Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Note: This is the fourth of a series of blog posts about MegaCon, 2010, Day 2, but the audio podcast on MegaCon will be a single episode. I attended MegaCon, as I said in the Day 1 post, with Jeffrey Taylor O'Brien. To read his coverage of MegaCon, click on the following links: http://supermanhomepage.com/news.php?readmore=7673
To see more of my photos from MegaCon 2010, click on the following link to go to my MegaCon 2010 photo album at: http://facebook.com/album.php?aid=2033083&id=1239968992&1=c6f45bc404.
To read Jeffrey Taylor's coverage of MegaCon go to:
The final panel Jeffrey Taylor O'Brien and I attended on a very busy and crowded Saturday was the Writing Genre Comics Panel. The panelists were Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Marv Wolfman, Billy Tucci and Brian Pulido (who, if you're not familiar with his name, is the creator of Lady Death).
Jimmy Palmiotti made the opening comment, stating that he preferred writing for genres other than superheroes. He then said the rest of the panelists feel like kids, in regards to writing experience, next to Marv Wolfman.
Marv spoke next, about the criticism of the movie Avatar being a remake of the story of Pocahantas. He said that the stranger in a strange land story is one of the oldest archetypes of storytelling.
The first question from the audience was about the hardest, and conversely, the easiest genre for the panelists to write. Brian Pulido said that horror was the easiest because he understood its language. Superheroes were the hardest for him to comprehend. Billy Tucci said that the guy/girl story was the hardest The challenge was to make them interesting. Stories like the movie Reservoir Dogs were easy, character development through action. Marv Wolfman spoke along similar lines. He found romance stories the hardest to write while avoiding stupid cliches. To him, all romance stories are basically the same story. The best writer he found in the romance genre was Jerry Conway. Ironically, at the beginning of his writing career, Gerry's biggest weakness was writing characters. It took him three years of hard work to learn how to write character development well. Justin Gray said that every genre presents its own challenges. His biggest challenge was writing teen characters believably, and not goofy. He then gave a few story ponters: show, don't tell; don't overwrite; let the scene develop. Billy Tucci followed up on that point. He noted that golden and silver age comic books often had captions explaining what was shown in the panel, i.e. a character punching through a wall. Billy said that if an action is shown in the art, there's no need to narrate that action.
Marv Wolfman said that if he did not know the artist he would write defensively, then rewrite to match the art.
Jimmy Palmiotti repeated his earlier comment. He found any other genre than superheroes easier to write.
The panelists then gave a variety of writing tips. Justin Gray said that a good story has characters who are invested in other characters. He also warned the audience to not become hooked on who loves you or who hates you among your readers. You will lose your way creatively that way. Marv Wolfman gave an example of Justin's point. When DC announced that Marv and George Perez first began writing The New Teen Titans, they got a lot of hate mail when their team line-up was announced. The new team was too different from the original cast. Once the title began to be published, the hate mail turned to fan mail. Readers overwhelmingly loved the book. Jimmy Palmiotti pointed out that if you are getting hate mail, that means that people are reading your work, which means money in your pocket. He also said that the only power critics have over you is when you react to them. Marv Wolfman made a very important point, to listen to criticism when it points out mistakes. He also said to work to avoid cliches in well worn genres. The hardest part is to recognize it and get out of it. Billy Tucci said that if you suspect you're writing a cliche, you probably are. You have to find a way around it. Jimmy Palmiotti pointed out that a cliche can work as a quick introduction to a character. The trick is to expand on the character to grow out of the cliche. Justin Gray said to introduce characters in broad strokes, then flesh them out.
The next question was how to write established characters? Marv Wolfman probably made the most important comment on the topic. He said a writer should never dishonor previous versions done by other writers. Be honest with the character and build on previous work, don;t tear it down or ignore it. Every writer deserves the freedom to write a character as he sees it.
Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray were asked how they worked together as co-writers. They talk about a project at least three times a day, to flesh out the idea and build on each other's ideas. Who writes the story depends on who's busiest. They bounce the script back and forth. Sometimes their best stories come out of thier disagreements.
Next was a question about hou non-visual media affected their work. A unanimous answer from the panel was to read newspapers, and observe the world around them. Marv Wolfman suggested listening to snippets of conversation around you, to develop an ear for dialogue.
Jimmy Palmiotti pointed out that most prospective writers have one great idea they hang their hopes on to become a big success. He said that a writer doesn't need one great idea, he needs a million ideas. Brian Pulido noted that editors don't hire writers, they buy stories. Billy Tucci noted that if you are writing a comic book story about a historical event, if there are any participants still living, interview them if at all possible. It adds human experience to the story.
Jimmy had a question for Brian Pulido. He asked Brian where his interest in horror came from, because he's such a laid back guy. It didn't seem to be a match. Brian said that his mother liked dark material and exposed him to it at a young age.
Justin Gray suggested to the audience to be influenced by everything, even by things you don't like. Think about why you don't like something. Know you're audience. Billy Tucci followed up on that comment by suggesting that you should know who you're writing for. Justin also said to find a common thread that run through the culture you're writing for.
The next question was on how to write dialogue that feels real. Marv Wolfman pointed out htat dialogue in comic books is not real. The purpose of dialogue in comics is to convey information in a believable manner. Billy Tucci suggested writing dialogue tight, to the point. Marv pointed out that dialogue has a half-life of about five years. Language and slang changes over time.
I asked Jimmy Palmiotti about a point he had made on an earlier podcast interview. In that interview he had mentioned about hitting the dialogue beats. I asked him to elaborate. He ponted out that every line of dialogue needs to hit the mark to advance the dialogue. A comic book has only 22 pages to hit the story marks. Marv added that the story should advance the character and plot. If something stands out in the story, does it fit in the rest of the story? Don't be afraid to kill your "babies". If your favorite line or situation doesn't fit the rest of the story or strays from the story, it has to go.
Another question to Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray was about the difference between writing for a video game vs. comic books. They said that when writing for a video game, the story has to fit into the game. Marv pointed out that with video games, you have to write to fit the game design.
The final question was about which is better, writing out the story or letting it happen. Brian Pulido said that it's a combination. It's important to know where you're going, but don't be afraid to follow the lead if the story wants to take you in a different direction.
Jeffrey and I left soon after the panel. Instead of taking the same route home, we traveled on I-4 through downtown Orlando so that Jeffrey could see my comic book store. He works at one in California, an denjoyed visiting my store. I guess it's my fault he spent more money than he planned. Along with some back issues he also bought a plush Mr. Mxyzptlk figure. Then we went home to have some of the delicious leftovers from Friday night's dinner.
Next: MegaCon 2010 Day 3!
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