Poplife: Issue #16

Thu, May 23rd, 2002 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Matt Fraction, Columnist

POPLIFE is a collection of excerpts from my work journal. There is no specific form or function the column serves other than to allow the reader to see what my experience in my first year as a comics-writer is like. Some weeks I get work done, so I talk about work. Some weeks I don't get any work done, so I ramble incoherently. POPLIFE's purpose is to provide a glimpse behind the process of my specific curtain.

RETROGRANDE LATTE

Hi.

[We all thought long and hard.]
We all thought long and hard.
So, I think we just made a fairly big decision as a company, one that probably explains a lot about why I feel the way I feel about work-for-hire scenarios.

We met with a TV guy and a Producer guy recently. In a move that confused and surprised us alternately, they flew out here to the Badlands to see US (normally we're the ones that have to schlep 'cross country). We talked for a few hours about a project the director had come up with and wanted us onboard as sort of… I dunno, the computery guys. We would've made it look weird, I guess. The meeting went well, the guy has a lot of great ideas and the project sounded like a lot of fun.

The hang-up, on top of the fact that any work we'd do while he shopped the project around would've been on spec (meaning: no money now, but later, maybe, if it happens), was that…

…it wasn't ours.

Even being invited to participate in ownership is still sharing the pie. And I think today we decided that we don't want the milk-- we want the cow. It's not about the money, as there may in fact never ever be any money (or, quite the opposite, we may have just turned down The Next Big Thing); we decided to decline because the project wasn't our own. We couldn't kick it or punch it or cut it apart, we couldn't break it open and monkey around with it. The work would ultimately be defined by parameters predetermined and unassailable by someone other than ourselves.

(And, honestly-- and this is in no way indicative of the people we met with, as they all seemed like standup guys-- in our experience "total creative control" actually means "eat my fuck". We always get nervous when we're told There Are No Limits, because invariable there are, in fact, Very Big Fucking Limits. One of these days, I'm going to write an MK12 Business Combat guide explaining the rules as we've learned them…)

During the meeting, one of us MK12sters made a comment along the lines of "What if it DOES get picked up and we're stuck for a year working on a show that we don't own?" It was, oddly enough, that particular Best Case Scenario that made us feel that we had to decline the job.

This doesn't mean we're not doing client work; we're just not doing client work on spec that may or may not lead to a major commitment of time.

[It's a metaphor.]
It's a metaphor.
If we're gonna not make money and fail as a company, we're gonna not make money and fail as a company doing our own stuff pro bono. That was our decision. It's possibly suicidal, in fact, in light of how wrecked this industry is after 9-11, which is profound. A year ago, as we were living on plasma sales and peanut butter, and our decision might have been different. Now, for better or for worse, we've decided to hunker down and weather whatever comes our way.

If we go down with the ship, it's at least our ship.

I'm certain no one reading this could give a rat's ass, but it was a big deal for us.

I think I'm addressing this here as a result of an interview I did at Newsarama the other week. While extraordinarily flattering, and a little overwhelming, I thought it went pretty well. You can read it for yourself and decide, I guess.

Trust me, I'm trying to pull this all together.

In the responses by various readers of that particular site, one guy said (in response to a remark I made about not wanting to write superhero comics, and besides, it's not where I feel my strengths lie anyway) something to the effect of "well, if you're bored with superheroes, why don't you write a good one and show everyone how it's done?"

Okay.

First off: there are guys out there who have defined the entirety of their idiom by thinking about fancy lads in pervert suits. I am not one of them. I have never been one of them, and I doubt very much anyone wants me to be one of them. Sorry.

It's tough enough to make any sort of lasting impression in this field as it is without attempting to create your own superhero-publishing outfit. So, for the sake of the argument, if you couldn't afford self-publishing (which I can't right now) and wanted to parlay this superhero work into a career, you'd have to play ball with someone else's properties.

[Tonight: A very special ER.  Noah Wyle gets the ebola real bad.]
Tonight: A very special ER. Noah Wyle gets the ebola real bad.
And there's the real rub (aside from the financials involved). Superhero comics are self-perpetuating franchises where the ultimate status quo can never change. Superhero comics exist in a comfort zone of familiarity and are steeped in the monotonous regularity of soap operas and prime-time dramas. Nothing can ever change, because then the reasons for our interest in the story as an audience may go away, and thus our attention and/or money. Is Noah Wyle REALLY going to get the ebola and die on ER? No, lest we tune out. Is Ally McBeal gonna get shot in the face? While we all may hope so this in fact will not happen, otherwise that Secret Formula that got us all interested in the narrative to begin with is gone. Superhero comics by definition have to work the same way. Superman will always save the day and come out All Right in the end; Spidey is always gonna get Aunt May her medication in time.

(Here's the point where a hundred emails come my way pointing out that Superman died and Aunt May did too, once. Fucking pedants.)

And while this is great for those who think that kind of thing is great, I'm not in that camp. I don't see the point in maintaining a status quo; I don't get the fascination with perpetuating it aside from, if you're lightning -in-a-bottle lucky, you make SUPERMAN and laugh all the way to the bank for the rest of your natural life. At best, I feel like a writer can throw crazy ideas and fun thoughts into the super-mix to keep their books at least entertaining; add some eye-popping art and Playstation coloring to keep it all looking pretty. But at the end of the day, you're right back where you started. Noah Wyle doesn't have the ebola, and Ally's skinny little face lives to pucker grotesquely another day.

I'm way more interested in writing stories in which things happen, the game-board changes, and an audience will never have that deep sigh of comfortable complacency that comes with the familiar. None of these statements are value judgments, even though the frothing superhero contingent will take them as such. It's the nature of the serial beast, especially if it's a superhero one. That's the way it is.

In superhero comics, it's always all okay in the end, otherwise Hollywood won't option your characters and you will not get the Tall Dollars.

And on a personal level, above and beyond the fact that no one would WANT me at their cool party, is that I don't want to party with those guys anyway. The genre bores me as a writer. I can dig reading it, but I sure as hell don't dig writing it. So why not play to your strengths?

If fancy lads in pervert suits are you bag, go on down to Maggie's Farm and write 'em yourself. I'll be over here in Man Country doin' my own thing.

[It's gotta be a hat thing.]
It's gotta be a hat thing.
I got a metric ton of mail from folks last week about the Faint video that MTV doesn't want anyone to see, lest they shoot up a high school. I didn't respond to most of it, so let me just say thanks, everyone, for the support; you can see the video here if you're of high bandwidth and promise me you're not going to go out and shoot up a high school.

Someone on the phone swore to us that Madonna liked the video.

I swear to god. A man told us, without irony or sarcasm, that he showed it to Madonna and she liked it.

Take that with as many grains of salt as you like; I know that we sure did.

For those of you keeping track:

FAINT VIDEO THUMBS UP:


My Dad; a bunch of people on the Internet; Madonna.

FAINT VIDEO THUMBS DOWN:


MTV.

So, I think I have a crush on short serials now. Limited series, whatever. Call 'em what you will. Three, four part stories and the like.

It's a thing that's come about as a direct extension of writing ANODYNE for NIGHT RADIO. Up until now, I'd never really considered writing in any sort of format other than OGNs, basically. I didn't like the artifice of splitting a story up along page breaks and I found myself all too often forced to think about things in a very structural way; so much so that the form would end up superceding the function in my head. Typical spoiled brat diva behavior, probably, but I just didn't care for it.

But now, oddly enough, I'm starting to care for the format. At least for the moment, I'm seeing things and thinking things I hadn't thought before.

I dunno. I wanna play around a little more this week, but I think I'm having fun.

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