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581

Nerdcouver Book Review – Hexed The Sisters of Witchdown

Books & Writing, Culture, nerdcouver, Reviews, Videos

July 23, 2015

Aaron and Jenna talk Hexed: The Sisters of Witchdown by Michael Alan Nelson.

Living Myth Magazine spoke with author Michael Alan Nelson, and you can watch that here.

Nerdcouver is on the Facebooks.

Jenna is @novavanderwolf

Aaron is @lastswann

Nerdcouver is @nerdcouver

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2017

God of Comics – Hawkeye

Books & Writing, Culture, God Of Comics, Reviews

July 16, 2015

Hawkeye is one of the strangest comics to ever come out of the big two.

This isn’t a knock on its quality – we’re doing a full-on God of Comics on this title, and we’re doing it because this comic is amazing – but that doesn’t dismiss the fact that this title did a lot of things that were very strange to Marvel or DC Comics style thinking.

It’s hard to imagine a comic where people share a name, for example. There’s been various comic stories based on the battle of identity, and that’s not even the first place this title diverges from everything else. Hawkeye stars two people that claim that name, presented as equals for the whole of the series.

hawkeye 002

Total equals. Yep.

Clint Barton and Kate Bishop are both presented as equals, Clint with more experience and Kate with her life much more together. Both call one another Hawkeye and playfully riff on one another for the whole twenty-two issue run. Their relationship as friends and partners without a hint of romance does a lot to tie the whole book together, and is a large part of what makes these comics as good as they are.

I’m coming at this disjointed, but with purpose – Clint Barton is a disjointed man in these pages, and this comic confronts that head on. He’s an archer and tactical genius who is skilled enough to hang around with super soldiers and genius millionaires and gods. He’s a child who ran away and joined the circus and made a good run of things, and this comic is all about what he does when he’s not an Avenger.

Which turns out to be crime, mostly, perpetuated against criminals.

Clint steals the rights to his apartment building from an East-European Mafia, which goes about as well as you’d expect. They keep coming after him, which gives him a constant enemy that, while not-superpowered, never stops being a threat.

Hawkeye 006

“Seriously, bro. Seriously.”

He does this to save the people he lives with, and ends up becoming the building manager on top of everything else. Half the comic feels like community building, with the reader becoming familiar with the people Clint hangs around with that are just folks, and when one of them dies about halfway through the story, it’s horrifying. We know that character is never coming back, that the price of that character’s life was bought because of who Clint is.

And who is Clint? Clint is a mess, a man thoroughly invested in the moment who is not good at long term planning or weighing the consequences of his actions. He’s very much about who he is and what he’s doing right now, and he figures whatever is coming can wait until he gets there.

Hawkeye 005

They’re good for each other.

Likewise, Kate Bishop has her own and equal arc, tied into not only Clint’s special brand of madness, but her maturation as a hero, detective, and person. She comes from an estranged rich background and we get to see the crux of that strangeness, a thing that Kate herself doesn’t understand at the beginning but will fully embrace by the end.

Kate also earns herself an archnemesis in the form of Madame Masque, a terrifying woman best known for putting Tony Stark through the ringer. We get to know some more of Masque as a person and see just how much influence she has over the underworld, ranging from the Kingpin to the various wealthy elite that creep around the shadows of the Marvel Universe.

She takes Kate’s existence personally, the things she tries to do are chilling – and Kate’s ultimate victory over her is both thrilling and hilarious and perfectly in character. She’s learned a bit too much from Clint, really, and his personality and viewpoint is affecting her as much as hers is affecting him.

Also, there is pizza dog.

Hawkeye 000

An entire detective story is told from Pizza Dog’s perspective, and it is glorious.

Here’s where we start looking at the trick of his story; at it’s heart, Hawkeye is a coming of age story, a man-child and a young woman both fully coming into their own through sheer talent and stubborn determination. There’s a host of writers that could have told this story and done it well, but this is a series of comics that excelled.

The question is, how? The story is good, certainly, but it isn’t anything new or groundbreaking. X-O Manowar got the God of Comics treatment for the breadth of theme that it embraces and then digs deep within, and Coffin Hill was recognized for the complexity of its narrative flow. Hawkeye does something completely different by making the style of the story an extension of the substance.

A lot of writers look at style as flourish, something to add spice to the meat of what it is they’re working on. Comics are unique in that their storytelling relies overmuch on style, which is to say art, which makes them a visual medium that is quite unlike anything else. Never in the history of comics has their been a title that played with that concept quite like this one.

The second issue, for example, looks at what it’s like to be an archer. Take a look:

Hawkeye 001

This one simple page allows us to understand what it’s like for Clint and Kate whenever they have a bow in hand. It gives us a sense of time, motion, and breath. We can begin to understand, on a visceral level, that the way both of them view the world is fundamentally different from how we view the world, while still being imminently relatable.

Hawkeye 007

“Aw, Coffee, no.”

Writer Matt Fraction had to have a world of trust for his artist, David Aja, to explain that with nothing but artistic presentation. It plays with moments, with heartbeats and words and body language, and it turns two people that look strictly human into people that deserve to be hanging shoulder to shoulder with super soldiers and genius millionaires and gods.

That gimmick used once would be enough for most comics, but Matt and Dave aren’t willing to stop there. We get into the silliness and utility of gimmick arrows, an entire episode from the point of view of a dog, a recap issue that is also a Christmas special cartoon, an entire issue in ASL when Clint goes deaf.

I’ve sold people on this comic just by telling them that Clint is deaf and uses ASL to communicate from time to time. Parents of deaf children will buy this comic just for that, so that their kids have someone to look up to and inspire them.

Hawkeye

They did an entire comic like this.

The amount of creativity at play in this book, the noirish elements, the inherent silliness of two archers standing strong against every possible odd while being pretty odd themselves is every kind of win. The sketchy art allows for a surprising amount of depth and detail, and there’s more to discover in expression and body language every time this comic is read.

It’s charming and the building blocks for one of the best buddy-teams in comics. It’s spawned a Deadpool / Hawkeye crossover that had some of the best moments in any modern Deadpool comic (which is saying something) and inspired a spin-off series by Jeff Lemire (and we’ll be getting back to him sooner rather than later). It’s been one of Marvel’s best comics for the past few years, a frequent winner of our weekly Top 5 Comics, and it deserves all of your attention.

Hawkeye is magic. It’s everything that comics can be, that weird nebulous region that embraces the inherent strangeness of the medium with some superhero elements and some noir elements and some heist elements, drawing from all without ever being clearly defined as anything but itself.

Hawkeye stands on its own, on its own terms, and we cannot recommend it enough.

Hawkeye 008

End the stand off. Read this comic. It will make you a better person.

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970

God of Comics – Coffin Hill

Books & Writing, God Of Comics, Reviews

July 10, 2015

There’s a rather good book called Wise Man’s Fear. In it, a musician plays an incredibly difficult piece of music while acting as though it’s nothing particularly taxing, then plays a very simple piece of music as if it were an impossible accomplishment. It’s a performance on multiple levels – those that appreciate music can listen to the tune and enjoy it just for that, but any other musician is going to look at this and know exactly the sort of skill they’re getting to witness.

I’m a writer. I’ve got a novel over here, and a bunch of others that’re raring to go. And I do this whole thing about qualitative storytelling, and enjoying good stories, and looking at why some stories work and some don’t. It’s one of the reasons we do a weekly top five comics over on twitter, so that we can spread the word on comics you might otherwise miss.

With all that in mind, we need to point out exactly what Caitlin Kittridge has done with Coffin Hill.

On the surface, this is a very simple story. An evil witch is burned at the stake, then uses magic to haunt the town that burned her through a bloodline curse. It’s nothing we haven’t see before – Hocus Pocus did this as a comedy, for example – but it’s the way in which this story is told.

What does your family tree look like?

What does your family tree look like?

We start with Eve Coffin, the latest of the descendants that have come to be known as the Coffin Witches, but we don’t join her at any particular point in her life. No, that would be too easy. Instead, we join her at three points in her life, drawing parallel narratives between her as a teenager, as a cop, and as a burn out.

The writing is good enough to give each narrative thread a unique feel, from the rebelliousness of youth to the hope of escape that comes with being a cop to the sense of crippling despair that follows that inability to escape. The art follows the writing, investing a manic energy into the first threat, a staid hyper-reality in the second, and a sense of resignation in the last. It’s in every line, the body language and inks that are used from one panel to the next, except when we need one thread to bleed into another or something otherwordly happens.

And otherworldly stuff does happen. Eve doesn’t know what she’s getting into when she’s young, and her dabbling ends up costing her so badly that she flees her home and goes to become a cop. Think about that for a moment; this is a young woman who is so badly frightened that police work in a slum, facing drug dealers and serial killers, seems like a safe alternative. And as we come to understand what happened to her, we agree with her decision.

She thinks if she can trap herself in the mire of the worst normality has to offer, she’ll somehow escape the curse she was born into. She can’t, of course – she’s drawn into a serial killer investigation that needs her to succeed, because the killer they’re hunting is something of a witch, too. She needs to draw on the power she’s forsaken not just to catch the murderer she’s hunting, but to survive the attention that is drawn to her because of it.

We know she catches the killer, and we know the cost. We can see it in her face in the future, the irrepairable damage that is caused by running away from your problems. She’s drawn back home, where she has to face the consequences of her actions, and finds that they’ve only grown worse in her absence.

Running away solves nothing, not really. Whatever you’re running from is either going to catch you when you’re finally exhausted, or grow more powerful without you there to stop it.

This is only the first arc.

It’s maddening, how complex and how well this story is told. Snippets of information revealed in one thread of time that give weight to the others, going both forward and back. We can see where hubris and disbelief leads to, and we can see what it takes to refind faith not in magic, but in self. It’s some of the best writing you’re going to find in a horror comic, and, yes, this is horrifying.

There’s a sense of dread that hovers around every character in this book, regardless of when they are. Terrible things lurk just out of sight, and it’s hard to tell who has it worse – the people that almost know what’s going on or the ones that are entirely ignorant. There’s no escaping what’s just out of sight in any event, so the question is would you rather not really understand what’s coming for you or live, unaware, until whatever is coming, comes. Both options are terrible, but they’re the only ones available.

We get inversions of common horror tropes, examinations of escapism and empty faith and the cost of belief. We look at love in all its permuations, as friends and family and lovers, and we see how love can be corrupted and used as a weapon, but also how it can heal and make people stronger. There’s balance here. Everything feels real, regardless of how insane the events might be.

As the story goes on it becomes more complex, again and again and again. We delve into more points of when, following the childhood of Eve’s estranged mother and coming to understand why she’s become so aloof and crippled and the distance that separates the two of them. We see what the original Coffin Witch did to kick this whole thing off, and the terrible vengeance she’s enacted on the town that bears her name, the town she cursed before she died.

She also made a really creepy house for her kids.

On the plus side, she made a really creepy house for her kids.

It’s an incredible piece of work, and here’s the trick: it looks simple. The way it flows from one point in time to the next, the way the story handles revelation and character building is so easy to follow that you could swear you’re reading a child’s primer. There’s no hesitation, no confusion about who you’re following or when you’re following them even as the story spirals ever deeper into history and characterization.

Think about that for a moment. Think about how much time and thought had to go into building the structure of this narrative, to measure out information and when to dole it out for the most possible punch. It’s heady and thought-provoking and a goddamn masterpiece, but it’s so easy to follow that you don’t even notice how complex it is until you take the time to think about it.

If you’re just looking for a good horror story, you can read this and put it down and be done with it. It’ll give you the chills you’re seeking, give you engaging characters and that slow creeping fear that the best horror stories craft and the worst try to replace with jump scares. It’ll come across as really good, great campfire material maybe, a story on par with the old Clive Barker or John Carpenter movies. Hellraiser. Prince of Darkness. That sort of thing.

On the other hand, if you are Clive Barker or John Carpenter, you can enjoy Coffin Hill on an entirely different level. You can look at this story and pull it apart, take a look at what was done where and understand why. You can appreciate this tale the same way you might appreciate a gourmet meal, something crafted together with care and thought and diligence. You can internalize the why this story is told and apply some of the devices to your own writing, and become a better writer for it.

And the artwork…! This is a comic carved from shadows. I remember hearing about a cartoon where the artwork started with black backgrounds, and added color. That’s what this artwork feels like: Inaki Miranda and Eva de la Cruz started with absolute darkness and added the bare minimum of color needed to drive everything forward.

This gives the impression of light being terrified of what’s happening in these pages. This isn’t to say that the artwork is dark or hard to follow. It isn’t. It’s lush and vibrant, almost a rebellion against the terror writ large on every page. It’s just as complex as the writing demands it to be, and it’s a large part of why this comic is as powerful as it is.

In brief? This is one of the best horror comics of the modern era, a complex look at the cost of bloodline curse and the horrors that come with it, framed by gorgeous artwork that does everything that it can to enhance the power of the narrative.

Coffin Hill is as enchanting and haunting as the best grim faerie stories, and we can’t recommend it enough.

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746

Qualitative Storytelling – Structure

Books & Writing, Culture, Opinion

July 6, 2015

So, a few weeks ago we were talking about qualitative storytelling.

We promised that this was something that we were going to get back to, and we meant it. There’s too many bad stories out there and everyone seems happy to jump on board and point out the bad, but there’s precious little about how to actually tell a story properly.

It’s great to be able to talk about what isn’t a good story, but criticism should aim to improve the craft of the person that is creating whatever it is that’s being criticized. I know that last sentence was wordy, but it’s important to separate the art and artist from both a critical and creative standpoint.

So, again, this isn’t going to be an attack on creatives or the creative process. What this, and the articles to follow, aim to be is a study of how story is told. That’s it. That’s the disclaimer. We good? Great.

"so much great. Look at the intensity of all this great."

“So much great. Look at the intensity of all this great.”

Structure is one of those things that looks intuitive right up until you start writing. This is the bare-bones blueprint, the layout that determines what action happens where and what characters progress and when, if any. This essay isn’t about action or character, though, it’s simply about structure.

Typically, structure falls into three acts. The first act introduces the setting and characters, the second act has those characters seek something within that setting, and the last act has them either succeed or fail. That’s it. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

To that end, let’s take a look at two of the Mad Max movies as examples of this being done. We’re running with the Road Warrior and Fury Road.

Road Warrior begins with Max on the road, fighting people from his car. We’re introduced to the character and the violence of his world, and then a secondary character, a gas refinery, and a horde of maniacs that want access to that refinery.

Fury Road begins in similar fashion, with Max being hunted by the villains out in the desert. He’s captured and taken back to what passes for their civilization, where we’re given just enough information to realize that there is a wider world at play here and that some people are trying to leave that civilization.

Both movies introduce their characters and their worlds quickly and efficiently. There’s enough small details in both that we’re led to believe that there are larger forces at play, but they’re so far beyond the comprehension or agency of the main character that they serve only to bring us deeper into this world that Max doesn’t truly care about, but we do.

Why does Lord Humungous keep his gun in that case? Why has Immorten Joe turned himself into a literal cult of personality? Why the Doof Warrior? Max doesn’t care, but these other characters clearly do and it gives their world a sense of depth that helps transition from the first act to the second.

In the Road Warrior , Max realizes that he’s running out of gas and would like a top up. Doing so means working with the people in the gas refinery, helping them so that they’ll help him. In the meantime, the Horde lurks outside, looking for any sign of weakness, and the people in the refinery realize that they need to get out.

On the Fury Road, Max escapes imprisonment and manages to capture – before being captured by – a group of women who are running from the people that originally captured him. The mutual desire of all involved to escape gets them all on the same side, and they flee together from an army that is chasing them.

Health care was offered by the cult, but only to members.

Health care was offered by the cult, but only to members.

The desires of both movies revolve around flight or acquisition. The people in the refinery want to take their gas and get away from the horde. Lord Humungous wants the gas in the refinery. The women want to escape from Immorten Joe. Immorten Joe wants to father perfect sons to take his place when he dies.

Max becomes a catalyst in his stories by wanting both flight and acquisition; it’s a desire to get something that gets him into trouble and his desire to get away that costs him everything.

As the stakes surrounding that end goal ramp up, we move from the second to the third and final act. This is where people ultimately get or do not get whatever it is that they’re after.

In the Road Warrior, the people in the refinery get Max to drive away with the gas they’ve refined. He’s chased by the horde, who he eventually ends up killing, only to find out that the people in the refinery used him as a decoy – the truck he’s been given has nothing in it, and now that he’s killed the horde they’ve abandoned him.

In Fury Road, we learn that the destination that the former slaves were running to has been destroyed. With no other choice, they had back in the direction they came, hoping to claim it for themselves. Immorten Joe chases, still wanting what he views as his, and is ultimately consumed by his need to dominate and destroy. The women get what they want and Max moves on.

See how simple that looks? Here’s where things get tricky: most structure have an overlay that can best be summed up as yes-no-yes or no-yes-no. Yes-no-yes is when a story or character starts in a good place, moves into a place of challenge, and then recovers to try and get things back on track or improve them. No-yes-no is when a story or character starts in a bad place, moves into a better one, and then through hubris, circumstance, or ambition, destroys what they’ve built and ends up either the same or worse than when they started.

There are exceptions – both no-no-yes stories and yes-yes-no stories exist, in addition to every other permutations of those two words in three places. The thing of it is, they rarely work as stories for the main characters or the main story. If someone starts in a bad place and goes good, then continues to go good, well, why didn’t the story end? If someone starts in a good place and then crumbles, do we really need to see them fall all the way to the end?

MM RR 002

Pictured: Reliable narrator.

Sometimes, these subversions work on their own, but that’s rare. Instead, subversions work best when paired with the classic yes-no-yes or no-yes-no scenario.

This overlay applies to both the plot and the main characters within a given story.

For example, in the Road Warrior, Max is in a no-yes-no overlay. He starts off alone and is in a place where he’s barely surviving. He’s running out of resources, so when he finds the refinery and is able to build a connection with those people, his life improves. This is the yes part of the story. By the end, though, Max has been betrayed, has no means of finding the people that betrayed him, and has lost even the few resources he had at the beginning of the film.

Meanwhile, the people in the refinery have a yes-no-yes overlay. They were able to create a relatively comfortable life for themselves in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. They had food, gas, and power, so this defintely falls into the category of a yes, right up until Lord Humungous and his horde show up. They find themselves trapped, and are in the no part of their story when we meet them. Through Max and clever planning, however, they’re able to escape with their lives and their gas, and ultimately get everything they want.

Finally, Lord Humungous finds himself in a chaotic wasteland and tries to impose order upon in. We join him in the midst of the yes part of a no-yes-no overlay. His battle with Max will rob him of everything, including his horde and his life, as his arrogance, hubris, and monomania slowly chips away at the small amount of control he’s been able to impose upon the wasteland.

Oddly, the exact same overlay applies to the character types in Fury Road.

Max is still in a no-yes-no overlay. He’s been alone for so long he’s forgotten how to speak. He’s running low on resources and is captured fairly easily, is taken into a hellscape and only gets away due to flukey circumstances. While escaping, he makes a connection with several people, relearns how to speak, and finds comfort in the people around him. He follows their lead and finds purpose because of it, only to walk away from everything at the end. Max’s story ends on a no not because of hubris or arrogance, but for much more complex reasons; he knows that his presence is a poison that will taint the world the people he’s been fighting for are trying to make. So, once again, he leaves with nothing save the haunting memories of the connections he’s made. Max is and always has been a perfect tragedy.

Immorten Joe, likewise, is in a no-yes-no story. Like Lord Humungous, he’s grown in a mad post-apocalyptic world and tried to impose order upon it. Unlike Humungous, he’s largely succeeded. His ultimate goal to make human beings again, but because he’s not human ethically or morally, he’s incapable of reaching the heights of the old world and doesn’t see that; he wants to control the world, and his hubris, cruelty, and arrogance drives what he sees as his tools to flee from them. The initial no and yes parts of his story are off-screen, but we see the influence of them on and around him, and we get to watch the world he’s built fade into nothing. The entirety of Fury Road is the final no of his story, with the implication of what came before groping every event that happens on screen.

This guy learns a thing or to, though. We witness him.

This guy learns a thing or two, though. We witness him.

Finally, Furiosa and the women are part of a yes-no-yes overlay; their lives start in a terrible place and they escape from it, which is the yes part of their overlay. All their trials end up being for nothing, however, when they learn the place they’re running to has already been destroyed. The only place left for them is the one they fled from, so they had back to it and claim it for themselves after Immorten Joe’s megalomania finally brings him low. Their yes is the promise of a better world to come, though their success is not a part of the story as we got it.

And this brings us to another sort of overlay, one based on thematic and philosophical structure. I’m going to use the words damnation, redemption, and salvation to describe these thematic overlays, as they inform how the structure of a story is built and influence every aspect of the story thereafter. These terms are being divested of their religious overtones for the purpose of this essay; instead, we are focusing on their core meanings.

Overlays of damnation deal with destruction of a person, place, or thing. Whether through delusion, happenstance, or malice, the goals that drive the story eat away at those involved and end up in a bad place. Redemptive overlays force a character to take responsibility for their actions, and to make themselves or their world better for the choices they then make. Lastly, salvation based stories are ones in which characters abdicate their agency to an outside power, and through that power are saved.

The character of Mad Max is one thoroughly routed in damnation, regardless of the movie he’s in. He starts off every movie in straits more dire than the last, and ends every movie worse than when he started. He’s given up, lost himself to the violence and madness of his world, and he’s smart enough to know that he’s going to poison every situation he finds himself in. It’s why he walks away at the end of Fury Road; he knows he’s terrible and he knows he’s not getting better.

He has no delusions, unlike Immorten Joe or Lord Humungous. Joe’s goals are self destructive, because he’s self destructive; we meet him already falling apart, his death cult wanting nothing more than to die for their god. Once he’s dead, his children will tear whatever he’s built apart, and the religion he’s crafted will spread like a disease.

Likewise, Humungous has no plan of grandeur for what he wants, no real sustainable end goal – even if he were to capture the refinery he would end up burning it, because even his creative goals lead to destruction. That’s simply who he is. He is lost to damnation, though he would deny it and claim that his is the only path to order.

By contrast, Furiosa’s thematic overlay is one of redemption. It’s her choices and actions that start the events of Fury Road. She backs down from nothing and no one, takes responsibility for her world and those in her care, and ends up making her world a better one. Her story moves her from heartless and unhappy to heartful and happy, as she frees what’s left of civilization from the death cult that had claimed it, forces reformation, and puts power in the hands of people better than her.

And those people?

The women in Fury Road have got the flavor of salvation. They’ve put their faith in Furiosa and, to a lesser degree, Max. They’re relying on her to get them to safety, and when that fails they expect her to come up with a new plan. She does, but their agency is tied to that of Furiosa. She does good by them, and they even convince other people to put their faith in them even as they continue to put their faith in Furiosa.

Over in the Road Warrior, the people in the refinery have put their agency in the hands of their leader and, to a lesser degree, Max. They expect the plan of their leader to save them, and they’re content to let him die for their well-being. Max is a handy substitute, and they’re more than happy to let Max die for them instead.

Anyway, this is the bare bones of where story begins, the place where we lay the groundwork for everything else to come. From here, we start constructing characters, but we’ll get to that in a few weeks.

Bare Bones? That's where Max lives.

Bare Bones? That’s where Max lives.

Questions? Comments? Let us know and we’ll answer. Let’s start making the best possible stories.

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136

Kurtis Wiebe on Rat Queens

Books & Writing, Culture, Interviews, Showcase

June 16, 2015

Kurtis Wiebe, writer of Rat Queens and Bounty and a host of other comics that we love, recently took the time to sit down and chat about his return to that title, his love of role playing games, the future of the Queens, and some of his other projects. It’s the sort of conversation that we’re delighted to be able to share, and so…

 

LMM: Hey, Kurtis, thanks for taking the time to do this with us. You’re back writing Rat Queens, one of the first – and, in our opinion, one of the best – dungeons and dragons inspired comics to feature anything other than male leads. Where did the original concept come from?

Kurtis Wiebe: Rat Queens was born out of the idea of taking fantasy in a direction I’d never seen before. I’d never come across a fantasy series, comic or fiction in general, that featured four female protagonists. I wanted to create a world where gender really didn’t matter when it came to career pursuits. So often when a woman is a warrior in these sorts of stories there’s always someone making a point of it. “You can’t do that, you’re a woman.” And then the story is about them proving that they can. I think it’s a fun concept that it’s just a universally accepted fact that a job is a job, no one questions the gender equation.

And I think it’s pretty obvious that there’s a huge element of roleplaying game nostalgia mixed in for good measure.

 

LMM: You had initially intended to kickstart the series. What was it like getting picked up by Jim Valentino before the funding went live? What was your reaction?

Kurtis Wiebe: I think it’s sort of telling in a lot of ways. I never expected ANYONE to read Rat Queens. It was a series in a genre that traditionally was a tough sell in the comic market. It didn’t even cross my mind to pitch to Shadowline until Riley Rossmo read over the pitch and said I should at least try to talk to Jim Valentino about it.

Jim responded within a few hours and greenlit it. I think Jim saw more in the series than I did at that point and took a chance. I was pretty surprised, honestly.

 

LMM: What brought you back after your hiatus?

Kurtis Wiebe: Owen Gieni. I’d been talking to him for years about working on something together. We’ve known each other long before we both ended up in Vancouver a few years ago. (Though I’m no longer there, myself.) Owen and I met up and started hanging out in Saskatoon, Canada roughly seven years ago. We played RPG’s together, jammed on story ideas and spent a few nights around a campfire having drinks. Real classic small town Saskatchewan stuff.

I’d always hoped that Owen would come onto Rat Queens for a one shot at the very least, and I’d reached out to him about coming onto the series when  Stjepan was unable to continue working on it. It didn’t work out then due to scheduling conflicts, but I’m so glad he agreed to join me for the relaunch.

You have to understand that Owen brought an energy to the series that reignited the spark for me. I had fell out of love with the series for a lot of reasons but I am absolutely loving working on it again. The best part is the level of collaboration we have. We will break story together, scene by scene. Joke by joke. This new take on Rat Queens is a real blending of our combined humor and storytelling.

 

LMM: You’ve got an interesting cast of characters to develop stories with. Who’s your favorite, and why?

Kurtis Wiebe: Tough decision. I think Betty has become the most natural for me. I know her inside and out and her ability to love anyone, despite everything, is an aspect of her personality that is a real joy to write.

 

LMM: Speaking of that cast of characters… everyone is a lot deeper than they look at first glance. Where’d you draw on the gender issues that confront Violet, where do you see her brother’s involvement in her life going, and is the rest of her family going to get involved?

Kurtis Wiebe: For Violet, it was more about family expectation. Tradition for the sake of it. Never questioning the history that came before. And the reasons her father gave her were never enough. She needed to be heard and her father, and Barrie to a certain extent, weren’t able to do so. So Violet set out to create her own traditions that were personal to her.

Barrie is already part of the new relaunch, and it’s evident he still doesn’t understand her choices. We will be dealing with that in upcoming issues and more with her family later on.

 

LMM: Violet takes care of her Queens and the Queens look like the biggest gang of heroes in Palisade – how do the people of Palisade feel about that, and how comfortable is Violet with playing politics? Will the various nobles try to use Violet and the nobles for their own ends?

Kurtis Wiebe: I doubt Violet sees herself as a hero, that would be more of a Hannah thing. But the people of Palisade are much more accepting of the Queens after they saved the town from a potentially devastating attack in Volume 2. We’ll get into that more in the series as well.

 

LMM: By the same token, you have a similar but different issue playing out with the half-orc, Braga. What was it like getting to explore her backstory, and what’s it like having her officially join the Queens?

Kurtis Wiebe: I love the one shots for that reason. We have an opportunity to tell smaller stories that reveal the history of our side characters in the series. As far as Braga, she’s always been a fun character to write. Her backstory is sad in a lot of ways, but fits in with the overall idea of found family. She never fit in with her own orcish people because of their backward violent traditions. There’s some similarities to Violet’s backstory, but Braga left to see a bigger, more beautiful world.

It was a natural fit to bring her into the fold of the Queens. It’s definitely a different dynamic, and it takes some getting used to for sure. But I’m glad we made that decision.

 

LMM: Hannah has dealt with a host of abuses in the past. Has she laid her demons to rest, so to speak, or are they going to come back to haunt her going forward?

Kurtis Wiebe: Hannah’s story is a very big part of our relaunch. I’ve said before that everything that happened in the series before matters and the relaunch is going to be a little jarring at first. I can’t say much more without giving a lot away. But, rest assured, Hannah’s history and her decisions are very much still echoing through the story.

 

LMM: Hannah’s infernal heritage has caused her a lot of grief and turned people against her not because of who but because of what she is. Do you see who she’s become as a self-fulfilling prophecy given the way she’s been treated?

Kurtis Wiebe: It can go that way. Or maybe it has. Or maybe it will. Or maybe it hasn’t. Secrets.

 

LMM: Dee’s religious background is interesting – an atheist cleric who has seen the face of her god is kind of amazing. Where did the idea of her faith come from, and are we going to see it explored further?

Kurtis Wiebe: Dee’s religious background is a fundamental part of her character and we can’t tell her story without some part of that playing a role. A lot of her experiences are based on my own. I came from a Christian family and later on became an atheist. Through her story, I’m telling my own. Even working out some of the struggles I’ve had because of it.

And Dee’s vision of her god will definitely play a large role in stories to come. For now, Dee is preparing for a career change which will be more apparent in our second arc.

 

LMM: How does Betty live on nothing but alcohol, drugs, and candy?

Kurtis Wiebe: Smidgen resilience to pleasure overload.

 

LMM: You’ve used Rat Queens as a means of poking fun at fantasy tropes while exploring modern issues of privilege, gender and sexual identity, and politics. A handful of comics have tried to echo what you built – how do you plan on keeping Rat Queens ahead of the pack?

Kurtis Wiebe: I don’t really see it as a competition. Rat Queens mirrors the community of people in my life and that’s where I draw my inspiration from. I plan to continue to be inspired by that community and try as best as I can to replicate those relationships in the world of Rat Queens.

 

LMM: Rat Queens betrays a love and knowledge of pen’n’paper role playing. Do a favorite system? What games do you play? Do you have a favorite character you’ve played in the past?

Kurtis Wiebe: I love RPGs. I play anything and everything. I think certain systems are good for specific genres or types of players. Want to introduce complete newbs to RPGs? D&D 5th edition. Want to run a deeply character driven but hilarious short story? Fiasco. It all depends on the mood and the group, in my opinion.

And, to be honest, I haven’t actually played a character in about twelve years. I exclusively run games. That’s my jam.

 

LMM: What are the future plans for Rat Queens? You’ve done some crossovers with Vox Machina from Critical Role – a live D&D show played by voice actors – and done some work for the video gaming industry in the past; any chance for a Rat Queens video game? Toys? Board games? Maybe an actual D&D expansion?

Kurtis Wiebe: Well, it hasn’t been announced yet but I’m working with Wizards of the Coast on a Rat Queens adventure supplement for D&D 5th edition. I’d love to make an RQ board game, something like a dungeon crawler miniature combat game with a huge splash of humor.

 

LMM: In the first issue of the new series, the Queens end up fighting a Giant Canadian Goose. The normal-sized ones are terrible enough, but… are there stats for the Giant Canadian Goose? For reasons of I need to inflict that on my players.

Kurtis Wiebe: No stats yet. And you can thank Owen Gieni for that one. In the script I simply said: Insert flying monster of some kind. The rest is all Owen.

 

LMM: There’s been a host of other projects that you’ve been working on, all tying into the same themes that Rat Queens draws so much from – titles like Grim Leaper and Debris coming to mind. Is there any chance we might see more of them?

Kurtis Wiebe: I’m focusing all my comic energy into Rat Queens right now. It is my number one priority and my goal is to ensure we continue to come out with fun, hilarious and adventurous stories that are also hitting their schedule. Fun fact. When issue 3 came out last month, it was the first time in the series history that we had 3 issues in a row that came out on time. That’s the goal. Consistency in schedule and quality.

 

LMM: You’ve also flirted with horror comics, as seen with Green Wake. Where did the idea come from, how did you develop it?

Kurtis Wiebe: I wrote Green Wake while going through a divorce. It was the one place I could channel all those raw emotions and transform it into something that made sense of at least some of the pain. But it was entirely a creation of both Riley and me. It was an equal partnership in both storytelling and worldbuilding and I’m super proud of it.

 

LMM: While Rat Queens was on hiatus, you started working on the sci-fi series Bounty. What was that like, jumping from one genre to the next?

Kurtis Wiebe: I wanted to do a series for a younger audience that built on the themes I’d created in Rat Queens. I’ve received so many messages about wanting a Rat Queens style story that women could share with the girls in their lives that wasn’t R rated. And Bounty came out of that. Genre jumping wasn’t a huge difficulty, I have written in sci-fi settings before and narratively it was a world that was right in my wheelhouse.
It was a lot of fun to work on. Mindy Lee is an amazing artist. Her design sense is some of the best I’ve seen in comics and it was a real honor to work with her. It was one of those things where Bounty wouldn’t have worked under anyone else’s sensibilities.

 

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Kurtis. If you’d like to chat with Kurtis you can do so on the twitters by clicking here or his personal page by clicking here. He’s good people. He also sometimes hangs out at Big Pete’s Comics and Collectables, where you can also buy Rat Queens and his other works. They’re also on Amazon, and you can find a helpful listing of his comics by clicking here. Thanks again to Kurtis, thank you for reading, and we’ll have more goodies for you as they crop up. 

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956

Qualitative Storytelling

Books & Writing, Culture, Opinion, The Truth

May 22, 2015

We talk a lot about storytelling here.

exodus 002

Pictured: Standing up to the Man.

Of course we do. We’re geeks, and as such we base ourselves on the mythologies we’ve crafted for ourselves. From the Legend of Zelda to Mad Max to Harry Potter, we look at the icons around us and use them to understand ourselves and our actions, and to force change when needed.

In this, we’re no different than anyone else. In olden times, it was tales of Gods or other exemplars of whatever societal virtues ruled in that particular day. With the population growth of the past two hundred years, however, society is changing at such a rapid pace that the wisdom and stories of yesteryear fall flat, even without the historical context that give those stories meaning.

Which is part of the problem – given how quickly this world and our perception is changing, we need mythologies that are changing, adaptable, and fluid. That isn’t nearly as problematic as one might think, as the best sorts of stories can change without losing their essential meaning. It’s why movies like the Ten Commandments and the Prince of Egypt can literally be different iterations about the same events while still, individually, ringing true.

It’s also why Exodus – Of Gods and Kings was such a colossal failure.

We’re going to start with one disclaimer: we are not, in any way, arguing the veracity of the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Qu’ran, or any of the texts that came from them. This essay has no interest in that whatsoever (the author, on the other hand, loves that sort of debate). This essay is talking about the story structure of the Book of Exodus, which is the second book in the Old Testament, and its modern cinematic adaptations. That’s it.

All kosher? Everyone understand? Good. Let’s get into this.

The Old Testament is one of the most impressive stories ever written. The two bestselling spin-off books – the New Testament and the Qu’ran – have influenced the entirety of western thought, and have helped shape the norms of the modern world. The lessons contained therein are considered axiomatic and culturally informing, even when people don’t necessarily understand the source material.

Exodus – Of Gods and Kings doesn’t understand the source material. It’s not just a bad movie, narratively speaking, it also misses entirely the point of the story it’s purporting to tell. The core of the Exodus tale is about God taking a stand against a nation, a deity moving into and battling an entrenched mortal power structure to free a disenfranchised people.

"I'm fighting what?"

“I’m fighting what?”

The Hebrews of the Old Testament have lost faith and have no power or strength from which to fight. They refuse to believe that they might be delivered, at least at first, and they doubt their God and the Prophet he’s sent. Moses is protected mostly by circumstance, but there’s powerful themes running throughout the story, of family and duty and faith, and that’s one of the reasons it resonates so powerfully.

Moses doubts God. He’s terrified of returning to the land of his birth, the place where he was a prince and is now wanted for murder. It’s only a brother’s love that protects him from punishment, and it’s that same brother’s love that allows him to act as God’s agent.

And, truly, that’s what Moses is: God’s agent. He has no power himself, and generally shies away from conflict. That’s one of the prime differences between the Exodus tale and every other mythology – the chosen people are slaves and don’t believe they can be anything else, and it takes God showing up and literally freeing them from the bondage of Egypt to rekindle their faith.

Both the Ten Commandments and the Prince of Egypt get this. The Hebrews never pick up swords, never attempt to defend themselves because they know they can’t. The Egyptians kill their children and the Hebrews know they are powerless to stop this. It is only through the advent of God that the Hebrews escape and return to the land of their ancestors. There’s no desire for vengeance, no conquering of those that enslaved them; the plagues the Egyptians suffer happen because of their own hubris, and if they had acted in good faith they would have suffered no more.

Exodus – Of Gods and Kings has Moses leading an armed revolt. It’s standard popcorn fare without any sort of depth or dignity, a growling macho bullshit fable that tries to undo the grandeur of the text by using character names and applying standard action movie caricatures to a story that is so much more than that and chafes at the restriction.

We see this a lot in modern cinema, characters that are suited for one sort of story shoe-horned and stitched into other stories because someone doesn’t understand what the actual story is about, or is being willfully ignorant as to what the story is about.

"I'm the prophet America deserves."

“I’m the prophet America deserves.”

See, stories are often made to fit the criteria or needs of the culture that are telling them. America is currently considering another war in the Middle East, to the extent that the politicians that are running for president in the 2016 election are already being quizzed as to whether or not they’d be willing to bomb countries in that region for, well, a variety of reasons that boil down to “we want your oil.”

Exodus – Of Gods and Kings features an American Moses going to do battle with savages in the Middle-East. It lacks any of thematic elements of family, duty, and faith in favor of crass imperialism. It’s why we’re also getting movies like American Sniper, which runs so close to parody that one would think it was taken and re-purposed from a much better movie.

And Exodus – Of Gods and Kings bombed at both the domestic and worldwide box offices. The people that made this movie thought it would be a big hit, and still don’t understand why the movie didn’t do well. The answer is simple: anyone familiar with the story knows, on an instinctive level, that this retelling of it is wrong.

In the coming weeks, we’re going to be looking at the basic building blocks of storytelling and what makes a quality story – what we’re looking for when we discuss good and bad narrative. We’re doing this because we want more Ten Commandments and Prince of Egypts and less Exodus – Of Gods and Kings. If we’re going to demand good stories, the least we can do is define what we’re demanding.

And, hey, we’re here to help people give us what we want.

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853

Book Review – Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Books & Writing, Culture, Heroes of the Living Myth, Reviews, The Truth

April 14, 2015

It’s taken me more than a month to write this review.

That’s not for lack of trying. The terror of the blank page is something I’ve come to terms with – crafting words is one of those things I do. It’s an action I define myself by, and I like to think I’m pretty good at it. Every now and then, though, I read something that resonates deeply enough to humble me, to reconsider how good I am at this thing by which I define myself.

Alif the Unseen is one of those somethings.

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2416

Red Rising – a Book Review

Books & Writing, Reviews

March 24, 2015

RedRising03

Yes. It’s one of those incredibly quotable books.

Dystopia is a common theme of science fiction, and has been since the dawn of the genre. Our need for the present to be the apex of civilization leads to us casting an increase in technology with a degradation of ethics as the only possible future. From the corporate nightmare presented by Aliens to the economic subjugation of the Hunger Games to the political bloodbath that is Battle Royale, we inevitably look to the future as a cautionary tale.

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4452

Interview with Peter S. Beagle – Author of the Last Unicorn

Books & Writing, Heroes of the Living Myth, Interviews, Short Fictions, Showcase

March 10, 2015

Interview with Peter S. Beagle

Date: April 21, 2014

(Back in April of 2014, Aaron Golden and Gregory Milne were lucky enough to get a chance to sit down with legendary writer, Peter S. Beagle, and his agent, Conner Cochran. They sat down and talked for a couple of hours about everything surrounding the creation, loss, and claiming of the Last Unicorn, but, sadly, the sound file of the interview was damaged. A lot of effort was put into saving that file, and we finally managed to get it transcribed a couple of months ago. At the time, we sat down and wondered about when the best time to release it was, now that we’d had to delay the interview so long, and considering what a gift we thought this interview was, it made sense to us, for us to release it as a gift to you. So, without further ado…)   

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2759

Fifty Shades of Do Not Want

Books & Writing, Fail, Lifestyle, Showcase, The Truth

February 13, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey is a textbook for abuse. It terrifies me that people are going to read this book or see this movie and think that this is an okay way to act, that any of the things that Christian Grey does are even the slightest shade of okay. They aren’t. As a fantasy, it’s alright – but this isn’t being portrayed as fantasy, it’s being portrayed as a blueprint and a relationship to aspire to.

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