The stigma from these depictions of violence against women have damaged the brand DC’s brand long-term with female readers.

With mothers, grandmothers and aunts giving kids money for comics, There’s no place for this kind of violence against women in comics. The new EIC will have to make a guarantee to readers that there will be no more women in refrigerators at DC. EVER.

And the next editor in chief at DC will have to extend an olive branch to all those creators out there. After the implementation of the New 52 most writers and artists have sworn off working for DC. A new EIC will have to be an ambassador of goodwill who reconnects artists and writers to the brand and gets them to understand the history of the characters they’re working with as they develop new adventures for them. They’ll have to diplomatically explain standards for quality and story. They’ll have to be open to working with creators and creating a team environment where everyone works together towards rebuilding the reputation of DC Comics.

There’s going to be a steep learning curve for some artists and writers as they learn that the excesses of the 1990’s are no longer the standard in a 21st Century publishing world and that the gimmicks and shock marketing that worked then don’t work now. People are indifferent to shock and writers and artists are going to have to learn how to get comic fans attention with something other than a death, a gory comic panel or some other overused plot device readers have grown tired of seeing.

DC will also have to be open to changing the way it compensates artists if it hopes to get new ideas flowing for its publications. There’s a lot of fresh young talent out there in the indies and the webcomics scene who have proven they deserve a job at one of the big two, but the archaic work-for-hire model is keeping them from even considering working with them. DC’s new editor in chief will have to be an advocate for them when they talk to WB Bosses about profit sharing with them on licensing and merchandising if they hope to get forward thinking creators on board and bring their new ideas and new characters to the brand.

DC’s new editor-in-chief will also have to be open to creating products that aren’t in 32-page comic formats. The serialized comic today costs too much and offers little entertainment value for the comic fans’ dollar compared to competing products. OGNs (Original graphic novels,) eBook exclusive series, and even limited series will have to be the part of the publishing catalog along with reprints of classic material. Even exclusive webcomics should be part of a catalog at a new DC Comics. 

And that new Editor-in-Chief will have to make an effort to reach out to comic fans across the globe. They’ll have to be the ambassador of goodwill to DC readers young and old. Instead of being an aloof jerk like Didio is sitting at a comic panel blowing off readers at a comicon they paid their good money to attend, they’ll have to actively listen to their customers and get creators to listen to them at book signings. As I see it, creators are going to have to get out and sell their work at the Barnes & Noble and the comic shops just like they do at the tables when they do commissions. They’re going to have to talk to the readers. And that feedback from these interactions hopefully will help them create better stories.

Finally, the next editor-in-chief needs to insist that DC recent logo needs to GO. It’s the symbol of Dan Didio. The symbol of a decade of FAILURE. It’s design is uninspired, and reflects the how dysfunctional and directionless the brand has become. The DC brand needs to be represented by its iconic four-star bullet again. That bullet was a standard for quality. It meant the reader was going to get comics readers of all ages would be able to enjoy and heroes any parent would be eager to share with their kids.

Many comic fans complain about the Dan Didio era at DC Comics. But Shawn James would like to focus on the post-Didio Era. Like a last place football team with a first-round draft pick DC Comics would be a rough place to be in the first few years. But with a solid Editor in Chief with a publishing background, leading the brand like a great head coach a plan can be put in place to rebuild the franchise and make it a rock-solid team of writers, artists and editors who would be focused on taking into first place and gaining the most market share in the comic book industry.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Supporting Cast in Comics

They have household names almost as well-known as the Superheroes in the comics they appear in. Lois Lane. Jimmy Olsen. Iris West. Alfred. Commissioner Gordon. Aunt May. Mary-Jane Watson. Betty Ross. Jim Rhodes. Who are these characters? The Supporting cast in your favorite comic books.

In order to make the hero stand out, a comic has to have a supporting cast. Those people going on and about their business allow the hero to have someone to save. Someone to give them a helping hand when they’re in trouble. Someone to be a love interest. And someone for their alter-ego to foil in their quest to figure out their secret identities.

However, these days there’s a disturbing trend when it comes to a Hero’s supporting cast. Everybody’s got powers. Everybody’s a super-hero.

Why are all the supporting characters becoming heroes? In the comic book business a franchise is considered bankable way to cross-market and license characters. And when supporting cast members have powers it means that the licensing department can sell twice as much merchandise than they would if there were just one hero. It’s a lot easier to sell War Machines than Jim Rhodes in the toy aisle. It’s a lot easier to sell Red She-Hulk than Betty Banner. And let’s face it, not that many people are gonna buy Lois Lane, Jim Rhodes, Commissioner Gordons, Alfreds, (Pre-52) Mary Jane Watsons and Aunt Mays outside of Shawn and diehard comic fans who love the characters.

 (For the record, I’d have bought all these civilians as action figures if I had the chance Take note Hasbro and DC Comics Collectibles! Instead of producing that umpmillionth Batman or Spider-Man action figures in neon colors produce a civilian or two. You’d be surprised how well they’d sell at retail! )

Yeah, I’m guilty of the franchising of characters myself. E’steem went from supporting character in Isis and The Temptation of John Haynes to becoming the lead character in her own books. But the character had grown so much in both books she was telling her own stories, and there was no way to make her adventures fit in another John Haynes story or an Isis story. So I kind of understand when a creative team spins off a character and lets them take the lead instead of following the hero.

However, I kind of miss all the civilians in comics. They added a humanized element that balanced a comic out. Civilians added a depth and a texture to a hero’s world. They allowed us to see what went on in the everyday life of the hero’s alter ego and the social issues they had to deal with when they weren’t out on patrol.

The way I see it not everyone needs to be a hero. Not everyone needs to wear spandex. When everyone is a hero it kind of sucks the life out of a comic and throws it’s story paradigm out of whack. If everybody’s got powers then what makes the hero special?

Case in point the Incredible Hulk. When it was just Bruce Banner turning into a big strong green man it was cool. He was big green and angry ready to kick the asses of all the super-strong badass villains like Abomination and Absorbing Man. He’s even ready to kick the asses of the more powerful Marvel Heroes like The Thing, Thor, The Silver Surfer and Iron Man and show him why he is the strongest one there is.  

Okay in 1980 we get She-Hulk. She’s big and green. In the beginning she’s almost like Bruce, brooding and sexually frustrated. But John Byrne comes along. And instead we get a fun vivacious character with a sense of humor. So she’s not like Bruce. She has her own adventures across the Marvel Universe without any problems.

Two Hulks male and female work well in a shared universe. Unfortunately, we fast forward to 20 years later. We get Red Hulk and Red She-Hulk. A Bomb. Skaar, son of Hulk. All of a sudden the Incredible Hulk’s world is getting a bit too crowded.

The Hulk can’t be the strongest one there is if four other people are just as strong as he is.

Sure all these characters are unique. But what makes the Incredible Hulk distinct is lost. The original character and his mission are lost as his supporting cast have all gone on to get powers and become super characters all their own. If everyone’s got powers then who’s going to be in the Incredible Hulk’s supporting cast? Who’s going to be his civilian rival? Who’s going to be his love interest? Why should the reader CARE about the Green Hulk if there’s a red, one doing the exact same thing he does in another comic?   

And what about Batman? When he started out he was the lone Guardian of Gotham City.

Okay we get Robin the Boy wonder. And Batgirl. They’re sidekicks. Part-time heroes who work probably during the summers and holidays when they’re not in school. And when they work cases it’s usually small stuff with dudes like Crazy Quilt or Teen Titans adventures. They still leave the heavy lifting for the Dark Knight in Gotham.

Fast forward a few years. Dick Grayson becomes a Man. He becomes Nightwing, forms his own mission for crime fighting inspired by his mentor and Superman. A role better to fit his multi-faceted role as the leader of the Teen Titans and his growth into manhood. He’s unique distinct and becoming his own hero. Sadly Barbara Gordon winds up crippled by the Joker (one of the BIGGEST mistakes of ALL time at DC Comics) and Batman is still the guardian of Gotham City.

This allows Batman to get a New bitter Robin, Jason Todd. He doesn’t work out and gets crowbarred and blown up by the Joker. That sets up a new better Robin, everyone likes Tim Drake. Things are still working well, the story paradigm isn’t messed up. Even with Barbara Gordon as Oracle, and additions like Helena Bertinelli coming in as the Huntress and Jean Paul Valley coming in as Azrael Gotham isn’t getting too crowded. Even with Catwoman occasionally fighting crime in between her cat burglary capers, there’s still plenty of ass for people in spandex to kick. Birds of Prey and these other characters still follow the story model of taking care of the cleanup work with D-list Bat villains while he takes on the A-listers in his rogues’ gallery.

But later on we get Cassandra Cain. Stephanie Brown, A new Azrael. And Jason Todd is back from the dead and calling himself the Red Hood. Then his son Damien Wayne shows up. And we have a new Batwoman. All great characters (exception being Todd and Damian Wayne I fucking HATE both of them), but let’s face it Gotham is getting too crowded with crime fighters. WAY too crowded in my opinion. Now readers know Arkham Asylum is filled with lunatics for Batman to beat up on, but in between Nightwing, Robin the ladies of the Birds of Prey, Batwoman, Red Robin, Red hood and Azrael patrolling Gotham with Jim Gordon GCPD, the rogues gallery is getting spread pretty thin.

And what makes Batman special winds up getting LOST. He’s supposed to be a silent guardian. A Dark Knight. A detective unparalleled. Hard to do that when there’s a dozen other people with all the people following the same mission. The way I see it the Batcave is becoming like a GCPD precinct. That’s not what the character was meant to be.

In most comics with too many franchise characters the story often winds up muddled. When everyone has a costume, the core mission of the character winds up getting lost. And instead of readers seeing what makes them special, the stories become about seeing WHO will make an appearance along with the hero and help them take on the bad guy.

In some ways having all these franchise characters makes the main character look weak. If Superman needs Superboy and Supergirl, Krypto the superdog to beat up on Lex Luthor then what makes him Super? After all, he’s got powers far beyond a mortal man. He shouldn’t need a gang to beat a guy who he could take easily on his own.

For me, a solo book is NOT a team book. A Solo book is supposed to have a story paradigm where the reader sees the hero and what makes them and their alter ego special. The main character has to carry the book on their own. People buy Superman comics for Superman, and Hulk comics for the Hulk. They don’t want to see a bunch of guys who do the exact same thing they do crowding the main character out of their own book.

And the supporting cast has to be able to help carry the load. Civilians make a hero’s world richer. They move stories forward. They help us get to know the main character. They show us why they’re our friend and give us reasons to care about them and their alter egos. And sometimes they tell stories themselves.

When I write stories in the Isis series sometimes I find the coolest characters are the human ones in the supporting cast. The way I see it it’s these background characters that makes the worlds in my stories richer and fun to write in. They add that contrast and color that makes Isis’ stand out in the shared SJS DIRECT universe. And oftentimes readers connect and identify with the supporting cast the same way they would with a main character.

A strong supporting cast can add color and flavor to a Hero’s world and make them stand out. However, when everyone has powers just like the hero it dilutes what makes a character original and distinct. A good comic needs more people without powers to show why the hero’s mission is important and what makes them special. A Superman isn’t Super if five other people can do what he can; a writer has to add civilians without super-powers who are unique to show us why regular people are special too.