A New Decade

As I write this, I have exactly one week left in my forties, and that is a strange feeling. Not a bad one, exactly. But very strange. I was talking with my mother recently, as we sometimes do on the phone, about the disconnect between mental age and physical age. Because they had me in high school, my parents were always younger than other people’s, and my mother could justifiably say stuff like “I can’t believe my son is 30!” when she was not yet 48 and could still pass for 40.

Anyway, she said something that I had been feeling for some time but hadn’t really articulated. It is simply that once you hit a certain age, your hypersensitivity to how old you are drops off. Perhaps you remember being a kid under 10 and demanding that people recognize you were 7 and a half, not just 7. I grew up younger than my cohort after skipping grade one and it was a bizarre experience, in retrospect, to go to college having just turned 17. What the hell were we thinking back then?

Mom told me that even as she approaches 70, she feels like she’s about 50. And I, at nearly-50, feel like I have the energy and kind of engagement with the world that someone in their 30s would have. Or that is just the age group I relate to? She told me how her mother, the late great Alice Amero, always talked about feeling young. It is a good way to be, I can’t deny it. Where does this ability come from? Does everyone have it? Is it healthy? I couldn’t say. But this vague and probably unimportant delusion is where I currently rest, like an old man on a bench in a mall, waiting for his wife to finish smelling things in Lush.

So how are you doing? Well, I hope. I last posted here two months ago and joked about how infrequent I have gotten with posting. That’s the kind of year it’s been, like we are in one of those weeping angel episodes of Doctor Who. Every time we blink, something weird and disturbing appears behind us. But you can’t just go around with your eyes bulging open, so we carefully blink and keep making adjustments to whatever new horrors have appeared.

These days I am mostly trying to get some drawing done and finish up some comics in time for DCAF, which is less than two weeks away. I am fairly certain that I will get at least one of them done. And then, after the show and the week off that precedes it, I will rest; by which I mean I will go back to my day job, but at night I will relax and play video games or something until my guilt overtakes me and I start spending my evenings trying to learn a 3D sculpting program or something.

Meanwhile time keeps on slippin’ slippin’ slippin’ into the future as Steve Miller so infuriatingly predicted. My very general plans are to draw comics this month, finish and revise a short novel next month, do Inktober in October, do National Novel Writing Month in November, and then do my usual December rituals of making some gifts and gift tags, updating my website and scanning stuff, and generally getting organized for next year. What was 2018? Where did it go? Blink.

Anyway, since I am posting so infrequently now that you could fairly assume that I have taken up residence on the event horizon of a black hole, here are some things I should plug while I have your attention:

  • I have a new online store! I spent a long time tinkering with it and trying to ensure that the shipping costs were going to be fair. If you want an autographed book, or Story Mode cards, or if you want to commission a piece, you can do it all there.
  • Come say hello at DCAF on Sunday, August 19th at Alderney Landing in Dartmouth if you are going to be in the area. It is always an enjoyable show with cool stuff to see.
  • I finally launched the Story Mode card game, and you can try it yourself for free by downloading and printing the cards or you can order a set from me while supplies last through the new online store, or you can get some from me at DCAF. If you are an English Lit or drama nerd, a teacher, actor, improviser, or card game nerd, you will probably find something to enjoy in Story Mode.

That’s it for now. Thanks as always for reading. I hope you are having a good summer.

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In Lieu

I didn’t feel it was appropriate to entitle a blog post “How The Fuck Is It Already June?!” but I couldn’t think of a better one either, and I think that is probably a good metaphor for the times, but it’s best not to think about it too hard. Which is a good general guideline for the times.

Anyway. June, yes. When I last wrote, over a month ago I am so sorry, I had just attended a small convention in Saint John and was attending a larger one in Moncton. That show was lovely and now I am looking forward to DCAF in August. I hope to get a bunch of stuff done before then, especially some new comics I am excited about.

A good chunk of my time since early May was spent fine tuning and printing and sorting and preparing my new card game, Story Mode. You can download it and play it or you can order a copy from me while supplies last. Please check out the site for an explanation of what the game is, how you can use the cards in different ways to inspire stories, and how you can try and even contribute to the game’s development.

It’s been a strange, stressful, emotional year, and it doesn’t look like that is going to change anytime soon. Part of it is external – the general insanity of a world where Donald Trump has any kind of real power – and some of it is internal, or at least a lot more local. It has forced me to take a more practical, triage-like mindset in my day to day life. Like a less-than-ideal kind of mindfulness that is not rooted in joy, but fear or anxiety.

The older I get, the more I am convinced that fear is the thing that we must fight hardest against. The lizard-brain that makes us hate and suspect any stranger, any deviation from the path we think is safe. Kill it; kill your fear dead, and be free.

As always I am tired and rambling on Sunday evening, so now I will just recommend things I enjoyed for a while:

There is a new film out you may have heard of called Hereditary, starring Toni Collette. It is an amazing twist on the demonic horror of Rosemary’s Baby, genuinely horrifying and very suspenseful. It is a type of horror- a Lovecraftian, ordinary mortals resist in futility against ancient evil- that is filmed fairly often lately but this is far and away the best recent example of the genre. It has jumped into my top 10 horror films.

We also went to see Ocean’s 8, which I guess is doing well and good on them. I thought it was fine, the script is dubious in parts but no worse than it was in any of the Clooney films and certainly no worse than the Sinatra film. What feels lacking in Ocean’s 8 is the absence of Steven Soderbergh; the angles he would shoot, the holds, the lighting, the edits. I speculated that if this one gets a trilogy, the next step would be to make Ocean’s 14 through 16 starring the remaining casts from both trilogies. Why not?

I took Jack to see Solo before that, and I thought it was fine. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Rogue One, probably about as much as Episode 7 amd a bit less than 8. I’d like to see more of those characters doing stuff, if that is ever an option.

The best book I have read lately is Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli. It is a sequel to her debut novel Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda, which was recently made into the charming film Love, Simon. Leah focuses on Simon’s longtime female best friend who enjoys drumming, feels inadequate compared to wealthier classmates, and is getting curious vibes from a same-sex friend. As a child psychologist, Albertalli is very good at giving her characters authentic-sounding voices and small moments that build a world I wish I could visit more often.

I finally finished The Peripheral by William Gibson. I don’t know why it always takes me so long to read his books, because I love them and it’s not due to a lack of interest, I just have to absorb them slowly I guess.

There have been some good comics launched recently- the new Nancy Drew, of all things, is queer as hell and very promising. Evan Dorkin and Veronica Fish have a nice new teen (dark) magic title called Blackwood, and John Allison is writing a new miniseries called By Night. The New Mutants: Dead Souls by Matthew Rosenberg and company has been brilliant and I am looking forward to reading his new book about Multiple Man.

All that said, the best comic I have read lately is the new issue of Love and Rockets, in which we get classic Hopey-Maggie conversations, childhood flahsbacks, intergenerational and intercultural dialogue, magical realism, and beautiful artwork.

My TV watching these days alternates between shows starring Gordon Ramsay and/or his family, shows about travel and possibly buying homes or at least eating local foods, and Noah Hawley’s shows, specifically Season 2 of Legion and season 1 of Fargo, which I just finished. I know, I’m behind. But I won’t be for long. Both of those shows are amazing.

I’ve also been enjoying Westworld (even if it does feel like a pale imitation of a Noah Hawley series in comparison), Elementary, and much to my pleased surprise, Fear the Walking Dead. I had actually skipped that series all of its third season and checked out the beginning of the new season because Morgan from the main series was going to be on it. They did some interesting retooling as part of that move and have written a very strong season so far, as compelling as its parent series when it is at its best.

That’s it for now. I will try to write more regularly. I hope it is a consolation that if you don’t hear from me, it’s because I am busy doing stuff I enjoy and it is helping me cope with some stuff that I don’t. I hope you are having a good summer. We deserve it.

Spring in Your Step

I feel like I emerge from every winter like a wild-eyed man who catches a glimpse of himself in a mirror and notices that his face is smeared with dark blood. At first he is startled and concerned, then he notices he is holding a severed and partially devoured human arm, and thinks to himself, ah, right. We do what we must to survive a Canadian winter, literally and figuratively.

Anyway. I have been letting some creative stuff slide – most notably the Sunday Night in Cinema 3 podcast and this blog – partly due to a busy stretch at work, partly due to preparing for conventions. I just spent the weekend in Saint John, New Brunswick, where I lived for nearly 20 years. It’s the kind of place where I saw someone I know immediately upon stepping out of the car. The trip had a dual purpose: a one-week-early birthday party for my son Jack, and attending a relatively new comics convention called Fog City Comic Con at the central library.

Jack and I snuck in a viewing of The Rock’s new film, Rampage, which is more fun than it has any right to be. The next day I gave him his presents (an Xbox game he wanted, a trade paperback of Star Wars comics, and Nick Offerman’s book Paddle Your Own Canoe) and took him and his friends to see Infinity War on Saturday afternoon. It was the second time for me but no less enjoyable. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, but it reminds me in a weird way of the last episode of The Fugitive – a huge event that had to stick the landing, and I think it did. We ate some pizza and chatted about it and the upcoming Marvel films afterward.

The next day I took my bag of tricks to the library and led a “how to make comics” session in their lovely new maker space. I also agreed to fill in on a panel about adapting other media to comics, moderated by my friend and cousin-by-marriage June. The rest of the time I relaxed at my table and chatted with a bunch of people I haven’t seen in ages, and I got a copy of a new comic book called It Came From The Public Domain that was published by a group that is developing local comics talent. It was an inspiring time and a perfect way to kick off my own convention season. It was also a pretty good dry run for the next show I’m doing, the East Coast Comics Expo in Moncton on the 19th, in terms of how I want to lay out my table. I also sold my last copy of The Insult collection, but with any luck I should have a new shipment in time for ECCE.

New Brunswick gets a lot of stick from the rest of Canada, and the last thing they need is the worst-in-two-generations flooding along the Saint John river that is happening right now.  It is supposed to start receding later this week but in the meantime, people are fighting to prevent their homes from flooding and contending with potential sewage backup and other issues. I have no doubt they’ll get through it, but in the meantime, all respect to the people of NB and the Saint John river valley in particular who are pitching in to help their neighbours.

Responsible Couch Ownership

Greetings from Halifax, where we are in the part of winter where it snows, then rains, then freezes, then thaws, and this cycle continues. I am seated on a soon-to-be-replaced futon with Black Lightning on TV and a fat cat slumbering against my hip. The weekends are too damned short.

The futon is soon to be replaced because my dear wife and I decided to be practical with our shared Xmas gift this year, deciding at the last minute to buy a new sofa instead of a Nintendo Switch. The sofa was a special order that is due to arrive soon. I’m not sure what will become of the futon yet. In any case we are taking this opportunity to rearrange the apartment a little, get more organized and such.

This gave me a good reason to try to learn Sketchup again, and this time I think it worked. I made a simple 3D map of our living room and the furniture, grouped the planes, moved and rotated them around, learned some of the shortcut keys. I think that’s when you know you are a serious user of any graphics application- when you know the shortcut keys.

LivingRoom

My wife has been sick all week and I felt pretty low-energy myself for a couple of days, but otherwise the end of January passed without complaint. I did manage to get some penciling done one a new short comic that I hope to get done in the next week or two. The resulting mini-comic will be the first exclusive printed thing for my Patreon.

There is a fun-sounding afternoon comic convention called Fog City Comic-con, organized by the public library in my former home city of Saint John, New Brunswick. This will its second year, occurring from 11-4 on Sunday, May 6th. I was just debating with myself earlier this week about applying for a table and making the drive and so on, when someone from the library kindly invited me to attend as a guest, maybe do a panel of some kind, so I took that as a sign and said yes. Assuming all goes as planned, that will be my first con appearance for 2018. I will update the appearances page with details for that and upcoming shows as details become available. And Fog City, thanks very much for the invite!

Speaking of comics, my LCS is the wonderful, Eisner-Award-winning Strange Adventures in Halifax. They were having a prize draw where a ballot would be entered for you if you picked up your pull list promptly, and I won this month! The prize included a copy of the Marvel 75th Anniversary Omnibus, a fancy Batman figurine, and several trade paperbacks. So that was a nice surprise, and let that be a lesson to you all- if you have a pull list at a comic shop, pick your books up promptly!

That’s all I can think of to say for this week. I haven’t posted them yet but there will be updates to Faith of the Heart, The Insult, and Sunday Night in Cinema 3 later today. I also started designing a sort of welcome package thing for Patreon a few days ago, and came up with a name for a card game I’m working on. I think I will try to have some prototypes ready to sell for this spring’s shows. More on that as this month goes on. In the meantime, thanks as always for reading.

What Time Is It?

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of time, something both so natural and so artificial, that we bend intentionally and that bends us. One of my favourite books is Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman; it is a collection of short vignettes about the early life of Einstein when he was a patent clerk in Vienna, and the dreams that Lightman imagines might have inspired the theory of relativity. Each of the dreams posits a scenario where time works differently than the way we are used to.

Anyway, remember how I was writing about stress last week? I was thinking about it some more and analyzing where stress comes from, for me. It often comes from the fear of being late- I am generally VERY punctual- and that could include deadlines for work or for my own projects.

When you are a self-publisher, I don’t think it makes ANY sense to create deadline related stress for yourself. We already have enough of that in our day to day lives. This is something I was especially thinking about as I fleshed out the timelines for projects I want to get done this year. Some of the tasks were viable, others would be charitably called stretch goals (64 pages of comics from me in a year? Yeah right).

Once all those deadlines and checkpoints were laid out for me, I could feel the stress wanting to rise, but thankfully the Zen side of me put a firm hand on its shoulder and invited it to sit. I decided to try a different approach for a while, one which is sometimes used as a mindfulness exercise for Buddhists. If I started to feel stressed, or paralyzed by too many choices of what I could be doing, I would simply stop, take a breath, and ask myself, what time is it?

We have many times of day, and they don’t all have hard strict limits, but they tend to have fairly regular patterns. I work Monday to Friday from 8:30 AM to 5 PM, for example. Some days I might not sign in until 9, or I might work a few hours late at the end of the day. But the general “work day” pattern is there. So if it’s 3PM on a Tuesday and I ask myself, what time is it? The answer is: time to work, dummy.

Those answers could come from commitments (like work), habits (running or the gym), biological need (eating, sleeping), psychological need (relaxing, recreation), and more. So there are many possible responses to “what time is it?” at any given time of the day, but I think it’s asking the question that kicks the answer into our heads, because deep down we know what we ought to be doing, if only we did not fear the prospect of doing it.

Anyway. Give it a try, if you think it would be useful for you.

What else to talk about this week? I watched a lot of Bones, which is still possibly the worst thing ever made, and yet I cannot stop. I will ride all fourteen seasons down to hell in the name of distracting my overactive brain in the afternoons at work.

I’ve been reading the latest novel by Tom Perrotta, called Mrs. Fletcher, which alternates between the point of view of an entitled white kid from the Boston suburbs and his mother who has just seen him off to college and who is coming to embrace the idea of being a MILF. Like everything Perrotta does (The Leftovers, Election) it’s a little twisted, but compelling.

I guess I could sum up what I have done this week creatively. I worked on a new print and am just about ready to start the artwork in Clip Studio. I had a cute idea for another print and sketched that out. I published two new installments of The Insult., and two new installments of Faith of the Heart, one of which is exclusively on Patreon. I reviewed some of the manuscript of 4 of a Kind, my soon to be finished novel from last year’s NaNoWriMo. And, I published the latest episode of Sunday Night in Cinema 3 and have applied to have it listed in the iTunes store… cross your fingers.

Lots to do, as always, but the technique I described above is helping. Hope you have a great week.

-SM

Jack Kirby, Goals, and Fear(lessness)

I had hoped to update this blog weekly for a while but it looks like I let things slide since November. Will things improve in 2018? Let’s find out.

It has been a pretty mild winter overall, apparently the least amount of snow here in Halifax in a long time. Nicole and I made it to Saint John for just under a week’s worth of holidays, with requisite (but too short) visits with friends and family.

I find myself testing the limits of my ability to process new levels of stress lately. Mostly with success. If nothing else, it has given me a chance to dust off my Buddhism, and refresh the principles that I am supposed to be using as a foundation for how I interact with the world. (That sounds grander than it actually is. For me, it’s just the importance of keeping things in perspective, and especially resisting knee-jerk fear reactions to things.)

Anyway. Stress. I feel like I am doing a decent job of going with the flow, which is a goal for me, and not getting anxious about deadlines, especially self-imposed ones. That said, I have also attempted to organize my many projects for this year so that I can jump from one to another, from relatively simple things that I can crank out frequently to more complicated things that will be one-offs. (I apologize for saying “crank out frequently,” it won’t happen again.)

Over the holidays I randomly caught an episode of the series Electric Dreams, based on Philip K. Dick’s short stories, and it made me think about his pink beam of alien(?) light, and how the world since he died feels increasingly like something he might have dreamed up. Sometimes I feel like I should go back and reread Phil’s books, and maybe one day I will. At this point I would rather catch up on the many unread books I have accumulated, plus my ever-growing list of library holds.

Speaking of books, I bought myself a bit of a present after Christmas – the omnibus edition of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, which reprints all of his series of The New Gods, Mister Miracle, The Forever People, and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. I used to have all of the original issues of them except for Olsen but I sold them at one point years ago when I needed money. The new volume is pricey, but not compared to trying to collect the originals again, or even compared to buying trade collections. It is quite a trip to go through those stories again in linear order.

Part of the reason for that is the way that those old stories- clunky as they often are in their vernacular- are like a pair of heart paddles for someone at my age, who loves both Kirby and comics. Their energy, their imagination, and the way that they distill the man’s feelings about the art form, about young people, about war, and hope. The Anti-Life Equation that Darkeid sought could have been many things, but I always think of it in relation to fear. Kirby was fearless, and driven to keep making art that both brought him commercial success so he could take care of his family, but also pushed the boundaries of the art form where he had already tirelessly innovated by 1970.

Fear has been on my mind a lot lately. Fear of failure, fear of change, even fear of success. You would think that an old Buddhist would recognize the dangers of it more readily, but I still have to remind myself, and I still have to push myself to do some things that other people don’t even have to think about, like interacting with strangers. So, apart from the creative goals I have this year, my main personal goal is to stop allowing fear from playing a role in my day to day life. Easier said than done, of course, but I think it is achievable eventually.

 

Finding the People

Last year around this time, maybe a little later, I was thinking about how I could “level up” my creative work and complete a worthwhile challenge or two. I’m generally happy with my progress and my output in a lot of respects, but I don’t always feel like I’m good at getting things in front of the audience that would appreciate it.

So, I thought a good way to start would be to level up my publishing. I explored my options for print on demand and wound up trying CreateSpace, Amazon’s in-house solution. I was pleased with it, so I published more books, and now I have several that I can bring with me to shows or just sell online.

Now that I am planning for next year, I am excited about a few potential projects but I also want to continue trying to extend how I reach the audience. It’s been obvious to me for some time that I probably won’t ever create something that has mass appeal, like Spider-Man; but there is definitely a group of people out there who seem to like my work, and I want them to be able to access it easily. And I’d like to be able to access them easily too, to let them know first if I’m doing something I think they’ll like.

So, I think I will start a Patreon. In fact, I already have, but I haven’t activated yet while I’m still figuring out how it will work. I plan on keeping it as simple as possible, basically with a level where subscribers can access a bunch of digital exclusive stuff and another where they can access both digital stuff and periodic physical shipments of comics, little bits of art, and so on.

It’s intimidating, but I think I need to get out of the habit of assuming that people would not subscribe to such a thing. I didn’t expect them to buy as many copies of my books as they did this year either! So why not try?

Not that it’s about making money. I don’t expect to profit from a Patreon- at best it will pay for the time it takes me to make and ship patron-exclusive stuff- but having the additional “channel” of Patreon to point people to could be very useful for building and maintaining an audience and giving them a sort of virtual convention table to go to for the 48ish weeks a year that I’m not doing shows.

So, that is kind of the big effort for next year. I already have a long list of ideas for Patron-exclusive stuff to do in addition to everything else I want to do- more details as they come, including the Patreon link after it launches.

What else to talk about this week? We started a new month, so my participation in Inktober ended and my participation in National Novel Writing Month began, as it has for the last few years. I was overall quite pleased with the stuff I did for Inktober this year – some of the illustrations will definitely be included in an upcoming art book of some sort and one or two favourites might also get used as cards or prints. Again, I’ll keep you posted.

The novel this year is a comedy and a Western, something which we don’t see as much as we used to – I grew up with the “They Call Me Trinity” movies, Blazing Saddles, and so on. Not that I expect the novel to turn out to be a classic like the latter of course, but I am enjoying where it’s going so far.

As for the week coming up, it’s Remembrance Day next weekend here in Canada, which is a big deal to me and many others. Thanks to those who have served to defend their country and others from tyranny. May you never be called to action by poor commanders.