Friday, November 13, 2009

How someone else should tie it all together...

As long as I can remember, speculative short fiction has been in trouble. Okay, that’s not really accurate. It’s short fiction’s print magazines that have (for the better part of last decade or so) been in trouble. Much of this is a reflection of the aging of their consumers and their inability to attract new (and younger) audiences.

A few years ago, when I was still worried about the survival of speculative short fiction, I came up with this idea. I use the past tense since I no longer equate survival of short specfic magazines with the survival of the form. No, I think themed anthologies are the lifeblood of the speculative short form.

Sorry about the rant. Back to the idea, which I can outline, because to pull it off would require lots of capital and it borrows from some of what’s currently being done. But...but...but...if you succeeded in making the numbers work , you’d actually attract new readers to the form (as a sort of a cross-pollination of forms...more on this later).

Let’s say, you focused on the genres of Military SF, Sword and Sorcery, and Supernatural Horror and were interested in minmalist short stories between 2000 and 4000 words. I chose these genres and sub-genres (off the top of my head) because they normally have a lot of visual punch, but you could use others as well.

You could produce online ezine, a print magazine / antho, a podcast series, a comic book antho, and a manga antho from the same stories by asking for a combination of exclusive first print, electronic, audio rights, translation rights, archival rights as well as rights to produce derivative works. Heck, we could go the route of Francis Ford Copolla’s Zoetrope All-story and request all rights, but as a sympathizer with all writers I’d never advise any writer (or publisher) to go this route. I mean, imagine they make a movie based on your work and you find yourself out in the cold.

The key would be that a print story = podcast story = audiobook = online / downloadable story, while comic book + manga would differ by 30 to 35% from the original short story (and from each w.r.t.  visual communication and amount of dialogue used) in terms of say the ending. This is where the derivative rights would come in. The Comic and Manga versions would already differ (in a legal sense) just because the forms are so different. Again, I'm not a lawyer and am only really familiar with rights usually granted with prose short fiction, so I could have omitted other necessary rights.

Back to the cross-pollination aspect:  If a person buys the comic book, they could receive the podcast or audiobook (which is 30 to 35% different) for free. This could be applied to various other buy-one-form-get-one-free combinations.

Since a Pro rate for a short story comes in at 6 cents a word (last I checked) and taking into account all the rights the writer would be granting, a fair payment might be US$360 (max 4000 @ 8 cents a word) upfront PLUS some % on the back end. Again this depends on the capital available.

Of course, the real cost would come from labour: slush readers, editors, webmasters, digital artists, mangaka (or rather pencillers who can draw manga style since mangaka are usually one-person acts), comic pencillers*, inkers, letterers, colourists. The comic dudes above would work on a work-for-hire to simplify copyright issues, etcetera. You could add comic writers to alter the story for comic form, but some consultation between editors and artists should take care of that.

*An important requirement for pencillers is to be able to draw from a short story instead of a full comic script. It occurs to me that doing this is closer to Marvel Style than Full Script.

General comic script formats (at least, the ones I’ve heard of):

1. Full Script
This is the format for writer-control-freaks, which is why I opted to learn this format! Basically, this is a page-by-page, panel-by-panel, break-down of what the writer wants to see. It involves panel descriptions (what must appear in each panel, including setting, action, captions and dialogue). The artist uses this as a guide to pencil the story.

2. Plot Script (a.k.a. Marvel Style a.k.a. Plot First a.k.a. Plot-art-dialogue)
This format involves the writer creating a synopsis of the plot, breaking it down to the page level, supplying action and setting. At this stage, the writer mentions only some of the dialogue (if any). Then the artist pencils the comic and, as a side effect, has the most control over the pacing and panel composition of the comic. Only afterwards, does the writer add the captions and dialogue.

Looking back, a lot of the Marvel’s internal story logic makes sense now... “There’s not enough space for Iron Man to explain his actions fully. Maybe, I can delete this section of dialogue and let reader’s imagination fill in the rest. Of course, this is a trial scene and he’s defending himself by giving a minute-by-minute account of actions, which the reader didn’t see, on the night in question. And there aren’t any witnesses or closed circuit cameras. What’s worse, the next page is splash page Avengers-S.H.I.E.L.D.-Skrull slugfest...Damn you, Bendisverse!”

3. Kurtzman Style
This involves drawing rough thumbnail sketches and scribbling down all the dialogue and captions inside these sketches. Then, the real artist transforms these sketches into real pencilled comic panels.

I only mentioned this tiresome-sounding format, because of Kurzman’s association with EC Comics and their association with horror comics and my idea’s reliance on supernatural horror. I can’t draw, so this format isn’t for me. Best left to writer-artists, maybe?

Anyway, see how a Marvel-style proficient artist would be better for translating short stories to comics or manga?

I even thought of a catchy name B.O.S.S. [Based On Short Stories]. Hopefully, Hugo Boss wouldn’t have problem with the name. This idea requires a lot of money to realise and may be slow to turn a profit, so only millionnaires and media conglomerates need attempt it.


  1. Hmm, this is all very good and cutting-edge. Is spec short fic dying? I didn't know that. I had heard a few years ago that sci-fi was one of the few short fiction venues considered to be "alive." As opposed to literary short fiction, which IMHO has becone inaccessible pieces of crap which is written to please the stylistic fetishes of the academic audience, not to entertain the general public. And in my experience, any internalized art form (art which is created for its creators), eventually dies. That's what killed classical music in the 20th century...composers started writing to impress their collegues (mostly professors) and not to express ideas to the general public. Contrast that with 200+ years ago, Beethoven was writing works for all Mankind. And actually dedicating his works to the masses. What professor would do that in today's world?

    But I digress.

    I have mixed feelings about stories in digtal form. I acutally don't mind comics too much in digital form. But it's just so nice to hold something in your hand. I like the idea of a cross-platform story-telling engine, but it has to be done right so as not to come off as a gimmick.

    Case in point: there was some author I just saw on Craig Ferguson who was all excited about his "diginovel." Basically, all his "diginovel" is is a regular book with a code at the end of each chapter where you log on to a website to see a "cut scene" depicting the transition from chapter to chapter. Honestly, chapter breaks are written a certain way by an author. (Or, should be.) Adding any material would add unnecessary material. Therefore, it is a gimmick.

    But, in your case, I think starting out with short prose as a jumping off point to other mediums. I think I would like to see different artists' take on the different incarnations. A slam poet could read the podcast. A web designer could create an interactive website or something. At the same time (and this is me sympathizing with all the writer-control-freaks) I wouldn't mind if the author oversaw all incarnations of his or her story.

    For example, an "authorized" (which I'm not entirely sure if it is) graphic novel adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 was recently released. I browsed through it and it had lost so much of its dramatic weight. The art was kind of weak, and the author chose not to incorporate any of Ray Bradbury's amazing metaphors into narration boxes. I was really disappointed, and I think of Ray Bradbury had been in on the early stages of its creation, I don't think it would have turned out that way.

    Your idea is pretty timely, I think. Lots of novels are being remade into graphic novels, which I find both interesting and disturbing at the same time....

  2. Short fiction in mainstream literary circles is very small (and dying). Short fiction in genre fiction (specifically in specfic and mystery) is in better shape. However, online venues are doing better than print. Online fiction is usually free (even at pro paid-level), while print is not free.

    Thanks for your idea approval.

    I second your mixed feelings about adapting ertain novels into graphic novel. Some only work if doneby someone who appreciates the source material. Others simply don't work as graphic novels.

  3. I was reading through Fahrenheit 451 the other day and came to the line about how classics were condensed to nothing longer than a dictionary entry because people just don't have the time to read. That, and how comics were allowed to stay, but fiction wasn't. And then I immediately thought to myself, "OMG, I'm becoming dumb." I wonder if my attention span is getting too short from my comics obsession. (Though, to be fair, I always had a short attention span. Just feels like nowadays, reading regular books seems like such a chore.) But something like F451 in graphic novel format--which just came out recently--gives me mixed feelings. Or like when they release classics as graphic novels--I feel we're losing out on all that rich prose. Though I wouldn't mind if it were something like Shakespeare since it's drama and all dialogue anyway.

    You're welcome for the approval. Though to receive the Official Lissbirds Seal of Approval Sticker Set in the mail, you'll need to provide a donation of $5.95, or any back issue of Justice League International.

  4. Hi Liss,

    I’ll have to live without the Official Lissbirds Seal of Approval Sticker Set (or OL’SASS, which sounds like a web-moniker) as in these economic conditions...and furthermore, I don’t know if I still have any JLI back issues (a storage debacle...don’t ask).

    However, your comment reminded me of a one-shot or limited series or reference series or whatever called - and I’m not sure of the name - Justice League Incarnations (?). It details every incarnation of the league EVAR!

    I’d totally forgotten about it, but it’s something that I would also like to read someday. Because? My view of the league’s historical incarnations (the justice league’s timeline) goes a little like this and I’m fuzzy on some of the details:

    1. Original JLA (big guns except Superman and WW as led my Aquaman. Aquaman? No wonder it didn't last.[Satellite as HQ])

    2. Mid 80’s JLA (a.k.a. JL Detroit with J’onn and Aquaman and Vibe)

    3. 1988 – early 90’s (the bwahahaha JM, Giffen, JLI, JLA, and JLE [Embassies as HQs])

    4. early 90’s 1992 (JLA led by Superman [HQ at a Maxwell Lord swank pad], JLE led by Hal Jordan [HQ at a castle], J’onn absent for a few months)

    5. The three leagues era: 1995 – ( JLA led by Wonder Woman [Orbiting retreat as HQ], JLTF led J’onn, and Extreme Justice led by Captain Atom [Mount Thunder facility as HQ])

    6. The current JLA [Watchtower as HQ] (where membership was allowed to change as writers came and went). Others might point at this to being many leagues in terms of writers’ runs (as in a Morrison league, then the Waid league, then an writer-x league), but I prefer to look at it from a ‘how the league was structured and what type of HQ they had.

    In response to your comment about me taking my 'elseworld's' Blue Beetle origins and rebirths and converting them into original characters, I came to a rather weird conclusion / observation: I have not created any non-powered heroes as of yet! Wow, pretty shocking.

  5. Darn. My OL'SASS plan to take over the world has now been stymied due to lack of funds. It was going to be all OMAC and everything, but it'll have to wait.

    Oh, you mean this:
    I've never read it, but I'm a bit wary considering that it's Ostrander. But I'm willing to give anything a shot.

    For being fuzzy on the details I'd say that's a pretty comprehensive overview! I'm relatively new to comics so my comics history is sketchy at best. Though I bought "The Justice League Companion" but haven't read it yet. Looks like a good chronicle of the JLA. I would probably add a second category between the three leagues era and the current with the start of the Morrison/Waid series at 1997-2006, maybe even cut off at 2004(?) with Identity Crisis. Just my humble opinion. :)

    No non-powered characters? Do you think you'll create any or are you going more for superpowers?

  6. I don't remember the dates/years for the latter leagues - it's a bit of a blur.

    I hope to create some non-powered heroes in future, but a rather large part of the plot for my comic hinges on the heroes having powers.

    I hope it doesn’t develop into something like my not wanting to write heroic fantasy or sword and sorcery short stories, because I when I think of fantasy I see Tolkien’s work with my mind’s eye and I feel that my work would just be a shadow. Maybe, Batman’s existence might have the same effect on my ability to create non-powered heroes, but I haven’t given it that much thought...

    I seem to remember coming up with an alternate origin for a non-powered hero called Blackjack, which was published through Impact Comics by DC in the 90s. Impact heroes were created and owned by Archie Comics, if I’m not mistaken. Blackjack has a dull origin (that I’ve tried to mentally block out, so this could be wrong): Dude gets locked up by robbers but manages to escape by using a playing card [Ace of Spades, i think]. Dude goes, “Ace of Spades saved my life...I think should become a masked hero as a tribute...” For real, I think that’s the gist of it. My Blackjack origin was more sci-fi weird.

  7. Re: creating fiction (or anything that matter) when you're a fan of something and originality, etc. I know what you mean. But I think the more you write/create/etc. whatever you're working on will start to create a life of its own. Maybe the first draft will be pretty similar to LOTR, but maybe the second draft something else will pop up in the back of your mind and you go in a new direction.

    In the case for your superheroes, sure, the Mantle of the Bat will always be shadowing whatever non-powered hero you create, but maybe you could combine that idea with another completely different idea you've already come up with to put a twist on it. Orson Scott Card talked about this once...he says for him, combining two different ideas is where he draws his inspiration from. So for example you could have your non-powered hero, but maybe he's got some sort of condition where he doesn't know he's not super-powered. Or something like that.

    Blackjack, lol. Now imagine if he were saved by a paperclip....

  8. That comment from Orson Scot Card sounds like my approach to writing short stories. I’ve never been a fan of having just one idea in a short story. Those type of stories seem either well-worn or vignette-style to me. In addition, my short fiction writing interest leans toward cross-genre stories that mix science fiction and supernatural horror, so I like to experiment and see what happens when a horror trope collides with something science fictional.

    It seems as if you already have great idea for a non-powered hero that you should develop yourself. Sounds like a cool concept.

    Maybe I should look up Blackjack’s origin, because I might’ve been hard on him (which I doubt).