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Treking my way through ArmadilloCon

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ArmadilloCon time is almost upon us. The literary festival in Austin was one of the first SFF conventions I attended and in many ways it remains my favorite. I’ve made a lot of friends at the con over the years, and always enjoyed some great conversations and discussions on the various panels I’ve been on. This year looks like it’s going to be another good one with some great writers and artists in attendance. We’ll all be congregating at the Omni Southpark Hotel in Austin between august 4th and 6th, so come join us.

You’ll be able to catch me chatting about various subjects including:

  • Writing Golden Age Fiction Today (Friday at 5:00pm)
  • Social Media For Writers (Saturday at 10:00am)
  • Star Trek: TNG – A Generation Later (Saturday at 4:00pm)
  • The State of Comics (Sunday at 11:00am)
  • Best SF TV Series Evah! (Sunday at 2:00pm)

On Saturday at noon I’m scheduled to do a reading, and it’s traditional at these sort of events to read something from your latest works.  I’m lucky in that in the past month I’ve had two books published which contain my work….

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…. but I’m not sure Enterprise Information Management or the pulp adventures of a 1930s New York private eye are a good fit for an SFF audience.

But then today I found out about the following bit of news.

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The upcoming release of a book about the 30th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, in which I have one of the essays. And am I not moderating a panel on this very subject the same day? – Problem solved.

So if you come along to my reading I’ll regal you with my unique take on the original series episode “Specter of the Gun” from the earlier companion volume of essays, and give you a sneak peek at my thoughts about the controversial Next Generation episode “Skin of Evil.

Hope to see you there.

 

 

 

I’m a Manchester Lad – Some Personal Thoughts.

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MCR

I’ve always had a complex relationship with Manchester. I grew up there, and it did a lot to shape who I am and the things that drive me, from writing, to music, to my love for motorsports – it all started in Manchester.

I was born and lived the first 25 years of my life in a village on the banks of the River Mersey that was just a scant six miles from Manchester city center. Yet when I arrived in the world it lay outside the city boundaries, and for many years I would carefully explain that I wasn’t from Manchester, but was from the county of Cheshire. When the area was absorbed into the growing metropolis of Greater Manchester, I somehow felt aggrieved at this imposition.

Yet it was to Manchester I invariably turned for education and entertainment. I was lucky enough to attend one of the top schools in Manchester. I was there for the punk explosion and the beginnings of the Manchester sound. I played pool with musicians in small clubs and saw headline acts at the Apollo Theater. I frequented the bookstores, comic shops, libraries, art galleries, and museums, went to public lectures at the universities, and spent many Saturday nights cheering on the local motorcycle speedway team (a tradition that had started with my parents in the 1950s). In fact I came to love Manchester so much that at the age of 16 when I had a chance to join the UK Customs Service I turned it down because they said they might post me anywhere in the country, and I wanted to stay in Manchester. But just a few years later I couldn’t wait to get away from the city, and was soon off to college in other cities, and jobs that took me further away. After I finally moved from Manchester I never really looked back and rarely visited. A few years ago when I took my wife to see the area I grew up in, I realized it had been 17 years since I had last been in the city.

On that visit, I reconnected with Manchester. I saw what it had become. Manchester was a city born of industry, arguably the cauldron of the modern industrial age. The Manchester of the seventies and eighties had always felt bleak and in some ways oppressive to me despite its many attractions. Now it was a vibrant multi-cultural metropolis, that alongside a rapidly modernized infrastructure respected and celebrated both its history and its people. To quote one of my many friends who still live in the city, “Manchester is one of the busiest, brightest, multicultural cities in the world. We are all races, religions, genders, and sexulaities.” – Thanks to social media I’ve plugged myself back in to being a Manc at heart – keeping up with events in the city, and once again supporting my favorite speedway team – – even if from thousands of miles away across an ocean.

Manchester has seen its share of violence and trauma over its history, from the Peterloo Massacre, to being the target of heavy bombing in World War 2, to riots in the streets. When I was growing up IRA bomb threats were a regular part of life in the city, and in 1996 they made good on the threat when a massive bomb exploded in the city center injuring over two-hundred people.

The latest terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena was sickening, cowardly, and an act of sheer evil perpetrated on the most vulnerable, the young. It drove into the heart of two of the things that make Manchester so vibrant, its youth and its music.

The residents of the city responded with grace, kindness, and that indomitable community spirit that marks Manchester as the friendliest city in the UK. Manchester will grieve, and it will survive. Manchester will continue to flourish and grow stronger; and even if I now carry an American passport and call Texas home, I for one am proud to call myself a Mancunian again.

Under The Hood of the CARS Comics: The Big Break

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In many ways writing the second issue of a new comics series is a lot harder than writing the first one. When launching a new series or story arc you know what the overall idea is about, and you’ve already come up with an opening that you hope will hook the reader into wanting to pick up the next issue, and the one after that, and so on. This makes the second issue the real foundation of the series.  In the first issue we had introduced the young out of control McQueen. I wanted the second issue to progress his story to the point that he was ready to race in The Piston Cup and looked a little more familiar. So how did I approach that challenge? Once more I returned to the source material; the movie.

Cars2BThe World of Cars: The Rookie #2 – Cover B by Allen Gladfelter

In the movie Mack reminds McQueen that no matter how much he dislikes the clients of Rust-eze, it was the owners of that same company who gave him his big break. So what was that break, and how did he end up with the Rust-eze sponsorship in the first place?

I opened up this issue continuing the narrative caption overview with the TV interview switching to Mack who gave us his version of what had happened in the previous issue. A nice way of doing a recap for new readers yet still fitting it into the overall narrative flow.

At the end of the last issue, thanks to Mack’s connections we had McQueen arriving at a Piston Cup test session hoping to impress one of the big teams. Ever confident he starts off asking the top running Dinoco team to give him a chance with predictable results. With each refusal he works his way along the pit lane asking each team. The fun part in this sequence was coming up with different ways to tell essentially the same scene, McQueen asks for a test run and is refused, over and over without it becoming boring. I decided to pick five of the race teams we’d seen on track in the movie and give them each a distinctive personality that produced correspondingly different ways to give McQueen the brush off.

Mack eventually persuades McQueen to go talk to the Rust-eze team whose car is on track. I decided that the incumbent Rust-eze car should be a one time great racer who was past his best, sort of like an alternate version of The King. As the design of The King in the movie was based on Richard Petty’s iconic 1970 Plymouth Superbird, I thought it would be fun to have this racer be based on another Petty car, the Dodge Charger he drove from 1971 to 1974.  In the original script I had this car carrying the number #57. This was the number McQueen had in many of the early CARS movie concept sketches and story board images I’d seen. The #57 was a nod to CARS creator and Pixar head honcho John Lassiter’s birth year. But I guess that attempt to include a Pixar style easter-egg wasn’t approved as by the time the comic arrived in the stores this new race car was carrying the #01. And yes I’d broken the “no new characters” rule again but that transgression had slipped by.

The story had the old car crash during the test after blowing a tire, and promptly retiring on the spot. This of course leaves the Rust-eze guys wondering what to do, when Mack literally pushes McQueen into their pit and announces his buddy can run the test. The reluctant McQueen with newly applied Rust-eze logos promptly heads out onto track and breaks the track record.

With a new found sense of over-confidence and his place in the Rust-eze team secured McQueen heads of to his first Piston Cup race.

Cover A by Allen Gladfelter | Cover C – Photo cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under The Hood of the CARS Comics: The Start Line

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So I had been given the go-ahead to write a four issue story line to launch the first CARS comic book series. Where to begin?

To make sure we had an audience the decision was made that rather than an on-going series we would launch with a mini-series to be titled The World of CARS: The Rookie.

My pitch for a prequel story had been to explore the line from the first CARS movie where the lead character, Lightening McQueen, was introduced as “The year’s rookie sensation.” What made him a rookie sensation? How did he arrive on the Piston Cup racing scene.

My idea for the four issue arc was to have a bookend of McQueen being interviewed just before his intro in the movie, and as he told his story in typical self aggrandizing style it would continue in captions as a voice over while the art and dialog showed what actually happened.

After the two page intro the action flashbacked to young aggressive “Bulldozer McQueen” in action on a local short track. And promptly broke one of the Disney rules; when I’d landed the gig I’d asked what the rules were. I was told:  “(1) Don’t create any new characters (2) Don’t write anything that will be in CARS 2.” Of course I asked “Does that mean you’re going to tell me what will be in the next CARS movie?” – The answer was “No. But if you do something we don’t like we’ll let you know.” – Well Rule #2 would come in to play later, but for the first issue I broke Rule #1 on page 3 by introducing two stupid race cars numbered 66 and 99 so I could do a joke about the numbers being flipped when one of them rolled over after being barged off track by McQueen.

Not only did I get away with that in the pages of the comic, those two guys ended up on the cover, and on the poster used to promote the Free Comic Book Day version.

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The  track I chose for the introductory action was modeled on and named for Thunderhill Raceway, our local short track just south of Austin, TX where the family spent many Saturday nights watching some great local racers in action.  About six months after the book came out I got to do an signing at the track, which was a cool event.

After wrecking at the track’s championship race I had the dejected McQueen meeting Mack for the first time. At this point in the story Mack held ambitions to be a race transporter and had studied race car dynamics and was able to offer McQueen some unwanted advice. But poor Mack was stuck working for Eggman Movers – a nod to the moving company featured in Toy Story.  When Mack says that he’s friends with the truck for the leading Dinoco team and could get McQueen into the Piston Cup test sessions a reluctant partnership is formed.

Shortly after this first issue was completed we found out that the book had been selected for BOOM’s Free Comic Book Day title, which meant a 100,000 print run of the FCBD issue. The original plan was to run an interview with me and a few pages of my original script in the back of the FCBD issue, but they were replaced by some preview pages previewing the upcoming Incredibles title by Mark Waid instead which made a lot more commercial sense. Free Comic Book Day that year was special as I ended up doing signings at three different stores across Austin and met a lot of CARS fans of all ages.

The first regular release came with two covers, which became standard procedure for the rest of my CARS issues. It debuted fairly high in the comics sales charts – the best selling all-ages comic that month – and soon sold out with a second printing under yet another cover issued.

Then more special covers were issued for the Emerald City Comic Con, and even a 1:25 store incentive version. – We were of to a great start.

Left to Right:

  • Alternate cover for the regular issue – also used as the cover on the trade-paperback collection.
  • Cover for the second printing.
  • Special foil edition for ECCC limited to 500 copies
  • 1:25 Retailer Incentive edition.  – This design was also used for a special San Diego limited edition hardcover collection.

Character Sketch #2 -“The Staircase Is Over There!”

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The voice cut across the hotel lobby with the subtlety of a sledgehammer meeting a sheet of plate glass. Every conversation stopped and a percentage of heads turned to identify the source of the strident location finder.

She stood imperiously at the far corner, as far physically from anyone else as possible with her right arm raised, her be-ringed finger pointing in the direction of the aforementioned stairs.

This was a woman who demanded attention, even if she rarely received it. Physically small in stature she projected a voice that seemed impossible for someone of her build. Her lung capacity must be formidable. The lean worn face wore a haughty air of frustration beneath a layer of inexpertly applied make-up. Her bleached blonde hair fell straight and limp. Her shirt displayed a cascade of fringes and garish embroidered patterns of indeterminate origin. The fashionably torn jeans tunneled into a pair pf cowboy boots which seemed to be equally adorned as the shirt.

The woman shrugged, turned, and entered the open elevator doors behind her. The door slid shut and she disappeared from sight.

Conversations resumed, while a few of the hotel guests looked around to see who the directive had been intended for, yet no-one seemed to move in the direction of the indicated stairs. – The recipient remained a mystery.

 

 

Under The Hood of the CARS Comics: Getting to Radiator Springs

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With the Disney publicity machine gearing up for the release of CARS 3 in June I’ve seen a renewed interest in the CARS comics that I was lucky enough to write back in 2009/2010 following on from the original CARS movie. So I thought it might be fun to post a few short articles reliving my time hanging out with the denizens of Radiator Springs  and sharing a few of the behind the scenes insights, and some of the references, homages etc. that we sneaked into the scripts.

Getting to Radiator Springs.

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I’m often asked how I landed the gig to write the CARS comics, and my answer is that I simply begged to do it. It was at ComicCon 2008 in San Diego that comics publisher BOOM Studios announced that they would be producing a line of comics based on the Disney*Pixar movies. The announcement also included the news that the editor of the new line would be one Paul Morrissey, who had joined BOOM from manga publisher Tokyopop. It so happened that Paul had been my editor at Tokyopop on the GOD SHOP project.

As a total gear-head CARS was my favorite Disney*Pixar movie, I also think it is a straight forward fun movie with a great message even if you aren’t that interested in cars. So at San Diego I tracked down Paul and basically begged saying something along the lines of, “I don’t care what anyone else is pitching for, I want to write the CARS comic.” It turned out that most people had asked about writing The Incredibles, or Toy Story*, so the list I was competing with was shorter.

As we walked and talked I pitched Paul a story I had in mind that he seemed to like, so he asked me to come back the next day with four story ideas. I was back at the BOOM booth at 8:00am the next morning with five, the last one being a throw away idea of doing a ‘prequel’ to the movie that told Lightning McQueen’s back story that I knew that Disney would never let me do. I mean if anyone was going to do an ‘origin’ story for one of their lead characters it would be Disney. Right?

Paul reviewed the ideas and took them to Disney, who also approved them. The last day of the convention I got the news from Paul that I was to be the writer on the new CARS comic book series, oh and Disney wanted to kick things off with the origin story.

It was time to start writing – Ka-Chow!

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* I also  also asked to pitch for Toy Story and developed a four issue story arc that was approved and even announced and promoted, but that never saw the light of day – but that’s a whole other story for another blog entry.

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Character Sketches #1 – The Boy Who Watched

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When I was sorting out various boxes from our recent move I came across a collection of my old notebooks, and of course I had to take a look through them. The first few I pulled out dated back to my early writing days and contained several ‘character sketches.’ These weren’t sketches as in drawings, but rather short written observational pieces.

One of the earliest pieces of advice I’d been given about writing was to carry a notebook and at least once a day sit down somewhere; a park, mall, train station, coffee shop, or similar and just watch people. Then pick out a person and use them as a visual prompt for creating a quick 200 word piece. How would you describe them? Why were they there? What bought them to this point? Did they suggest or spark ideas for alternate stories?

While I’ve stayed in the habit of carrying a note book (although I wasn’t using it as much as I should) over the intervening years I’d stopped doing those short sketches.  Until now. I’ve committed to myself that for 2017 I’m going to get back into the habit of ‘sketching’ and will post the results on this blog.

So to start the process here’s a little something I wrote over lunch today:

The Boy Who Watched.

At first glance he appeared to be about fifteen years of age, or maybe even a few years younger. It was a misconception that he used to his advantage, for who would take such a young boy seriously? He kept to the edges of the room; watching everything, but noticed by none.

Standing about five feet tall, he had a rounded, almost cherubic, face and smooth features that had yet to display any signs of stubble or beard. The eyes were bright and shone with the promise of youth, yet the lids were heavy and he wore an aura that suggested a lifetime of experience well beyond his apparent years.

He wore a simple combination of a black buttoned down shirt and clean boot cut jeans without any adornment. On his feet he wore simple black sneakers that allowed him to circumnavigate the room without sound.

There were several others in that crowded room dressed in a similar manner. Men and women mostly in their early to mid-twenties. The careful observer could discern that these patrons would occasionally glance in the direction of the boy, who with an almost imperceptible nod or shake of the head would approve or reject some proposed action.

The quiet boy by the wall didn’t just watch the room, he controlled it – and everyone in it.

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