Without Fear

Ryan K Lindsay – Writer

Wordplay and Two Sentence Stories

I love the power of two sentence stories. So easy to be lame, so perfect when you nail them. It’s all about control and power.

I use these 2ss in class because they’re a great way to quickly assess who has mastery of word choices, punctuation, sentence structure, and figurative language for effect. They’re also fantastic mental exercises for me on the sly.

Today in class, I wrote:

There was a crack splintering across her faceplate. The cold kiss of space crept into her suit.

It’s not perfect but I wanted to try something specific.

I unpacked the two sentences with the kids and then asked if they liked it or not. Most did; they dug the mysterious tone, the elements of tension present, and the fact it was creepy and sounded like someone was about to die. Many admitted they didn’t quite get it but then still dug the feel of it.

I then showed them something really cool. I played with titles for it. Check this:

LOST IN SPACE

There was a crack splintering across her faceplate. The cold kiss of space crept into her suit.

Everyone quickly connected that this was literally about a spacewoman who had probably befallen some accident and the vacuum of space was about to kill her. Now they knew to enjoy the horrors for real that were merely implied before.

Then I changed the title up and it took a while but one student finally understood what a difference it all made. Check it:

DEPRESSION

There was a crack splintering across her faceplate. The cold kiss of space crept into her suit.

At first, no one could get it, their attempts at unravelling this narrative went wildly off base. Then one student put up their hand and said, “It’s about someone finally breaking their smile and having their sadness fill them.”

Spot. On.

Because the title just took the literal and turned it into a brutal metaphor. Because that’s the power of words and how they connect to form narratives for us. Though I wish I’d chosen MELANCHOLIA for the title now.

Oh, and my students are 10 years old. How ace is that?

In summation: take the time to play with words, see how small tweaks inform new meaning, see how shuffling can bring out something better. See how two sentences, when done right, can make this grand thing out of something small, and can hint at way more than it presents and get the audience to feel something and imagine more, as well as desperately wanting it.

As writers, wordplay is our control. It’s our outlet, it’s our jam, and it’s something that can spark an event in your brain where a new world grows. You never know.

Play/write/read/enjoy/repeat – go get a notepad, fill it with a 2ss a day. Be a better human after just one month. Believe.

Self Publish or Perish

Self publishing comics is something I love in a way my wife isn’t ready to hear about.

There are no rules and sometimes your creativity needs that. Or as Becky Cloonan puts it so eloquently and purposefully:

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I feel this down to my creaking bones. Every damn day.

I’m a nobody in the DIY game, and when dipping your toe is the usual analogy, I’d say I’ve got a soggy toenail but the digit remains unwrinkled. However, it’s already got its hooks into me and I plan to be sitting down and dangling my feet soon enough. Because I love what self publishing offers, both in your story and then your readership engagement, and because it’s just bloody exciting.

I found myself tethered to a sick kid recently and while keeping her asleep or quiet with tummy rubs, I launched ComiXology on the side and went through some of the stuff on there. This took me through some ALL NEW, ALL DIFFERENT AVENGERS [Waid looks strong], and KAMANDI [Kirby is always the strongest] and then I dipped back into two of the Becky Cloonan one-shots from her DIY imprint INK & THUNDER.

To offer clarity, the two issues specifically were:

THE MIRE – which is this supremely atmospheric short story that’s about a medieval squire sent on an errand by his master and it all turns eerie and heartbreaking by the end. The actual narrative is short and sweet but this issue is all about the visuals and the tone. Cloonan’s artwork is tonally on point for every panel as she makes you feel the air of the location as our kid wanders through this spectral swamp.

But really it just opens on this splash and it instantly had me in the palm of its hand. It’s a bold choice, for many reasons, to use this as the first page and my brain instantly went into churn mode as I was inspired hardcore:

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Negative space. Silent. Beautiful. To open on a pause, when we are used to diving right in, is the sort of thing I’d probably never think of, but it’s airtight here.

The rest of the story is the narrative equivalent of ambient noise and that’s jacked right into my gut at present. With this fanning some flames, I then dove straight into:

DEMETER – and it’s interesting to see that WOLVES was cool, and THE MIRE was a good step up, but this book is the level up Cloonan was always on a trajectory to take and it nabbed her an Eisner for best single issue for very good reason. And it was with this issue that I realised why I love self pubbed comics, and why I cannot wait to do more.

The central emotion in DEMETER is love. From it we stem out into desperation, and fear, and black black hope, but it all revolves around love. And love isn’t something you see fuelling most big time stories. It’s a rarity when a book pauses the action or insanity and just tells a love story truly. Or at least tells it this well. Because this isn’t exactly fairy tale love, it’s almost toxic in its desire to be pure, it’s self-stifling, it’s the key to unlock you as you peer up and realise you’ve merely unlatched your own coffin for a peek at the sky before the dirt gets shovelled down into your eyes and your mouth and you are not getting out.

By the end of this read through, I was disgustingly energised to go make my own DIY one-shots. Because it reminded me that not only do you steer the ship, but your vehicle is so lightweight and superpowered that it can go anywhere it likes. You wanna do gonzo, run with it. You think the world needs a war story, hell yeah, assemble that team. There are no boundaries except those you erect and hold strong.

Love, drugs, depression, cancer, moon pigs, whatever. You can do whatever you want because the overheads are low [they’ll be extremely high for you, but you won’t have investors to please so you’ll be left alone to run to daylight in a creative sense]. You can do whatever you want because your audience is small but they are no doubt loyal. You are not beholden to page counts, to page formats, to genre conventions, to a rating for content.

In short, you get to create, to experiment, and to explore.

After some DIY one-shots, you will probably know yourself very well as an independent creator. That’s powerful stuff. Especially because each story is short, so you aren’t toiling half a year on one mini exploring that one avenue [haha, like a mini only takes half a year — HAHA, like you’ll get your one-shot done in half a year!]. Rocking some 16-28 page self-contained beast will help you spread across multiple genres, styles, collaborators, and that’s where some growth can truly be found.

If I analyse my own work, I find it to be true:

FATHERHOOD

This was my debut on the biggest stage, from theoretical dabbler to finisher. From years writing broad and harsh genre fare, and some personal fanfic, and some cape story pitches that were false starts, this is something that deserved a home, and something that was true.

Daniel Schneider was a godsend to find and work with and it then all came together beautifully with Paulina Ganucheau on colours, Brandon DeStefano on letters, and Chris Kosek designing the whole thing for print. The book is 22 pages, it’s through a genre lens [crime] but it’s a personal tale that means something.

As far as a debut goes, I’m incredibly happy with it still to this day, it’s been a consistent seller at cons, and having it up in the early days of ComiXology Submit saw it land in that first Top 100 sale and now a few thousand people own the pixels for this tale. It’s been a true test of getting your stuff out there. And I am always happy to see it find a home even this week with random tweets dropping in when people sample and dig on ComiXology.

And when your stuff is going to have the same ‘shelf space’ as all your other stuff in your back catalogue on ComiXology, you suddenly want it all to matter because it won’t go away, ever *shudder* [LINK]

From FATHERHOOD I got the bug and while waiting for other things to line up [and by waiting I mean drafting story outlines, writing other shorts, flying my ass to Seattle a week after my daughter was born to meet editors and sell my wares] I started to set up the next one-shot.

DEER EDITOR

It took a while to get this beast made but when you’re waiting for Sami Kivela art, you do not complain. I wrote it on my phone when my second was born. It kept me sane. I then waited while we made it as perfect as we could and in the meantime I had HEADSPACE land at Monkeybrain so that kept me busy.

For me, DEER EDITOR was a chance to do something wild. Where FATHERHOOD was completely from the heart, this was me dabbling in something more thin but way more broad. It’s crime, it’s political intrigue, it’s journalism [sweet, sweet journalism because THE PAPER was my teenage jam], and I think I just wanted to create something iconic in Bucky, our anthropomorphic lead. He’s definitely the closest thing to an iconic image I’ve ever been associated with. All my other characters are just straight up people *snore*.

But I also didn’t wanna be the guy writing his daddy issues into everything, I needed to branch out and this was most definitely that.

We Kickstarted, we crushed it, people dug it, I tattooed this as a success on my soul. I haven’t Submitted the book yet, but that’s with reason…

So, WHAT NEXT?

Well, like I said, I fell in love with the DIY one-shot ethic. Dropping HEADSPACE across a year and into an IDW trade was mindblowing, and the forthcoming NEGATIVE SPACE from Dark Horse is obviously not real and I’ll wake up soon, but a good part of my brain is still kicking over short stories to tell with rad peeps.

That ability to do whatever you want, however you want, is strong in me and hopefully runs strong in the plans I have forged in heat and stupidity.

So here’s a run down on what’s coming…eventually/hopefully.

An all-ages romp about monsters in the dark, an all-ages sci fi tale about acceptance and a sentient helmet, a sleepover tale about power and responsibility with teenage girls, an intergalactic sci fi action thriller about espionage and data, a lady Viking ghost story, and a lady kung fu tale [I’m being hella vague so as not to give too much away – which is why they maybe sound lame…or more awesome than they actually are].

All of these stories are pretty wild, and they definitely end, and they are short, and there’s no way I’d pitch them as anything bigger. They are going to be gorgeous slices of fiction once done – and with the artists I have lined up, yeah, gorgeous is just the start, but they are something we can control, and can do in our time, and can have a little fun with. These stories are personal and wild and something I’m certain could and should only work as DIY daggers to jam into your peepers. And you’ll also notice they cover a variety of genre styles. All-ages comes up twice, but in very different ways. Sci fi comes up a bit, but again, with very different tones. It would take me years to diversify tone and character type and personal style through minis like this but with one-shots I’m slinging all kinds of fury onto the page, every colour, all 31 flavours.

And I know the above sounds obvious [and wickedly self-aggrandising] but I put it here because I wish someone had told me some of this sooner. I wish someone had thoroughly explained why pitching minis from your inception was a bad idea [well, maybe not bad, just not good…or effective…yeah, actually, it’s bad…because you are no one, you will most likely not get picked up, ever, if no one knows you can close…and everything everywhere with everyone is ABC, peeps]. And if you do get picked up youare probably too green to make it count. But if you drop the ball on a short, well, no harm no foul.

TIMEFRAMES AND END GAMES

The DIY game is fraught with danger. Look at the weekly stack of things clogging up the ComiXology Submit lines. We are not alone doing this. So why do it?

Because it’s fun, man. It’s just jam packed with zest for life like a croissant full of dripping butter and jam. It’s proof of life – yours and the market’s. It’s this groping finger looking for a new heartbeat, the one no one else found. It’s this unwieldy beast you can just do, no one stops you, you do your way, and then you just see what happens.

There’s something very wild west about just saddling up with a partner and riding into the four colour sunset.

I also love using one-shots as my side thing. DEER EDITOR was written upon my return from Seattle and with a 2 week old who refused to sleep. I wrote two one-shots while writing NEGATIVE SPACE because it helped give me time between drafts or while trying to break a scene. It was the thing that kept my brain churning on the side. My brain is a fractured boxer’s fist with floating metacarpals and gristle grinding like rusted gears. I’m a mess of insane parts.

But once the book is made – the tone set, the genre amplified, the characters destroyed, the fun had – then we get to sell it. And I love selling my books at cons. I love pairing up a reader with just the right thing on my table. One time, this kid walks his other kid friend of his up to my table and they are poking around and I get chatting and it turns out this one kid is a comics dude and he is getting is mate to join the club, he’s just trying to find the perfect comic to be his mate’s first. I tell them, from my table, you can’t go past DEER EDITOR. It’s a great first comic, one you won’t soon forget, and the kid bought it and was stoked to have his carefully selected first comic in hand. That was a cool moment for me.

Because DIY comics is all about the readership. People get pumped about DIY books because when they hit the bullseye, they hit it hard. There’s only one book with a deer journalist solving crimes. There’s only one place to get Australian political sci fi thrillers in this town. A good DIY book isn’t middle of the road, it’s not cliche, it’s not something you can get anywhere. You get to be unique, batguano insane, beautiful, ridiculous – why waste that telling some standard story?

I always wanna do some DIY stuff. I think it’s freeing, it’s fun, and it’s going to keep you sharp. Publishers won’t really gamble on one-shots, you can’t always go crazy and experiment on publisher backed books [unless you are good enough to show you can do that and succeed a high majority of times]. There are advantages to dipping back into DIY waters for you.

I have no idea what my future in comics holds but I’d like to keep doing DIY stuff on the side, or right up front, for as long as I can. I know Warren Ellis is setting himself a timer to periodically write short fiction and I’d love to do the same with some shorts. Just brainstorm weird stuff, bash out a script on the side like you are pounding dough, and then team up with someone rad and make something beautiful. It’ll be fun to explore new places, difficult emotions, warped realities. It’ll be a growth experiment to try to break pages in different ways, write characters that would never be thought to sell, or just throw myself into a whole new direction for one issue [romance, ghoul noir, gonzo Crimean war]. But most importantly, if I dig it hardcore, then someone else probably will too, and that’s cool. That’s what DIY is, and hopefully always will be. I’ll tell you in 2042 how I went.

It’s like the lady says: self-publish or perish.

NEGATIVE SPACE Coming Out Your Boom Box

NEGATIVE SPACE has a Spotify list [LINK]

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So if you wanna know what kinda jams bring me completely low enough to write a suicidally depressed guy then get down on it.

For those wondering about purpose, I often use music to get in the writing zone for certain projects. When writing HEADSPACE I found listening to ‘Harbor Lights’ by The Platters instantly put me in Carpenter Cove. For Guy Harris, I find hearing ‘Everyday’ by Buddy Holly puts me in this weird place where I feel his pain but also desperately want it to feel better for him. It’s heartbreaking and perfect to get in the right place to bring him to live on the page.

From there, the highlights of the list so far are:

EVERLONG [ACOUSTIC] – Foo Fighters – because this song is amazing and when done acoustic and slow, my lord, it’s soul rending stuff.

THE GREAT PRETENDER – The Platters – imagine your old man was a huge Platters fan, then imagine this was one of his favourite songs, then imagine he kills himself, and then imagine years later you suddenly see the saddest irony ever that your childhood was spent with him singing this song like it was something grand when it was the most subtle cry for help you ever missed.

IN YOUR HONOR Disc 2 – Foo Fighters – because Dave Grohl is my depression spirit guide, haha. This second disc of the album is one of the best things to Fooeys ever did. It’s gorgeous, crazy, insane, and I could listen to it on repeat forever.

Sarah Blasko – seriously, anything she’s ever done, haunting. She’s always writing fuel but for NegSpace she was a supreme goddess.

And I’ll continue to add to it over time because even just writing press [or this post] it helps to keep the brain in laser focus.

As always, if you’re going to follow us down the rabbit hole on this crazy story, I have to thank you. Independent comics live and die on the vine based on word of mouth and preorders. If you spread the word in cake writing, sign language to the blind, or anything else, I’m grateful. All good things are great things to us.

And finally, if you are suffering from depression, please hit THIS LINK to see the access you have to support. No one has to suffer alone. We are here to help you.

BKV, Story Truths, and Writing Answers to your Questions

This article about Brian K Vaughan is a few months old but I just found it and it’s got me thinking [LINK]

In short, it posits this theory that BKV has been dealing with 9/11 in a lot of his books and that’s pretty well true. So that made me wonder, what am I dealing with through my stories? Obvs fatherhood, probs depression. Which is interesting because I am a father but I don’t suffer from depression. I’d think to claim that would do a disservice to the crippling affliction actual depressed people have. I hate myself from time to time, but I’m a writer, that’s just called creative process.

The article also mentions BKV’s comics/stories come from questions that he feels need answering.

I think that’s a fantastic way to come at your stories. I’m wondering what I’m working through in my books, and it’s a great thought to lay over any work/stories I’ve got coming up. To analyse their root honestly, and address their issues, is to better understand why they matter. That’s powerful stuff if you are brave enough to peer into your own soul.

What bigger truths does HEADSPACE address?

Is NEGATIVE SPACE going to be about something?

I am a firm fan of what is often called genre fare [sci fi, crime, gonzo, whatever really] still tackling real world issues but through some kind of genre and narrative lens. I know I’ve tackled the idea of responsibility in fatherhood, to get more specific, the concept of the human need to survive down to the very last possibility, the idea of how far anyone is willing to go for certain things and then examining if we choose the right things to fuel how far we push ourselves and if it’s indeed even in the right direction. I seem to look at family and responsibility above all else but now I’m wondering on what kind of wider scale?

Because it would seem that writing about fun stuff like cheerleaders or drugs or endless summers or robots is just too damn freakin’ hard for me. Maybe as a writer/teacher/father/husband kinda guy the ideas of responsibility and emotionally fracturing and family and doing what’s right/best weigh on my mind a lot.

And being Australian, 9/11 means little to me, I haven’t been in a war, my life is relatively easy, I just live in a world of terrorist threats [though few that will seemingly hit as close to me as they do other nations] and human rights violations committed by politicians stating they have the right cause and online activism that turns to public shaming in a blink. These are the wider concepts that avail my mind in the night when not concerning myself as to whether I’m raising my kids right, or if I’m around for the wife enough [spoilers: I’m not], or if my son or daughter will have it harder growing up [no spoilers, please] or when the hell me and my generation will ever actually be able to retire.

My concerns for myself and my future are so internal that it’s no wonder my characters struggle through mindscapes and suicidal depression and crushing responsibility.

Huh, yeah, that kinda all came together in the end. I see what my stories are doing now. Thanks for letting me talk it out.

This post above was started as a section of my newsletter found here [NEWSLETTER LINK]

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You can subscribe and get my rambly verbiage in your inbox at the start of every week just in time for a coffee. Enjoy.

A Writing Hole To Call My Own

I’m an office porn lover. I dig peering into a writing hole.

Yes, I know what I wrote [and I await the clicks of a thousand lonely men – hey, ‘sup, fellas? ;)]

I love looking at offices and writing spaces and desks and bookshelves. Well, in so much as they are in use. A desk in a catalogue sucks, but seeing the desk of Hammett gets my motor running better than any kind of skirt hemline above the ankles.

I could look at the writing caves of creatives for hours on end. And maaaaybe I have. Only me and google’s hivemindscannersthirdeye truly knows. *SPOILERS* – I’ve gone so deep into looking at writing spaces that I’m surprised more writers haven’t kneed me in the jaw as they find me between their feet sizing up their desk undercarriage for a sweet Costanza coffee shelf.

I just had my peepers locked onto Chuck Wendig’s writing shed and, man, it’s some sweet sweet action. CLICK HERE TO ENSHEDDEN YOUR MIND. Thank me later.

From there, I clicked onto Neil Gaiman’s writing garden office/gazebo. It’s as glorious and quaint and refined as you’d imagine.

From here, there’s a million to see —

But looking at all their set ups got me thinking about my own office experiences. They are varied and insane, you’ve been warned.

NOT MELROSE PLACE

My first real writing situation – disregarding teen set ups of foolishness and pastiche – was in the first small unit I lived in straight out of uni [though at uni I spent four years in a room with a single bed and a desk and it was spartan, and viewed the parking lot – which was superb for people watching – and I actually think my ideal has been shaped by this auspicious start, you’ll see later].

This first unit was small. I mean, for an adult dwelling, my first year out teaching, this place I affectionately called ‘my shoebox.’ I had driven a whole day to a new town where I knew not a soul, and so took the first place within my budget range after a disastrous three weeks of looking. The result was a unit in a unit block of 8 abodes. I thought it’d be like Melrose Place – with the ladies by the pool and the drama lusty – and instead I spent 8 months in Bogan Central where a couple upstairs had a restraining order on the couple directly below them, which made traversing the stairwell difficult for them at times, what with the whole distance required to be apart, blergh. It was also the place I came home to find a 2 metre red-belly black snake in my room, but that’s a story for the con if you ever see me at the bar.

So my writing cave there, yep, not great. I bought a laptop with my tax refund and this beast operated with a whopping 32GB hard drive, I’m surprised it could hold all my Word documents at once. And I would put this brick on my bed and sit at the bed with the office chair I stole from the dumpster at uni that still has its wheels but unfortunately lost its backing many moons prior to coming into my care. This was where the words would happen.

Or, not happen.

I did not write much in this setting, and my back/neck/soul no doubt thank me for this, but I did get somethings started, and thus…dreams were forged in back breaking fire.

A WALL OF MAPS

My next writing space would take another 9 months or so to appear once I moved out of the Shoebox. I moved in with two mates and the only space I could get work done was with the Brick on my lap in the living room. I’m hunker down into my brown leather armchair – that inexplicably had belts down each armrest – and I’d write. But again, not a lot.

Though I have just now remembered one rad modification I made to this set up – I took one of the shelves from a book case and placed it over my lap, straddling each belted armrest, and made a little desk in front of me.

Still, not a lot of writing done. Though to be fair, I was working my ass off as a teacher, so it’s not like I was being totally lazy in life.

But anyway, after 9 months of the chair/desk, I found myself living alone in the house. Both housemates ended up moving back in with their families and I stayed in this house for maybe another 9 months. And in that time, I took advantage of having a 3 bedroom house to my solo advantage.

Yes, I made one of the rooms an office. And, man, was it sweet. Actually, it was incredibly lame, but for me, then, I dug it like a hole. The room was small, square, and I put my L-shaped corner desk in one corner. It gave me a view of this lovely back garden that apparently used to be full of strawberries and other cool horticultural dreamscapes that quickly fell under my tyranny of ‘no gardening ever’ rule after I took over the place. And to think the previous occupant had worked on that garden for years, YEARS, right up until the day death came knocking. I do feel bad for letting the garden turn into a waist-high grass nightmare, but seriously, I still don’t know how to garden. Don’t hate the player, hate the garden, amiright?

Anyway, this office, it had the desk, the view of my ignored chores, and then it was just empty. It was kinda sad. So when a mate managed to procure every National Geographic magazine from over a decade for me, I drove outta town, filled my boot with this glorious paper, and brought it home. I spent a good weekend sifting through these mags, absorbing the knowledge, and withdrawing all the maps. I love NatGeo maps, and so the walls of this office became plastered, foot to ceiling, with maps. It was amazing. Not something I would show the ladies I brought home, but it inspired me a little more. And I could use the inspiration. I also used to choose character names from different maps, a totally rad idea I miss being able to do. Google Maps will never truly replace a NatGeo map on the wall the same way googling a word is not as boss as looking it up in a dictionary the same way thinking you’re badass for getting somewhere with bluetooth maps telling you is not as killer supreme as navigating your way out of a metro city using only the sun as your guide.

The room worked, for a time, and I truly remember it fondly. Sitting alone in this house, every other room dark, the stereo sending some music to me from rooms away, maybe some red wine on the desk, and the dreams of being a writer at my fingertips. Plus, no home internet. It was a fun, almost dreamy time, but totally unproductive. I think it was there I wrote/finished one thing, a short novella titled THE FRIENDLY SKIES and I did a little self-pubbed run and it was insane and fun and it whet my whistle.

But first my desk needed to be sacrificed!

HALF A DESK, TWICE AS MANY WORDS

My next move would take me into another house, a smaller one, with another mate of mine. His father owned a horse trailer so we loaded up all my earthly possessions and set sail for the new abode – about 2km away. I drove behind and I could do little but laugh as I watched my corner desk, something I’d had for about maybe 8 years at this point, slowly slip loose from the ropes holding everything down and tumble onto the road at 60km/h.

Kindling is the only word to use. The desk skittled around, 80% of it broke, but I was left with one section of it intact.

Now, the desk was never going to really fit in the new place anyway. It was a 2 bedroom tightbox and I was setting up shop in part of our living room. This weird arm of the desk fit right in the corner of the room, it just had to lean against the wall because it only had one leg on the right side. I made it work.

It was at this desk that I started to level up. I started to write complete things, longer things, better things, things that still sucked but things that got me on my way. I started to put in longer nights, consecutive nights. Weekends.

This half a desk finally clicked with what I wanted to be and what I needed to do. My only problem was it wasn’t even one square metre on top, and I had no room for anything except the computer, a drink, and maybe a few post it notes on the side. I did plaster post it notes all over that wall to my left, that worked really really well for me. But the desk felt cramped, inhibiting, and it could not and would not last forever.

YOU BUY A HOUSE, YOU BUY THAT HOUSE A DESK

About 18 months later, I decided to be a grown ass man and buy my own house. Enough renting with mates and sharing space, I was going to be the master of my own abode. So I found this rad place, it was just right, and I set about buying it [now another story is the fact subdivision wouldn’t go through and so I actually only ended up renting it for $150 a week for like two years until the next phase kicked in – but in theory I was buying a house – I never felt so alive].

As I prepped to move in, I started to pack up my half a desk and I knew I didn’t want to start my home ownership phase [complete with slippers and a fireplace mantle for the family portraits] with this hatchet job of a scaffold and base for my ideas and worlds and seriousness. So I went looking.

Being the tight ass I am, I found a display model of a desk I wanted and bought it for the ridiculous price of like 60% off, or something. The only catch, I had to get it home assembled, NOT in the flatpack storage box. Luckily, my mate was moving in with me [I know, I was moving away from those immature shenanigans, but in reality I’d never not wanna live with a mate] and his old man was driving his stuff down in a trailer. We unpacked him and then went out to get a new washing machine he was buying for the house because he thought he should bring something to the party [sidenote: I have never bought a washing machine, ever, and I hope I never do]. I managed to shoehorn a desk tangent into our trip.

As we returned home, and brought in the loot from the trailer, it started raining – a few spots got on the desk that stained it for life – and we got everything inside just in time, my mate’s father even got out before the storm set in. And set in it did, for days, blocking roads, nearly closing my school, isolating segments of farming land, and generally flooding the town. It was fantastic. I got to test out this desk for a week straight with the perfect mood weather and it came out trumps.

I still think back to this desk set up fondly because it was that final turn into being a writer properly. Not well, but properly, seriously, invested, committed, all that jazz.

My office was half my bedroom. This bedroom was huge, so I had room, loads of room. And floor boards, on which I’d slide around on my wheelie chair like I was Alex P Keaton checking his paperwork from across the room. My new desk was nothing flash, but it held all I needed – laptop, drinks, notes, yep. To my right, a bookshelf of comics, to its right, a smaller shelf stack with the current reading pile, and atop that a lovely Japanese peace or friendship lily [whatever was in HOT FUZZ], and to the top right of that, I had a square window facing the road, and across that some empty farm type land with like two cows, a teeny tiny swamp, and the horizon. I would turn to the right constantly and just drift off out that window. The rain on it was particularly beautiful.

I miss that office.

I was there for maybe another year and a half and I wrote many comic issue scripts there. I assembled two pitches [neither went anywhere but one was with Justin Greenwood and that forged our friendship in steel]. I started a novel. The office served me well. I can remember being in there a bucket load, most nights. This was where I really started to forego the nightly stupid box routine on my ass and instead go to the office and write.

My roommate was also a writer [daytime journalist; nighttime funtime writer] and I would only have to shimmy left and look out my door to see his profile banging away at his own stuff on his own similar set up in his room, though that room was half the size, despite him being about twice my height – benefits of being the [almost] home owner, yo.

The fact he wrote, and took it seriously, meant we’d be there writing ‘together’ a lot – then we’d go watch some Dexter, or play cricket and go to the pub afterwards, or get hungover KFC and rewatch LOST. This was the closest I’ll ever be to being in a studio and I really miss it.

Though the next office saw even more productivity.

WHEN A WOMAN LETS YOU HAVE YOUR OWN OFFICE

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Eventually, like in so many stories, I met a girl. We started dating, fell in love, and then moved in together. We had been doing long distance for a little while before I took the plunge and decided to move down and I can still remember the look on her face as I started ferrying down bags of comics and books each weekend I’d come down to visit. More and more bags appeared until a room was full, it somewhat took her by surprise. To be read as: she looked like she’d invited a hoarder into a house and so perhaps a foaming honeybadger stem cell supping maniac into her bed.

But we took a house and it had three bedrooms so I finally managed to grab back a separate writing office room to myself. And this time, it was more than just a desk and some maps. I put my desk in, and all my book shelves, as well as her futon lounge. It became a real writing cave and I appreciated every minute I could spend in there.

My first official month in that office was spent solo because I moved in and the lady went on a holiday for a few weeks with a girlfriend so I didn’t have any duties, responsibilities, anything for 4 whole weeks except to just feed myself and then do whatever I wanted. I can remember writing in that office for hours and hours each day. I’d get up, have breakfast, and then write until lunch [if I remembered to have it – I definitely forgot just as often] and then I’d watch some tv while cooking/eating dinner, and then back in the office to write and read all night. Wash, rinse, repeat. It was a really fun and totally different 4 week writing period because it was an insight into being a freelancer full time and it was fun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I managed to knock out the finished draft of a novel in that time, and in my whole time in this particular office I’d write 4 novels, plus a slew of comics scripts and short stories but the novels were the big writing hook at the time – I think because I honestly found it so hard to find collaborators at that time so I kinda got disillusioned and spent more time on novels than comics for a while.

This office is probably the closest to the dream I’ve come so far. It really had most of everything that I want from a working space to call my own place. The last bedroom office thingy nostalgically was so damn cool but this beast was separate, and insanely productive, and reminds me of falling in love so it’s certainly just as special. And I was truly happy in it – lounging on that futon, my legs up on a chest, a comic in my hand, mentally breaking story at the same time is one of my fondest memories of life, but also, like most of my favourite things, it eventually came to an end.

THE CURRENT OFFICE GOES ALRIGHT

The wife and I decided to buy a house and move into it the week before our first child was born. Not exactly a timetabling victory. The lead up to moving day and execution thereof was hectic but we managed. With help from my mates, we got our stuff outta one house and into the next with very little fuss.

The only fuss became: where’s my bloody office?

There was no office allocated to me in the new house. An extra bedroom was needed for the kid, natch, and the third room we made a spare room, which saddened me to no end. But we put my office stuff into one corner of our very large living room area and there it stayed for I gusss about a year.

The thinking was – with the kid needing attention all the time, and us supposedly sharing that parental load, it was easier to have me around rather than send me up to an office where’d I’d be help to no one, and eventually husband to no one, also, ha. So we put my desk into the corner of the lounge room, fortified me with shorter bookshelves, and I hovered behind our family writing stuff for this time.

FullSizeRender (1)And I did surprise myself in getting work done. I’d jump away and tend to the kid when needed, but that sorta malarkey has been going on for some time now. So I did my duty, I stuck close by, and then we moved me just a little. I went from the downstairs living room corner to upstairs in half the dining room. It’s still not my own room but I get to treat what I’ve got as if it were my own, so that’s something.

So now, here I sit, surrounded by my things. I have another new desk, fine wood and leather. I have a laptop stand to elevate the eyeline, to be more ergonomically correct. I have everything within arms reach and it totally works. Here I have written HEADSPACE, and NEGATIVE SPACE, and DEER EDITOR, and CURRICULUM, and plenty of other things.

This office has served me ridiculously well. But soon, one day, it’ll be time to move on, I hope…

THE DREAM

I have certain quality criteria to meet in regards to my dream office. Crazy talk put aside, here’s what I realistically want:

I wanna be on the second story – there’s something about it, the height, the view, the fact I might be segregated from the family and the ground for that writing time. That would be wonderful.

A fully enclosed room with a door. I want the space, I wanna be able to hide in it.

A coffee making corner – just a kettle, a coffee press, some cups, sugar, caramel syrup. Everything I need to be self-sustaining. I’d add cookies and snacks into this corner, also.

My art up – a nice wide wall to put up the Phillips and the Moores and the Mack and the Joyce. Plus other prints. And also be able to display the Artist Editions I have.

A pot plant – I’d go back to the Japanese Friendship Lily, for sure.

A couch/futon – something to get into away from the desk, something to read in, break story in, and even sleep in.

A window – preferably overlooking something half decent. I’ve previously been wowed by a paddock, and a car park, so it actually shouldn’t be that hard.

Storage for my own stock to take to cons and such.

A sound system for some ambient tunes to truly surround me, or music for chilling. Debating a tv for quiet times, or if I would exercise in there.

That’s really about it. I can see it in my head, and I know I’ll get there. Eventually. Having to wait kinda makes it more exciting. And once I’m there, oh the word that I’ll write, the places I’ll go.

Note: this thing took me about 3 months to write, in ten minute pockets before bed, and such. But it was fun to write. Good to recollect, and to look forward.

NEGATIVE SPACE Issue Titles

negative space 1 logoNEGATIVE SPACE is coming. In July, Owen Gieni and I are going to bring the sombre tones and wild trombones with our tale of Guy Harris, the poor sap who sits down to write his suicide note and gets writer’s block.

You can find more information about this book here [LINK] and you can preorder this book now at your LCS using this order code: MAY150012

While you wait for the book to finally drop, I thought it might be nice to gaze ahead – but not into spoilers – so today I’m bringing you a little discussion about comic issue titles, and the ones I came up with for the 4 issues of NEGATIVE SPACE.

I love comic issue titles. Though I find titles hard, titling an issue has less stress. It won’t be on the cover, it won’t even be noticed or remembered by a portion of your readers. It’s a thing where you can experiment, and go long, and steal, because it’s just an issue title, it’s nothing real/important, it’s an extra you don’t even have to do. Right?

I went for titles on this because they helped me handle the ever-shifting tone/scope of the story as we cook through the issues. So, here’s what I came up with, and a little on why – no spoilers.

#1 – ATLANTEAN HEARTS

This title is a huge homage to Stephen King’s HEARTS IN ATLANTIS, and by that I mean the novella with that title within the collected book also holding that title. The other stories aren’t superb but this story is one of my favourite things ever. It’s about this kid at college, and he’s wasting his time playing the card game Hearts, and he’s falling in love on the side. But like all things at college, it’s in flux and it’s transitory. Ugh, just thinking about the relationship in that story is getting me all weird right now. King might be the master of horror but he’s also really the master of characterisation and he uses that here to tell this amazing love story.

I chose this title for this issue because it reflects the aim of #1 – like any good horror story, like King himself knew perfectly, the terror only works if we care about the people being terrorised. This issue is here to set up our characters and then really make you care about them. We open on Guy Harris trying to write a suicide note, you don’t just then walk away from that and throw him into the shenanigans because, quite honestly, why would you care? His suicide isn’t shorthand to deliver a generic character cliche outline, it’s structurally important to the integrity of the tale right up until the last page. As such, Owen and I are working hard to seed it all throughout this issue so it matters and so you care.

King wrote some masterful things in his story and they are:

Hearts are tough, Pete. Most times they don’t break. Most times they only bend.”

Hearts are tough, she said, most times hearts don’t break, and I’m sure that’s right . . . but what about then? What about who we were then? What about hearts in Atlantis?

Damn story crushes me every time – if you haven’t read it, go, now, feel. And while NEGATIVE SPACE is a weird horror/sci fi, none of that matters if we don’t first make you care, so here, in this issue, we make you care, and we also mess you up. At least, that’s the plan.

#2 – THEATRE OF WAR

The title alone tells you we’re past the character introductions, we’ve hopefully made you care, and now we are going to put them, and by proxy you, through hell.

I mostly love the double entendre of this title/phrase. It’s mostly used to denote a specific playing field upon where combat and operations will take place. I wanted to allude to the theatricality of war. The stripes and bright lights we use, the shock and awe factor, the way it goes above and beyond anyone’s semblance of daily life. Or, at least, the war waged in these pages does. It’s all a big show, it’s all OTT, it’s all hyperreal.

This issue takes our grounded characters and throws them well into a subreality that should never be real.

#3 – THERE’S A REASON THEY CALL IT EXECUTING A PLAN

Again with double entendre. I am a hack. But this title came to me and I stuck with it. Because it’s true, sometimes you execute a plan, and sometimes you execute a plan. You never know what’s gonna happen because a plan by definition is theoretical. Practical application holds all kinds of rubbish variables.

But in short, this is the issue where things get real. There’s renewed focus, a level up right as we delve down, and things get crazy/nasty. This is some pay off as we expand scope and put people into the weirdest situations they’ve ever found themselves.

#4 – ALL THE PIECES GO BACK IN THE BOX

I had this title before I wrote the script. I heard it in a TedTalk, and it’s one I cannot for the life of me find [because my memory is about as useful as an open toed sock – and whenever people recall stories from decades earlier with crystal clarity I wonder if that’s even possible, or if they’re making it up, or if I’m just a guy with a noggin full’a cottage cheese and a fat lazy rat slowly consuming it all]. This title kinda sums things up nicely, and there’s still the idea that the pieces might go back, but they can be broken, their safety is not assured, we just know their final resting place. And if the pieces go back, in what state are the players left? It’s an absolute statement but leaves blank so many qualifiers. Much like any good story should.

This issue is where we’ve let the scope and sound expand for 3 issues and now it all rachets back in, like a star dwarfing. All good things must come to an end, and maybe all bad things go on forever and ever. I guess you gotta lay down the money to find out this year.

So those are our issue titles. They don’t spoil a thing but they maybe paint a blood splattered silhouette.

As always, if you’re going to follow us down the rabbit hole, I have to thank you. Independent comics live and die on the vine based on word of mouth and preorders. If you can tweet it to your friends, that’d be ace. If you wanna slip the title into your next care package to your off-shore accountant, go for it. Actual watercooler chat at work, aw, yeah. All good things are great things to us.

And finally, if you are suffering from depression, please hit THIS LINK to see the access you have to support. No one has to suffer alone. We are here to help you.

thoughtballoons Cracks Half a Decade

thoughtballoons is the writing challenge site I created 5 long years ago [LINK]

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There, we would choose a character for the week and then each write a one-page script around that character somehow. An opening splash, a dense fight scene, the penultimate page of an imagined issue. Anything was fair game, just one page, that’s all. Get in, get out.

I started this writing commune of experimentation and collegial feedback because I needed a reason to write. It was hard to find collaborators, and I think deep down I knew I was still chewing on my 10k of pages of dreck like a slab of gristle between my grinding molars. I wasn’t ready and the only way I’d get there was by working my ass off, regardless of being published or having it finished or [CHOKE-GUFFAW] getting paid.

For two years, I wrote at least one 1 page script a week. I spent time plotting it, writing, editing, and I took it seriously. I wanted to put up my best, where possible, and sometimes the deadline drew and I was typing into blogger to see what I had. It was exhilaring, and it was 104+ script pages I wouldn’t have without the site.

I am the writer I am now, 5 years later, because of thoughtballoons. I went from a guy who knew nothing and have now levelled up to a guy who knows he knows nothing. It’s a step in the right direction. I improved because I was producing, I improved because I got feedback from the other writers on the site, as well as some randoms. I improved because by offering feedback to others it got me thinking about process and craft and different four colour aspects a lot more. For those two years straight, I loved this site and the very good friends I forged within it.

But eventually I had to bow out, finding the time was hard, I had to keep pushing real comic pages out, and I know I had t go but be damned if I don’t miss it a lot. So for this anniversary week, I’ve written a text piece about what thoughtballoons meant to me [LINK] and then I try a one pager for a subject I missed in the past 3 years, which is the brilliant D4VE [LINK] – and it’s funny, my script isn’t perfect, but it’s a start. You always have to start somewhere.

I cannot stress enough if you are looking to break into comics as a writer, and you need the practise, and trust me you do need the practise, then you should hit thoughtballoons up. It was something really special for me and I love seeing it bounce through the lives of others.

Also, if you are an artist looking for practise, find some scripts here and have a lash. I guarantee the writer won’t mind if you run it past them. Have fun.

Write, feedback, enjoy, repeat – thoughtballoons [LINK]

NEGATIVE SPACE Page 1 Script/Art Leak

NEGATIVE SPACE is coming. In July, Owen Gieni and I are going to drop some emotional bombs on the world with our tale of Guy Harris, the poor sap who sits down to write his suicide note and gets writer’s block. Only Dark Horse Comics would take a chance on such a story, gobbless ’em.

You can find more information about this book here [LINK] and you can preorder this book now at your LCS using this order code: MAY150012

So to tantalise your riveted and emotionally nasty synapses, we found this leak of the first page script and accompanying coloured art. We hope you dig.

——

Screenshot 2015-04-20 23.26.26

INKS BY OWEN GIENI – this is the part where he takes my ramblings and turns them into something special. Go back and forth, see his detail, see the world he crafts. Purely amazing.

Y’know when writers say they work as hard on the comics as artists do – yeah, ha…HA.

negspacepagepencils

COLOURED ART BY OWN GIENI – for me this is when the page comes to life. Like Owen moulded the clay above and here he breathes into it once and it’s a real world. And all that sadness becomes real :[

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That poor bastard, and we’re only going to make things worse in some really weird ways. He’s stuck in a Polanski adaptation of a PKD book with a Nick Cave score and del Toro visuals, because the genre demands it.

We also hope you dig Owen’s hard work here, you can tell he spends the time on the pages to get them just right. He is the best to work with. I mean, I gave him some words in the script but he turns each word into three dozen lines. This whole book works that way with a script:awesome ratio off the charts.

To those preordering, thank you. Indie comics live and die on the vine based on preorders so you are making a huge difference in our lives.

And to those who identify closely with the thought of depression or suicide, please HIT THIS LINK and see all the resources and places available to you. You are not alone. We are here to help you.

Thoughts on Character V Icon

Been thinking a lot about Matt Murdock/Daredevil, Elektra, and Danny Rand/Iron Fist.

Art by Louie Joyce

Art by Louie Joyce

I love all three of these characters, some sliiightly more than others, and recently had reason to consider why as I read three of their comic series, watch one of their TV shows, considered the possibility of another being in that show next season, and am really champing at the bit for the last one’s tv series to come.

And in all this internal musing, I realised some things:

I like Matt Murdock the most of all. The guy fascinates me and there’s a reason I call him my favourite character in all of modern literature; he’s spectacular to observe and he brings some of the rawest emotion to the page. And I also dig Daredevil but it’s never been about the suit for me, it’s the man.

I love Elektra in crazy depths and ways. And the fact there’s no separation between the woman and the ‘costume’ intrigues me dearly. She is a singularity, a source of her own power, and when she’s done well [see the recent book from del Mundo/Blackman] she’s just mentally absorbing at all times. Like looking at a gif of a lion eating a small village.

And then there’s Danny Rand. Well, I can say I love Iron Fist. The visual, the kung fu, the villains, the seven capital cities [+1]. Iron Fist miiight just be my favourite superhero, but Danny Rand is not my favourite man. Y’see, Danny Rand is lacking in character. I realised this walking the other day as I listened to an old Word Balloon chat with Fraction about Aja’s HAWKEYE and I saw/remembered how Barton and Rand look very verrrry similar. Blonde dude, that’s about as deep as we ever got into Rand’s headspace.

And don’t get me wrong, I loooove the Brubaker/Fraction/Aja run. But it’s all pulp, killer crazy fun, and not as huge in the character stuff. I mean, it’s there, but doesn’t feel as defining. In fact, if we think we know Danny Rand, I’d think again. We know some, but how much is there. We know his father died, betrayed, and his mother died, protecting. Then he partnered with Luke Cage. And he dated Misty Knight. Did these things change him?

I feel like Danny Rand is still [still] haunted by the death of his father. Something Murdock and Elektra share but have also moved on from [and I’m not saying you have to forget the death of your father but it can’t define you forever, and surely you add to those experiences]. Rand’s very latest title has been all about his dad. He keeps going back to the same girlfriend. He feels on a loop.

Whereas Murdock has dated many women, endured many problems, built and rebuilt an insane rogue’s gallery. When I think of Murdock, I think of a man broken by the erosion of emotional years, by the fact he goes back to the well and drinks the new poison on offer. And Elektra has gone from Daredevil’s girlfriend to this other beast, a remorseless killing machine, a woman after redemption, a dead Skrull. When I think of Elektra, I don’t straight up think of Murdock, I think of how cold she has become, a process that took time, and resurrections, and a whole history of events. Now we have Rand, a guy…yeah, a guy. He’s still bent outta shape by the death of his parents, he fights well, his kung fu is superb. But none of that is as openly telling about the person as compared to how I just described the other two. How much growth has Rand had? I mean, he did get that terrible white costume, but otherwise all I think of is ‘kung fu billionaire’ but that’s a high concept and nothing compared to the internal twists of how I feel about Murdock/Elektra.

Though props must go out to Swierczynski having Rand and Misty fall pregnant, and even though the pregnancy was taken back [in an in story way] I didn’t mind it because it was handled in a memorable way, memorable in a character sense. Something new on which to build the character of Rand moving forward, because he must move forward.

It seems to me there’s room for a run, or the upcoming Netflix show, to finally deliver us Danny Rand in a way we’ve not yet been shown. I mean, c’mon, he went to K’un L’un for a decade, he lost a formative teen decade in New York as a rich white kid and instead spent it participating in little else but the most gruelling kung fu training you could imagine. Why the ‘man lost in time’ angle hasn’t been greatly played up I will never understand. We know he can be cool, and that Iron Fist is the best ever, but I want to really connect with the man underneath that sweet yellow mask. Until we do, we’ll have cool, we’ll have rad, awesome, spectacular, but will we have understanding, a care, will we get the wind sucked from our lungs by grief or anxiety or glee? I love Iron Fist but I worry it’s only on a superficial level and I want Rand to mean as much to me as Murdock does. Because character comes first. The colour and the cool are just fine but it’s the human connection that will always drive a story home.

NEGATIVE SPACE #1 Cover Process

negative space 1 logoNEGATIVE SPACE is a creator owned miniseries with Owen Gieni published by Dark Horse and the #1 issue debuts in July.

You can preorder the book through your LCS right now, or whichever other channels you score your four colour funnies through. The preorder code is: MAY150012, and all the details are at this [LINK]

NEGATIVE SPACE is about Guy Harris, a depressed man who sits down to write his suicide note and gets writer’s block. He goes for a walk to clear his head and soon uncovers a century-old conspiracy dedicated to creating and mining the worst lows of human desperation. Think of a Philip K Dick book adapted to the screen by Polanski, with del Toro visuals and backed by a Hermann score. If that sounds like your jam then you’re gonna love this book at the same time as it kicks you in the nethers.

This book means a lot to the whole creative team so we knew we had to lead strong with a high quality cover that brought everyone in. As such, Owen, Daniel Chabon [our editor supreme], and I spitballed a lot in the discussion process and finally spiralled down into the sublime cover you see above.

I wanted to share some of this cover building process because I think it’s good process. We hope you dig.

——-

Owen is amazing and starts with a wide variety of options. He said some of which were inspired by [LINK]. He thumbs them and sends them through.

negcovs

I love Owen’s cover thumbs, the way he ties in colour quickly and loosely really builds the image for you to decide upon, and the variety he offers. He’s a man with ideas. He said #5 came to him in a dream.

So from this set of thumbs, we thought #1 and #2 looked best [though #3 is amazing and I kinda hope it resurfaces somewhere], so then Owen fleshes them out a little and we get these sketches, plus other thoughts.

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^Super creepy, and sombre. I feel this underwater silence, this sense of being stared at, stared through. This is tonally perfect, if a touch subdued. We needed something just a bit more kinetically grabbing.

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^We discussed the idea of doing split covers but thought it might end up more confusing than helpful. I dig the idea, because I like something different, but it wasn’t right for this book. Plus there’s the rub of finding decent logo placement on these things.

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And I’m certain these same problems come from ^ this cover, but be damned if it isn’t still beautiful.

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^Then Owen threw this in just to scare the crap out of us, I assume :] – dig that white empty around him. And those eyes. Damn.

And while we dug all these, our eyes instead came back towards the thumbs for the other cover idea:

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^I like that this sketch got us to this background, but…

negtest5

This thumb quickly became the real winner. Creepy, in your face, and those colours, even at a thumb, we knew Owen had something special. Daniel especially told us this was the golden egg, and be damned if he wasn’t right.

——-

So then Owen scurries away and a day later has somehow sold his soul to produce these pencils.

negpencils

Look at the level of detail on that. It’s absurd what Owen can do on the page. I also dig that separation of foreground/background by the level of intricacy. I remember it’s when this turned up that I really knew what I was in for. I’d seen some of Owen’s pages, and his character/cover sketches, but this was the moment I absolutely knew he was going to crush minds with his work here.

But this was all prelude until the actual cover dropped and we all slow clapped our screens [well, I can’t vouch for the others but I paused and tried to start a moment – I looked crazy]. But seriously, just look!

Negcover1colour

I spent a lot of time just staring at this and I came to the following thoughts:

Man, I couldn’t even think of this, no less script it, Owen deserves every $ on this gig.

Look at the guy in the opening of that building. Super creeper.

Look at the apex of the building – I often find myself wondering if that’s a real guy, a human, dragged down and mummified. What an end.

And look at the top of those columns – that’s gotta be Guy’s face, right?

H.R. Giger is a spirit guide to this book, for sure, del Toro, too.

Oh, look at those little fish swimming around down there.

And seriously, again, look at that detail. This right here is the image we needed to launch and lead a campaign. In Owen we trust.

——-

To those preordering the book, thank you. Indie comics live and die on the vine based on preorders so you are making a huge difference in our lives. The publisher sets the print levels to match the preorders and change.

And to those who identify closely with the thought of depression or suicide, please HIT THIS LINK and see all the resources and places available to you. You are not alone. We are here to help you.

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