Archive for the ‘Nerd Life’ Category

It’s been a little over one year since I launched my website Hard Coal Studios A lot had preceded that moment and a lot has followed since.

For years I’d wanted to make comics and do other projects as well, but with comics the biggest obstacle was I’m not able to draw. Many times over the years I’d met people and had the old “Let’s make a comic book” conversation and it never went anywhere (with the exception of one time I met someone who I did a mini comic with back in 2005).

Long story short but I ended up teaching in Korea in 2006, and after staying there a few years realized that someday when I come home to America I’d have some money saved up and would maybe be able to get some projects done. This got my gears turning and I started making plans. Almost every year I was there I thought next year I’d be coming home. During the spring of 2009 I started working on a poetry manuscript that I assumed I’d be publishing soon.

Over the years I’d always written more poetry than prose, but after re-reading the Frankenstein novel I had an idea for my own Frankenstein story. I started working at that, but sometimes it was coming slow. One problem I often had was trying to do too many things at once. It was fall of 2010, a few months prior I discovered an MMA gym near my home and I was excited that they had a cage. I’d been going there a bit strictly for fitness, and before class I’d go to a PC room to attempt some writing. I was able to write a bit, but this schedule wasn’t working for me. The year was coming to a close and I figured I’d only be in Korea another year and a half or so. My goal was to finish this story before the end of the year, but something had to give. I realized I needed to give up the gym and just go home and write every night. (Plus let’s face it I’m not going to be a cage fighter. That ship has sailed lol)

Lots of people talk about writing and being a writer but one of the hardest things is actually writing every single day. It was a moment of clarity to realize that this really is what it takes. Coming home every single day after work and writing for hours, reading, revising, not goofing off, etc. And this was just for a seventy-some page story. But the year came to a close and my story was done (along with another project or two actually). It was one of the most satisfying experiences of my creative life.

At the end of the year I realized I would in fact be leaving Korea in about 9 months. I had my prose and poetry done, but what about my comics? I’d written various comic scripts/ideas over the last few years, and had another occasion or two of “Let’s make a comic” that went no where. So I still needed a comic. A few years prior I’d heard about Andy Schmidt, former editor at Marvel Comics and IDW, who also once taught college. He started classes in New York City specifically for writing for comic books. There’s tons of writing classes but nothing like this was ever done. I’d actually planned to take these courses but then realized they were now offered online. Spring of 2011 I took the intro course, (Comics Experience btw) occasionally my students would see me on my computer watching the class and were excited to see and wave to people on the other side of the world.

After getting a few sites recommended to me I placed an ad online for a comic book artist. I literally got over 100 responses. I wanted to be professional and responded to all of them. Many great artists contacted me but I could only pick one. I contacted my choice and emailed the others thanking them for their submission. One memorable response was something like “Well I guess you don’t want cool art and cool storytelling.” I wrote back reminding them to be nice to the people they see on the way up, because they’ll be seeing them on the way down.

In October of 2011 I left Korea. The week after I got back I went to the New York Comic-con, one of the bigger shows around. If I really wanted to I could have sold my book here, but I really wanted to attend this as a fan. I’d never been to a show this size. I finally got to meet and shake hands with Stan Lee, along with many other creators I liked. It was a blast. Even aside from the show I was just thrilled to be back in New York City. I also made contacts with some podcast people, and met Andy and others from the class.

One thing I hadn’t given thought to was web-comics. I always wanted to have a web-comic but again it was the same old. In NYC I attended a panel to pair up writers and artists. It was here I met Sarah. I told her about my comic, which was in the style of the old monster movies. She also liked those and we really hit it off. Thus Shock Value, a humorous monster strip, was accidentally created. My website now had a web-comic.

Another panel I attended was the standard “How to Break Into Comics” panel hosted by the head guys at Marvel Comics. The short of it was self publish, do the convention circuit, give it ten years and maybe you have a chance. That advice wasn’t discouraging on the surface, but what was discouraging was hearing this in 2011 at the age of 34, and remembering 11 years ago asking someone to make a web-comic with me to no avail. We can’t live backwards, but we also can’t help taking a moment to wonder what could have been.

Back home I started bringing it all together. One day in late 2011 my comic was finally printed. Many people suggest for writers to start out with small 5 page stories and/or something online. Maybe it’s because of my age and not growing up with web-comics, but I just needed to have a regular comic book in my hand that had my name in it. And now it was finally done.

Another ad and another 100 submissions to find an artist for the cover of my Frankenstein book. The first submission was the best one. Soon Frankenstein and my poems were also in my hands. Surprisingly enough just before Christmas a friend from Korea whom I’d had one of those “Let’s make a web-comic” conversations with emailed me out of the blue with a complete set of a finite web comic series we’d talked about years ago. Synchronicity again.

Everything was set and one day soon after the new year I officially launched the site and put the link on my facebook. That spring I would have four weekends in a row doing signings. I did shows in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and MOCCA in New York, where someone from the Poet’s House took a copy of my poetry book for one of their exhibitions. The weekend after that was Free Comic Book Day at my local comic shop Legendary Comics and Tea Room. That June I did Heroes World in Charlotte, before being featured reader at my old poetry group in PA, and doing hitting a poetry club in Charlotte I used to go to. Along the way I was also interviewed a few times on podcasts and youtube shows, they were lots of fun.

All in all I was happy to finally be doing this, but the truth is it can be really brutal. Indy art is a tough game. At shows I made a point to not leave my table much and to stand as much as possible and talk to everyone I could. Still it’s long hours with stretches of time where nothing is happening for you. It’s a real endurance test. Can you take it, can you maintain this? Can you do this for ten years to maybe have a chance of getting something bigger?

I didn’t make any plans for myself after Charlotte because I didn’t know what I’d be doing with myself job wise. Another long story but I reluctantly headed back to Korea almost exactly a year after I’d left. There’s so many people that talk about doing something and never do, and then there’s people that do it once and disappear. I was no longer a talker, but I was afraid of disappearing. Fortunately I’m still able to put another comic book this year, and some other writing projects are coming along as well.

It is too bad that I couldn’t have started this ten-thirteen years ago, but we are here today. The internet is a better tool now than it was back then with social media and the like, and print on demand is a godsend to the indy artist. However, since it is easier per say to make your own media, it is even harder to stick out. The thing is you have to try. That is my personal philosophy. I can live with not “making it.” I can’t live with not trying, I have to try. It’s like the Rocky thing, the point of my favorite movie, is that we don’t have the right to succeed, but we have the right to try. As I said, it is absolutely brutal, but, as another favorite movie of mine says, “Without pain, without sacrifice, we would have nothing.”


Reflections on Liking Anime

Posted: July 14, 2009 in Nerd Life
Tags: ,

One Saturday back in high school I was home alone flipping through the channels. Not having many friends and not much better to do, I caught the first Sci-Fi Channel festival of Japanese animation. I may or may not have heard of Japanese animation before, I can’t remember. In Elementary school I watched Voltron, Tranzor Z, and Star Blazers, but had no clue they were Japanese.

Anyway the first movie was Robot Carnival, which didn’t interest me much, (but is probably better than I remember it.) it was some anthology or series of shorts. Next was Lensman, somewhat entertaining but an obvious Star Wars rip off. With two movies in what kept me watching was the different style of animation that I had not seen before. Plus, despite the perceived mediocrity of the two films, I appreciated that this animation was not for kids, and encompassed different genres. This uniqueness held me to the next movie, which probably purposely aired at a late time slot.

The third and final movie was Vampire Hunter D. Need I say more? A dark post-apocalyptic tale of a lone cloaked mysterious figure who turns out to be the son of Dracula. At first you think he’s crazy because you think he’s talking to himself, (I thought he was talking to his sword.) but it turns out there’s a sentient being attached to his hand!!!!!! Wow. With said hand he took his sword and fought all kind of nasty monsters and protected the innocent. It was gory, violent, action packed, and it rocked my teenage mind. An anime fan was born that night, and I thought I’d love this stuff forever.

The internet was in its caveman days back then, and I didn’t get online until college. So anything I learned about anime was from the Sci-fi channel, or through the occasional magazine at the local comic shop or at the mall. From these sparse sources I learned about this wonderful culture of Japan where they make animated movies for all ages and genres. There were animated horror movies, action, sci-fi, comedy, romance, you name it.

Not only that, but everyone read comics in Japan, where they were called manga. This magical manga was even read by businessmen on the subway, and it wasn’t uncommon for comic stories to be 1000 pages plus. While my little town had a small comic store that sold baseball cards and jewelry to stay afloat, Toyko had stores that were 6 FLOORS of anime. HEAVEN!!!

During the springtime of the next two years the Sci-Fi channel repeated the festival of anime, where I got to see movies like 8 Man After, Lilly Cat, Venus Wars, Project A-ko, and a few others I can’t remember now. What I do remember is this stuff put America to shame, blowing Disney right out of the water. NOBODY was making stuff like this. To me Disney was a shit stain on the ass of global animation.

Through what little information I could find, there was one movie lurking in the background. Not quite ten years old then, it was based on the 1800 page comic by Katsuhiro Ottomo (Yes I still remember that name) and directed by the same man. That movie, was Akira.

Ahhh Akira. The current generation of anime fans, raised on Poke”Mon and Yu Gui Oh, have no idea what Akira is. To my generation it was the standard that all other anime failed to live up to. Released in Japan in 1988, it was available stateside on VHS at some specialty shops and catalogues, but it commanded the hefty price of $40. Around 94 or early 95 I’d read about some distribution deal that would allow more anime to come to the US at normal prices. Soon Vampire Hunter D and other movies I’d seen or heard about appeared in tiny sections in the back corners of video stores. Akira would be coming soon.

It was the spring of my senior year, 1995, and it was time to go on the Science Club trip to New York. (All the Science Club did was go to New York) I knew if I could find Akira anywhere, it would be in New York City. (Again pre-internet, pre etc.) Right at the end of the day, I went into some chain record store and got it. I still remember walking to the register with tape in hand and some black guy sitting nearby yelling at me. “If you ain’t gonna buy anything GET THE F#*K OUT MOTHERF#*$ER!!!”

My friend Chuck looked at me asking “What did he say?”

“Never mind just keep walking.”

Needless to say, wow. Best animation I’d ever seen. Intense, incredible story line, amazing. A cartoon that’s both thrilling and philosophical. It’s such a dense movie. At a solid two hours the first half of it feels like 4 hours, and the last hour feels like 2. It honestly feels like a 6 hour movie. Action packed to say the least, I mean come on there’s an explosion like every 5 minutes!

As I’m writing this I’m reminded of just how truly amazing that time was for me. I mean seeing Akira at the age of 18, in 1995, my god. It’s like when our parents saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show, or when our grandparents read Action Comics 1 for the first time. Once you get past your early 20s it’s rare to have something come along in pop culture that truly blows your mind. I remember taking it to my best friend Jim’s house right before I graduated. I sat in his chair as he approached the VCR, about ready to put the tape in. He looked at me with that grimace on his face and said “Is this gonna kick my ass?” And it did, all over the place.

I went nuts. Again this was before the internet when anyone could know about everything. The end of the year I showed up to school with AKIRA RULES written on my arms. NOBODY knew what this was, only weirdos like me knew of this glorious thing called Akira. I was like a fucking prophet, spreading the gospel of Akira. AKIRA RULES on my name badge at camp. AKIRA RULES on big signs taped to the door of my first college dorm. Akira rules, Akira rules.

Yeah, college. So I went to college and met more people into anime. At the first meeting of the Role Playing Guild, the room lights up like a Christmas tree when I mention Akira. Why? Because Akira rules, and I’d found a place where people knew it.

College went on and those Anime sections in record stores expanded, and I got to see a few more movies. A few new titles came to America with some hype, like Ghost in the Shell, and after college Princess Mononoke. I saw both, bought the former, enjoyed both but neither reached the status of you know who. (Ghost in the Shell had one preview that was a collage of several animes. One of which I always wanted to see, but never saw it sold or aired anywhere. The Adventures of Tom Thumb.) Comic magazine Hero Illustrated (Which I LOVED) gave a good review for The Wings of Honneamise, which lead me to seeing one of my all time favorites. The thing is, as I got to see more anime I realized that I wasn’t actually liking a lot of it. Besides the fact that the animation was neat many of the stories just weren’t that interesting. My interest was starting to fade.

A few years out of college I went to Otakon, a huge Anime convention in Baltimore. The year I went there were over 12,000 in attendance, and that figure grows every year. Pretty good time, but I couldn’t help but notice a lot of REALLY YOUNG girls walking around in racy outfits. Couldn’t help but think, if I had kids, would I want to bring them here? Would I want my daughter going to something like this? Hmmm….

A few more years go by and one day I walked out of an anime club held at a comic shop. I had several reasons for leaving, one of which was “WE WANT TO SHOW PEOPLE THAT ANIME IS NOT JUST PORNO STUFF!!!” Okay… A year or so later I ran into one of these fellows, who informed me the club now meets at one of their homes due to the adult nature of what they now watch. Consequently, one of the nicknames of this guy around town was The Tentacle Sex guy.

In February of 08 I was in Japan. I’d been there a few times before, but this time I finally saw the legendary 6 floors of Anime. There were several stores like this in the electronics market area of Tokyo that I visited. These were the places we dreamed of when we were 18. 6 floors of Anime heaven, and I was finally there. Though at the age of 31, I had a feeling about what I was about to really see. So I go in the first floor, look around, and its nothing but girly stuff. Okay, well maybe the next floor has Robotech and Akira and cool stuff like that. So I go upstairs, girly stuff. Surely the third floor will have something interesting. Nope. 4th, floor? The same. 5th and 6th floor, you don’t even want to know. Six floors of Anime babes with ludicrously large perfectly drawn breasts, and other nastiness you can’t imagine. I walked out of there ashamed of myself. I felt like my name was about to be entered in some pervert database or something. Another store next to it was the same, and I didn’t bother looking anymore after that. Ironically I’d seen stores stateside with a more interesting selection. Maybe it’s not fair for people to think that Anime is nothing but porn, but there’s a reason they do.

I miss liking Anime. I miss thinking it’s cool. I miss watching something animated that blows me away with something I’d never seen before. I still like what I like, but just haven’t been interested in following the scene for a long time. Oh well, such is life. The thing about making something for everyone, is you’re making something for “everyone.” In the meantime, I’ll just sit back and watch Disney’s Robin Hood.

But Akira still rules.

Originally published on myspace on 8/13/08