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Opportunities You Should Not Miss

After mucking around with (imaginary) TV shows, I’m overdue to write about webcomics again.

When Chapter 8 begun, when the pacing accelerated and the plot started to pay off promises made in earlier chapters, I noticed that in many posts about the Opportunities webcomic I have written about individual pages, panels, or specific techniques, but never given a broad overview.

It’s time to present the large-scale picture and praise the excellent storytelling of Opportunities.

tl;dr -> Opportunities is a great comic: Go read it now!

If you haven’t read the comic yet, nor any of my previous posts, here’s a summary:

Opportunities, created by sincerely and Elliwiny, is about a posse of professional assassins posing as proper businesspeople negotiating with alien spacefarers, because they want to extort a means of space travel to leave Earth behind for good, and about those who stand against them. (See the blurb!)

Be aware that this post contains some SPOILERS; Yet another reason to read the comic right now.

Evolution

Like many webcomics, Opportunities is being created over the course of several years (even if the story itself takes places in just five days). It is no wonder that writing and art improve over time.

That said, since the story has been written – or at least drafted – in its entirety beforehand, from the very beginning the plot is rock-solid, the pacing is great, the character voices are distinctive, and the dialog is snappy and poignant. Everything goes from very good to truly excellent.

The way the story unfolds and is presented is strongly reminiscent of TV shows. This leads to another kind of improvement, as the story builds up a stronger foundation and gathers steam with each chapter, like the episodes of an excellent serial show. (It also means that if you are into great TV drama, you should really have a look at Opportunities.)

One improvement that is more marked than these is the way Opportunities handles exposition. The first two chapters contain quite a bit of expository dialog that feels slightly artificial, but in the later chapters dialog that performs similar function works seamlessly and sounds natural.

Similar to the writing, the art improves over time, but it is very good from the start. The artistic expression becomes even more versatile, even more powerful, and even more intense.

Art

Disclaimer: I’m not an artist or art expert, which means I’m talking out off my a** here.

The art of Opportunities is really good. Compared to the intense black-and-white, gray-scale, or limited palette look of noir detective or dark sci-fi comics, it has a rather laid-back quality, and compared to gloriously colorful fantasy comics, it is a lot more accessible. It is also easy on the eyes in the usual as well as in the strictly literal sense; Places look like places you’d like to be in, people look like people you’d like to be with (in case you’d like to be with ruthless criminals).

The faces and figures of both humans and aliens all look great, believable, adorable, and distinct.

The art quality is very consistent, and the art is always there to serve the story.

On some special occasions the art is unusually fancy and breaks out of the story to highlight character moments and to give the reader something extra to think about.

Page & Panel Layout

Most of the pages have standard rectangular panels arranged in a regular grid. Panel size and grid layout are varied deliberately to emphasize particular story elements and to support rhythm and pacing. Sometimes a layout with many small panels is used for dramatic interpersonal moments, which works well, makes the drama intense, and gives the distinct feeling of an excellent TV show. Often, there are inserts or overlays showing a character’s face in close-up or some important small detail. Sometimes important objects are placed on top of the panel layout.

World Building

The world-building is consistent and supports the story very well.

Since the story takes place in a world that looks a lot like today’s, with a couple of aliens and a few spaceships added, it doesn’t need to be extraordinarily extensive or mind-blowing.

Make no mistake, the focus on the mundane, if lush, business environment is a feature, not a bug; it creates the perfect stage for the amazing characters to act.

Characters & Characterization

The best feature of Opportunities is, without question, its incredible cast.

(You may remember that I dedicated an entire blog post to finding real-life actors that would play Opportunities’ cast in a hypothetical TV adaptation.)

There’s the bunch of human assassins:

  • Sara Emmet is one of my favorite femme fatales in any medium, and one of my favorite female character in general. Headstrong, ruthless, irascible, charming, manipulating, luxurious, and drop-dead (in a figurative and a literal way) sexy: You name any quality you can admire in a woman (who is one ocean and one continent away from you), she has it.
  • Jack Frost sees himself as the cornerstone of the team. He’s still very much infatuated with Sara, even since it’s been a long time since they were lovers, and she’s clearly moved on, long ago, and multiple times. But he still believes that deep in her heart she still loves him. Nobody else shares these beliefs, so you might call him delusional. He’s a loose cannon, but his unpredictability can give him a great tactical advantage. If you ever need an excellent action hero with a big heart and a violent mind, call Jack!
  • Dr. Stone is the evil mastermind. He’s good a reading people, analyzing situations, planning and directing, leading a team, and solving technical as well as interpersonal problems. In what’s truly extraordinary storytelling, none of these qualities is an Informed Ability, rather, every single one is actually shown in action. I’m not sure I’ve seen anything comparable since Gus Frings and Mike Ehrmantraut in Breaking Bad.
  • Baron is the most mysterious character. He knows how to prick on people to get them where he wants them, and to put people in places they’d rather not be, and he can kill swiftly and without remorse, all of which is as highly commendable in a fictional character as it would be deplorable in a real person. But he enjoys doing so to a degree that can compromise his professionalism. Dr. Stone says they can rely on him; So there’s that.
  • Atticus is an alien who serves as the tech guy for the team. The great thing about him is that he combines the typical hacker working habits with an uneven team player attitude and an adorable nerdiness.

Then there are the alien security officers who they have to fight against:

  • Kyan is the leader of the security team. She is well characterized as the most professionally competent protagonist, but she is also the most conflicted, which makes for great drama. It is a testament for the author’s storytelling prowess that her conflicts doesn’t come from psycho-rabble-babble, but from the serious problems inflicted on her due to political requirements for keeping up peaceful appearance that are at odds with security concerns.
  • Rex is her subordinate, who loves to make fun of Kyan’s seriousness. He has a rather laid-back attitude when it comes to security, and prefers to check out the women at the pool instead. Of all things, his peculiar interest in Sara’s fine feminine figure makes him realize that there is some deep deception going on.
  • Nathan is pretty much Rex’ buddy, classically different in attitude and temper.

Two supporting characters have an important function and interaction with those two groups:

  • Marco Santiago aka Cortez is an employee of Pursuit International, the organisation the assassins want to infiltrate. He’s well characterized as an incredibly suave hispanic gentleman (not my words, mind you, but certainly accurate) and becomes Sara’s lover, smokescreen, and manipulation target. The relationship is well depicted, and we get to love him enough to become severely impacted when his interaction with the assassins will get him in harm’s way.
  • Vigi is an alien of a unique species in the comic. She has a history with Kyan, which made them deadly enemies. She tries to expose the Pursuit business deal as fraud with corruption, and gets in the crossfire of the fight between the assassins and the alien security force. She is funny, sometimes almost a comic relief character, but she is characterized seriously, has agency, and if her actions betray more enthusiasm than professional tradecraft, that is her problem, not the author’s fault.

Finally we have a supporting cast of excellent characters who give additional richness to the story. (Remember how much Breaking Bad profited from its great supporting cast?)

Action, Drama & Comedy

Opportunities has an excellent mix of action, drama, and comedy.

After the flash forward at the start which shows us that there will be murder, mayhem, and explosions later on, we see only occasional action until chapter 8, but when we see it, it’s well choreographed and depicted. Opportunities’ focus is rather on drama, and it’s the kind of drama that comes with slow build-up. There’s constantly increasing tension as the plot gets more complex and intertwined, and the reader gets sucked into the story more and more.

There’s great humor mixed into action and drama: Some slapstick, some wordplay, some dramatic irony, but mostly character humor of the finest variety. It is always well-placed, and never undercuts the drama, but more often than not supports and strengthens it.

Plotting & Pacing

Plotting has been done with great skill and dedication: The plot thickens continuously, there are multiple plot strands interwoven and feeding into each other, things get a lot more complex in a very natural way, but the plot always makes sense, and the reader can develop complete trust into the writer’s ability to keep up.

The are numerous twists and surprises, even though the reader is let in on most of the protagonists’ secrets early on; there are only a couple of mysteries, but there is plenty of intrigue. You don’t see this done so well very often.

Pacing is always difficult with webcomics, and so it takes some effort to get into the groove with Opportunities. Once this effort has been expended, the reader will notice that the pacing is really good, there is a rhythm that flows very naturally, and the switch between fast moments, tense moments, and quiet moments is always smooth.

Dialog & Depiction

The dialog is well-written. Each character speaks in their own way, there’s lively back-and-forth in conversations and discussions, emotional state and thinking process are revealed, the aliens speak in a different ways depending on the degree of alien-ness, and everything is done subtly or markedly, with or without exaggeration, whatever style works best.

The art enhances the dialog in the most beautiful way. Facial expression and body language always fit incredibly well. Page composition and panel layout support the dialog wonderfully: They set the stage, establish the tone, keep or switch focus as required, and provide the feel of movement that serves best to engage the reader with every conversation, or even monologue.

If the characters and their interaction are the best features of Opportunities (and they are), the dialog scenes are the perfect presentation of both.

Details & The Big Picture

Another outstanding feature of Opportunities is the diligence on details, and the way small details are used to create an incredible depth for the big picture:

There are many more examples where the eye for detail shows, both in the writing and the art, and the story is so much netter for it.

To say it once again: Opportunities is a great comic: Go read it!

What do YOU think about Opportunities? Tell us in the comments!

BGSD: The Newest Nerd Show On TV

All of the big streaming services introduce each new TV show with much fanfare, sending out trailers and press statements in a mighty flood many month before the actual launch date.

So you can imagine my surprise when I noticed that I had completely missed out on one of the best and funniest and most interesting TV shows I’ve seen since Breaking Bad, the new nerd show about Woman In Comics called BGSD. (It’s a short season, only 7 episodes long, but still …)

Being neither a woman nor a proper geek, I have to wonder if I’m even allowed to have so much fun with a show about female geekdom, but I cannot help, so here we go:

The show is about MellowCon, a fictitious Comic Con style convention held in a fictitious city in an unidentified state in the deep south of the USA, and about the titular BGSD, which stands for B*tches Get Sh*t Done, and is the name of a presentation track and a discussion panel about Women In Comics that will be held the first time during MellowCon.

The full name is often used, but always censored: Every time it is spoken out, some noise drowns part of the words. And the visual censorship is quite literally lampshaded, when during every potentially dangerous wide shot some of the letters are obstructed by lighting equipment.

Viola Davis plays the head of the organization committee, who for the first time wants to keep out the Confederate Soldier cosplayers who traditionally attend, claiming that the only grey uniforms allowed would be those of color-impaired stormtroopers. (Christopher Cousins, who was Ted Bernanke on Breaking Bad, plays her assistant.)

Her fight for this change, with all the assorted politics, is the A plot, and the stories of the female creators who participate in the BGSD presentations and panel collectively constitute the B plot.

The story is told in today’s typical non-linear fashion; we see both the preparation for and the start of MellowCon in parallel. The different timelines converge in the penultimate episode.

Anyone who has ever watched a presentation by or an interview with any of the comic creators that are portrayed in the show will have to agree that it is a shame that they let only one actual Woman In Comics into the cast:

  • Christian Beranek, who plays pretty much herself, in a stunning & irreverent performance.

That said, all the comic creator main characters have been cast with excellently chosen actors:

  • Christine Baranski, showing all the intelligence and charm of Diane Lockhard from The Good Wife, plays The Grande Dame Of Comics, who has just illustrated a graphic novel biography of a famous comic creator, called Awesome Mindblowing Unbelievable.
  • Australian actress Margot Robbie plays an influential Canadian comics historian and independent publisher, who has just published the anthology Geek Girls’ Graces.
  • Mackenzie Davis, who was Mindy Park in The Martian, plays the creator of an occasionally NSFW slice-of-life comic, oscillating between acquired boldness and natural shyness.

Lest you think that BGSD actually means Blondes Get Sh*t Done, take note that:

  • Melissa Rauch, the powerful Dr. Bernadette Rostenkowski-Wolowitz from The Big Bang Theory, now rainbow-colored instead of her natural blond, plays a multi-talent working in academy and industry and as an independent comic creator.
  • Carla Gugino, known from the TV show Threshold and the movies Sin City, Sucker Punch, and San Andreas, this time with flaming red hair, plays a comic writer who created an extraordinary feminist dystopian sci-fi series that quickly becomes popular and influential.
  • Anna Gunn, the fabulous Skyler White from Breaking Bad, dyed her hair to play a comic book writer who is writing for several well-shaped female (super)heroes, which for some odd reasons doesn’t stop some stupid male detractors to claim that she hates boobs.
  • Gillan Anderson plays a webcomic creator and self-published novelist who writes and draws stories about world-wide conspiracies, cyborgs, shady government agencies, power-hungry men and women, mind-control, and a couple of millions of ghosts.

Surprisingly many actresses who play smart and sexy CSI Miami characters are part of the cast:

  • Emily Procter [Calleigh Duquesne] plays an Australian comic artist who draws a story about a female police officer with supernatural background.
  • Eva LaRue [Natalia Boa Vista] plays a writer who works for the Big Two as well as on independent comics, which makes her feel like the luckiest girl in America.
  • Megalyn Echikunwoke [Tara Price] plays a comic publisher and cartoonist from Chicago.

Several more minority characters and actors are involved:

  • Cote de Pablo, the unforgettable Ziva David from NCIS, plays a renowned psychologist who writes a lot about superhero psychology, discussing serious mental health issues.
  • Archie Panjabi, one of my favorite actresses, probably best known as Kalinda Sharma from The Good Wife, or as Serena Johnson from San Andreas, play an artist and webcomics creator with Indian heritage (who might be a mix of different real-life persons).

Additionally, one male creator has a small but still relevant part in the show:

  • Jonathan Banks, known as Mike Ehrmantraut from Breaking Bad, difficult to recognize with all that hair if not for his charm, plays a creator who, 25 years ago, created a science fiction comic with a female hero who is smart, strong, and sexy, but not hyper-sexualized.

There are also a few performances that could be called Easter Eggs:

  • Jewel Staite, Mark Strong, Josh Brolin, and Aaron Paul play four authors who meet at MellowCon to perform a life recording of their award-winning podcast OverWrought. (Great, I love it, but does Aaron Paul really have to wear an I’m Not A Serial Killer t-shirt?)
  • The dream team from the movie Spy, Melissa McCarthy and Miranda Hart, play the creators of a webcomic about a posse of hitmen (and -women) in space. Because they cannot afford to go to MellowCon in person, they follow everybody on social media, and make acerbic comments on the proceedings, in the best Statler & Waldorf fashion.
  • Christina Hendricks plays an English superhero movie screenwriter who is admired for her colorful hair and her voluptuous curves almost as much as for her excellent writing. She prefers to talk about her most recent movie script rather than about Woman In Comics.

Finally, there is a cameo from a male creator:

  • Because what’s good for movies is also good in TV, the man himself shows up when his graphic novel autobiography Awesome Mindblowing Unbelievable is presented.

My recommendation is that you search for and check out the TV show BGSD as soon as possible.

And please tell us in the comments what you think about it!

Also tell us if you can figure out who the creators played by each actress are supposed to be in real life! And please accept my apology for being such an annoyingly unabashed fanboy today! (Yes, I promise it won’t happen again till next year.)

Casting Comic To Film Adaptions: Deep Dive Daredevils

Once again I invite you to join me in casting one of my favorite webcomics, this time Deep Dive Daredevils. Or, more exactly, the third storyline: Pitch Black Day. You may remember that my very first post on this blog was an analysis of the excellent plotting of that story.

[Note: The Deep Dive Daredevils just resumed their adventure after an announced hiatus the writers and artists needed to make sure the next chapter will be awesome.]

I will start by talking about how I would arrange the screenplay, and then move on to the actual casting. And as always, you are invited to comment and discuss, agree or disagree, and tell us what’s on your mind.

There will be spoilers, so I encourage you to check out and read the just about 60 pages of Pitch Black Day before you proceed! Also, you probably won’t understand much of what I’m talking about unless you have read the comic.

Plot Arrangement

As I noted in my first post, the main plot structure of Pitch Black Day is excellent, so there would be little need to change for adaptions. The only – and worthy – challenge would be the editing (cross-cutting) of interweaved scenes in the latter part.

On the other hand, the presentation of the back matter in Pitch Black Day poses a problem. Remember, at the intermission between each chapter, Pitch Black Day features some really cool in-universe documents describing the back story of Dracula, SIS Section X, and Abigail Singer.

I really want to create flashback scenes for the back matter instead of just reading them out loud!

My first idea was to create a framing narration structure in which both the story chapters and the back matter scenes are introduced like video presentations. But while I think such a structure can work – some 1980’s French spy movies made good use of a pseudo-documentary style  – I’m not really satisfied with that approach.

There’s a better way. If we see Abigail steal all the documents from the ultra-secret evidence facility, and she takes them with her on board the Custer, we can display the flashback scenes while Abigail, or a crew member, reads the respective document.

So I would start the movie with an extensive James Bond style pre-title-vignette:

  • The first thing we see is water, with a caption and voice-over identifying place – The Irish Sea, off Blackpool – and the time. Then we see a submarine periscope breaking the surface, which will rotate slowly, indicating the Captain taking a good look at the surroundings. Afterwards a snorkel – which will set off the anachronism alert for history buffs at the earliest possible moment – and then an antenna pylon break the surface.
  • Next we see a female agent – Abigail – sending a Morse code message using a WW II style spy radio transmitter suitcase. This happens on land, near the premise of the Ultra J Level evidence facility in Leeds, as is indicated by caption and/or voice over.
  • Aboard the Custer, the message is deciphered as time and date for a secret rendezvous.
  • Then we see, montage-style, how Abigail breaks into the facility and steals the documents
  • Finally, Abigail joins the Custer. (Maybe by seaplane?)

During the titles and the music, we see a nautical chart where the course of the Custer is plotted from the Irish Sea to the mid-Atlantic.

At the start of the movie proper, we are on page one of the comic!

I’d handle the end of the story, told in the final back matter section in the comic, quite similarly: During the end credit, I’d show on a map how the Custer moves to different ports, disembarks Abigail in Bombay, and sails towards the Pacific Ocean while the map display fades out, and then add an after-credit-scene – probably a montage – that shows Abigail going after Jack The Ripper.

Casting Principles

Since this is pretty much a thought experiment, I don’t need to base my choices on any fixed point in time, i.e. I will mix actors at a certain age even if the relative ages would never fit.

And my goal is not to recreate the visuals of the comic perfectly, so I’m not going to look at which actor looks most similar to the comic character as drawn. Just like Krysten Ritter doesn’t look exactly like Jessica Jones from the comics, nor Margot Robbie like comic book Harley Quinn.

The Main Cast:

  • Joe: In all likelihood this will be my most controversial choice. I’d not cast an actual boy, or a boyish looking adolescent, but rather make him seemingly ill-fitted to be XO of a submarine in a different way. I’d cast RJ Mitte at the age he had for the first season of Breaking Bad. On board of the Custer, he walks with crutches, but when he goes into action, he wears some kind of exosceleton device.
  • Abigail Singer: Another crazy choice of mine. Instead of all the others you guys will come up with, I choose MirandaHart. I loved her as Melissa McCarthy’s sidekick in Spy, and she is an English aristocrat progeny turned common brat. I heard some people complain about her funny line in Spy either badly written or delivered, but I can neither confirm nor refute such claims, as I’ve seen the movie twice, but both times with German dubbing.
  • Dr. McCarver: I wouldn’t really have thought of casting Laurence Fishburne based only on his role as Morpheus in the Matrix, but after seeing him recently as a professor for forensic in CSI, I really like that idea.
  • Dracula: Instead of looking for an actor who can properly play an Hungarian aristocrat, I’d focus on the contrast between manners and politeness on one side, diabolical power greed and abusive mind-control on the other, and cast David Tennant, who played the extremely creepy supervillain Kilgrave on Jessica Jones.
  • Captain Custer: Mickey Rourke with the hard-boiled look he had as Marv in Sin City.
  • Father McFlaherty: For an Irishman who is a badass fighter against evil, we cannot go wrong with Pierce Brosnan, can we?
  • McGinty: Liam Cunningham from Game Of Thrones is a strong option for a strong guy.
  • Deveraux: Even though he may not be as popular in the US and elsewhere as he is in Europe, I’ll cast Jean-Paul Belmondo, at the age he had when he was in Breathless (the French original of course, not the 1983 American remake).
  • Twitchy: You may call me lazy and point out that Peter Dinklageis another Game Of Thrones actor, but I only know him as the wonderful mathematician and linguist from Threshold. And no, I don’t have any real justification for casting him; I just like the idea.
  • Dr. Spett: You may or may not remember Jürgen Prochnow from Das Boot; he can certainly play an armseliger Bösewicht from Germany.

Additional Characters For The Flashbacks:

  • Jehan Bumpass: I’d cast Amanda Redman, who played Sandra Pullman in the British crime series New Tricks.
  • Marvyn Astor (SISX Protocol 15 Supervisor): Since this is a very minor character, I have no misgivings about taking a rather obvious choice with Mark Strong (Merlin from Kingsman).
  • Old Director SISX (Alistair Thorpe): In my opinion David McCallum, who plays Donald Mallard on NCIS, could give this character all the necessary depth, charm, and tiredness.
  • New Director SISX: We never get the name of this gentleman, but the meanness shown would be a great contrast to Gary Oldman‘s very sympathetic portrayal of George Smiley.
  • Principal, Miss Brindley’s School For Wayward Girls: How about Gillian Anderson with her trademark unamused look and posture, and her low tolerance for spooky nonsense?

We would certainly need to cast even more characters for additional supporting roles, but I don’t really have strong ideas about those. Maybe you have? Tell us in the comments!

What’s On Your Mind?

Do you agree or disagree with my choices? Do you have other suggestions? Do you have favorite casting choices for other webcomics? Tell us in the comments!

Seven Questions About Protege

Here’s the sixth installment of Seven Questions About: This time I interviewed Terence Anthony, the writer of the outstanding webcomic Protégé, which I wrote about a couple of times on this blog, especially in the post spoilers Surprising Your Audience The Webcomics Way spoilers .

Note that Protégé is currently on hiatus (at a perfect stopping point), but will resume updating a new chapter on November 25th., which gives you an excellent opportunity for an archive binge to get up to speed in time. And as always, I encourage you to do so.

Note: If you absolutely must take a shortcut, you can read this spoiler-free introduction instead.

Here we go:

Q1: Who are you?

I’m a guy who loves telling stories. I write mainly plays and comic books these days.

Q2: What is Protégé about?

Protege is the story of two killers who, instead of killing each other, are forced to work together. While they’re both extremely good at what they do, Trane and Allumette have vulnerabilities that, I think, make them interesting characters to write within the action-spy genre.

protege 11-11

Q3: Why and how did Protégé get started?

I’d created comic books when I was younger and about four years ago the itch returned. The broad strokes of the Protege story was stuck in my mind. I love action when it’s done right, and I’d been wanting to do a story that both embraces and deconstructs the genre in a way. I wanted to write a spy story that focused on the lives of rogues who don’t fit into the military-industrial complex as easily as, say, James Bond or Ethan Hunt. It isn’t an accident that the two protagonists are African American and Algerian respectively.

Note [TGC]: Not only the protagonists are interesting characters of diverse provenience, the same is true for the allies, and also for the villains. I’ve never seen such an admirable villains gallery.

After I started plotting the book I took a course at UCLA taught by Nunzio Defilippis and wrote the early drafts of the first issue. Soon after that I saw Juan’s work and his style fit what I had in my head for the look of the book. Protege is the kind of story that fluctuates between straightforward kick-ass action and complex character work that I could experiment with while learning and honing the craft of comic book writing. It’s the kind of story I could develop as my skills as a writer developed.

Q4: What influences made Protégé into what it is?

I’ve garnered inspiration and influence from (in no order at all): Takeshi Kitano, Antoine Fuqua, the Trevanian books The Eiger Sanction and Shibumi, Elmore Leonard, Mark Mazzetti, the Bourne movies, Walter Mosley, Don Winslow, Jeremy Scahill.

Q5: How much does the writing itself owe to the artist’s contribution?

With comic books I think the writing should always be significantly shaped by the art. When Juan and I first started working together there would be panels I wrote that he would draw completely different from what I described in the script, and most of the time they’d be vast improvements. Now that we’ve been working together for a while there’s a symbiosis; I feel comfortable being less detailed at times in my scripts and just looking forward to what he’s going to come up with visually and play with.

Note [TGC]: The artist is Juan Romera.

Q6: How far ahead did you plan the outline, and how did that plan evolve over time?

I’ve got the whole series plotted out right to its end. At this point I’ve constructed it as 5 story arcs, with each arc running 4-5 issues. That could be subject to change (the first story arc expanded from 4 to 5 issues) but there’s a definite end to Trane and Allumette’s story.

Note [TGC]: Since we have just seen the end of chapter 6, this means that we only crossed the 25% mark. Which means that there is so much more to come. Yay!

Q7: How do you decide whether including a specific depiction of violence, horror, or gore is necessary versus gratuitous?

To me, if you’re writing about violent characters you need to be willing to go into the deep and really explore violence. I hate stuff that tones down violent acts, sanitizes them and makes them “PG.” I think that’s copping out. Violence is messy, brutal, insane business and I’m not interested in stories where everyone only gets a flesh wound. At the same time, I try to make sure that when violence happens in Protege it’s in service to the story. To me an action scene should do the same work as any other scene and show us something about the characters involved, their motivations, all that. And if there’s some cool shots to the head as well, it’s all good.

Note [TGC]: That’s what I refer to as Breaking Bad level storytelling. And I love it.

protege 11-12

Got any comments?

In my opinion, Terence Anthony‘s answers are short and straight to the point, which is a good fit to the story he and Juan Romera are telling.

What do you think? Tell us in the comments!

PS: Let me remind you again that you can, and definitely should, do an archive binge of Protégé to get up to speed before it resumes updating on November 25th.

Drive: Pushing The Limits Of Space Opera

Today I’m talking about the webcomic Drive, created by Dave Kellett, which is a story that’s Pushing The Limits Of Space Opera. I already mentioned Drive in several blog posts.

Space Operas are awesome!

In movies, the coolest Space Opera lately was Guardians Of The Galaxy. Facilitated by technological progress, it sported amazing visuals. The combination of Space Opera and Superhero Movie was done very well.

Guardians Of The Galaxy even profited from the fact that it came late to join a long history of Space Opera movies: Non-human characters as part of an ensemble cast are no longer something that stands out too much, which enabled the film-makers to integrate all these genetically enhanced/modified/created characters so seamlessly that they could perform any imaginable movie character function. Paradoxically, by adding a raccoon and a tree to the cast, Guardians Of The Galaxy manged to make both the Superhero and the Space Opera genre appear more human.

Space Opera Webcomics are eve more awesome

I have no considered opinion what the latest, greatest Space Opera is on TV, in novels, or in printed comics, but I do have an opinion about webcomics:

Since Space Operas as stories are awesome, and webcomics as a storytelling medium are awesome, it come to no surprise that Space Opera Webcomics are super awesome.

Ever since the great webcomic Space Trawler by Christopher Baldwin (which will be the topic of another blog post here, some day in the future) came to its brutal conclusion, which was most fulfilling, if also very sad, there can no longer be any question that the webcomic Drive, created by Dave Kellett, is the current apex of Space Opera in webcomics.

What do I mean with: Pushing The Limits Of Space Opera? The possibilities to enlarge the size and scope of space operas in a numerical sense are endless: Adding more planets (or even galaxies), more races, more weapons, more magic, greater time spans; you name it, someone has done it. And this approach isn’t necessarily bad, as evidenced by a couple of great works which do this, for example one of my favorite webcomics, Schlock Mercenary. (Just to be clear, Schlock Mercenary does a lot of other cool things as well.)

Also, science fiction stories or space operas that do not push the limit as described in this post can still be totally awesome: Space Mullet (see also these posts), Trekker (see also those posts), Opportunities (see also those other posts), and Space Junk Arlia are fine examples.

Drive: Beware The SPOILERS!

Now I will have to back up this bold claim with hard facts, but to do so requires countless SPOILERS, so I encourage you to check up on Drive first.

It’s about 200 pages in, so reading it all will take some time, but it will be totally worth it: You will you avoid SPOILERS, and it will also be one of the best stories you have read in a long time.

Now, if you have read Drive, or are not afraid of SPOILERS anyway, you can proceed.

Drive: The Promises

Drive is very upfront and open with its promises to the reader:

  • By the end of the prologue, at page three, we know the main premise of the world-building, namely the Ring Drive and the Second Spanish Empire build from it. Tone and style are already being established.
  • About two dozen pages later, we know the main characters, but one, and also much more about the world-building, and most of the premise for the story. We have also seen a couple of amazing backmatter pages from the Enciclopedia Xenobiologia.
  • When the last addition to the main ensemble cast is introduced, it takes little more than a dozen pages till it is revealed that Orla keeps some secrets from the rest of the crew.
  • When the Filipods are introduced, it is made clear that they are poets whose loquaciousness can bore people to death, but also super awesome scientists and engineers.
  • Further into the story, we are presented with a map of the galactic powers that tells us about every place we will ever encounter.
  • When their home planet is cracked in half, the Filipods, because of their unique evolutionary development, are kept alive, and not thrown into the air like every Tesskan who lives on the same planet.
  • We also see, quite early on, an organisational chart that hints at a super-secret unit called Jinyiwei, headed by the Puno Gris.

Drive: The Surprises

But despite being so upfront, and never playing hide-and-seek or smoke-and-mirrors, Drive manages to surprise the reader, again and again, and on so many different levels:

There are many, many more. Which one are your favorites? Tell us in the comments!

Drive: The Big Payoffs

What makes Drive truly extraordinary is how the different surprising developments interact with each other and form a fabric of world-building that has few equals with regard to complexity, creativity, cohesion and clarity.

There is no hokus-pokus, mumbo-jumbo, yadda-yadda bullsh*t going on; everything in this story is mind-blowing exactly because it all makes sense, it all comes together.

Here are the examples for payoffs that fulfill the promises, surprise the reader, pull story elements together, and also intrigue us by promising even more fantastic story developments:

Just to make it clear, there are a couple more important developments that could be listed here as well, time and space permitting. This is a blog post, and not an epic!

Drive: The Future

The best thing about Drive is that we are just a little into the second act now, which means that the best is still to come. I’m really excited about the future of Drive and so should you; go check it out!

Now, what do you think? Please tell us in the comments!

This Week

This week I wanted to talk about the webcomic Drive, created by Dave Kellett.

But in a coincedence that is surprising yet inevitable, this week the trailer for The Force Awakenes was released.

I don’t think it makes sense to talk about great Space Operas while al of you are prooccupied with Star Wars. So I postponed talking about Drive two weeks.

Next wednesday, you will find out here how Kelci Crawford and Christian Beranek answered my Seven Questions About Validation.

Storytelling Scrutiny Squared: Jim Zub

This is another installment of the Storytelling Scrutiny Squared feature, where I link to other folks who are interested in storytelling and provide information and insight, and demonstrate appreciation, attitude, or amusement.

Today I want to introduce you to the Jim Zub, who does a lot of different things, but is mostly known as a comic writer and an educator, and writes about comics on his website Zub Tales.

If you are only interested in comics as a consumer, you should check out what he writes about his famous comics Skullkickers and Wayward.

If you want to know more about how the comics business works, e.g. about how much of the money you pay actually ends up in the creator’s hand, you may want to read Jim’s articles about the Economics of Creator Owned Comics.

If you are also interested in creating comics, have a look at Jim’s Tutorials.

Jim Zub is especially famous for his advice on Writing Comics.

Listen to the man, for he speaks from experience!

Who else do you go for to learn about the secrets of making comics? Tell us in the comments!