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Nexus Graphica
by Rick Klaw

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Paul Benjamin
Alan J. Porter
Bill Williams
Muppet King Arthur
Spike: The Devil You Know
Eddie Hope
Angel #28
World of Warcraft: Shaman
Pantheon High
Boom Kids!
The Unauthorized Batman Collectors Guide
Hermes Press
God Shop
Cowboy Ninja Viking
Flight Volume Seven
I Thought You Would Be Funnier
Recent Books of Interest
Cowboy Ninja Viking Volume One written by A.J. Lieberman art by Riley Rossmo (Image)
Cowboy Ninja Viking Volume One Duncan suffers from multiple personality disorder. Within his psyche rests four distinct individuals: a cowboy, a ninja, and a viking with Duncan functioning as the ringleader. Lieberman and Rossmo use this high concept as the centerpiece for their fun, conspiracy-laden adventure story. A failed super soldier experiment created an army of Triplets, people with three personalities all with different extraordinary abilities. Rumored destroyed by the government, Triplets re-appear, led by one of their own. The experiment's creator, psychotherapist Sebastian Ghislain, summons the most powerful of the Triplets, Duncan, to confront the progeny. Often confusing, at times grotesque, and always fascinating, Rossmo's monochrome art perfectly propels Lieberman's exciting, parody-riddled script. Sadly, the fascinating tale collapses near the last page when the series reaches an unsatisfying, all-to-quick conclusion. Even with its flaws, Cowboy Ninja Viking delivers an original, enthralling story.

Flight Volume Seven edited by Kazu Kibuishi (Villard)
Flight Volume Seven Similar to the previous seven books (Volumes 1-6 plus Flight Explorer) of this extraordinary anthology series, the 16 stories in Flight Volume Seven offer creators from around world employing a variety of genres: fantasy, science fiction, and slice-of-life ranging from serious to whimsical. While not as impressive as the previous volume, which I included among the Nexus Graphica Top Ten for 2009, most of the always beautiful stories rise far above others in the medium. Justin Gerard's anthropomorphic tale "Live Bait" relates the interesting search for a swampland killer. J.P. Ahonen's unemployed ninja returns in the amusing "Kenneth Shuri and the Big Sweep." "Premium Cargo," magnificently envisioned by Kostas Kiriakakis, recounts the emotional final days of an airship captain with his winged foster son. Kate and Steven Shanahan rely on over the top shenanigans for the humorous "Fairy Market." The lovable monster Jellaby delivers some sage wisdom in Kean Soo's "Guardian Angel." As with the earlier volumes, Flight Volume Seven deserves a place in any finer collection.

I Thought You Would Be Funnier by Shannon Wheeler (Boom! Town)
I Thought You Would Be Funnier Best known for creating the iconic slacker Too Much Coffee Man, cartoonist Shannon Wheeler always entertains with his humorous observations of relationships, politics, and society, in multi-panel stories or as in the case with I Thought You Would Be Funnier, single gag panels. A regular contributor to The New Yorker, this volume collects Wheeler's cartoons that the respected publication rejected. Though always funny and insightful, several of the strips may have been to caustic for the magazine. The second strip in this volume has two women sitting at a table drinking wine, one of them looking over an open newspaper, with "Here's one: 'an unattractive incompetent man seeks an attractive bitchy woman for a sitcom-type relationship.'" scrolled across the bottom. Perhaps not New Yorker material but hilarious nonetheless. Within, Wheeler pulls back the thin veneer of American society to reveal the comedic underbelly. I Thought You Would Be Funnier supplies yet further evidence that Shannon Wheeler is one of the preeminent cartoonists of his generation.

Licensing Wordsmiths

Pantheon High
Muppet King Arthur
God Shop

Long a mainstay of comic book publishing, licensed properties comprise a significant portion of the contemporary marketplace. Series and graphic novels based on diverse properties such as Conan, Toy Story, The Lone Ranger, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, G.I. Joe, and Star Wars litter store shelves. I recently spoke with three writers who work on some of these properties. Paul Benjamin (Muppet King Arthur), Alan J. Porter (Cars), and Bill Williams (Spike: The Devil You Know) offer some frank, behind-the-scenes commentary on working with licensed properties.

What properties are you currently working on? What properties have you worked on in the past?

Bill Williams (BW): I have been writing the Eddie Hope backup stories in the back of IDW's Angel comics for a few months. I am partnered with Bill Willingham and our first issue was #28. A trade paperback reprinting our first five issues comes out in time for the San Diego Comic Convention. I also wrote a Spike mini-series that is coming out from IDW now. For the moment, I'm all over the manly end of the Whedonverse.

Before that, I co-wrote a couple of issues of Robin for DC and I wrote an issue of the Justice League Unlimited comic that was based on the animated show. That was a lot of fun to write, because I got to put words in Superman's mouth.

Paul Benjamin (PB): Right now is kind of a magical time for me. No, I'm not waxing poetic. The trade paperback of my Muppet King Arthur series just hit the shelves this month and later this year my World of Warcraft: Shaman graphic novel will be available. As for what I've written in the past, it's a fairly diverse list. I've written a number of stories for Marvel including a long run on Marvel Adventures Hulk. I'm also very proud of the Monsters, Inc. series I wrote. It's basically a sequel that takes place right after the end of the film. I worked on some sci-fi properties as well, including a Star Trek manga and several volumes of the Starcraft: Frontline anthology.

Alan J. Porter (AJP): I have just come to the end of a two year run writing the Disney Pixar Cars comic book series for Boom! Studios. My last issue will be in stores this month, marking the completion of a 16 issue run that included two mini-series and an 8 issue series.

In the past I have written non-fiction books about Batman, James Bond and Star Trek.

How did you get involved with the licensed properties?

PB: Getting on a licensed series tends to be driven by the editors whose job is to find talent for their books. For example, I pitched a variety of Marvel stories to editor Mark Paniccia before he finally hired me to write Marvel Adventures Hulk. That led to work on [other Marvel properties].

In the case of Muppet King Arthur, Paul Morrissey was the editor of my original manga series Pantheon High (for Tokyopop). Paul then hired me for Monsters, Inc. when he moved to Boom Kids! After Paul left Boom!, the new editor called me up to pitch a story for Muppet King Arthur because [he] felt I'd be a good match for the property along with my co-writer, Patrick Storck.

AJP: In the early dark days of the Internet, I set up one of the first Batman fan websites. Through that I got to know several people involved in the various Batman projects. [That eventually lead to] my first book, The Unauthorized Batman Collectors Guide [and] a relationship with Hermes Press, the publishers of my books on Bond and Star Trek.

Getting into licensed comics came by a different route. After several years of pitching comics stories, I made a sale for a manga series at Tokyopop (God Shop). My editor on that book moved over to Boom! to oversee the launch of the Disney books, and as soon as I found out I'm not afraid to say that I begged for a chance to write the Cars book. Luckily, both he and the folks at Disney liked my story ideas.

BW: I got pulled into the deal by Willingham. Mariah Huehner worked with him as an assistant editor on Fables at DC and she wanted to work with him at her new home at IDW. He generously wrote me into the pitch giving me four pages a month to put on a show with Eddie, who is new to the Wonderful World of Whedon.

I pitched a Spike and Eddie project as a way to showcase both of the characters. Originally Spike: The Devil You Know was "24 with vampires" but by the time I finished the last script it was more like 48 Hours.

How does writing this property compare to doing your own work? Which do you prefer?

AJP: I enjoy both equally, but in some ways working on licensed properties is easier. You don't have to concentrate on world building, and it's a fair assumption that most of the audience know who the characters are, so you don't have as much time on establishing character. Of course, the downside of that is that the fans of the franchise, whatever it is, have very definite ideas as to how their favorite characters should sound and act, or even as to what type of stories they should be in; and they will let you know if you get it wrong! Having said that, meeting various Cars and Pixar fans, of all ages, has been one of the most rewarding aspects of this gig.

BW: A creator should balance playing with their own characters and with someone else's toys. It gives a fresh perspective on the creative process. I like them more or less equally but for different reasons.

PB: I honestly prefer a mix of licensed work and original properties. Licensed work has less freedom but gives me an opportunity to play with iconic characters like the Muppets. Original properties can be whatever I want them to be but are less likely to reach a broad audience. Ultimately, I want to give others the thrill that reading gives me and more people will be interested in their life-long friends Kermit and Miss Piggy than in an original series.

How much creative control do you have?

PB: The amount of creative control varies greatly depending on the property. Sometimes the publisher can be invasive, while other times, it's the license holder. In the case of Muppet King Arthur, Patrick and I didn't really get any interference from either Boom! or Henson. One or the other might have killed a joke or two for various reasons, but they also gave great suggestions for gags throughout the series. In fact, I've been pretty lucky on this front. I've really had a lot of creative freedom on my licensed property work and most of the feedback from on high has been constructive criticism that really added to the final product. Or maybe I'm just more open-minded because I used to be an editor and I have to burn off the karma of all the times I was invasive with my writers (sorry about that, guys and gals).

AJP: I was amazed at how much creative freedom I have had over the last couple of years. We kicked off Cars with what amounted to a prequel to the movie. I never really thought that Pixar would let us tell the back story to one of its lead characters. Over the books run, there were several instances where I had jokes, references and double entendres in the scripts that I was sure wouldn't get approved, but they did.

What changes were asked for were in the main very minor ones to make sure characters stayed on-model. The only exception was in my last story arc when we were suddenly told we couldn't use a certain supporting character. However, as it turned out, the introduction of the character we used instead actually made the plot structure stronger.

BW: One of the scenes I had to cut was a splash with Spike holding a demon informant upside-down in a toilet as he asks him for information. The grilling-the-stoolie scene is a staple of detective fiction and every fourth Batman comic book seems to have him dangling some lowlife off of a high-rise. But I was told that Spike was a hero and that kind of behavior was out of bounds. No using a green-skinned informant as a demonic toilet brush for my little script.

I cut it upon request. When you have no ownership stake or control, the changes get made even if they alter the flow of the story. The rights holders have a duty to maintain the properties they manage. So I rewrote the scene and a new scene appears in the third issue. It is part of the job and if you can't make changes at the request of the client, this type of writing might not be the line of work for you.

How has working on licensed properties affected your career?

BW: It's too soon to tell in my case. The work in the Angel comic lists me as scripting four pages a month. It's not an impressive or accurate credit. But the Spike mini-series is my kid. I carried it from pitch to final project and worked with studio and editorial notes to make a fun comic. That one should open doors for me in those markets.

I also have a mystery novel with an agent. I hear good things about a spec television pilot that I script-doctored earlier in the year for a local production company. I have a new screenplay that I'm high on and a few other things in the works. Since the comic publishers love to raid other media, who knows where all of this will lead.

PB: It's been a blast. I've gotten to work on incredible characters and I've collaborated with amazingly talented artists that I never could've hired for an original book. In most cases, I never would have even known of the artist if my editor hadn't brought them to me as a co-creator for our stories. Also, licensed properties have less risk attached to them and they certainly pay better up front. Plus it's nice to be able to talk to people about the characters they love and to know that you told a story that made them dig that property even more.

AJP: Through my non-fiction work I have got to know a lot of other creators and editors who either worked on those properties, or are fans. Writing a Pixar book has also helped to raise awareness of my work a bit -- as to what that will mean in terms of my career, I guess we will have to see -- but it does make approaching editors a bit easier when you have something to show with a recognizable title on the cover.

Copyright © 2010 Rick Klaw

Professional reviewer, geek maven, and optimistic curmudgeon, Rick Klaw has supplied countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including The Austin Chronicle, The San Antonio Current, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Moving Pictures RevolutionSF, King Kong Is Back!, Conversations With Texas Writers, Farscape Forever, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains Universe, and Steampunk. MonkeyBrain Books published the collection of his essays, reviews, and other things Klaw, Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century. He can often be found pontificating on Twitter and over at The Geek Curmudgeon.

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