Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tasty, Tasty Brains!!

Coffee. Or should I say coff-feeeeeeeee!

I try to limit my coffee intake, but with the lack of sleep since the birth of our second child my wife and I have gone from just enjoying that morning coffee to craving it. Our eldest child has taken to mimicking a phrase she has picked up from her parents ... "Brains! Tasty, tasty brains!" ... which is our morning mantra before that first cup of coffee.

We have a nice little espresso machine that makes a damn fine cup of the bitter black nectar. My wife likes her coffee like she likes her men ... strong and black! Wait a minute, that's not right?!?! Hmmm ... well, I've been known to have weak, white, frothy vanilla lattes, so maybe I like my coffee like my wife likes her men?

Does coffee help you write? It certainly can help me get started in the morning. However, I fear that it allows me to write crap at five time normal speed, rather than write anything decent. Still, without coffee I'm sure I'd struggle to get five words down all morning on a day like today. Today being May Day. Workers of the World Unite!

I was told once to write in the mornings, and edit in the evenings. Spew it out when you are awake, hack it to bits when you are tired. Yet, lately I find myself editing in the mornings. I wonder if this has anything to do with my coffee consumption? I tend to be up and about first in the household, but that first cup has to wait for everyone else ... the machine makes a bit of noise. So I open up my computer and hack through the ramblings of the previous day.

Then I have that first cup, and my mind is spanked into writing mode ... or at least spewing mode. Mmmmm. Coffee. I'm gonna go make a cup right now.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Men in Drag

I have a story in my head that wants to come out. There are quite a few bashing about in my head, but this one is being the most aggressive in its attempts to get my attention. I've been resisting it, holding it back. Why? Because the main protagonists in it are all women.

Writing women as a male writer is something I'm always worried about. I don't want them to come across as men in drag. The story that wants to be written is about three very strong women, but all of them flawed. I've come to know the three of them rather well, as they fight to get out of my head and onto the page. I know what they like, dislike, read, watch, eat, and do for fun. I know very intimate details about each one, including things they would never tell another soul.

I think they're well-developed characters, but there's a nagging voice inside my head that tells me that there's a problem. They are all very sexy women who take off their clothes on stage.

Comics are a male domain for the most part. Many comics feature attractive females in skin-tight outfits with gravity-defying breasts for the simple reason that males, in particular boys, like looking at pictures of these women. If I write this story, and by some miracle it gets drawn and published, is anyone going to notice the writing, or will it just be fodder for young boys to use under the blankets at night with a torch? Will anyone notice how well-rounded the personalities of the women are if their physical assets are also well-rounded?

By its very nature the story does contain 'sexiness'. There are scenes in my head that are rather provocative. Am I wanting to write this story to please the teenage boy that still lives inside of me, clutching his torch tight to his chest? Is that a bad thing? Can I then justify it by adding a veneer of characterization and sophistication over the sexiness?

Am I just trying to stop myself writing by over-rationalizing? Or do I just think too much?

Art copyright Simon Morse

The Art of Housework

Simon has a new website. Well, it's just the home page so far, but that's pretty amazing.

I got distracted by housework this morning, so nothing got written. My wife tells me there's nothing as sexy as a man doing housework. So later I plan to scrub the kitchen floor. Does that make me a scrubber?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Lawrence of Aruba

Something a bit different today ...

    Call me Larry. Most people do. Especially the ladies. Well, that one lady. At least I think she was a lady. Anyway, that's not important. Sand. Sand is important. There was lots of sand. White sand. Stretching as far as the eye could see. I built sandcastles.
    My tour guide, Mr Dryden, said to me, "Lawrence, only two kinds of creatures don't have fun on the beaches of Aruba. Dweebs and losers, and you are both."
    "No, Mr Dryden, it's going to be fun."
    He just looked at me and laughed.
    The hotel room was not what I'd hoped.
    "Mr Dryden, this is a nasty, dark little room."
    "That's right," he said.
    "I am not happy with it."
    He smiled a smile full of gold teeth, bubble-gum and cheap rum. "It's better than a nasty, dark little trench."
    I couldn't tell if he was bad-mannered or just half-witted, but he was bigger than me, so I just smiled back.
    The next morning on the beach they had camel rides. Somehow I felt drawn to the camel. The camel felt drawn to my sneakers, and chewed holes in both of them. It sucked half a toenail off my left big toe. I hadn't been sucked that hard since ... well, since that 'lady' who called me Larry. Nice girl. big hands though.
    The camel ride operator came up to me and said, "Are you badly hurt?"
    I looked up at a cute brown face, framed by long, dark hair.
    "I'm not hurt at all," I said. "Didn't you know? These sneakers are made from hemp grass. I care about the Earth."
    "Me too!" She hugged me. "Would you like to come to a rally tonight?"
    "Um, sure," I said. "I love cars."
    "No, silly." She giggled. "It's a friends of the Earth rally. We are trying to stop tourists destroying the beaches."
    "Oh? What's destroying the beaches?"
    "Well, the camel shit isn't doing it any favours."
    She gave me a flier with an address and time for the rally.
    To pass the time before the rally I went to a beach bar. The bartender looked me up and down.
    "This is a bar for rich tourists," he said.
    "Then I'll just have a tap water, thanks. And could you put one of those little umbrellas in it."
    I nursed my water, twirling the umbrella around the glass. A short fat man in a white suit came and sat at my table.
    "Can I buy you another drink?" he asked.
    "Sure, tap water with an umbrella," I said.
    "Water?" He looked impressed. "You're drinking the tap water in Aruba? Have you no fear, American?"
    "My fear is my concern," I told him.
    "And the concern of your trousers."
    He pushed an envelope across the table.
    "Open it."
    I did. Two tickets to Cats, playing that night.
    "I can't take these."
    "It's only a local amateur production," he said. "They were not expensive."
    "I'm allergic."
    He looked confused. "To cats?"
    "No, to cheap vinyl seats and stage smoke."
    He lost his temper. "You, sir, are a clown!"
    "We can't all be Cats lovers."
    "I was only trying to save you from yourself, sir. You must not go to the rally."
    "And Cats tickets was all you could offer me?"
    He was yelling now, his eyes bloodshot. "What in hell do you want. Lawrence?"
    "Like any single male tourist, I just want my ration of local ladies."
    "You are a fool. Think who will be at the rally, and who you are."
    He stormed out and left me to finish my water. I felt all warm inside. Warm and queasy.
    I knew who would be at the rally. She would be. She was cute and sexy. And I was horny.
    I skipped dinner. Just didn't feel like food for some reason. The flyer said the rally started at 8 pm. I arrived fashionably late at 8:02.
    "You came."
    There she was. Smiling at me. Wrapping her arms around me.
    "Not yet, baby. But maybe later." Sometimes the old jokes are the best.
    She was holding me tight. Very tight. I felt ropes being tied around my wrists.
    "Whoa! I don't mind the kinky stuff, babe, but maybe we should be alone first?"
    She slapped me across the face.
    "Shut up, yankee capitalist scum!"
    "Are you sure you don't want to do this back in my hotel room?" I asked.
    She laughed. A cold, cold laugh.
    "Don't you get it, Larry. This is an anti-tourist rally ... and you are a dirty, lowdown, sleazy, yankee tourist of the lowest order."
    I could not let that pass.
    "That's just not true," I said indignantly. "I'm no yankee. I'm from Arizona."
    They maneuvered me over to a pile of wood and tied me to a post. Torches were lit, and they began to dance and chant something about burning and capitalism. Quite catchy, with a kick-ass steel drum solo.
    The pile of wood was lit, the flames rose higher and higher. I knew I was going to die. At that moment I realized that the lady--the one who had called me Larry and sucked my toe as hard as the camel--had an Adam's Apple. How could I have been so stupid. I screamed a tortured scream to the heavens.
    Then my stomach churned, flexed, and voided itself in a violent spray of tainted water and shrimp cocktail. It seemed to go on forever. I twisted my body this way and that until I slumped against the pole, empty and exhausted.
    The fire had gone out. Smothered in a spray of liquid solids.
    The anti-tourist rally goers fled in terror, crying, gagging, and screaming in horror. I was alone.
    Hours later I freed myself from my bonds and staggered back to the hotel.
    The next day, as I boarded my flight home, a smiling stewardess asked me if I had enjoyed my stay in Aruba.
    "On the whole," I said. "On the whole I'd rather have gone to Niagara Falls."
    "Oh?" she said. "Do you have a fondness for large amounts of rushing polluted water?"
    "I certainly do," I said. "I most certainly do."

Dedicated to my old friend Kerrin Jones, who once went to a special showing of Lawrence of Arabia at the Embassy and fell asleep. But he said he only missed the bits in the desert.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Rockin' and a Reelin'

My wife got me a bass guitar for my (mumble-mumble) birthday. I try to play every day, even if it's just a couple of riffs. At the same time she got herself an acoustic guitar. We don't play together as much as we would like, as usually one of us is looking after the kids. But we both like to hear the other one play.

Then we got our 4-year old girl a drum kit. For some reason people keep telling us we are insane. We are lucky enough to have no near neighbours, so she won't be annoying anyone but us. To be honest, the sound of her banging away at the drums is better than any of the other noise-making toys she has, which are all tinny electronic sounding things that make dogs howl.

It's a full drum kit, but half-size. The assembly instructions were missing, but I found a website for putting a regular kit together, and they worked out fine. So far she's resisting learning anything constructive, but has a repertoire of numbered 'songs' that she plays for anyone who cannot escape. She gave a concert for the man who cleaned our fireplace chimney the other day. Luckily he had kids of his own and was very understanding.

Recently I have been thinking about music, and other sounds, in comics. I once sat down and looked at some of the things I had written and realized they had very few sounds in them. My writing was mute, aside from speech. I have a long-term plan to correct that. I'm not going to do anything as ambitious as P. Craig Russell's Opera comics, just add some sound into my writing ... from a bouncing noise as something rubbery hits the floor, maybe a song on the radio, to a cataclysmic explosion.

So every time I pick up my bass to play a little Green Onions, Shaft, My Sharona or Fever I think about comics. Every time my wife plays guitar or my child plays drums I think of comics. I love it when distraction activities can be rationalized into part of work.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Noodles in the Noggin'

I've been told by various people, mostly Rufus, that I've picked a bad time to switch careers to comic book writing. The "global economic downturn" ... a phrase meaning "Oh, my god, oh my god, there's going to be a class war once they work out we are taking all their money" ... means that publishers are scaling back.

But, like the old Soviets I have a five-year plan. Basically, until my youngest child gets to school age I can write without expectation or publication. After that, well, maybe I'll get a job with a name tag and a uniform ... or click on one of those web-ads that promises me I can earn $1500 a week from home?

So far the signs have been promising. Someone, namely Simon, is actually drawing my scripts. At least two people that aren't my wife are reading this blog. And there are "green shoots of recovery in the economy" ... a phrase meaning the rich feel they can still get richer, and they may drag a few stiffs up from the gutter on their way up.

In the meantime I buy "Hope Tax" ... a phrase meaning the national lottery. However, the powers-that-be seem determined not to pick my numbers. It's a conspiracy I tells ya! If I win there one thing for sure ... I won't post a blog about it. I still keep writing though. Writing isn't a path to success ... it's a means of keeping the noodles safe in the noggin'.

Art copyright Simon Morse

Saturday, April 25, 2009

This Brain is Closed, Please Try Next Brain

Comic book writing is not my only current job. Nor is it my main occupation. I'm a stay-at-home father first, and everything else second and third.

In general being a house-bound father does leave me plenty of time for writing stories, or at least day day-dreaming about them. However, the last few months have been some of the least productive of my life.

The reason I've been struggling with writing is because I've been struggling to do anything at all. We have a new baby in the house, and he is wonderful, but he does make sleep a rare commodity. So writing has been limited to this blog and Straitjacket Ninja. The blog because it motivates me to write everyday no matter how brain-dead I'm feeling, and the nutty ninja because he is easy to write.

There's a host of other stories queuing up in my head, but they can wait since they require development, which requires active thought. Straitjacket Ninja is easy to write because he's clear in my head. He's familiar and fun. An old friend. He's been bouncing around in my head for years.

I have to admit that when Simon suggested reviving the looney lunkhead I was worried I would quickly run out of ideas. However, the realization that the stories should focus more on the people SN interacts with than on his straitjacketed self means the ideas just keep flowing.

There is no pressure on me to write SN scripts. Simon has other work to draw. We don't have a publisher for it yet. The scripts that exist at the moment may never see the light of day. But it's all practice. It's keeping me believing that I'm a writer during a time where I'm not even sure I'm human most mornings. So even if Straitjacket Ninja never makes it he is still really important to me. The insanely constrained one is keeping me sane at the moment.

Friday, April 24, 2009

So how long have you been a woman?

I think it's because I'm following a friend's blog, The Cliterature Blog, that I've been thinking about gender issues more than usual. I commented -- that should be ranted -- to my wife about how gendered some of the cartoons my eldest child watches are. How, for example, the male powers in one superhero show are all physical, and the female powers are more mystical and magical, and somehow weaker.

Then it hit me. My current writing was very gendered. Straitjacket Ninja is a bit of a boys comic. It's a throwback kind of strip. The women in the first episodes are either victims or delusional. I immediately put on my hair-shirt and chastised myself. Woe was me. How could I atone?

I looked at my episode plan. Strong male characters, delusional females. One nice female villain, but still rather insane. Then I realized that a major character in the current storyline was male in my head for no good reason. In fact, making the character female made more sense. Suddenly the whole storyline seemed better, more logical, and -- dare I say -- deeper than it had been.

I'm a big, dumb male. Most of the stuff I have read or watched over the years has had a strong male bias. It rubs off. But hey ... I'm trying. After all, I have some very strong females around me who have been known to (mostly metaphorically) kick me in the bollocks if I get too stupid.

Art copyright Simon Morse

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Why 'Someone Wrote That?' ?

Someone asked me about my blog title the other day. It's because I've heard many comments about comics along the lines of, "Someone wrote that piece of crap?". There seems to be many people who assume comic book scripts just congeal from the ether. Or possibly are what's left after someone has regurgitated onto a piece of paper.

"Just let the bigger chucks drip off there, mate, and it'll be a winner."

Comic book writer does seem to rank somewhere below jingle writing and political speech writer as a profession. Maybe above reality TV show writer or magazine horoscope compiler, but only just.

It doesn't help that comics are a very visual medium. They have pretty pictures. Pretty pictures are nice. We all like pretty pictures. I know I do.

Sometimes in a comic the art and the words look at war with one another. I have, buried in a box somewhere, a Barry Windsor-Smith comic* that starts with a high-speed flying car chase. The stunning artwork suggests the whole sequence takes a few seconds. The word balloons, however, are huge and take minutes to read. The writing isn't bad, it just seems to be having a temporal war with the art.

Yet, all-in-all, I find writing comics is much more satisfying than writing prose. I mentioned my years as a non-fiction writer in previous post -- it was a bit soul-destroying. My attempts at fictional prose all seemed to lack something. Pictures, maybe?

I got some short stories published, but most never made it out of my desk drawer. Somehow handing over a comic script is easier for me than sending out a short story. The story is finished ... stands on its own merit. The comic script is merely a stepping stone to something greater ... a drawn comic.

So the title of this blog is a joking response to anyone who buys comics for the artwork alone, who gets the artist to sign the cover but not the writer, and who just don't really care what happens as long as it looks cool. Someone wrote that? Yes, they did. Sometimes you may wonder why they bothered. But other times you may remember the words as well as the art.

*see, I'm a writer and yet I remember that comic only for the artist. I sincerely apologize to whoever wrote it for not even noticing who you were, but at least I'm trying to join you in the same relative obscurity of the comic writing profession.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

R I P microbes

Simon's all better, and back drawing.

Cat box

The current Straitjacket Ninja script I'm working on is numbered 17. Six-pages in which the nutty ninja interacts with a stray cat.

I'm a cat person. We have two-and-a-half of them. Two we feed, stroke, de-flea, talk to, and play with. The half-a-cat is one that sneaks in late at night and eats whatever the other two have left behind. This stray black and white cat is old, judging from the fur at it's temples, and very cautious. It has let me stroke it twice, purring each time, but it doesn't seem to want to repeat the petting in a hurry.

My wife is less enamoured with the half-a-cat than I am, mainly because it has been responsible for occasional puddles of pee in various corners of the house. However, she puts up with my attempts to make this stray our third cat. She is a very understanding woman.

The stray cat in the script is black and orange, because that's the colour specified in the classic song, Stray Cat Strut by the Stray Cats. I've borrowed and adapted snippets of lyrics and the title, from the song for the story. Our straitjacketed ninja envies the freedom of the cat, and reveals some of the mixed-up workings in his less-than-sane mind.

I found this episode slow to write because it focuses on the twisted logic of the hero. The first incarnation of SN back in the 90s was a very one-dimensional character -- based on a stand-out doodle of Simon's on a page of random ideas. This time around we have worked hard to make SN something more than a one-joke parody while still retaining the silly and wacky things that made him locally popular in the first place.

I quickly constructed the skeleton of the script, noting down what needed to happen on each page, coming up with the actions of the cat. But the words coming from the mouth of our straitjacketed hero eluded me. I knew the kinds of things he needed to say in order to make it a story. I knew what drives him, how he sees the world. But for some reason the words wouldn't some out of his lips.

For the last few days I kept coming back to the script. Deleting a line or two. Adding some punctuation. Messing with it, but not really getting anywhere. Then one night after a few glasses of wine, when the sleep deprivation from living in a house with a wee baby was really starting to take its toll, the ramblings of Straitjacket Ninja just poured out. My zonked brain was in just the right mood to channel the speech of the insane one.

All that remains now is to add some panel descriptions and tidy things up and another script will be done. I'm already churning away on the next one in my head.

Art copyright Simon Morse

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Of writing past ...

When I was a wee lad I wanted to be a writer. I started writing an epic novel of spaces battles and galactic conquest which ran to about eleven pages before I gave it up.

At high school my worst subject was English. I enjoyed writing, spent a lot of my spare time writing in one form or another -- particularly once I'd discovered Dungeons and Dragons, a game that encourages the creations of entire universes -- but when it came to being graded my writing only ever got me C and B's. Maths and Science got me A's. So it was bye-bye to English.

I went to university, got a degree in Physics, was unemployed for a while, worked with computers for a few years, and then got a job in a comic book store. One day I asked my boss at the store: "How do you write a comic book script?" He didn't know. It was the days before the internet, so there was no quick and easy answer.

In the 90s some of my scripts made it into various local New Zealand comics. We all started to think we could maybe even make a living in comics. We didn't quite make it.

I went back to university and did something fun. History. Oddly enough the combination of Physics and History got me writing work. I started writing for textbooks and other educational publications on the history of science. I was still a student, but was getting so much writing work something had to give, so I packed in university halfway through a Master's degree and became a full-time writer. The picture above is the cover of one of the many over-priced books I contributed to.

The deadlines were often very tight. Just a few days to research several topics, write them up, and send them off to join the hundreds of other poorly researched articles that would be published alongside.

I became disillusioned at how inaccurate most of it was ... for example, I rang up a university in the UK for information about a deceased professor and ended up talking to him on the phone. II had just read an encyclopedia entry that had listed his date of death. He told me much of my draft article on his work was incorrect, even pointing out in detail the publications that had first got the facts wrong, and how those 'facts' had then been copied into book after book by writers just like me.

The other nagging problem for me was the assumption that since I was a science writer I therefore could be given assignments on any branch of science. Medicine, biology, geology, computer science, chemistry, environmentalism ... it didn't matter that my background was in physics and seventeenth century history, I was given articles to write on nuclear waste, artificial hips, obscure computer terms, and host of other things I had no right to write about.

I wasn't that sad when the textbook work dried up.

So I've tried writing before. Even made money off it. But this time around I get to focus on the kind of writing I want to do. Thanks to my very supportive wife I have a period of grace to churn out as much writing as I can with no pressure to make anything of it. Let's hope her trust in me pays off. She deserves it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Ghost of Comic Future

Simon has been busy pencilling Straitjacket Ninja scripts, and has sketched out the first five, and fully inked the first two. The pencilled pages, in all their un-inked glory, are ghostly grey apparitions of comics to come.

For me the pencils are great. They show you that it will all work out in a little while. They tell you that everything will fit in the pages, just like you hoped. Pencils are comic book appetizers . They prime you for the main course of inking.

I have very little artistic talent of my own. A few years ago I went with Simon and his friend Michelle to give some young school-kids a short talk about comics. They asked questions, we burbled on a bit, showed them some censored highlights of what we had produced, and then the teachers got everyone to draw a comic strip of their own. Mine was judged to be the worst in class. It deserved the award.

So I'm always amazed by anyone who can take an idea and turn it into art, and I'm always a little awed and overwhelmed when someone takes my words and creates a comic using them as a starting place. It's nice to be able to write something as vague as ... "Straitjacket Ninja leaps at them from above" ... and see something as real as this frame as the result. And that's only the phantom pencils. When it gets inked it will only get more real.

Art copyright Simon Morse

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Copernicus calling collect

Window-pane glass is not a liquid.* Despite the number of textbooks that will tell you so, a pane of glass does not obviously ooze to the bottom over time. Some older panes do have a bulge, but that was created in the cooling process when the pane was made, and often that bulge is at the top or side, depending on how the glass was fitted.

Spinach is not packed with iron. It was a misprint in one publication that was slavishly copied again and again. But that mistake did give us Popeye, so it wasn't all bad.

I once talked to a dead scientist on the phone. Spooky? No, his date of death had been accidentally given in a cheap encyclopedia and copied into other publications. He laughed. I turned a bright shade of red, which I could get away with on a phone.

But wouldn't it be fun to live in a world where glass was a liquid? Where spinach did make you strong, instantly? Where dead scientists could be contacted by phone? Where the moon landings were fake? Where gravity could be switched off with a utility belt?

I was recently given a book that is a hodge-podge of bad science throughout the ages. Atlantis, perpetual motion machines, cold fusion, twin earths in opposite orbit. It gave me story ideas, one of which I have started writing down. The others are still wriggling around in my head waiting for their opportunity to fly out one day.

Maybe that's why I like writing so much. It allows you to create worlds where just for a while you can believe the impossible is commonplace. Where fish swim in your window panes, and Einstein is on line three. On Heisenberg's party line you're never certain who's listening in ... and why can't I get caller ID to work for Schrödinger?

* at normal temperatures. It becomes molten only at temperatures higher than 500°C (900°F), usually much higher depending on the type of glass. While glass, like all materials, could be technically said to flow at normal temperatures, it is at a rate so slow that it would take longer than the age of the universe to notice any change.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Die, microbes, die!

Simon has been sick with some as yet unknown stomach ailment. He had to go to hospital last night and have a drip inserted. By which I mean fluids were given to him, they didn't ram me head first up his ... well, you get the picture.

Get well soon, Simon.

Art copyright Simon Morse

The Dogs of Venus

I recently watched a TV show that was foretelling the world of the near future. What surprised me the most was how close it all was to the future I had been promised as a kid in the seventies. Flying cars, cities on the moon, and pills to give us all we needed to survive. I just wanted to scream out loud enough so all the current crop of kids who were watching could hear ... "Don't buy it. It's all lies!"

The future of my childhood has become the present, and it has let me down. I was promised a hover car. I was promised casinos on the moon. I was promised a Martian mistress and a Venusian dog. How could they lie to me like that? For the same reasons they do it today. Because they make money out of our hopes and dreams.

I wonder how much money has been spent on the hover car over the years? Do we really want hover cars? Wouldn't they be the most dangerous, energy-inefficient mode of transport since ... well ... the SUV? Hover cars are best left to fictional worlds, where fuel efficiency and motor vehicle accident statistics can be blissfully ignored.

Venusian dogs do seem to be a reality, though. They are a peculiar breed of alien pet that buds from the lining of expensive handbags. They have basic mind-control powers that allows them to take over the brains of the weak-minded and shallow, manipulating them into foolish acts and spending sprees.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Boxed in

Collaboration is a strange thing. When I write a script for a comic I have a certain image of it in my head, but I try not to overwrite the script in terms of layout and detail. After all, the artist is the one whole knows all the technical stuff about composition, angles, lighting, and so on. I just like words.

Maybe some of the people I have written for would say I do overwrite. I do admit to getting carried away. But in the collaborative conflict between the artist and writer the artist usually wins ... after all, they get to go last.

What amazes me about the whole process is how often you get back artwork that is almost exactly as as you pictured it in your head. Sometimes it is even better.

When Simon turned up with the pages of the first six-page Straitjacket Ninja episode I was blown away. Some pages were just as I'd imagined. Some were better. Just one little detail kept nagging at me...

The box.

The box that the numbskull ninja calls his home had been bigger in my mind. Simon had drawn it as a a tiny box, so small that SN seemed to burst out of it.

It bugged me at first. Mainly because the second script had a scene in it where a small boy looked into the dark box and could not tell if anyone was in it.

I should never have worried. Simon not only made it work, he made it better than it had been in my head. Now I can't imagine SN in any other sized box than the one Simon has drawn ... a box that is a little Tardis-like at times, but now has a life of its own, and features much more prominently in the story-line than it would have if it had been like I had originally imagined it.

So the size of the box still nags at me. But only because I wish I'd thought of it.

Art copyright Simon Morse

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Where do stories come from?

There used to be a theory, back in the days of horse-driven carriages, Queen Victoria, and the British Empire, that horse-hair turned into earthworms when it rained. There was lots of horse-hair everywhere. Then it would rain, and the horse-hair would be gone, but earthworms would be everywhere. Therefore rain turned horse-hair into earthworms. Simple.

I often thought that coming up with stories was a bit like this. You have a bunch of horse-hair ideas, something magical happens, and you end up with wriggling little earthworm stories. But last night I had a different thought about the writing process.

It was about 3am ... I'd been awake for an hour because my youngest child was hungry, and had let his mother know this by crying. I was drifting back to sleep, since I don't have the working parts to partake in the feeding process, when my eldest child starting crying.

In the ensuing scramble out of bed, and related actions that followed a fly buzzed past my head. I swatted at the pesky fly, but it dodged and flew off to a different part of the house. That was when I had my thought.

Stories are like flies.

They start with a dead, decaying corpse of an idea. Something half-imagined once upon a time, or half-remembered. An idea that never grew up, but just choked on its own inconsistencies and went belly-up. Then the maggots move in.

The maggots take then dead idea and turn it into a wriggling mass of new strands of thought. By the time they are finished the original idea is mostly gone, perhaps only a skeletal remnant remains, but the story has taken flight as a swarm of flies, off to infect other dead and decaying thoughts with more maggots.

I'm lucky in that I have large amounts of maggots in my head at the moment, and all I have to do is help them grow up to be flies. It all reminds me of one of my favourite songs, Maggot Brain by Funkadelic, "I have tasted the maggots in the mind of the universe, and I was not offended." Even typing that I just had to air guitar some of that song.

Here's hoping some of my little flies get published someday soon.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I'm an aspiring (adj: meaning hasn't got anywhere yet but hopes to soon) comic book writer. Back in the 90s I was part of the creative team of Pistake, a New Zealand mini-comic that had some local success. I was fortunate to encounter and write for some very talented artists, including Rufus Dayglo and Simon Morse.

Recently Rufus prompted me to get back into writing, so I wrote him a ten-page script that he'll probably never have the time to draw, and wouldn't sell anywhere if he did, which concerned a young boy, a bully, and a dead hedgehog.

Then Simon suggested we dust off Straitjacket Ninja, a character that had a cult following in the Pistake days, and even appeared in a couple of issues of a US comic, before sliding into obscurity.

So I've taken virtual pen to virtual paper and written a dozen or so six-page scripts of Straitjacket Ninja for Simon, and he's drawing away in monkish seclusion, at least when he's not building additions to his house.

The new-improved Straitjacket Ninja is a bit less 'zany and crazy' than the original, by which I mean it actually has a plot this time. The artwork is amazing, Simon has really outdone himself. Now comes the part where we try to sell the thing to someone for money.

In the meantime I'm writing other never-to-be-drawn-or-seen scripts, including something with vampires, one with burlesque dancers, something else with time-travel, yet another thing with a space-fish and a super-intelligent moss that only speaks in movie quotes, a story about a one-hundred year old man inside a hollow earth, and some one-off scripts with aliens and cigarettes.

Artwork is copyright Simon Morse.