Without Fear

Ryan K Lindsay – Writer

Category: process

Why You Should Subscribe To My Newsletter

I send out an email newsletter every week on the Monday – it’s called THE TWO FISTED HOMEOPAPE.

And here is why you should subscribe to it, if you already haven’t.

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This newsletter is all about my writing life. If you’re interested in me, this is The Place to get your up-to-date info. If you’re a writer, hopefully I can share some high quality writing thoughts, or link to good writing vibes, or just keep our minds collectively spinning on this writing game.

I honestly care about this newsletter. I realised a while back this infodump was my weekly therapy. This was where I shared and bared my soul. If you’re after honesty and insight, this is where you’ll find it most raw from me.

I drop all the latest news. This latest edition alone I’ll be talking about: this latest pitch I’m putting together, some of the awesome Patreon content I’m prepping [and how much damn fun it’s all been], why I keep on writing one-shots, why my next two books aren’t ready because of how awesome they’re gonna be, and why I maybe kinda quit twitter this week.

The newsletter is the safe place for all this, it’s the all-access behind-the-curtain champagne room in my writing club. IT’s the place that matters the most.

I’ll link you up. I keep a list of the good stuff I read this week, some good crowdfunding malarkey from around the traps, and why what I’m reading/watching is nudging me towards being a better writer/reader/viewer each time. I want to unpack my thoughts on paper [as it were], and I’m happy if that ever helps anybody else dislodge one quality thought in their brain.

I wish to be free of this wild wheel on which we find ourselves. Man, social media sucks. Trolls, algorithms, huge profits that have to be coming from somewhere [if you can’t buy a product then YOU are the product, etc]. I love twitter, but it’s also a sinkhole. I’d be stoked if I could survive on the newsletter, and then my Patreon [with the odd Kickstarter], and maybe Goodreads thrown in for good measure.

This is why I want to see you over at THE TWO FISTED HOMEOPAPE – because that’s where I want to call home. Safely in your inbox, ready for whenever you want, and hopefully a delight to read, a fuel for the brain, and an elixir for the heart.

If you’ve got a newsletter, let me know, I love reading ’em as much as I love writing ’em. And if you wanna know what any of these pictures below really are all about, you gotta come join me, we’ll have a blast!

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Hope this wets your whistle.

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Why Writers Should Write

And I mean writers should write lots. More than they ever publish.

I wrote many complete comic minis. All before I pitched a publisher. Some before I pitched to an artist. And all of them never made it to the page. I would never do that now, why did I do it then?

Because I was young and dumb. Dumb enough to believe I’d get those stupid ideas made. Young enough to think I had the time. Dumb enough to think I had to do it. Young enough to think an artist would come on board.

I’d never script a full 6 issue mini now. But I did a decade ago. And I’m damn glad I did. Writing those issues gave me an appreciation of story structure far beyond what a plot document will. It showed me how characters fuck with your plot outline, how they won’t behave. How by the time issue 4 is ending, you know everything better, with gather clarity, and you know certain elements have to change.

We tell people not to write ahead. And we tell people not to write for free. But we forget sometimes to tell people that writing is a skill you practise. And you won’t practise with every page published, you don’t want to do that, trust me, so you want to practise in the shadows. You want to practise so when you do emerge, you’re pretty decent. Maybe close to good. Probably serviceable.

I tell people all the time about all the scripts I wrote before I self-published my first one. It was about 60 scripts. A ludicrous amount. But it all helped me understand how story flows out of me better. That I can trust the process that plots change, characters change, and you will have different strategies to figure out the hard stuff.

I think back and remember just banging away on these scripts like they were the most important pages in the world. And I still want to approach everything in that manner. I want my pages to still feel like the most important pages in the world to me. Because they kind of are.

And I always enjoy writing every damn word of them.

Take time to enjoy your writing. It’s a fool’s pursuit, done because we love it, and if you’re in for the ride then really throttle into it and give it everything.

University of Canberra FIRST: Voyages Book Launch Keynote 2017

I was honoured to be asked to attend the launch of UC’s FIRST: Voyages anthology book – a place for uni students to get their first publication. The book was a ripper, so many great examples of emotion and truth on the page, so I was happy to speak to the crowd and give away whatever small amount of wisdom I have.

Below is my speech, typed, but I’m not a TED presenter, and I notoriously tangent, so this isn’t 100% exact what people heard on the night, but it’s as close as the history books will ever get. I hope you enjoy.

Hi, I have to start by saying:

Thank you to every person who contributed to this book. Thank you for stepping up, for putting yourself into ink, and firing yourself off into the world as yet another book of blood, because as Clive Barker says, that’s what we are, and wherever we’re opened, you better believe we’re red.

It is a heartbreaking and delightful and insane and passionate thing we do to put our words into the world, and it makes our lives better and worse than others, but it also means we are truly living our lives. So thank you, can we give everyone in this book a round of applause, please? :]

It’s invigorating to submerge into an anthology so rich full of passion and erudition. You don’t start a journey over mountains and through the shattered dust of stars by tiptoeing forward. No, you dive, man, you just have to because if you pause, you’re DOA. Writing is a passion, it’s a drug, and it’s a monkey on your back for the rest of your life. And you either learn what your monkey likes and you placate it forevermore, or you invest in good gardening equipment and you bury its body in various locations to live a very free, though much more mundane, life. These are your options.

Which is why I want to tell you to please keep writing. I mean, you’re obviously off to such an amazing start, why stop, right?

But know that writing isn’t going to ever get easier. Writing isn’t going to do what you planned. Writing is one big problem you keep in your skull most of your life, and sometimes it aches, and sometimes it itches, and sometimes it stops – which can be the most scary of all the symptoms. But writing will complete you. I know it will, because I see the talent in you. I know that fever, and I know the soothing balm of seeing your words in print. I know it feels good – even while it kinda feels terrifying, right?

I won’t ask for hands up, but I guarantee at least one contributor already hates their work, and others would love another pass to juuuust get it right. Someone has looked at someone else’s story and now violently hates them because they see how good that person’s story is – don’t be afraid of competition, it’ll make you sick, but it’ll also make you better, I promise. I know this, and I know it’s stupid. You’ll know it soon, too, but knowing isn’t a cure. I’m sorry.

You are all now officially writers, and the only way is up. Up, up, up, because, technically, even a 1 degree incline is up. And you have to stay the course, even when it feels like a downhill tumble. You have to write through the blizzards, and the afterparties, and droughts, and the mazes. You have to write, because you are writers, you know this, you’ve stated it right here in the book.

I declared I’d be a writer in Year 3. I wrote my first 2 short stories that year. The joy of completing them was wild. The thrill of reading them to my class was exhilarating. The shame of looking back years later and realising how bad they were: priceless.

Honestly, one was called Volcano and it was about a guy who decides to climb a volcano. So he packs his bag – I go into full list mode to detail all the muesli bars and snacks he takes with him, it’s like half a page. Then he starts walking. And keeps walking. And keeps walking. Then he sees a wolf. He says, “Hey, there’s a wolf.” To no one in particular, and hopefully not the wolf, unless I was writing existential animal identity crises back in 1990. Sorry, where was the story, oh, yeah, he keeps walking. Then he gets to the top. He looks in. He sees some lava. Then he walks home.

He doesn’t even touch a single goddamn preciously bagged snack from his bag in the entire story. Maddening.

And when people tell you that your first writing will suck, it’s easy to point to those juvenile words and say they were your formative years, as if I wrote anything of greatness when I was 18. Or 22. Or 25. Or last week.

So much crap over the years. But the common theme was I kept writing. Brian K Vaughan once wrote that you have to get 10,000 pages of utter shit out of your system before you start getting good. That’s when you start getting just good.

So keep writing. Because I went from writing fanfic to really awesome break up poetry to four novels of questionable quality to online comics journalism to hot takes on twitter in 2009 before the Nazis and the trolls occupied the underside of every bridge and then I went and I got my first publication out into the world and then started getting good. Just good. And it still wasn’t as good as what you’ve done here.

But I kept at it. I wrote a baker’s dozen of short stories, I wrote about 60 issues of various comic projects that never went anywhere. I wrote so much, and finally the tide started to shift. Soon I was signing my first publication deal with a publisher in the States for my first comic miniseries. Then I was winning the Aurealis Award and Ledger Bronze Award for my comic about suicide and emotion eating monsters. I was selected in a group of 8 people out of 1500 people to be in a comic writing class run by DC comics.

I’m currently sitting on 3 comic book deals with a US publisher, and in the midst of my sixth successful comic Kickstarter campaign, and I’m writing every damn night. I’ll go home and write tonight. Because not only is that what it takes, but that’s what I want. That’s what I need. I’m a writer, it’s no shock I go home to write.

So, please, write. That’s the obvious lesson everyone imparts. But let me gift you two more horses and you can elect to look in their mouths or not.

You will fail. A story will suddenly dry up. Or a story will not find an audience. Or a story will suuuuuck. Or you’ll have the chance to finally pitch the Ninja Turtles and you’ll drop the ball…or y’know, some other vague possibility not ripped from the headlines inside my brain.

You will think you’re crap – which is just as dangerous as the family members who tell you you’re amazing – and sometimes you will be crap, and you won’t know sometimes, and you’ll have doubt, and you’ll worry and overthink, and stress, and miss parties, and learn what a sore neck really feels like. Writing is going to add some hardship to your life.

But a real writer finds the greatest hardship to be not writing. So…yeah, I don’t have any great solution to that, sorry, welcome to the club, it’s gonna kill ya :]

Each failure in the club is there to teach you a lesson. Whether it’s story structure, or humility, or taking editorial notes, or swinging for the bleachers, or selling out – learn why the failure happened, and factor it into the new 2.0 version of yourself, the true Writing Intelligence Supreme of 2020.

Just remember why you write – because it’s a way to take the truth you know, and marinade it, and make something more out of it.

I’ll tell you about two of the best things I ever wrote. One was in Year 10, it was a recount of the morning we found my father’s dead body. Looking back it was the sort of bunt hit an angsty teenager writes because he knows it’ll get him on base, but I also wrote it because this was a truth I’d lived with for a decade and I needed a way to get it out of my head. So I did, and my teacher loved it, and wanted it for the school’s annual magazine, and I politely declined. Because it was out of my head, but I didn’t need it into the heads of others. Not yet, anyway.

But nearly two decades after that, I wrote a story about a writer who sits down to write his suicide note and gets writer’s block. Which is a pretty shit thing to do to a character, but it’s great narrative fuel. And this was me tackling the same themes I’d sophomorically slapped on the page in Year 10, but now I had a way to use my truth as an ingredient, and not as the recipe and whole dish. I’d mastered subtext and theme and subtlety, and so I explored my feelings about suicide again, also with added decades of reflection to even better understand it.

I truly believe that’s why NEGATIVE SPACE sold so well, and won awards, and became my entry into what modest limelight I’ve afforded myself. It’s a book with truth in it. A truth only I could write.

You’ll no doubt have already heard that you should “write what you know.” Which I always took to mean, well, Stephen King writes alcoholic teachers-cum-writers, and John Grisham writes lawyers, and Dan Brown writes intellectual middle aged white dudes absolutely sizzling in turtleneck sweaters. I thought it meant write what you know how to do, which is essentially writing who you are.

This is not what that advice means.

Write what you know should focus on the word KNOW – what you know is your truth – you need to write your truth. Which is why fiction is so amazing – every person has their own truth. One person can know and believe the world is a wonderful place while another person can believe the world sucks and will most definitely try to smash you into pieces. Both of those truths can exist, because they stem from experience.

Your job is to find your truth, by living a life, by doing dumb things, by avoiding those now discovered dumb things and choosing the smarter things. A life lived, is a brain informed, is a writer with something to say. And if you can say it in a way no one has read before, then you’re gonna be fine. You have to work out how to make your truth palatable.

Which I know you can do because so many of you mastered this in the book.

The truth of what a railway line means in the many stations you stop in through your life. The truth that you’re only gonna get better, and that knowledge can’t be applied retroactively – not even with time travel. The truth that your wits will keep you alive, but only if you let your wits navigate for you as well as react for you, even centuries ago on a sinking ship. The truth that the devil’s right, even if only about the fact his opposition is wrong. The truth that souls are precious and need rescuing, but you can only ever do what you can. The truth that the ocean represents all we should fear in this world, and yet we dive back into it constantly. The truth that it only takes one person to do absolutely everything they possibly can for humanity to be saved. The truth that your tolerance will always be met with intolerance and sometimes you see what happens when an unstoppable force collides with an immovable object. The truth that the world is constantly twisted up in sex and shame and stupidity and all you can do is accept your place in it and hope you get better at it all.

Those were some of the amazing truths I took away from this book and they floored me, each one, each time. A fabulous way to read a book, so thank you.

I do want to highlight 3 specific stories that really stuck with me, and all because they offered a truth, and in a different way. One with clarity, one through obfuscation, and one through a warped sense of acceptance. These three stories are everything I love to read, on personal and technical levels, and I want to call each person up to receive a gift voucher as a small token of appreciation for sharing these words with us.

DAD was an utterly amazing gutpunch, so can Jasmine Braybrooks please come up.

This illustration of a parent changed is done with such honesty and humanity that it never feels brutal, nor salacious. This is a spirit laid bare on the page and I kept thinking that these intimate nothings etched out in careful words are going to give Michael Chabon a run for his money one day. Thank you for letting us all read this.

READ RECEIPT REQUESTED was a gripping and funny and ultimately horrifying story, so can Susie Ellis please come up.

This story feels funny, and genuinely is funny, and I was entranced from the first word to the last. Your style and pacing are near-flawless as you toe the Hitchcockian line of absurdity and tension. But, in the end, this story is horrifying because beyond the cute charm, it’s a story about society, about how easy it is for idiotic men to rule on a whim, and about how easy it is for women to disappear. It’s the best kind of statement, in that it never states it at all. But it’s there, and that’s a gift, so thank you for sharing it with us all.

And the final story I want to mention is ANNIE & I, a short pitstop into a mentality of strange acceptance by Jerzy Beaumont.

It would be easy to write this story off as a mere twist reveal at the end, were it not for how amazingly acute and true it is in every line. The twist unpacks a whole new narrative and once you know who Annie is, the line “and when we make love we do it like iron maidens; the nails are in-side.” becomes this haunting and harrowing and yet still somewhat hopeful proclamation.

I hope a million people read this story because it’s the sort of thing that shows you how to access your truth, and how to manage it, and how to touch it fondly and often until you no longer have any fear in what it can hold or do. This story is the kind of thing that will stick with readers for a lifetime and beyond, and that’s the greatest outcome any fiction can ever aim for, so thank you so much for creating a better world with this story in it.

Please join me in giving applause to all three recipients of these gift cards tonight.

Now, I want to leave you with one last piece of wisdom, so I’m actually going to steal it from one of you.

Write every day, about things that matter to you, across all genres. They say every statue is in the marble waiting to be unearthed, and the same is true of every story around us. You job is to go out, touch, observe, carve, polish, stand back and think, start again, and discover the world so you might best synthesise it. There’s a lot of stuff out there, to write about, to ignore, to immerse yourself in, to know, and forget, and you’re all just the right age to do it all and use it later in your next great works.

Or, better put by Lara Hazel Thompson as she muses on how you, writers, might see the world moving forward – “These people, my friends, recently became really fucking boring, so I’ve taken to details.”

Take to every detail you can find, you’ll find a story for all of them eventually, I promise.

Thank you.

RKL Annotations – BEAUTIFUL CANVAS #4

Beautiful Canvas is a comic from Sami Kivela, Triona Farrell, Ryan Ferrier, Dan Hill, and myself through Black Mask Studios.

Issue #4 is on shelves right now and it’s our final issue. We started a tale, and now it’s done. Read the Murder Book rap sheet below.

Below are my annotations. An inside look into my brain as I reflect on our making of this issue, and a chance for me to unpack what I’m seeing in the work now, and how I feel it connects on a broader spectrum. I hope you dig, and find something that’ll help your mind think/make comics in the future.

THE COVER – SAMI KIVELA

You’d almost be fooled into thinking this cover was simple. There’s so much black, and white, and only 3 real elements, but it’s all about the composition of this one for me. Lon’s body language is, as always, perfect. The flame trail just represents so much, and we went through a few colour scheme to get this just right, and this is definitely just right. Then the skyline caps it off, the city she’s saving now something behind her. It’s saved, but she’s walking away.

And that skyline is gorgeous, got shades of Frank Miller in my heart, and I love it so.

This cover might just be my favourite; it’s up there with #2.

PAGE ONE

This opening panel was so easy for me to write, and I’m a bastard, but hot damn it’s worth it to see Sami draw his own version of a helicarrier. That design, Tree’s amazing colours on the vehicle as well as the sky, and then that one caption, and this panel stands alone as something I think we nailed 100%. It sets a tone I’m really happy with for the events of this issue.

We then cut to Milla in a moment where she seems like she’s breaking the fourth wall. She’s not, but I love that it seems that way. Because she’s right, we are indeed entering the final act of the main narrative.

The reveal of Milla in her ship with Asia and Alex was a time jump I know is a gamble. We left things with Lon shooting Alex and now we’re moving forward in time. We explain what happened, in rough terms, but this is my big fear that it’ll throw people off. But I like playing with time. Issues #2-3 actually went back a few seconds between the end of one, and the start of the next, the flashback notwithstanding. But this jumps hours ahead. I hope people don’t mind missing the “action” in between, because it was actually just boring stuff and as such i didn’t want to write it. Showing your pieces move across the board isn’t always as exciting as revealing the pieces in a dangerous situation.

These fluid filled tanks from Sami/Tree are gorgeous. Milla would absolutely have this weird stuff on standby.

PAGE TWO

I had to get across the idea that Asia is there keeping Alex alive by subduing his mind while the fire has just about consumed his body. I do this by having her monologue at a comatose Asia. I should have had someone else in the room with Milla. Another wolf soldier. Someone to ask pointed questions as to what they could do, so I didn’t need to have Milla stating things outright, which I really tried to not do here so I know it’ll be oblique to those not reading deeply.

I love Ferrier’s balloon tail in that second panel. Subtle, but amazing.

Panel three has Milla continue her monologue ,which I do enjoy, and she lays out her plan. This is everything she’s going to do. Simply because she’s nuts. Like some kind of Willy Wonka Bond Villain. Hence the “We will be the makers of music.” line.

PAGE THREE

I scripted new dialogue over this page a million times. Literally. I hit 999,999 times, and then did one more pass.

This was more fear that readers wouldn’t get what had happened with the time jump. This was in response to reviews saying the book was great, but wasn’t laying out answers with clarity. So I squeaked some info in here as to what’s happened since the last issue, and I wonder how it’ll land.

This page is Lon and Eric in the midst of it. Everything is jumping off and they need to launch into the final fray. Eric knows how to do this, which becomes really clear in the coming pages.

PAGE FOUR

Eric triggering some new marks is the big play on this page, but the underscore is Lon’s look at him, and the look on his own face. She doesn’t trust him right here, and he’s beyond caring. He’s enjoying the road as he feels like it’s maybe leading towards an end.

PAGE FIVE

I know there’s a lot of violence in this book, and maybe we’re desensitised to it, but Eric killing these two is a complete dick move. Lon’s reaction is my reaction, she’s the only person left in this story who’s still a normal functioning human, which is funny because she was a hitwoman not long before this.

Time changes you and your outlook on life. Sometimes you don’t even see the change sneaking up on you.

And Eric drops an open sentence for the page change two in a row…

PAGE SIX

The dropship coming down is an opportunity for narrative movement. Eric’s way of handling entrance to it is a character moment. The wolf soldiers coming out of the dropship is a gonzo moment.

I like that they loom at the bottom of the page, bringing such weird threat with them, and then we deal with them in one big moment next page.

PAGE SEVEN

Eric using his power here to throw the car isn’t an insight to us, but it is to Lon. We have to remember that. This is a moment where not having captions left me out in the cold a bit, haha.

This whole moment is Eric’s Raiders of the Lost Ark moment where Indy shoots the guy with the sword. Why drag shit out when you can be efficient and effective. The look on Eric’s face at the end sells it all. Good ol’ Sami and his facial expressions, always the best in show.

PAGE EIGHT

Okay, this page is a masterpiece. This is the sort of thing that comes from knowing your collaborator, and collaborating with Sami Kivela. This page gets me excited to read comics, no less make them.

Realistically, there was a lot to unpack here, and showing lots of intricacies was going to clag up the whole works. So I asked Sami if we could do something fun here and he’s always down to be the best creator on the page, so he ran with it.

The overall layout is a thing of beauty, but it’s the little things, the details that prove Sami is the GOAT on this one. The panel with Eric using his hand wave to twist a wolf’s head around is genius, and the panel of the wolf being shot back and we see the cockpit behind it is insanely good. Sami is always thinking. His geography is flawless.

Our two leads then step into the cockpit and Tree changes the lighting, and thus the mood. Spectacular. And here, finally, Lon decided there’s a moment for them to talk and work out where they are standing. She’s been put onto uneven ground and she needs to get stability back to her world.

PAGE NINE

It’s interesting to note that Eric starts off by telling the truth. That stuff is all real. Then he starts to swerve, obfuscate, and straight up lie. But we do learn that the hit troupe from #1 was orchestrated by Eric, so that’s one Q A’ed. Then Eric gets back into the truth, that Alex represents a beginning, he’s the fuse, and it’s all about to get big.

The final line is really the summation of Milla’s plan. People looking deeper won’t find anything, this is just her expressing herself. As humans want to do, and are usually allowed to.

PAGE TEN

I love the geometrical design of this page. It’s kind of an inverted triangle, but the point at the bottom is an explosion of Milla’s full form. And the top is actually not a straight line, it’s wiggly, it’s erratic. It all reflects Milla getting things sorted, getting her place in line, and then it all points to her. It’s all for her.

This page IS Milla Albuquerque.

By this stage of the story, I’ve truly doubled down on Milla’s propensity to monologue to herself. She thinks theatrically, she lives that way, despite the lack of an audience, because she is her own audience. This is all for her, no one else. So you can’t silence a voice that doesn’t need to be heard, and you can’t hide her away or muffle what’s coming out because that’s not the point. Milla is all about doing it and enjoying it, the expression means much more than the reception.

Which is actually a good way to create art. Being dependent on the reactions of others is a dire way to put things into the world, but being able to be satisfied yourself in what you’ve done is wildly liberating. It’s insane, and also misses the point of art on so many levels, but it would also be so so much easier.

As Lon and Eric fight closer to her, she waits and honestly looks forward to it all. She has no idea what’s going to happen, but she’s down for whatever.

PAGE ELEVEN

I packed so much into this page and Sami handled it all like a boss.

Milla is honest, she really does love what she’s created with these two.

Then she lets slip the big news moving forward – she can’t be allowed to die because it’ll awaken every pyrokinetic sleeper agent on her books. Which we know is a lot.

The escalation from entrance to the shot nearly hitting Lon’s head is too quick, I think, but it’s what we’ve got, and the rest of the pages all flow a lot better, so it gets us where we need to go and be.

PAGE TWELVE

And Eric finally reveals himself a little more. He’s not just here for the good times, he’s here to turn on Lon and kill Alex. Initially when he pinched off her suit he was going to crush her arm off and she’d be left with a bionic arm at the end of the story, but it didn’t work well for this scene to have her bleeding out insanely from the loss of a limb, so I scrapped it.

Then we end the page with the truth all tumbling out. Because Milla knows all about it…

PAGE THIRTEEN

Eric’s daughter is already dead. He’s lied about her. And if you paid attention to when Eric searched for his daughter, Eve Robinson, in the camera, you now know why he wanted to drop everything and watch that footage so much.

Was it worth discovering this now and then a reread will play that scene differently? Well, I hope so, ha.

Milla gets words and Panel Five is clearly too wordy, but I liked all the words, so bugger it – in they remained. So Milla explains it all to Lon in a page, and she also drops the fact that Eric’s daughter is also her daughter, and the way we do that means, yes, I want you paying attention. Read. Every. Word.

The final panel is all about Milla finally making a connection with Lon – she’s hinting that Lon’s daughter is a sleeper agent also. Again: I’m not gonna have her state it all in so many words. I just can’t bring myself to do that, but I hope people jump into this with me [my rally cry since issue #1 – I want people interrogating these pages].

Also, that negative space in the bottom is the best. Love how empty it is, and where Ferrier drops the caption.

PAGE FOURTEEN

Eric slings the bullet away and reveals his inner truth – he feels like they’re all damned. He feels this because Milla made him something else, and that caused the death of his daughter, and I was never ever gonna show you what happened, because the idea of it should be enough to give you chills. What a horrible turn of events, and I hope it sticks in your guts.

At this stage, Asia has awakened – presumably the shooting at Alex jolted him which caused reverb back into Asia, so she’s here, and she leaps at Eric’s back like Voorhees coming outta the lake in Part I and she floods Eric’s mind with Eve. This is what pauses the whole situation, which also allowed the pause off Alex. Unfortunately.

Lon screams for Asia to return to Alex, because she knows this will kill him, and she’s torn on that front, but Asia is resolute, and she’s making the bigger decision that Lon hasn’t been able to.

PAGE FIFTEEN

All points converge through Lon’s POV as she sees the three things before her, and must choose what will live and what will not.

Excuse me, the FOUR things before her.

Then Lon makes her decision, in as few words as possible. Again, trying to keep things clean and not overexplain. Let her actions speak more than anything else. So into the uncontrolled fire goes Eric. And so too does Lon, hoping she’ll survive.

The thick white section is time passing and that’s the kind of thing you can script all you want, but the whole team has to work to pull it off. Thankfully, Sami changes up the angles on the shot for the next panel, and Tree dominates with her colours, and the result is a very clear transition of time.

That movie caption came very late in the game. I wasn’t listening to the song though, I promise.

This final panel is so well laid out, so much space around the characters, so much world still out there hogging the frame. And their words are going to be true forever and for everything moving forward.

PAGE SIXTEEN

I scripted this page as a conversation. I had to get it all out. Then I edited it. Then I broke it across panels. Then Sami wanted to kill me. But then he came around on this stupid over-panelled idea. And then, once drawn, I edited the script again. Thinking about the truth of the moment, the stuff that was Capital N Needed, and also thinking of Ferrier on letters, ha. These are the beautiful moments of collaboration.

I also dig how that final panel runs full down into the bleed, as Lon looks back into the zephyr. That’s art storytelling well beyond my pay grade.

PAGE SEVENTEEN

This kind of summarises how to combat trolls, and how to fight against the world, and how to stay upright through the resistance. Tl;dr – fear is for fools, and fear is their tool.

Lon is completely resolute here in this sequence. My idea is that ever since she found out she’d be a mother, Lon has grappled with violence. She wanted to step away from it, she wanted to rise above it, be better than it. A parent protects.

But, the thing is, protection can be a violent game. Retribution can occur, and you can’t always remain passive. We hope and wish for such a thing, but it’s just not true. It sucks, but it’s not always an option. Lon finally understands that, she realises violence doesn’t mean you aren’t protecting, and parents aren’t a passive shield. So she steps up to make the world a better place, for her kid, but also just in general.

This page is the culmination of Lon’s growth.

The zig zag of the final tier of panels is glorious as it focuses on Lon, and the movement, and not the actual violence.

PAGE EIGHTEEN

And so Milla becomes the one with the metal plumage now. That whole throne, her death, everything was built to this moment of flipping the intro.

The rest of the page is Lon dealing with the cathartic pain of what she’s become, and the world in which she has to become in. And Sami handles it all perfectly. The absolute carnage of Alex and Eric, and her one delicate hand says it all. She’s accepting, but that’s still a painful internal transformation to undergo.

Beside Lon, always with her, is Asia. Accepting, supporting, they are a team. As good parents should be. While the world twirls around them, they must hold fast. Their one true goal is the same, and becoming violent, seeing the world vastly change with these sleepers awakened all around, this changes nothing for a parent.

A parent protects their child, that’s the job. Protect, teach, lead, love.

PAGE NINETEEN

The future is safe. It’s unsafe for man people, but the actual concept of the future, the time ahead, is safe now. Things can still be amazing.

That part is probably just wishful thinking from me. I’m happy to cop to that.

This final image is the close of the story, really. The zephyr floats above, the city burns below, and will only get worse, and our two ladies are allowed a moment. Because if you pull back enough, you’ll see the world is a melting pot of emotion and action, and yet we endure. We find a way to move forward and find a way. We have to, there is no other option.

You search it out, you carve your own space, and you make a little piece of the universe yours. This is what Lon learn and hopefully we do, too. Keep moving and defend yourself, your ideals, and your love forever. Because on the horizon, you’ll find your island.

PAGE TWENTY

Okay, Coda time.

I always love a good coda. And I came up with the brainchild that because it’s a coda, we could use a different storytelling method. So we were allowed to use captions. But not just any captions, we could go crazy, use big arcs of words like BWS did in WEAPON X. man, I loved writing these pages.

This coda is Lon applying her lesson, showing us she’s going to be alright, she hasn’t forgotten.

It also teases out what’s happened in the aftermath of this mess: people are hunting the names of the sleeper agents, because some have managed to go dormant, and that scares people. But should it?

Isn’t acceptance the key, much like Lon told Milla. Fear is the problem, so remove it’s teeth. So Lon wait, ready to act, if needed, but happy not to if she can avoid it.

Also, dig that bear design, obvs influenced by Weapon X as well.

PAGE TWENTY ONE

We get the time frame now because we see Asia’s belly. We can see months have floated by, and the world is still there. Lon and Asia are still there.

Asia gets to describe the flipside to Milla’s beautiful canvas, which makes the title of the story take on a new meaning now, I hope. Every person’s beautiful canvas is the life they create, that they foster, and respect, and love, and craft for the future.

As these two bicker, as lovers are wont to do, we see Alex as a spectre, but a rather content one. This is the personification of Lon’s state of mind. She’s able to come to grips with her past, all of it, and understand it all in a broader lifelong, worldwide context.

Which builds us to the final page…

PAGE TWENTY TWO

I love playing the end against the beginning, and I’m 100% happy with how we’ve done it here. This is a wheel turn, but the wheel has advanced, so it’s the same, but it’s different. This is life.

I also can’t overstate how much Tree’s colours bring this whole moment home. They are such a difference from the opening page of 31 – and that blue horizon behind them calms me and makes me smile every damn time.

The book on the table is another Argento jam. I’ll let you google it, but know it’s not chosen for specific reference to story moments here, but more as just a neat bookend, and important because Lon has put that book down. She’s moved onto something new, a little less violent and horrific. But the book is still there, ready to be picked up, if needed.

Ending with “This has been THE BEAUTIFUL CANVAS” was something I thought up and then couldn’t not do. It brought it all together for me.

And that’s the story. Many have asked if I will do a sequel, and you can see here that people survived, so I really could, but I don’t have anything to say as yet. Lon’s lesson is so important, and is so complete here that I’ve certainly closed the door on this. But I’d be interested in coming back to the characters a decade later, as the wheel has turned many times, and see how they are coping, how the world has transformed as it’s moved on, and what their daughter is like.

Hell, I’d give her a sibling, without this curse, and see what family drama that breeds.

Now that I think about it…hrmm…

BACK MATTER

Truth, Beauty, Erudition – choose one

Fun, as always. And always nice to gush about your amazing team when they so clearly deserve it.

JAM SESSIONS

Okay, this one was a beast. I don’t know what I expected when Dan Hill and I entered a room to talk about Matt Fraction. Maybe we should have limited ourselves to just 1-3 books. Maybe. But probably not.

Matt Fraction looms over most of my work, and not always in ways you might expect. I just dig his work ethic, his devotion, the fact he’s busy as hell and manages it, and his quality. I don’t specifically want to write books like him – I don’t think I could, nor should, nor would. I want to write RKL books, but I want to always strive for more, so he helps me think of what that ethereal more might look like.

There’s too much to cover, but this might be my favourite Jam Session we’ve done yet. Or maybe it’s the worst, I don’t know. But I enjoyed it, and I hope you dig it, and if it gets you to try out one Fraction book you hadn’t before, then it’ll have all been worth it.

Also: daaaamn, that Kivela illo. Love it, as always.

THE TRUTH

Fraction took all the space, so we scrapped this. But I have one written. Maybe we’ll put it in the tpb.

And that’s us done. How sad, how wonderful. If you came this far, especially with the annotations, you are wonderful. Thank you.

There will be a tpb collection of BEAUTIFUL CANVAS at some stage. I know when, but can’t confirm just yet – set phasers for 2018 and some present buying for your smart friends, though. I will tell you when I can, because you should buy 5 and give them out at birthdays and for Xmas and such because it’s probably a safe bet your friends didn’t get it already, and if they are your friends then they are probably smart enough to get it and good looking enough to love it. Just like you are.

But until then, thank you.

THE TWO FISTED HOMEOPAPE – The Smell of a Number Edition

My newsletter lands in inboxes every Monday, delivering an update about my writing life, as well as considerations on making and writing comics, links to good fuel for your brain, rapid fire thoughts on the latest media I’ve squeezed into the week, and if you’d dig that kind of round up then click the image to go to the subscription page and get yourself a treat to start every week.

This week was The Smell of a Number Edition – here’s a sample:

“I know I know, I’m being political. And this is a newsletter about writing, right? So here’s something:

Be political. Be informed, be active, be angry, be as right as you can as much of the time as you can.

Because then you’re living a life where you’ve got shit to say. And the best stories have shit to say. Fence sitting/hand wringing isn’t a story, and it won’t drive your characters through to the end. I want to write stories about suicide and the diamond forming pressures of parenthood and the galactic failure of idiocy to lead and the infinite self-absorbtion we’re facing as a people. I want to stake claim to ground in those fields, and I want to do it by synthesising the world around me, and hating things, and wishing for things, and for being engaged.

The moment you shrug and let shit happen, well, you’re already dead. And so are your stories.”

To read more, be sure to HIT THE LINK and subscribe.

The Two Fisted Homeopape – The Whispered Mentions of 2018 Edition

My newsletter lands in inboxes every Monday, delivering an update about my writing life, as well as considerations on making and writing comics, links to good fuel for your brain, rapid fire thoughts on the latest media I’ve squeezed into the week, and if you’d dig that kind of round up then click the image to go to the subscription page and get yourself a treat to start every week.

This week was The Whispered Mentions of 2018 Edition – here’s a sample:

“Listened to Bryan Cranston on the latest Nerdist and he mentioned two major things that stuck with me and made me think about story planning and creativity.

He mentioned that old chestnut that Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman was only supposed to last a few episodes, he was Walter White’s plausible “in” to the world of meth. But then Paul slayed it in the role, and he got to stay.

And, that’s pretty cool, force of will, chemistry, and talent got me half a decade’s work, rather than just a few weeks.

But I got to thinking about what they did to the overall plan of the show for Vince Gilligan. Because the show is about Walter White breaking bad, but it’s also about Jesse Pinkman becoming unbreakable. That dual narrative is the entire heart of the show, and it clearly wasn’t there from the very start. Which is crazy, and kinda awesome.

And the other thing Cranston said was he worked with some professors to get into Walter’s head on that level, but he didn’t want to study cancer because he wanted to discover it with Walt, which is an insane idea, but is actually something I think rings true. I find I have to script a little to discover the characters and the world first, and it’s why characters start to break away from their plot outline because you’re now discovering the plot beats as they discover them, and seeing it as you better know them after inhabiting some page real estate with them.

Creating worlds and filling them with populations is some kind of wild alchemy, and I’ll always be wary of it.”

To read more, be sure to HIT THE LINK and subscribe.

RKL Annotations – BEAUTIFUL CANVAS #3

Beautiful Canvas is a comic from Sami Kivela, Triona Farrell, Ryan Ferrier, Dan Hill, and myself through Black Mask Studios.

Issue #3 was shifted back a week, but distance [of time] makes the heart grow fonder, right?

Below are my annotations. An inside look into my brain as I reflect on our making of this issue, and a chance for me to unpack what I’m seeing in the work now, and how I feel it connects on a broader spectrum. I hope you dig, and find something that’ll help your mind think/make comics in the future.

THE COVER – SAMI KIVELA

Sami came up with a bunch of those little warning signs for the cover and eventually chose the best ones to use. I love that Sami’s brain is constantly cooking when you collaborate with him. He’s such a gentlemen, and a crazy genius to boot.

I love that the gorgeous exosuit Sami designed gets some play here.

PAGE ONE

This page didn’t exist for a few drafts. I cut straight to Lon launching out the window to open this issue, and I’m glad now I didn’t. This flashback isn’t much on narrative, but it sets a character tone, and we get to call back to it later, so it pleases me so.

That idea of having a wide white bar down the side and putting text into it is very obviously something I stole from Brubaker’s work on KILL OR BE KILLED. I won’t try and hide that influence. And I’m actually happy with the excerpt from the book Lon is reading – sometimes those words never come to me, and sometimes they work. These one work [for me].

Seeing the girl twice playing on this page, when you know she dies in a minute, gets more heartbreaking every time I read this page.

PAGE TWO

Dig that exosuit superheavy design by Sami, and Tree coloured the hell out of it. Writing this sort of stuff is the absolute best part of the job.

Also really love how Sami timed this page to match with the final page of #2 so it makes sense for it to have happened and worked out. Sami’s layouts are genius for this kind of thing. You can also see that ghost reflection in one of the shards of glass and realise that Sami is damn well capable of anything on a page.

PAGE THREE

Choreographing everyone on this page did my head in during the planning stage. Who was going to react, how, where, why, and what would it leave them doing and where?

In the end, I don’t think this is my strongest page. It gets Asia moving out of the scene. It gets Eric to see Milla in the chopper, but it doesn’t do much more. It’s a bit thin, really. I like the pacing of Eric’s lines, and the passage they take, but they aren’t doing much.

“I’ll do better next time” is all we can say, right?

PAGE FOUR

Whereas this page certainly does something. We reveal this idea of ‘sleeper agents’ that Milla has access to and can activate. This should answer certain questions the answer might have been holding onto. Does it grab their face and scream the answer into their retinas? No. I want you to piece it all together. But it’s all here, coming to light.

THEY BOTH YIELD is a prime example of the way I’m giving info out. That title clearly tells you what I think of both of these characters, but it won’t say it outright. I refuse, and I hope you don’t mind.

PAGE FIVE

This page reveals Alex has run away from Lon, but we don’t show you Lon on the car, coming to, without him until the next page. Again, just the way I like to roll things out. I’m sure it’ll throw too curvy a ball for 1 in 10, but I think the rest won’t mind.

That plant horse is just madness, right? I sometimes feel like I could throw anything at Sami and he’d nail it. Also love that pink background Tree dropped on the mayhem. Makes it pop in all kinds of funky ways for your mind.

PAGE SIX

This is an instance of a boring page – Lon wakes, she gets picked up by Asia, they move to where the action is going to be – and yet I’m completely happy with it, and here’s why.

I used the page to show a little more about Lon, and even Asia.

Lon stares down the ghost of the girl she killed, and she walks away mid-sentence. She’s trying her damnedest to move on.

And Asia has just stepped up to show herself as this rad sci fi bike riding lady of action who isn’t going to back down from the situation. She’s going to stand by her girl.

The way Sami paced out Asia picking up Lon is really well done, and that bike is just crazy gorgeous. I think flying bikes are my new trope.

PAGE SEVEN

Okay, we see that Alex is a super danger to everyone around him, we get Lon and Asia moving to the scene, and we start to connect Eric and Milla. This page does stuff, but I’m not crazy excited by how it does it. It’s perfunctory, it’s just doing what it has to do. I did struggle with this page in the script, because I had characters who needed to get into position, and I had to place them into position, and that’s kinda all I did.

The sfx of the helicopter being dragged down into the road was my idea – and I’m not certain I made the right call with it.

I didn’t notice Sami snuck a CHUM Easter Egg into Panel Three.

Also: don’t ask me the timeframe on Eric getting to the downed chopper just after Lon and Asia zoom away.

PAGE EIGHT

Sami draws the best faces. His angry Alex is a sight to behold. That he can go from humanity to wild sci fi destruction in half a page consistently excites me. He’s an illustrator who is limitless, and writing for that is as much fun as it is anxiety inducing. You never want to waste what you’ve got.

The way Triona handles the building corner falling, and the pink background building to an emotional retaliation is lovely. Every panel always has so much feeling in it.

PAGE NINE

That big mess of rubble and a map is why artists hate writers.

I’m sure colourists hate writer, too.

Basically, writers are dicks.

But this page looks so good, and gives us such information, and it’s funky in a way only comics can do so beautifully. We get our guy saving himself, and then a showdown with Alex, and then fire across the page. There’s tension and time and space on this page. Sami did a great job with the duelling fire across the bottom, and we crosscut with Eric’s conversation with Milla just to layer in a bit more, and draw both scenes together a little bit.

PAGE TEN

People have wanted answers, and this page is what it looks like to get answers from me. Milla is somewhat oblique about it all, but she’s also laying a lot out on the line here. What she’s doing is clear, and the scope to which she is doing it. The rest of the page isn’t very razzle-dazzle, but you need to focus on these words. I need you to understand what’s going on.

PAGE ELEVEN

Milla gets one last dig in at Eric, about spreading who he is, and then we introduce Moore to the scene. Because things have to finally move on – you can see I’d be horrible at writing a 5 page sequence of talking heads because I’d constantly worry I was losing the reader. All i ever do is worry about these pages – is it too boring, is it too confusing, is it too lame…reframe, repeat.

Eric’s action against Moore is harsh, maybe not well thought through, but he’s operating from emotion now. Milla got under his skin.

PAGE TWELVE

Hot damn Sami and Tree know how to create pain and scope for their firefights. Especially with those inset panels, they make you linger, they drag you into the smoke and hold you there.

Asia drops a little more exposition – because the facts are rolled out slowly, and she has a plan. We also know she’s gutsy enough to try it, too.

PAGE THIRTEEN

I love the colours on this page, the heat of the yellow. You feel it all.

Then we get that panel, and Asia Prof X’s into Alex’s head. For me, she’s looking in there here and seeing a representation of what he feels. It’s not literal, how many of our thoughts and feelings ever are? But it’s the monster he feels he’s become in this short amount of time, it’s this horrible dragon he feels affinity with – which is a problem because he saw his mother as the dragon, too. He’s blaming her for what he’s becoming, which is totally unfair and untrue.

So Asia gets knocked down and we get yet more inset panels of Lon just looking at everything. She’s weighing up her options, she’s looking at what needs to be done against what she hoped was all she’d have to do. I needed to make Lon’s choice in this sequence difficult, so we build up her tension with the moments/panels.

PAGE FOURTEEN

“Kicking back the tide” is such a great saying. And so many of my characters will do just that, endlessly.

Eric is here to mess up Milla’s cabbage patch, and he openly tells her so. This is one of those ‘down’ pages, where for pacing you are setting up for the next moment. I just wish it did more for Eric or Milla rather than just a decent line for each one.

Though I do like that Sami seems to be driving the extra car, and he goes up in flames. That must’ve been fun, ha.

PAGE FIFTEEN

Those smoke clouds from Sami/Tree are just gorgeous. There’s such beauty in them.

Eric throwing Moore into that car is the end of his story, and what a way to close out. I liked Moore, but this was his abrupt stop, he doesn’t get a full looping arc like the others.

I like the angle Sami uses for the final two panels as we split Eric from the camera, we give that pause of time, that shift of focus. Sami’s an expert at making the physics of those moments work so well on the page.

PAGE SIXTEEN

This page is all about Asia giving up and Lon realising she has to take a new angle on things. The plan she’s been running with since like Page 4 of issue #1 won’t hold anymore, sometimes you’re a killer and you have to kill. So Lon has to make a choice, and act upon it.

That gun barrel inset panel, and the pink, and the sfx, is what collaboration looks like. Every person in the squad worked to make that moment pop like that.

PAGE SEVENTEEN

Lon approaches the scene, she’s cold now, detached from things. Asia is reactive and hustling, and all Lon can offer the solution is more bullets. She’s broken by now, and on a slippery slope towards the end of this issue. All roads are leading to this final page, now.

The briefcase full of fish is something I now wish was just real and able to be bought in some local market.

PAGE EIGHTEEN

Eric is completely sucked in here. And he’s processing, pausing, and then realises he can search for his daughter.

I wish I’d build a buffer panel between the 1-2 here, just to give his thoughts a little more time, even just a white bar, something. Reading it, the moment feels quicker, and I wanted it to be him really pausing and then realising what he can do with this camera.

Milla sees what’s happening, and she wants it recorded – which should tell you so much about her, and what she does, and what she loves. And at the same time, Eric looks back at her and he’s just giving up. He’s got his daughter on screen, and he’s…well, it makes more sense next issue, but this reaction from him is totally in character here. For this moment, he’s beyond thinking about Milla.

PAGE NINETEEN

This is the tipping point for Lon, where she sees this whole mess fucking up her world. This is what makes her realign herself, yet again.

Sami and Tree did such an amazing job of showing Asia walking into Alex’s mind by walking into his panel – all an idea from an edit by Dan Hill. I swear, everything you love about this comic exclusively was not me, haha. Though I did purposefully make Alex’s repeated word mean two totally different things across those two panels. He’s telling Asia not to come in, but then he’s chasing it by telling her not to care.

Again, Sami’s inset panels electrify the pacing, the transition of things. They also make me subtly think about that cut back-and-forth you’d get in ALTERED BEAST when levelling up. I’m sure that’s not what Sami was drawing from, but it’s what I’m connecting to.

That goddamn dragon and all it symbolises.

Alex turns now, not pushing Asia away, but rather pulling her in. Holding her in close for the body blows.

PAGE TWENTY

Sami gives us Milla, and her movement, and the drones, and even a sign pointing to the Market Square 5 miles away. Damn, he knows how to get everything you need right in front of you.

The rest of this page is dedicated to Milla being a dick and just enjoying what she has created. She can hustle her ass somewhere AND take little moments to engage with the art of her city.

And the look on her face says it all, she’s enjoying all this far too much. Also: dig that green background in the final panel.

PAGE TWENTY ONE

I used the word beautiful in this comic at strategic places to show you what the ‘beautiful’ of the title is – and it’s anything but our standard definition of the word. It’s usually the opposite, and it’s ghastly, and yet it’s also completely what’s captivating on the page and in a narrative. We love seeing the shitshow in stories, and that’s just how Milla views the real world.

How far apart are we, truly?

Lon is alone now. Asia is trapped in the head, Alex is out, and then the ghost appears, making her feel more trapped inside herself.

It took me ages and ages to get the right rewrite to unlock what the girl said here. Man, it was like pulling teeth, but I really think we pulled it together.

When she whispers, you can zoom in and read it. I always hate that squiggly line that means you can’t know yet. It gets me every time, so I couldn’t do that to you.

And so Lon turns a corner. She is truly sorry, and she is honest when she says she didn’t know how to save ‘you’ – which could be Alex, could be the ghost, could be herself. In this moment, she doesn’t feel like a saviour, she feels like a killer, and she feels like she’s giving up. So she aims the gun, at the ghost, and on the other side, in the line of fire, we see Alex.

Will the shot at least save Asia, she doesn’t know, but dealing out death, yet again, is all she’s got.

PAGE TWENTY TWO

I’m interested to see what people think of this final page. It’s wild, and silent, and so beautifully illustrated. Sami shows that bullet getting closer and closer – yet another ending splash that plays with time. Triona nails the concept of the flames and the heat intensifying.

I did have a movie title caption on this page until the final lettering draft, where I realised we just didn’t need it.

This moment wasn’t the bombast, not really, it’s about being inside Lon’s head to feel this moment drag out slowly. This is her death, come what may.

BACK MATTER

Truth, Beauty, Erudition – choose one

Starting to get into a swing writing these.

JAM SESSIONS

Man, Sami continues to slaughter these illos for these pieces, right? This one right here is just glorious, really something of beauty and value. Just like the flick it discusses because THE RUNNING MAN will be curriculum viewing within the coming decade, you better believe it.

THE TRUTH

Weird, tangentially connected, a delight to write. I wonder if anyone is really reading these?

And that’s us for another month. Join us on the final Wednesday of August as #4 lands and concludes this wild wild ride, you’ll see it on the stands because it looks like this:

The Two Fisted Homeopape – The Rundown Edition

My newsletter lands in inboxes every Monday, delivering an update about my writing life, as well as considerations on making and writing comics, links to good fuel for your brain, rapid fire thoughts on the latest media I’ve squeezed into the week, and if you’d dig that kind of round up then click the image to go to the subscription page and get yourself a treat to start every week.

This week was The Rundown Edition – here’s a sample:

“My Writing Ticks!

John Lees recently wrote about his writing ticks, and what genius ticks they are – hit up his newsletter to always learn more – or back him on Patreon because he’s one of the sharpest dudes I know, and always executes plans so you know it’ll be a good place to give a monthly tip – and it got me thinking about what my own writing ticks are.

In a slight moment of introspection, I found a large one.

Water, and underwater creatures

I’ve long been fascinated and scared of water. There’s a mystical unknown about it that just lures me in constantly. I seem to use water heavily in many stories, and it’s often more than just a location, it’s an element to the foundation of the story.

So HEADSPACE had its answers out on the water, and the monsters in NEGATIVE SPACE came from the water, and salvation might have been out on the water in CHUM. BEAUTIFUL CANVAS and DEER EDITOR have mostly steered clear, I think, but [THE ENYA PROJECT] deals heavily in the location of water, and [THE PLANET SNOWBLOOD PROJECT] is a whole mess of ice.

Another pitch also features water as a kind of MacGuffin.”

To read more, be sure to HIT THE LINK and subscribe.

My Newsletter – A Study in Madness and Shame

I write a weekly newsletter about my life making comics that I send out every Monday. Perhaps you’d like it.

I love writing this newsletter. It’s a personal insight into who I am and what I do. It’s a journey. And it goes straight into your inbox, waiting for whenever you are ready, and you won’t miss it [unless you choose to].

It’s 2017 and nobody actively checks sites anymore, blogging feels dead. Social media is wonderful, but so heavily weighted down with dread lately. When cities burn, you feel like a fool fiddling as you talk about how many pages you wrote that day. Or maybe social media needs that, too, it probably does, but sometimes opening up the portal to connect means other stuff connects with you. It’s heavy on the heart and I openly admit I need my time away from it. I need to have enough heart for my own family, and children I teach, and worlds I create [and destroy], etc.

Plus, when The Natzis! start doxxing people, you start to reconsider how open and accessible you are online. I mean, I guess white grand wizards could just subscribe to my newsletter, then I’d be screwed, but I live in hope to be off their radar.

Anyway.

So I have this weekly newsletter and it’s the space where I’m really personal. It’s the space where my week is summed up. It’s the space where if you don’t exist in my weird pockets of the Australian Space/Time Continuum, you can catch what I’m up to.

I write a recap of sorts about my writing week – what I’m working on, how it’s going. I try to unpack my writing process, what I do, how and why. I want anyone reading it to get a sitrep on me, but maybe learn something through that process they can use themselves. I love nothing more than when someone replies that they loved the process slices in my week – especially when it’s an artist realising how writers tick.

Then I rapid fire out a suggestions of things/links you might dig – podcasts, interviews, articles, kickstarters, etc.

Followed by what quality media I imbibed that week and what I took away from it, good or bad [though I tend to usually only spend energy focusing on the good and helpful].

There’s a corkboard of dates for things coming up that’ll feature me or my name.

Then I drop some kind of After Credits Sequence – a little something for those who read all the way down. Could be an After School Special closing quote. Could be a weird short story. Could be a rant. Could be crap. Could be a link to something, or a cheeky heads up about something coming up.

Most newsletters come in ~1500 words, lately. The biggest ever was 5k, but I won’t be trying that again any time soon. They rarely dip under 1k. They should feel worthwhile, without being laborious. Should be.

Anyway, yeah, I write a weekly newsletter about the comic life I chose [not the comic life that chose me].

I really think you’d dig it.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE TWO FISTED HOMEOPAPE HERE

Oh, yeah, it’s called The Two Fisted Homeopape – I figure if you get where those two elements have come from then you’re going to love my newsletter. Enjoy.

RKL Annotations – BEAUTIFUL CANVAS #2

Beautiful Canvas is a comic from Sami Kivela, Triona Farrell, Ryan Ferrier, Dan Hill, and myself through Black Mask Studios.

Issue the number #2 is live in the world, and we are all exceptionally proud of our work. I actually think it’s one of my better second issues, and I know if you’ve already scoped that final page that you know we’re leaving things with a big ol’ boom, so we hope you’re hooked by now.

Below are my annotations. An inside look into my brain as I reflect on our making of this issue, and a chance for me to unpack what I’m seeing in the work now, and how I feel it connects on a broader spectrum. I hope you dig, and find something that’ll help your mind think/make comics in the future.

THE COVER – SAMI KIVELA

I think this is my favourite cover for the series.

Maybe.

Man, I never can tell with Sami. His cover game is so airtight, I had this problem with CHUM, too. I could never pick a favourite cover.

I loved #1, but this one is just truly beautiful. The layout/design is spectacular. And yet it’s so seemingly simple. I think it’s this striking balance that draws me in every single time. Lon is front and centre, and Sami has her covered in pencil shadings. Like she doesn’t belong to the pop funk world around her. She’s looking down, she’s thinking, she’s all brain.

But the ground is electric with colour, and with hidden danger. That puddle of a dragon is subtle enough, but still enough to be emblematic. And I love pink as the colour to tie it together. Between the Evorah in NEGATIVE SPACE and this book now, pink has become a colour I am loving for my projects.

That pink logo also pops like crazy, it’s my favourite colour variation of it so far.

PAGE ONE

Maybe just put the comic down right now and raise both hands in a little round of applause for Sami and Tree here, right? This dream sequence is just all kinds of brutal, and the ink wash approach was completely right, and Tree just makes it feel haunted.

From memory, I initially scripted this brain dalliance as just a smash cut from the end of last issue, but somewhere along the way [and let’s be honest, it was probably at the suggestion of Dan Hill] we put Lon into the first panel, dead in the water, because I think it would connect things better, as well as raise the stakes if the audience thought she was dead.

Alex sinks into the water and Sami drew those tears in as he drops and it’s just…brilliant. He’s dropping away, but then looks up one last time. And the way Sami layers all of these panels, everything overlaps, juts into, maybe hides behind. It’s got this fractured quality to it, like still images that appear around and after one another and not quite a linear flow of storytelling. It’s a dreamlike quality.

I love that Sami drew Alex’s mum with a ‘#1 MOM’ logo on it, makes this callback to her work way more effectively.

We get the two hands about to touch through the surface of the water, a little touch of creation to foreshadow a touch of destruction.

Sami draws a nasty looking evil mother turning into a dragon, doesn’t he? That final panel makes one hell of a page turn, and I’m actually proud of the phrase that splits the page. It’s this weird dichotomy so many characters feel in this book, and here it’s finally given words.

PAGE TWO

I sent Sami the script and the next day woke to an email of him cursing me out. Because of this page :]

But I told him I knew he’d slaughter it [and he knows if not, then he’s got complete carte blanche to change the page up, because I trust him], and he told me he also knew he’d kill it – but it was gonna be crazy work. And I’m sure it was, but tell me this page wasn’t worth it.

That dragon is so intense, Sami really brings each line into play, and the hand/claw pushing Alex down deep into the darkness across those panels is just gorgeous. The faces surrounding that central strip are haunting. Everything on this page builds tone, including Ferrier’s letters for the disembodied voice. This page is a design beast in regards to placing the reader into the world.

And then we end with Alex on the shores of a distant land – so far, they are the antipodes of where he was. The page being upside down was a way to really reorient the reader, show they how drastic this move for Alex is. He’s getting away from that old life.

PAGE THREE

I’d assume by this page, away from the dragon, away from the funk, when the reader sees we are still in this muted landscape they will assume something is amiss. This isn’t real.

I love that dragon silhouette in the sky beyond the building, like Alex’s subconscious up there, never far away, never forgetting, always dangerous, but something you can hide from.

I considered making it Room 237, or something, but went against the urge.

This here is our real introduction to Asia Benchley. As she walks through Alex’s mind. The apartment full of water should be the dead giveaway. It’s an idea I’ve used more than once in my head and on certain pieces of paper. It intrigues me, and I don’t even truly know why.

The final line from Asia brings so many truths home. Truths about Lon, as well as Alex. No one wants to kill anyone here, but if they felt they needed to, well…what would happen?

PAGE FOUR

The transition to Lon’s line here is meant to show that Alex is somewhat hearing what’s being said. He might be passed out on the couch, but it’s all sinking in. As happens with all little kids.

It’s also me trying to play Lon’s transition into this new scenario with as much honesty as possible. I didn’t want her certain she’s made the right choice. This kid just took out a kill squad, he’s clearly pretty messed up. This shouldn’t be an easy decision, this was something she rashly did, and now she’s honestly dealing with the feedback it’s giving.

Because when I write impossible worlds, that feature pyrokinesis, I want to be as honest as possible :]

Then we just drop a tonne of exposition through Asia. Though I still try to make it sound like honest conversation. So Asia talks about knowing what’s in Alex’s mind, but she doesn’t outright say she was walking around in there. I think it’s clear enough on the page, but I couldn’t stand to have her explaining something to her girlfriend that Lon would so clearly know.

With enough of that out of the way, we then cut to the character meat of the page. Lon is not only prepared to kill Alex if she needs to, but she’s open enough with Asia to admit such a thing. That should be two bombs dropped in the one line.

And after such a line, Asia gives her a kiss on the head. If you can’t figure out their relationship from this page then you really aren’t reading.

PAGE FIVE

The line here where Lon tells Asia to step into her head, yeah, *this* is the expositional line explaining what Asia can do. This is where I work it in, and how. I don’t think it’s clunky, it’s pretty clear, and it informs an actual new element of the scene, not just sitting there to explain itself.

And Asia’s reply [“I told you I’d never do that, because you told me I’d never have to.”] is a line also serving dual purpose. It really doubles down on how much these two love/trust each other, but it also allows me to build a gap between them. A divide where Asia won’t just have her all figured out. Or won’t go in there and tweak until she’s fixed things.

I love the way Sami weighted the page. The top half giving us the build up, and the bottom half giving us the payoff. And what a bottom panel – I think this harkens back to the structures Sami and I played with in DEER EDITOR. The top half being one page, the bottom half another. So the top here works on its own, and kind of page turns into that half-page splash. I mean, a better writer would have had that kiss on a full splash, but honestly, who has that real estate lying around?

So we cut the page and give the emotional beat space in the bottom half and Sami just lays it out perfectly. Lon and Asia kiss and it isn’t salacious, or full of lust, this is just two people in love looking after each other. The space around them is so well weighted, and then the image of the girl in the window brings it all together for us. Lon’s head still isn’t on straight, there are still problems floating along. This just isn’t going to be a fun ride for her.

PAGE SIX

Establishing shot of a new location, a tailless balloon with no character in sight, and that person using a sarcastic nickname. Yeahhh…it’s like I’m daring the reader to keep up as I try to confuse them.

A caption here would make things so so clear, but I just couldn’t do it.

I was never sure about this set up, I feel like it’s a big swerve to get Moore to figure out where Lon took Alex, but I fell in love with the idea of the toothpaste delivery of this weird city-ambience connectivity drug. THAT part I just had to do.

I must have scripted that interaction he has with the guy on the toilet a dozen times. I never felt like I was making anything clear through their chat, I really stressed it, but I think we kinda got there in the end.

Hopefully the bottom half of the page gets us there anyway because Tree’s funky red background for the toothpaste is so wild, and then she and Sami just jam so well on that mirror turning into this weird circuit board in his mind as he freaks the fuck out.

PAGE SEVEN

FLAKK is one hell of a SFX for toothpaste spitting. Enjoying hearing it for the rest of your life now.

That second panel with Moore post-freaking out, that background, those eyes, hell, that skin tone. C’mon, like Tree isn’t your colouring idol now. She brings so so much to this book, she’s a phenomenal storyteller.

Moore comes out of his buzz the exact same way I come out of unlocking a major piece of any story – swearing and tapping furiously into my phone.

And so now we have a great way for Milla to know where Lon and Alex are, but they also get connective tissue on another plot element…

PAGE EIGHT

So now we know Eric Robinson is connected to this in deeper ways. And he’s back into the narrative stream, loitering around the building where Lon and Asia are.

Man, I’m still digging so hard on this rad jacket Sami gave to Milla. It’s just one of those beautiful things that happens on the page and you gotta smile. Then there’s her crude response to her snivelling assistant. Again, she is so much fun to write.

I had to choose my lines from her here carefully – because I had a lot of options to choose from. How she spoke about Eric mattered, what analogies she used would show how precise I would or wouldn’t be. Dan flagged the double negative of “When you unlock a secret level, you don’t not enter.” And I looked at that line a lot, and I totally know what he means, but I hope it glides into your brain smoothly anyway.

I hope – because hope is all you have when you ignore your editors note :]

That bottom panel is so cinematic. It also gives the page this weird sweeping camera motion, like we start above the building, and each panel brings us lower, until we are looking up at the chopper as it takes off. It’s a really well laid out page.

As for the movie title – KILL YOUR DARLINGS, AND WRITE IN THEIR CHALK OUTLINES was a tweet I wrote like 3-4 years ago. I loved it then, I love it now, and I completely love how it works with this moment. It completely matches that idea that Milla is building a story here, she’s participating in art, and she’s totally down to ‘kill her darlings.’

I want to use this line again for my memoirs. #copyright [<—that’s legally binding, right?]

PAGE NINE

This page is all about setting up Milla’s mindset and methodology – I think maybe I give more time to that than just watching Milla chew up the scenery. It’s because Milla’s whole schtick is so large. She’s set all of this up just to watch it unfold, and when it goes awry, that’s okay, because the narrative swerve is merely to be absorbed and appreciated.

The whole narrative of the book hinges on the fact Milla sets this up, and then rolls with the punches. This story is her beautiful canvas. So I hit the point, and her point, more than once because it’s important to everything. This is who she is, and we have to believe it.

She would literally shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die.

But then, at page’s end, she kinda reverses it by telling her assistant to just shut up and enjoy the ride and not overthink it. Which is also my head, too.

PAGE TEN

This concept – the room tabula rasa, with the very first thing for their baby – there’s something poignant about this room. I’m sure it’ll be skipped over by half the readers, but hopefully a white room amidst this funk pop story stands out, and people look into it for a moment.

Lon is in here, with only the future around her, and yet she’s brought one thing in – the girl, the past, her problems. This is exactly what’s wrong with Lon at this point in time.

I think Asia mentioning the timeframe here is the first indication we get of when that very first scene took place, where Lon killed the girl and got the phone call from Asia, and where it related to the now. There was a week between, enough time to think, enough time not talking to be a problem.

Lon still doesn’t talk. Think how much time passes between Asia holding the ice creams, and then them being open and eaten. Lon is at such a loss.

I called for the centred panel with the floating text because I wanted it uncertain whether these things are spoken or just body language assumed. That relationship shorthand of silence is so powerful, and capturing it in a different way on the page intrigued me.

Oh, and I totally chose Cornetto’s because of Edgar Wright, don’t @ me.

Oh, shit, and notice how Tree uses those orange backgrounds to show love and connection, and the red/pink for danger. I just noticed that orange now. Damn, she’s so good.

PAGE ELEVEN

There’s a lot of info truncated here, basically for real estate. The idea is that Asia’s landlord is some kind of building overlord [I kept thinking like in THE RAID in my head] and he’s got his goons conducting a sweep of the building…ostensibly looking for something, most likely looking for Alex.

I rewrote these panels a bunch of times to jenga in what I NEEDED the reader to know, amidst what got it across smoothly.

Lon mentions a Betamax because it’s as ubiquitous in this world as Ello is. Just another perk of playing in your own reality.

The differing opinions/options given by these two parents-to-be is fascinating. Lon is over-protective, trying to prove herself, and Asia is pragmatic. Resourceful.

I love that red hand of violence.

PAGE TWELVE

The image of Lon suiting up, that this normal apartment had this funky sci fi suit in the cupboard, is just another attempt at subtle gonzo pulp integration.

Lon and Asia arguing across those tall panels just feels like great Sami storytelling. The relationship argument while getting changed taken to the next level. With a little dose of extra exposition about Alex and his powers.

The goons interacting through the door and its voice accessibility is yet more set-dressing for this future. But it also allows this moment where the script flips and the goons hear the door announce it’ll open. A great way to transition the page with that inset panel, it has this cinematic feel – you can see that moment occurring in a silent beat on the screen right before the noise starts, right?

However, the greatest moment here is that Dutch angle on Lon standing ready to fuck shit up. I love this panel, it’s an example [again] of Sami taking something simple written and just elevating it visually. Pure genius.

PAGE THIRTEEN

Fight. Page.

This right here is where you get out of Sami’s way.

You can draw the zigzag down the page repeatedly to follow the links between panels, the flow of weapons and blows and arms. It’s a masterclass. Then match it with those yellows from Tree, and you’ve got a wordless page that I find endlessly readable.

PAGE FOURTEEN

Lon is representing outside and Asia holds the party line with her, now protecting Alex.

These trancer goons just came out so damn well from Sami. Love those yellow visors. I wish I got to play with their joint speech a little more.

Asia reflected in his visor looks killer. But I hope I didn’t script for that. I doubt I did, I’m rarely that clever.

That inset panel of him grabbing Asia’s shirt is just a great segue to the quick mindscape panel of her going “full bane” on him and snapping his neck. But only doing it in his mind ,not actually in person. Which is something I hope people get.

PAGE FIFTEEN

This page came out so damn well. I did script this idea, but it was so damn easy to script, but then seeing how Sami and Tree pull it off, well, that’s just alchemy.

Lon is carving up that room, and is most likely punching that last trancer square in the dick [which I didn’t script, but really wish I had].

Asia is looking, but also very obviously missing Alex – great staging by Sami, and the helmet flying in is pure genius [def didn’t script that one].

Then Alex hiding and sneaking away is so well handled, and having the feet at the door wasn’t in the script, but it adds so much more to this page turn, as does the inset panel of Alex looking up with that face.

I also remember getting the page back and thinking Tree was a genius for the colour changes across tiers, and then checking the script and seeing that I called for it. One of the very very rare times I’ve been ahead of the curve with a colouring note.

PAGE SIXTEEN

I’m hoping this dick-punching action swerving into a talking heads page messes with the flow with enough of a jarring impact that we all kind of feel like Alex in this moment.

Tree made that drink pop green and I love such a bold choice.

This was yet another page where a tonne of redrafting finally got me there. That balance – what do I need to express, what’s going to feel natural, what’s just enough. Eric has to drop some knowledge, he confesses that he’s got something similar to Alex – which is a tease into his abilities. He talks about how shit it feels, and this all teases his past, also.

I also had to pick the right examples for what it felt like. Just the right levels of dirty.

And then we kick in the Junkie XL jams as we drop that final panel. Sami draws faces so damn well. It’s one of the main things I try to script for him, because he nails it every single time. Totally on point emotional, slightly overplayed so to be heightened, but never comical.

And then that red eye.

PAGE SEVENTEEN

The entire sequence of Lon smashing the window, grabbing Eric, dragging him in, and punching him was one I just couldn’t see. Mapping that out wasn’t something I had in my head – in fact, I so rarely see locations in my mind first, especially when it comes to buildings/rooms. I’m lousy for it. So scripting this was kind of a Hail Mary, and you hope Sami can land it.

I mean, of course he can, so it’s maybe a Hail Mary from 30 yards out, but it’s still this blind zone for me.

For me, this page isn’t as exciting as the others, it’s a scripted moment to transition us from one place to another. These are the pages I want to refine. I think Lon punching him in the face is fine, and their banter is fine, but this is what I need to tighten up.

Though Sami’s inset panel of Alex is dynamite, and a great springboard into that final callback line that pushes us across to the next page…

PAGE EIGHTEEN

I love the way Sami draws fire. I didn’t realise it so much until we got stuck into this book, but now it feels written for him because that fire is so good.

Asia running in to help Alex, too cool his mind, is something I wish we could have given more real estate.

I do dig the idea that Eric can’t speak because Lon has lifted him up, and so we use the caption, but I wonder if it’s…necessary.

Eh.

I think the bigger problem is Eric’s reaction to all of this. He’s subdued because the story needs him to be. This is my weakest moment.

PAGE NINETEEN

The pose of Lon, and that inset panel, are my two favourite things on this page. That Sami also got the helicopter into the background is the third.

I gave Asia that line to make it sound like she’s mentally helping with his pain, but I don’t think I nailed it with clarity. It’s a band aid solution to my hack writing, and it’s not sticking.

Milla reading this whole thing like she’s reading a comic cracks me up.

This moment that finally ties Lon into this connection between Eric and Milla.

Though those two eyeball reactions to Eric’s line are for very different reasons, because each person hears the truth they know.

PAGE TWENTY

I’m hoping by this page, with Eric being so chill about his arm, that you think something extra is going on. Then Eric unpacks his story in as few words as possible, basically because. Who wants his whole life story? Hell no.

Milla is incredulous, and Eric is in charge again. He knows he’s in on this one, hook, line, and sinker.

Then we get Alex turning, with those eyes, which is totally just a metaphor. The dragon within him is alarmed. I wonder how many will take it literally, or hate that it’s not really. I wrote it as a lead in to what happens next. These eyes are the windows to his soul.

PAGE TWENTY ONE

The layered balloons was a gamble that I’m hoping pays off. It’s Alex hearing whatever the hell he’s going to hear, because in this current state he’s going to be pretty damn emotional, and also because it helps us justify what happens next. It’s all set up.

I think I scripted maybe 5, or 6, panels for this page. Sami truncated things and improved the flow so much. That second panel of Alex just looking out sells it all. You know what he’s thinking, so then your mind can fill in all the closure it needs between panels because you know the location and the character motivation, so you can participate and place the characters around the room a little.

PAGE TWENTY TWO

This page was an idea I had scripted, and I saw it taking place in complete profile, using the time of panels to show Alex falling. But then Sami did it from above…and it’s so much better, right?

But I think it’s the inset panels of everyone’s reactions that I love the most. Great idea from Sami.

Then there’s the colouring getting darker as the page descends, and Alex falls into darkness. I love it.

And I wonder if anyone noticed that the shards of glass coming out into the air kinda resemble a set of dragon wings. Because the dragon within is the beast to control.

I wanted to end this issue strong, make people definitely feel a whole lot about coming back for more, and so we planned this out quite early on. Alex jumping to his death, us watching him go down, it’s brutal. You have to come back next month to know more, right?

BACK MATTER

Truth, Beauty, Erudition – choose one

Fun, as always.

JAM SESSIONS

Damn, look at that LOOPER piece. Utterly stunning, Sami continues to crush it on these.

I liked doing this Jam Session with Dan Hill because I genuinely unlocked a few new things through the course of it. I also firmly had this flick’s aesthetic in mind when coming up with this world, the aesthetic, the genre mash up rules, the time period. Even had the score on a lot while scripting it.

THE TRUTH

Another fun page to put together. I can only hope some people dig these.

And that’s us for another month. Join us on the final Wednesday of August as #3 lands, you’ll see it on the stands because it looks like this:

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