Without Fear

Ryan K Lindsay – Writer

Month: August, 2020

Short stories are awesome. Always have been.

I love short stories. There’s something so special about the kind of idea a writer gets that only needs a small amount of space/character/world to tell. It’s not a novel, not a tv series, not a huge reverberating narrative engine – it’s just a thing that desperately needs to be told.

The ultimate short story collection that springs to mind for me is NIGHT SHIFT by Stephen King. Mostly because I read it so young it became formative, but also because it’s so damn good. I feel like every damn story in it is amazing, they’re all certainly memorable, and looking over the track list…nine are still absolute bangers that I stand by. A few others are good, but fall just short of great. But the collection is evergreen in my mind for what I dig about short stories.

I got thinking about them recently because I saw Hard Case Crime are releasing a collection of Ray Bradbury’s crime short stories:

That cover is so exceptionally haunting and beautiful. Where compositon and colour just flat out open my wallet. I really really want this book in my life if I can ever track it down.

I’d love to write a short story collection. One day. I’ve gone on to devour and enjoy so many more shorts from King – I know it’s technically a novella, but HEARTS IN ATLANTIS remains one of the most beautiful and magical pieces of writing I’ve ever read. Just thinking about it again now puts a little butterfly in my stomach.

His son, Joe Hill, also writes some exceptional short fiction. His collection, 20th CENTURY GHOSTS, felt like his Night Shift, and it had some stand out pieces, none more so than THE CAPE, later adapted into a comic that’s one of the best comcis of the past 20 years.

Being a horror nerd, I loved THE BOOKS OF BLOOD by Clive Barker. I will stop anyone in conversation and tell them about the madness of IN THE HILLS, THE CITIES – a tale where neighbouring villages get their entire populations to physically link together and form writhing human Voltron forms that then fight. Every time I describe it, peoples’ eyes just widen. That’s the sign of a great short.

Ethan Coen wrote GATES OF EDEN, which is a weird set of vignettes that feel like they fell out of scripts he would have tried, and they certainly captivate. Naturally, the shorts of Philip K. Dick mean a lot to me. There’s THE DAYS OF PERKY PAT, which is so strange and haunting, and there’s one whose name escapes me but I know Alan Moore completely ripped it off for one of his Future Shock strips. Who would forget the TALES OF THE MOS EISLEY CANTINA, followed by other collections set in Jabba’s Palace, and I think one about just the bounty hunters…right?

A great slice of short fiction offers an earworm of an idea. A 20 page sample of something that opens the door, fires the gun into your chest, and leaves you gasping, sucking in blood, and feeling yourself die. Short fiction is where smart writers sometimes play their best ideas and themes that haven’t found a full story, and it’s like they don’t leave a morsel on their plate – every quality piece of brain fuel powers their engine forward. I’m in awe.

I have one idea I want to tell as a series of short stories, and I’ve written…a handful of them, but I’ve shelved it for time, at this stage. I’m also writing very short pieces on my Patreon, twice a month, and they’re just a blast to get out of my head. From weird romance to ghastly serial killers, and all the strangeness in between, I’m just flipping up balls and taking a swing. It’s only 300 words, usually more, but it lets me play with voice, to experiment with style, and I have about 17k of them so far. There’s a part of me that wonders if I could stitch together 20-something-thousand and put them into a book. Some of them rate as my very best writing, which is a weird place to leave my best work, but sometimes you never know just what’s going to come out. Some are maybe…not as good…or as we say, they can’t all be winners in a collection. But we try.

I don’t know what will come of them, but for now I’ll continue having fun writing them, perhaps you’d like to follow my Patreon, which you can do for free, and sometimes I put the 300 Flash Fic out as a free post. You might dig what you find.

Oh: also, this doesn’t even take into account comic shorts, of which I’ve done a few, and I love dearly. You can read some of my short comics on my site for free, and on my Patreon this week I’ll be posting some and their scripts for you to enjoy!

Follow along on my Patreon now for all the writing goodness!

CREEPER Magazine 002, Feat. RKL

I loved the first issue of CREEPER, a very strange and awesome magazine about very strange and weird and awesome and esoteric content. Need to know more? Course you do, click here!

Well, it pleases me to announce that I’ll have a piece in their 002 issue, coming soon. here’s the cover:

Image

I can’t say more, but I’ll confirm it is comics related.

For now, go buy 001, and follow them on twitter, and scope their affiliated newsletter.

The Walking Reread Vol. 3

Another scattered erratic feedbin of brain thoughts while reading another volume in everyone’s long-form zombie drama comic.

This volume sees everyone settling into the prison, and it’s the volume where the book really finds its “new life as we know it” vibe. The group has ambled about, they’d struggled through locations, and now they hunker down.

The first issue of the volume is very much just the group going through the motions. They’re logistically dividing the prison up, working out how to clear the dead. It’s a civil planning meeting set to zombies, with a little interpersonal drama sprinkled on the side. I’ll be honest, the issue feels a little…not boring, just simple and solid, right up until the final splash reveal – there are 4 prisoners surviving in the cafeteria hall.

It’s a pretty great twist to things, and the flow of the mundane life-chores leading up to it seems like a genius pacing plan in retrospect.

Rick asking if the people are guards is an honest laugh out loud moment. They certainly don’t look like guards, but he’s still seeing things with his old lenses on.

It’s sad to see Lori really only getting to play the role of emotional pregnant woman. She still continually goes up against Rick as the face of alarmed reason while he assumes his divine right to be the leader. As the volume wears on, he doesn’t do right by her on many occasions. I’m sad to see Lori sidelined on the whole, but I will step for the portrayal of Rick as a deeply flawed person. He’s making huge mistakes all over this volume, and his character arc and deconstruction as the analysis of the over-confident middle aged white guy, and the damage even that brings to himself, is definitely worth delving deeper into.

Rick takes the role of leader, because people look to him with his square jaw and his police jacket and hat of authority as the person best equipped to walk them through this hell. And he does have a lot of good qualities, but I think it shows he needs to be tempered with others. No one person should shoulder the weight of the apocalypse, not for any number of people. Rick could see Tyreese as a partner in this, but it feels like he treats him as a highly competent 2iC. It should be Lori that Rick shares this with, his active queen in the royal court, but he’s too busy telling her to stay out of his affairs and just let him fly by the seat of his pants unrestricted.

Glenn and Maggie continue their relationship, which is a mostly zombie-free affair. They sneak off, they cut their hair, and then Maggie begins her breakdown [which I just this second remembered where it was heading, which makes me sad]. Nothing pure in this world can last, but at least they get some time.

Tyreese sees his daughter killed by her partner who thought they could double-suicide out after losing their virginities. It’s hard to see her death as anything other than motivation for drama for her father. We’re not left to mourn her so much as fear the psychosis it puts Tyreese into. It builds to a great set up where Tyreese is left inside the gymnasium, surrounded by zombies, and you know he’s gonna die, to then later him being retrieved out of there and we see he survived. Thanks to the death of his daughter [whose name still escapes me], he can crush the skulls of a basketball court’s worth of zombies and keep on smiling.

I was almost thinking, “To be fair, no one was left mourning the death of Tyresse’s daughter’s creepy boyfriend,” but then I realised, no, we’re left to absolutely loathe him. He gets an emotional response, she does not.

Herschel finding his girls decapitated is a strong reveal, though chalk them up as yet another in the list of female victims I barely know, but whose deaths greatly affect the men they’ve left behind. We, the readers, are left to wonder who the killer is, even though the killer has been presented in the most creepy of fashions previously.

Flipping through this, the drama comes thick and fast while the zombies barely rate a mention. Those that appear are crushed by Tyreese, or easily navigated on bike by Shane as he checks on Shane’s corpse, so we’re left with Hershell mourning, his daughters’ head reanimating and needing to be shot – a no doubt doubly crushing blow for Hershell who previously looked after each zombie in case a cure could bring them back. We get Axel perving on two of the ladies in the shower block. The group locks up their best suspect in the decapitations, and then Carol kisses Lori. It’s a weird moment to cap a series of little moments.

But, I’ll be honest, I think it’s a cool choice for the narrative. Kirkman does do a good job, sometimes, of showing how characters/people react under incredible pressure and stress. People are erratic, they’re wild, and strange things go down. The kiss does just that, it builds more interpersonal drama through small but strange interactions. The next page is Andrea expressing her commitment to Dale while they lie in bed. These are all good little moments that lie underneath the larger plot, but for the moment there is little by the way of large plot.

They’re in a prison; someone just took off the heads of two little girls. That’s the plot, the rest is all just real life, but in that new set up.

Rick unlocking Dexter’s cell door, Dexter fronting up to Rick, and Rick not backing down is a big character moment for Rick, but also for Dexter. We see so much of Dexter in how he steps down from it, and holds himself high. He’s an interesting guy. It’s like he sees these people for the batshit characters we know them as on the page.

Old mate serial killer does kind of come out of nowhere, he’s more force of modern nature than actually fleshed out character, but he certainly serves to shake things up. He’s the big plot item, and as a cause for change and alarm he works really well.

Some of the B-Roll characters trying to sort out the problem of zombies overcrowding at the fences is a fascinating look into the new minutiae your life would consist of in this world. You’d be wondering how to stab them into the head and retain your blade at all times. It’s not big plot stuff, but it makes the world, and those characters who get this spotlight, feel about 1000x more real.

The serial killer seems mostly like a plot point for us to see Rick really clench his fist as he declares, “You kill? You die!” Which is interesting because his son just killed someone two volumes prior. Rick steps up a lot, he’s firm a lot, but already here we see his hypocrisy settling in, and there’s plenty more to come.

They manage to milk a decent closing issue out of the serial killer as he’s sentenced to death, which makes a lot of people feel things, culminating in his making one last dash for killing someone before getting blasted by Maggie, which leaves more people with more feelings, and then once it’s all calm and settled Dexter steps forward with a new cache of weaponry and he’s telling everyone to get out of his house.

The Levitz Paradigm is definitely in play here because Dexter seeded this coup a while back. It’s great to see plot wind up into big moments, all flanked by group emotions, and just in time for the next big moment to wind up and create new rifts and emotions and such.

This volume is all about getting the group to settle down, and when they do we see the drama follows them anyway. They’re the magnet, and they are the catalyst. The soap opera elements are low key and absolutely face-smashing and it’s fascinating to see how far each interaction will go as it develops. By the end of this trade, I’m still totally all in on the story, and the characters are certainly getting more chances to shine and stand out.

This column originally appeared on my Patreon – the post is up for free, you can follow for free, too, or drop a coin in the well for me.

SKYSCRAPER – have a flip through.

SKYSCRAPER is a comic I wrote with Mitchell Collins on art, Simon Robins on colours and letters, and we funded a newspaper sized print run on Kickstarter through my imprint Four Colour Ray Gun.
I’m incredibly proud of this comic. It’s unlike anything I’d ever done before, and I think it turned out absolutely beautiful, and exactly how we imagined. It’s a strange one-shot comic we printed at newspaper size, on newsprint paper stock. Every page is the same structural frame, a front view of a building, broken into 5 tiers. We then set about solving a murder mystery, of sorts, as each tier treks through time to show the history of the building, the truth behind the recent death, and the future we never saw coming. It’s part crime story, part warped sci fi tale, and part experiment with time, panels, and story in the comic form.
This video flips through the comic, at double speed, so you can see how everything flows. Note how fine Mitchell Collins’ artwork is, and marvel at the colour schemes of Simon Robins as he plays with time cna character through the palette of each tier. An absolute gods level team up from these two, and I was blessed to write for them.
I love when a comic plays with this kind of structure, hence why I wanted to add something to the pantheon myself. I recently read HEDRA from Jesse Lonergan and it did some super awesome things with panels and layouts. ACTION TANK by Mike Barry is a great example of explosive and dynamic layout use. Whether it’s repetition for effect, or mucking around with time, I’m totally down for those types of comics. Scott McCloud frequently talked about comics and time as going hand-in-hand in the most interesting ways, and I think the best creators playing with that concept do the most stunning things with storytelling and art.
I hope the people who buy SKYSCRAPER get a few good reads out of it because I wanted to craft something that’s engaging, intriguing, and finally informing on some level.
You can buy a copy here: bit.ly/skyscrapercomic

The Walking Reread Vol. 2

In which I tackle the second volume, where the scope of the story really opens up and the interpersonal drama dials it up to 11. My thoughts are usually scattershot, jotted down as I write, they don’t pretend to be fleshed out essays, or necessarily all that insightful, it’s just the stuff I saw and thought about as I worked through this volume, ymmv.

I’m not intending this to be a reread with a feminist slant, but the more you know in this life and the more you notice, I guess. This volume opens up with the history of Lori cheating on Rick. She’s not painted as horrible, so I guess there’s that. It’s a wild situation to survive a zombie apocalypse, so there’s some context to it all. But you can see the concept of “betrayal” is at the heart of Lori’s character, and I think a wife/mother just trying to hold things together might have more to her than just cheater and fun buster.

Then Dale tells Rick the group could use a new strong man to look up to in the role of leader/protector, “especially the women.” It’s a throwaway quote that doesn’t age well. Not very well at all.

Tyreese turns up and in his first issue gets more characterisation than any of the other women did in 6 issues, *and* we get the corker that his back story contains his emotional turmoil over his daughter nearly being raped by another survivor. None of these things so far are Red Flags enough to stop the book or the reread, but they’re things I know I wouldn’t write now. I’m not here to harpoon Kirkman, but rather to spotlight this now to see if it improves. I know Andrea gets a much more prominent role moving forward, but I’ll have to track how Lori goes because I can’t remember from memory.

The first issue here ends with her revealing she’s pregnant, which is a shame for her [given the state of medical care available], but fantastic for the zombie/drama element of this comic.

Charlie Adlard comes in on this volume and he’s instantly awesome. There are shades of Phil Hester to his work sometimes, but otherwise he’s setting up the look of the characters in his own style.

The discovery of the Wiltshire Estate is a good narrative progression. Zombie stories are often categorised by the location they take, Romero’s trilogy making that firm in my mind, and the fact if I got stuck in the zombie apocalypse [or wrote a story in one] then the location would be the first puzzle piece to secure. There’s even part of me that appreciates how inept the group is at doing their due diligence – Rick opens a door straight into 2 zombies, they miss the snow covered sign, but I can’t help feeling like Donna standing there and letting one get the drop on her so it can bite her eyeball is a bit lazy.

Donna gets complacent and finally happy so of course she doesn’t notice a zombie until it’s biting her in the eyeball. Feels a little convenient on the writing side of things, and makes me want to keep a kill chart to see how stupid people are, and what the gender mix of deaths is. But I won’t, because this reread just isn’t that organised, sorry.

The estate goes belly up as quickly as it appears, but then we get an invite to the farm. Now, a farm is a fine place to hole up through the whole mess of the zombie days. This means the cast explodes by over a half dozen people, and that kind of ensemble is wild, and yet it fills out the wallpaper of this group nicely. Kirkman is clearly setting up characters for A-B-C plots. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Levitz Paradigm worked well over how things shuffle and organise through all of this story. Just ongoing rolling thunder.

Plus introducing new characters means having more fodder available to kill when the stakes need to go up and you don’t want to lose 3 of the primary characters. You get someone else who’s been given maybe 1-2 scenes of quality exposition/interaction and then you kill them with the feeling of it being ongoing high tension, though I’ll give credit to Kirkman that he does indeed kill off a lot of big name characters, which I always did appreciate.

Ooh, Allan drops the C-bomb, and I forgot about that. It sells his emotional state in that moment, he’s just lost his wife, but it still jars. It’s a real line in the sand between course language and absolutely NSFW.

By this stage, I really see how the zombie attacks are few and far between, and they’re usually there to offer a new interpersonal dynamic for certain characters. There’s also the danger and death aspect, especially as Kirkman always says no one is safe, so you never know who’s going to die, which does make each zombie skirmish feel more tense.

The growing relationship between Carl and Sophie is an interest mix; she’s forward, he’s gross and weird about it. I can’t remember where they’re building this up to, so I’m interested to go along with it.

The Glenn and Maggie relationship starts on a strange page – basically, Maggie says she’s DTF with Glenn, and it’s some solid female agency of sexuality and not presented in a shameful way because the rest of the times we see the two of them, usually sneaking around in the B plot on any page, it genuinely seems fun and happy. These two crazy kids get to focus on something else for a minute and that’s a very cool thing to find in this world. The proclamations of love towards the end of the volume don’t quite ring as true, but any reasoning based on lust and realistic visions of the future certainly add up.

Also, remembering what I know, this relationship certainly gets time to fly in the future, and it’s really strong at times, so seeing its simple booty call origins is pretty much just fun.

The other young love of Tyreese’s daughter and her boyfriend, both names escape me and that says a lot about their characters and how they are portrayed, is the opposite end of the scale. It’s subtle, but that sinister angle shows through here, but that might also be me projecting because I know what’s coming [or, at least, I’m pretty sure I remember it clearly].

What a thought that Kirkman sold this book as a zombie apocalypse masquerading as an alien invasion story and really it’s just a Z-apoc story excuse to get down with some O.C. relationships in middle America. And this is no complaint from me. But this volume makes it clear it’s all about pairing people off so they can feel bad when something happens to the other, or there is other drama. Which is classic human behaviour, we invest because of emotion, and we assign emotion best to other people, and Kirkman weaves it all together pretty well here.

Ah, mention of the barn. Woof, the show botched this one, but let’s focus on the comic. The mention here looks like it comes on the end of an issue, and if so that’s a great needle drop. The concept of Hershell viewing the whole situation as different is fascinating, he’s got a thoughtful approach, though not one built out of sound reasoning. Him also being upset about the Thompson’s house being in the background of the gun firing range is well-meaning, but absolutely ridiculous. I love the fact Kirkman could consider that these views would pile up around the country, in different ways, and we have the space and scope to showcase them. It’s the kind of thing your leading characters in a zombie flick would never do, but this is well put in.

Once that barn is opened, Herschel realises he’s a fool for such sentimentality in the face of the end of the world. The five page sequence of the barn zombies causing havoc is manic and tense and it leaves Hershell feeling bad, and everyone else not quite knowing how to handle it. It’s a brilliant use of a zombie attack.

The final issue of the volume has couples going through morning sickness, and getting caught in bed, and dealing with the past. It’s all very simple, really, but effective in making us care. Then Hershell kicks the crew out and we see life on the road in the cold is a bust. It feels very bleak until we get one of the best reveals of the comic, and something that sets up the book for the coming years [I think it lasted for years]…

The Prison.

I don’t think I’ve seen a zombie flick in a prison, and it’s a great idea. There’s a feeling when it’s revealed, and I remember it from way back when, where you just quietly hold your breath and realise this is going to be interesting and fun.

I also dig that this reveal comes at the end of an issue, and the end of a volume, and the end of a hardcover which would cover 12 issues. Great planning on that from Kirkman and the team.

Overall, the first volume is the ballad of Rick and his return, and the second volume is about how all these people interact, try to move forward, and sometimes drag each other back and down. This volume is all about settling in for the long haul, the fact this isn’t a siege, it’s a long drama, as long as life itself, and still just as difficult to survive.

This post originally appeared on my Patreon – it is free to view there, but your support of a follow or a dollar is greatly appreciated!

Small Connection, Deep Connection

When you write a comic, it doesn’t feel real until it’s in the hands of some readers.

The most real of this – usually, though maybe erroneously – is when the comic is available in comic shops across the world because a publisher picked it up and distributed it. This, for me, has always been when a comic really feels like it made it, it’s the highest form of success I can describe.

But it’s a hard one to attain. There are only so many comic publishers, so many successful pitches, and even then sometimes a comic tanks. The times I’ve had comics out with a publisher, I’ve gotten 4-figure sales, but never have I crossed into 5-figure territory [except when I wrote that My Little Pony one-shot, and I hit something ludicrous like 32k copies sold, but that isn’t really *my* success to speak of, is it?]. So going with publishers is good, the numbers of readers/buyers goes up, and while that’s difficult to attain, I’ve managed it a few times.

COVID. Now there’s this word, and what it’s meant to comics. The central comic distributor closed down for a minute, comic shops felt the heat, and while things are “back on track” at present, many places are still doing their best to advocate for social distancing or staying home unless necessary and I can’t help but feel that might impact comic sales and outreach a little. I know I’m going to get my pull list sent to me by my local, Impact Comics, but some people might just be missing out and numbers might be affected, though I hope not.

On my end, I’ve been lucky to have some writing gigs that I’ve been able to continue on with through COVID, and we’ll see what they look like and yield on the other side of this mess [if there is another side to it all]. Alongside this, or maybe beneath or all around it, I’ve had the smaller scale of comic creation.

Usually, selling at comic conventions is the small scale stuff, you physically place your comic into someone’s hand, you chat with them, it’s a personal transaction. I’ve never sold 4-figures worth of a comic at a convention, but I’ve had just as much of a high from the success just by selling 50. Putting a comic up on Kickstarter might not get me 6,000 backers, but it gives me 500 people I can hold as an engaged audience through updates and extra stuff I can deliver to them. Recently, I’ve had strong sales through my online shop front at ownaindi, and that’s been a great way to send stories and pages out into the world.

When a publisher handles the sales of your book, you don’t tape a single box, you don’t shelve any of the book, so the numbers are up but it’s impersonal. Through Kickstarter, cons, or an online store, the numbers are way down but you get a name to every sale. You can see follow up when they read it, or they catch your personalised message. It’s a deeper connection, and there’s something to be said for that, even if it is much harder work.

This past week I boxed up scores of copies of SHE Vol. 1 to send around Australia, and all the while I was selling copies of SKYSCRAPER online and sending them out, too. It was a great feeling, it made me feel invigorated to make comics some more, and that’s the energy you need to go into your office late at night and peck away at these strange stories.

While I’ve always yearned for the validation and success of a big audience, COVID has shown me the bright side of a smaller audience with a deeper connection. If you’ve been a backer or a buyer in one of those more intimate settings, thank you. Each package I send out gives me the strength to keep making more. I hope to send you the next one in the mail.

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