If one wanted to be alarmingly cynical…this whole thing is really Peter Milligan’s fault.
Since my sophomore year of college (two years ago for those that misplaced the scorecard I never provided), I’ve been laboring over this idea. This germ. This nugget. This high concept if you will. It finally commits itself to paper initially through my writer’s notebook, also known as The Hit Book, and finally burgeons into a full-blown script. Which turns into another script, which turns into another than another until the first four issues are fully scripted and twenty-five issues are fully plotted. I even scribbled down plans for the final issue that should occur somewhere around issue seventy-five.
I remember intricate details about the creation process. I can recall the confrontational phone call my then girlfriend (now very EX-girlfriend) paid to me in the middle of writing page 5 of the first issue, disrupting the flow I’d discovered by accident. I see myself grinning like an idiot while writing several of the pages, and when writing literally any scene that featured Counter-Balance or the Architect. (Counter-Balance being two people bound together by an alien power source, one young Taylor Hunter, the other pedophile Roosevelt West who murdered Taylor’s twin sister and the Architect being Arthur Able, the smartest man alive, who just happens to be an overt racist.)
Also keep in mind that nearly every time I read the latest script or plot, I was attacked by a fit of writer’s neurosis that prompted me to rip the thing to pieces and literally start over. I even changed the name of the project. First it was the Ministry of Defense. Then it was the Crucible. But through all the name changes, girlfriends, and side projects, I had the relatively simple premise. Publicly elected superheroes. Spandex and tabloids. The rigors of notoriety combined with the universal hazards of being appointed to save the world. Race. Power. Gender. Explosions. Clones. Book deals. Agents. School shootings. Rogue artificial intelligence. And the revelation that the Moon didn’t always orbit the Earth.
Then X-Force #116 comes out…and I’m no longer clever. Famous heroes. Staged fights. And Milligan got there first.
Two years of perpetual rewrites down the drain. A collection of sparkling ideas whose frame is no longer as shiny as it once was. This has happened before, and will undoubtedly happen again, and the only thing left to do is dust oneself off and perform the task all over again.
Slow those random thoughts and place them on paper and realize that if you’re any good, if you’re to have any future as a reliable and consistent creator, this will be a veritable walk in the park. Everyone’s got an idea. But you’re different. You’re a writer. It’s sewn into your DNA. Permeates the consciousness. Creates sense where there is none. The difference between you and next guy is that you can commit that idea to a structure and provide it form.
You have to be willing to drown your babies…if only to prove to yourself that you can make new ones.
I’m working on something new, which isn’t a big deal, because I’m always working on something new…but this one feels different. The characters are speaking loudly with differing speech patterns and motivations. The premise is a slightly new take on an old, fairly generic concept. It doesn’t have any capes in it…well…okay, a few. But it’s fresh, mixing dark and dangerous elements from mass media and pop culture. And it’s undergoing an ordeal that none of my writing has ever been subjected to. I’m thinking of dubbing them The Panel, five “editors” from different walks of life that love and hate my style for different reasons. With their help I will create the tightest of pitches, fitting into a two-page frame and leaving the audience (and perhaps an editor) aching for more.
Periodically, though usually occurring when I’m excited about a new story I’m working on, I’m forced to consider how the hell this madness all started. It’s a common question that creators are often posed: what made you want to be a writer? What provoked you into picking up a reliable writing utensil and stringing words and sentences into a cohesive whole? This is what did it for me. See if you can make sense of it.
As any child of the eighties will readily attest…we had some damn good cartoons to grow up with. I’m talking about G.I. Joe, Transformers, Silverhawks, Voltron, GoBots, Masters of the Universe, and my personal favorite…Thundercats. Maybe it was the sword. Or the headquarters. Or, hell…maybe it was Cheetara, but in my opinion…
everything else should bow before the mighty Sword of Omens and pay homage.
My emotional investment in this series was so strong that I never bothered to ask the questions that any suspicious viewer would care to ask. Questions like, why the hell isn’t Lion-O wearing any pants? Which one of the male ‘Cats was sleeping with Cheetara? And the grandest and most obvious of queries…how the hell could the Thundercats reach Lion-O at any corner of Third Earth within two minutes after the signal went up?
Didn’t know and didn’t care, when the battle cry of “THUNDERCATS….HO!!!” sounds, my little kid eyes pop out of their sockets as I wonder how they’re going to put that old mummy back in his tomb this time. But then something occurs to me…what happens when the show goes off? Are we missing the whole story? Does the next episode pick up exactly where the last one leaves off…or are there a series of adventures that remain unknown to the viewers of the FOX Kids network?
So I did what any self-respecting cartoon nut would do…I filled in the blanks.
I extrapolated the chronicles of my favorite animated heroes, put them in new danger, threw them off new cliffs, and speculated about what could possibly happen five years in the future. This was before I even started putting this stuff on paper. I only had to ask, “What if…,” and I was off. I began to write stories…without having any idea what I was even doing.
Somewhere around my burgeoning fascination with cartoons came Lucas’ magnum opus on VHS to turn my head all backwards. The tape originally belonged to my grandmother, and soon, after several dozen viewings, it became all mine. Heroes. Lightsabers. Laser guns. Big monsters. Dark villains. Robots. Spaceships. It was quite simply the coolest fuckin’ thing I had ever laid eyes on. It contained everything a young boy could ever want from his action movie…and the story continued into another whole new chapter.
This was mind-blowing to me. Everything I’d ever seen was trapped within its restrictive half-hour format. There were no subplots. The characters never developed between episodes. And there were few cliffhangers within sight. So when my parents introduced me to the VHS version of The Empire Strikes Back, something within me clicked, and I realized the story doesn’t always have to end.
I remember viewing the sequel in a darkened room with my face possibly ten feet from the screen, and literally jumping backwards when Vader sent Luke’s hand flying into the void. Whoa!! I’ve never seen that before. Wait a second…he’s his father!!? They can’t do that!! Can they? Wait!! I need to know if the asshole in black is telling the truth!!? To be continued!!? In another movie? Return of the Jedi? Well, that’s not fair!! I have to wait to find out the truth? That’s so…that’s so…that’s so…fuckin’ cool.
Then came Return of the Jedi and the saga was complete. I still get a chill when watching Luke Skywalker signal R2-D2 atop a rickety diving board only to watch as the hero falls, springs off the board, flips through the air, lands safely and extends his hand…as the damn lightsaber drops directly into it and then he proceeds to kick all types of ass. Something similar happens when I hear the score John Williams uses during the final Luke-Vader duel, where father finally ticks off son and Luke’s rage refuses to settle until dear old dad is missing a hand as well.
Nostalgia aside, I learned the valuable lesson that a story fits into whatever frame you build around it.
This was the first television program I ever followed with religious vigor. The first Friday night that saw the premier of the show is permanently committed to memory along with the thought, “This show is cool, but they’re going to cancel it in a few weeks.” Every once in a while…it’s nice being wrong. Whatever you may think about creator Chris Carter’s haphazard conspiracy theories…this is how you develop characters. This show has delivered the most satisfying development of a lifelong friendship that I’ve ever witnessed in any product of mass media. These two fictional characters have been to Hell and back, and the only constant remaining was uttered by Fox Mulder to his partner Dana Scully after the two cheated death once again, “You were my friend. And you told me the truth.”
These characters exist in three dimensions and breathe real oxygen. And I can only hope that my pen is capable of captivating an audience in the same manner some day.
I’m serious people, the only show that can touch the X in relation to character development is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Mulder and company have a few years on the young heroine.
Mr. Dixon wrote one of the first comics that traveled home with me after my first trip to a tried-and-true “comics shop” (Robin II: The Joker’s Wild #3), and triggered something even more relevant in my pursuit at becoming a full-fledged, card-carrying comic book creator…the spark.
WizardWorld Chicago, the year escapes me, but Chuck gives a panel presentation called the Ten Commandments of Comic-Book Writing. And it changes everything. Everything.
Here was one of my favorite creators providing insight into the tricks and tools he used to prompt me into purchasing anything with his name on it like an obedient Pavlov dog. Then something occurred to me and I forgot about the novel I wanted to write, cycling the television show (The Adventures of Quint Black) I eventually wanted to helm to the backburner…you mean I can write comics…and make money? And that’s all it took really. Fifty minutes and a handout. And a creative outlet was illuminated.
And that’s it folks. The motivations driving that little voice in my head that takes a sound and creates a scene around it. The one that takes phrases, and other bits of speech, and constructs characters and a plot to contain them. The whisper that refuses to halt until the wall cracks and the words “written by Brandon Thomas” are permanently committed to a work of elaborate fiction.
Now, if you’ll excuse me…I have to get back to my new story…
Next time: It wasn’t my fault…I swear. I didn’t really say that Frank Miller and Alan Moore weren’t the be-all and end-all of comic creators. I didn’t say they sucked. Just that they weren’t my favorites. Who could blame me? I grew up in the Image generation. Come back next week as a friend attempts to straighten me out and presents an interesting challenge…