Current Reviews


Write Now! #15

Posted: Monday, June 4, 2007
By: Thom Young

Editor-in-Chief: Danny Fingeroth
Managing Editor: Eric Fein

Publisher: TwoMorrows Publishing

There are a number of magazines put out by TwoMorrows Publishing that I am very interested in. In fact, I used to buy The Jack Kirby Collector and Comic Book Artist on a regular basis back in the days when I didn’t pay any attention to how much money I was spending on comics and related items.

I haven’t seen an issue of either of those magazines for several years now, but they were very good sources of information that I relied on back when I was seriously pursuing comic book scholarship. They provided insightful interviews with such people as Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Will Eisner, Alex Toth, et cetera—important historical figures in the comic book industry who were knowledgeable about the history of the industry and about the stories they worked on.

That historical/scholarly tradition at TwoMorrows continued as they re-launched Alter Ego—one of the first comic book fanzines (originally published by Dr. Jerry Bails and Roy Thomas in the 1960s). Thus, I have a great deal of respect for what TwoMorrows has done in the past even though their magazines no longer fit into my budget. Actually, they never did fit into my budget; it’s just that I used to completely ignore my budget.

I tell you all the above as a preface to my review of Write Now #15 because I can’t really decide what to make of Write Now. It’s not that it’s a bad magazine on comic books, but it seems to have lost its way.

The blurb on the front cover claims it’s “The magazine about writing for comics, animation, and sci-fi.” However, that’s not really what the interviews and articles inside the issue are about.

After the table of contents, the issue begins with a message from editor-in-chief Danny Fingeroth in which he summarizes each feature in the issue (which I’m also going to do, but in a different way than Fingeroth summarized them).

The first feature is an interview with DC’s Vice President-Executive Editor Dan Didio in which he explains that the weekly series 52 was Paul Levitz’s idea. He also points out that the original plans for the series were shelved in favor of what the series ended up being. Of course, both of these points have also been made in the interviews that Didio has done for such Web sites as Newsarama.

At one point, Fingeroth asks Didio if the writing process on 52 was similar to the writing process for a weekly television series. Didio said “no” and then very briefly explained that instead of having a head writer who oversaw different writers working on individual issues (or TV episodes), each issue of 52 was a collaborative effort among the four writers.

This not-very-insightful look at the writing process for 52 provided a segue into the writing process being used for Countdown—which is more like how it works in weekly episodic television. In a repeat of information that he has provided on Newsarama, Didio explained that Paul Dini is the head writer of Countdown who then oversees the work being done by individual writers who work on separate issues (or TV episodes).

In other words, the Didio interview wasn’t actually about writing for comics (or writing for television for that matter). It was a lightweight promotional piece that was designed to help push the sales for the conclusion of 52 and the launching of Countdown.

The second feature in Write Now #15 is an apparently regular feature entitled “Nuts & Bolts.” It shows parts of the typed script from issue #38 of 52 next to Keith Giffen’s layouts for that part of the script and then the finished pages by Joe Bennett and Jack Jackson.

This feature is a bit more informative, but it doesn’t provide any sort of scholarly analysis of the comparisons and contrasts between the script, the layouts, and the finished pages—such as I recall seeing years ago in similar features in old issues of The Jack Kirby Collector.

This “Nuts & Bolts” feature would seem to be of minimal use to anyone wanting to learn “about writing for comics, animation, and sci-fi.” Similarly, the third feature of this issue of Write Now (an interview with Michael Siglain on editing 52) doesn’t really provide much useful information in the way of learning to write (or edit) comic books.

Instead, the questions for Siglain (at least the ones I read because I lost interest) are about the experience of coming into 52 in the middle of the series (Siglain took over from Steve Wacker who left while the series was in production). That discussion then segues into asking Siglain how a reader might be able to come into the series at the halfway point rather than start at the beginning.

As with the Didio interview, the interview with Siglain seems to be more of a promotional piece for the conclusion of 52 (and I suppose the release of the trade paperback collections) than it is an examination of the writing and editing processes.

The fourth feature is another “Nuts & Bolts” piece that is nearly identical to the first “Nuts & Bolts” piece except that it looks at the script, layouts, and finished pages for issue #24 of 52.

The fifth feature is an interview with J.M. DeMatteis in which he discusses/promotes his new series, Abadazad, that he is doing with Mike Ploog—and the sixth feature is an interview with Mike Ploog in which he discusses/promotes his new series, Abadazad, that he is doing with J.M. DeMatteis.

That leads into a third “Nuts & Bolts” piece that shows pages from DeMatteis’s script next to Ploog’s penciled pages and finished art. Then there’s yet another “Nuts & Bolts” piece that looks at pages from J.M. Straczynski’s script to Amazing Spider-Man #539 next to Ron Garney’s penciled pages and finished art. I guess the transition between those two “Nuts & Bolts” pieces was that both writers use the initials “J.M.” before their last name.

I could keep going on, but I’m sure you get the idea—this issue of Write Now is almost entirely useless to anyone who actually wants to know “about writing for comics, animation, and sci-fi.” It’s essentially an imitation of Wizard Magazine—a place where comic book companies and creators can promote projects that are being released around the same time that the magazine appears in bookstores (but on a quarterly schedule rather than a monthly).

These types of features can occasionally provide wonderful insights—such as when Wizard had Rags Morales explain his various compositional choices for Identity Crisis. For the most part, though, Wizard’s features are meant to appeal to fans who want to know more about books they will (or might) purchase . . . by reading features that promote those books.

Unfortunately, that’s apparently not what Write Now started off as. A look at the back issue solicitations for the magazine reveal that earlier issues seemed much more focused on actually discussing how to become a writer for comics, animation, and science fiction.

For instance, it looks like the first issue had an article by Joe Quesada in which he discussed what editors are looking for in scripts and on what the writing standards are at Marvel.

It also looks like writers and illustrators were interviewed about the creative choices they made when they worked on projects that were published many years earlier—such as an interview with J.M. DeMatteis about his work on Moonshadow or an interview with Mark Bagley on what he does and doesn't like in the scripts that writers give him to illustrate.

Other early issues of Write Now had such features as Axel Alonso discussing “state-of-the-art-editing” (which I suppose means editing in the age of computers and with such software as Adobe InDesign). It looks like there was even a three-part feature in issues #3-5 in which Denny O’Neil provided tips for writers and published the notes from a writing class that he taught.

From the descriptions, those early features seem to have been far more valuable for what the blurb on the cover claims the magazine is about—information on “writing for comics, animation, and sci-fi.”

However, that original editorial approach must not have been very profitable, so the change to Wizard-type features appear to have been initiated around issue #7—an issue in which Mark Wheatley discussed “his new Image series.”

It’s too bad. It sounds like those early issues of Write Now were more interesting (at least to me). Still, if you’re a comic book reader who likes to read Wizard, I urge you to give Write Now a try—so that your money can be used to support the other magazines that TwoMorrows publishes (such as The Jack Kirby Collector, Comic Book Artist, and Alter Ego.

I hope those magazines are still of more interest historically and scholarly. I’m seriously considering a purchase of the collected volumes of The Jack Kirby Collector, and I would be very interested in a similar venture that could be called “The Steve Ditko Collector” (of course Kirby gave his blessing to the magazine devoted to him, which is something Ditko is unlikely to do).

Addendum to My Review of Write Now #15:

After the above review was published, I received an e-mail from Danny Fingeroth, the editor-in-chief of Write Now. He took me to task for ignoring four features in issue #15 that focus on what the blurb on the cover pronounces the magazine is about. To be fair, I’ve written the following addendum to my earlier review.

After looking at those final four features, here are my thoughts on them:

The first of the four is an article written by Steven Grant in which he discusses “Creating Comics Step by Step.” It’s the first of a three-part series, and it does indeed focus more on writing for comics than did the eight features that preceded it.

The article is broken down into “steps” that are further broken down into sections that address “principles” related to those “steps.” For instance, “Step 1” concerns coming up with “The Idea” for a story—which, of course, is very important.

However, the first three “principles” for generating “the idea” are basic. I doubt they would be of much use to anyone other than a complete novice. Nonetheless, they are important in leading into the rest of Grant’s article—and, I imagine, into the second and third installments that are still to come.

In fact, the last half of “Part One” of Grant’s article has some useful information for writers in general—not just those who are interested in writing comic books.

The next feature is an article by John Ostrander on writing characters that are owned by a company. I believe this article may be of benefit to a writer who has recently started getting work from a company that has assigned the writer to work on company-owned characters.

It might also benefit a writer who is interested in writing a spec script for a company (writing a script on speculation rather than on assignment). However, most comic book companies don’t seem to accept spec scripts, so that would seem to be a dead end.

The next feature is an article by Jeff Gomez on how comic book writers are transitioning to trans-media storytelling—which simply means they are writing characters whose stories appear in a number of other media beyond comics (such as television, computer games, Internet sites, novels, toys, et cetera).

It’s an article that may be of interest to writers who are already working in comics but who would like to branch out into other media with the characters they are already working on.

Finally, the last feature is an article by the managing editor of Write Now, Eric Fein. The focus is on writing educational comics that can be used as classroom teaching tools. I cringe at the prospect of my college students reading a comic book adaptation of Moby-Dick rather than the actual novel, but I can see the benefit of exposing elementary and middle school students to classics in this way.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t even know that these types of comics were still being produced—though I recall reading old Classics Illustrated comics when I was a kid. Writing for companies who are producing educational comics to be used in elementary and middle school classrooms might very well be a good way to break into writing comic books—and this article might be of great value for those people who are interested in doing so.

Thus, to be fair to Mr. Fingeroth, there were indeed four features that were about “writing for comics, animation, and sci-fi.” Still, the majority of issue #15 has far more promotional features than it does informative features—particularly the interviews with DiDio, Siglain, DeMatteis, and Ploog. I can’t be certain, but from the back issue solicitations, it really doesn't appear that the earliest issues of Write Now contained promotional features.

I should also mention that I greatly admire Mike Ploog’s work, and that I’m glad to see him return to comics. Danny Fingeroth’s interview with him was something that I appreciated. You see, I’m not opposed to reading features of this sort (after all, I used to read Wizard each month). I’m just pointing out that the promotional features seem to be in opposition to the mission statement of the magazine.

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