Archive for July 19, 2018

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

In addition to finding time to work, joining certain creator/writer groups have been berry, berry good to me in terms of finding new things to read and splash around here on this blog. My friend, Jose Cardenas, has created the next bit of comics fun to distract from hey, Greg you going to read an actual novel before the next Ice Age? – Behold! Universe Protectors.

First off, it’s clear I’ve spent too much time figuring out the archetypal patterns of nearly everything I watch and read. So throwing Steve (possibly surnamed Baker), a mysterious figure dressed in green pseudo-Greek armor and a scarf/cape that quite frankly don’t take no shit off nobody, together with Caroline and Val should immediately spark the reader to Three’s Company with Super-powered Teenagers. Yes, Dear Reader, I just read a sitcom pitch just dying to hit TV somewhere, I’m guessing either Freeform or MTV.

The comparison of the potentially comic misadventures of Steve the Magic Killer Scarf-Man and Caroline and Val the Indeterminately Powerful Foster Sisters to the known comic adventures of Jack, Janet and Chrissy will hit the savvy readers in the head like certain tomato juice commercials from the era. A guy and two ladies clustered together in the same apartment or derelict hotel room, in this case, with the ever present danger of aliens out to kill them…it’s unavoidable. Steve is Jack. Caroline is Janet. Val is Chrissy, even down to the slightly naïve ditzy behavior.

Archetypes aside, the read goes for fun, a little bit violent (spandex characters, Ducky, can’t avoid a bit of bloodthirsty) and fully colored. It opens on two girls mugged in an alley by three ruffians and the gent soon to be revealed as Steve Baker leaps into the fisticuffs. We don’t quite see the green of the armor because dark alleys and muggings usually land on the page with blues and purples to convey lots of shadows. Three shots are fired and Steve’s scarf takes action independently of the armor and any other superpowers in this soup. The girls who have yet to reveal themselves appear to be gushing spandex groupies, for lack of a nicer word, and invite Steve home in part because he’s hungry and needs a bath.

Steve has a nightmare/memory in the bath about the alien that attacked his family when he was a young lad. Mom and Dad gave him his ring and died without telling him what it does. Steve leaves the girls’ apartment after quite a bit of back and forth about where the moral limits of the Hero Saves and Then Shags the Damsel trope (even weirder given the allusion to Three’s Company) are. He feels glad to have the bath and meal and then…

The monster that killed his parents attacks him on a roof. Said monster promptly wipes the asphalt roof with the poor lad. It’s curtains, curtains, I tell ya. Well, until the girls put on their rings and take their shots saving Steve’s bacon. Very quickly the three ring-holders decide that since the monster know about all of them and they should live together for protection, until they can figure out what the rings do and how to survive. Add in a bit of “we don’t actually know what they do, our parents never told us” exposition and we’re caught up through the second issue.

In general, the reading experience landed in the great amorphous area between a really great comic book and a mostly normal comic book. I loved the art, also the result of Mr. Cardenas’ multiple creative talents. Said art style pops off the page as Hey, I really like anime, the way I’m slowly beginning to grok, “Yeah, that sonata I’ve never heard before I’m guessing Mozart.” Anime/Manga style: round eyes, Val as the ditzy girl who’s tech proficient and so on…it’s just kind of odd to see this type of character design in a book where the reading style is the left to right of English books.

My favorite panels have to be the big fight that lets us in on the still slightly amorphous powers of Steve and his two new friends. The blues and purples of the alley mugging hit just right and Mr. Cardenas figured out how to have the last ditch beat down on the part of Steve’s scarf, of all things, be a major surprise in a world where few things actually seem new.

If I had to start looking for find fault, the writing independent of how Mr. Cardenas’s art sort of saves the whole read struck me as average but likely to improve with time. I enjoyed the setup, but my mind still read the dialogue with an eye towards trims and a bit of arrogant what I would do. In a similar vein, I was hoping for a little bit more differentiation between the three characters now sharing the same apartment. The plot device of power rings instead of mutations, cosmic radiation accidents, alien orphans sent to Earth to escape the destruction of the home world has a way of muddying up what this trio does as individuals.

I referred to Steve as a variation of Magic Scarf-Man (referencing the first fight that he wins), a cool power and stupid superhero name. But, other than that Caroline and Valerie can put a smoking hole in the average bad guy’s back, I have no idea how they differ from the Jack Tripper of this story. I’m so used to Green Lantern rings allowing the user to only be limited by the imagination that my lack of understanding of how these three characters differ and complement the team they just formed. And there are almost no closeups of the rings…

By contrast, I think of teams in these terms – Okay, let’s put the girl version of Iron Man together with the mute girl that does friction. Oh, let’s have a little fun with the porn star version of Power Girl. So I’m not sure what the team will be like because they all seem to have the same ring that could do the same things. Three people that do the same spandex schtick might be great for world threatening fights, but if you’re looking for complementary powers that make for an interesting mix and team dynamic…not so much.

A last note about the names in this comic book series, I’m glad that Mr. Cardenas went with Universe Protectors instead of trying to give these three superheroes cool names as the title of the series. The best I came up with was a facetious Magic Scarf-Man while having no idea how to name the girls because we don’t really see what their specialities are using their rings of power. Mister Cardenas has several more issues of fun comics with great fight choreography to answer these questions of whether we will be able to tell Jack, Janet and Chrissy apart.

All in all, the read hit me in a place where I can see the possibilities…if only. Right now the series feels like something that could get really good in future issues. And I will be watching for Issue Three.

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

Here we go again, actually bothering to read yet another screenwriting manual. Truthfully, I feel less of my been there, heard it in Story Analysis class skepticism for William Akers’ book Your Screenplay Sucks than I do for most of the others reviewed here (I’m looking at you Mr. Cat). Why? It might actually help a few more people write well without possibly falling into a Cookie Cutter Trap that stifles innovation and some of what Mr. Akers can, if you shift back to writing in past tense for most prose, help a few people who don’t write screenplays do their jobs.

The book is laid out as a checklist listing the top 100 things new screenwriters do to suck up their work. Cool, a checklist that covers all stages from getting the idea to finishing a screenplay, with key advice in the middle about the actual writing (why I actually like this book instead of tolerate it as being another structure heavy Hero’s Journey book). And Mr. Akers puts his typing fingers where his mouth is by visually presenting examples, in many cases, from his own work and that of others taking his classes at Film School.

I can’t stress enough how refreshing it was to read examples from the author’s own screenplays where he needed to edit, revise and shorten according to the principles laid out in his book. I mean, there’s a nasty saying about Self-Help and other Instruction Manual type writing that these books only help the author. Not so here. We see on the page every early draft mistake made by him in his efforts to keep his hand in and those of his students. We also get to see many of the second drafts that improve or at least shorten the job of the reader when scripts float around for consideration.

Most of the advice might come from Shrunk & White’s The Elements of Style (a work so ubiquitous to writers I may never review it). Shorter sentences. Choose better words to go in those short sentences. Active voice. Present Tense (it is a screenplay where things happen now). And Mr. Akers guides you through all of it with an acerbic and strongly worded writing style where he sort of takes up the coat of a format Nazi. But that’s not his fault, the whole business of Hollywood has always been run by format Nazis, none of whom were originally writers.

For instance, Mr. Akers makes assertions about the new current format about how the scene headers or sluglines should look that directly conflict with the default settings that come out of the box when you load Final Draft and Movie Magic onto your computer. His methodology can be replicated on these writing programs; you have to think about it as you write. It really doesn’t matter that much to me…I’m currently back on my frequent No Screenplays rant which happens every few months and then I start over doing my screenplays as graphic novels. If you’re still trying to crack screenwriting as business, maybe you need to listen…your agent will have the last word.

The advice in this book comes off as good, modestly more applicable to other forms of narrative writing and helpful by showing examples of failure. These reasons are why I like the book and suggest you will either like it or learn from it without ripping out your eyeballs (a good start from how I normally feel about writing manuals). I did notice a few minor things…

For one, Mr. Akers doesn’t actually contradict the suggestions in Save the Cat. Somewhere in the middle of the book he writes, “I have students that refuse to write without having Save the Cat open beside them as they write. Others swear by Vogler’s Writer’s Journey. I’ve found both to have the same general usefulness. Pick one.” So if there is some other way to get to good, dramatic writing and plotting, someone else wrote it.

I spent the rest of my reading this book nitpicking because I can. There’s an assertion about the Moses story in Exodus that I found amusing, that the Pillar of Fire and Smoke leading Israel through the desert represents horrible Deus ex Machina screenwriting. My reply – “God is the protagonist of the Bible and so your concerns make less sense” – might stir up a few hornets.

On page 43, Mr. Akers commented on the adaptation Book to Screen of Tom Clancy’s Clear and Present Danger that in the book the Jack Ryan character spends too much time in Washington and never really enters the fray in Columbia. First, as someone who read the book long before deciding that Mr. Clancy’s sentences are generally unreadably long, Jack Ryan’s dramatic arc includes the discovery of the illegal anti-drug operation as a Washington insider. Second, there was this really cool part where Jack Ryan leaned in on a door gun from a helicopter saving the soldiers abandoned by the evil National Security Advisor. But, yes, this does highlight why movies and books will always be two slightly separate animals.

If I have to resort to nitpicking to have anything to say other than gushing effusively about how everyone should read this book and so on, I guess it isn’t such a bad read that might help us do our jobs…convincing the reader/viewer to listen at the campfire a little while longer. With that, you now have the skinny on a much better writing manual than I’d expected. Get back to writing!