Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Bad Luck Inc. – the annotations and expose pt 2


Okay, back to the slow unraveling of Bad Luck Inc. It's been nice to hear people tell me they didn’t realise so much was within the story, which I guess is the point, as I try to pack as much subtext and multiple meanings within the narrative as possible. Naturally not everything will be picked up, but given that I'm not usually a 'straight' storyteller it will probably be more obvious in following stories that come up. Or it may just bore you to death.

In any case, here's part two. Again, well caught if you managed to see most of these…


PAGE FOUR

Some of the most telling clues to Neon's fate are on this page, in case the last few opening pages didn’t initially give you enough. The big and most obvious one is through numbers. I've already noted how important numbers are to the story on a whole, here they're more open and telling than anywhere else in the 13 pages -yes, 13- of Bad Luck Inc.

As Neon goes down in the lift, he's on floor 13; the floor his department is on. Nice obvious clue there, coupled with the fact most buildings try to avoid having a 13th floor. Here's a company that clearly revels in superstition.

Then the next panel, Neon passes by floor 7; or 'lucky number 7'. This is where ironic misdirection starts to take place a little. I'm telling you that as Neon is going down, his chances of escape increase because we're focusing on 'luckier numbers'. Although the reality is totally different, in the narrative of the story it scans – on first reading we're thinking Neon is simply getting closer to his goal. This is emphasized further when he passes by floor 3 in the next panel (although my dialogue covers this up slightly) – 3 being "the magic number", again with positive connotations. It's a subliminal drip feed of positivity, of sorts that play in parallel to the genre's conventions; the protagonist's chances of escape only get better as the story progresses towards its end.

What clouds this, however, are a couple things. Firstly, the dialogue itself, which expresses doubt (Trimurti joking with Neon that this is her first extraction), forcing Neon to visibly sweat. It's also a handy tension builder, allowing the story to give you an element of doubt to Neon's success, a doubt which is quickly drawn away again by Trimurti's reassertion that she's a pro.

The second thing is that scary insignia/logo again, which is ever-present, especially in panel two where Neon stands directly between the eyes of the Bad Luck Inc. cat. While Trimurti expresses an "angel" on Neon's shoulder, we see it's the devil-like Bad Luck cat that sits almost literally on his shoulder there. Notice the framing of the words "Bad Luck" hovering over Neon in that panel, too. The poor guy never stood a chance.

Within the dialogue, we get a brief skirmish with the concepts of determinism and the bare concept of what 'luck' actually is – which is quickly dismissed by Neon who's trying "not to think about the semantics". Had he thought about them more when he started employment he probably wouldn’t have found himself in this position.

Again, a few more nuggets are on this page, but I'll leave it there for now.



PAGE FIVE

Yui did a great job on the robots here, which are a mixture of Sony's real life robots and the ones seen in the movie version of 'I Robot'.

Lots of important dialogue on this page, but you can work out what that all is easily. Aside from that, there's three big moments on this page.

1) Neon gets his 'costume'. Security padding and such it may be, but that's effectively what it is; a costume. Again, sticking with The Matrix comparisons and switching genres from sci-fi to superhero, this is meant to be a massive and significant moment in the story… yet it's just a small panel. Huh? Comic book convention notes that when you have a moment like this, you make it VERY BIG. Usually with a splash (full) page. Yet here's our hero, all suited up and ready to go in this relatively small panel. Why? Because it's not real. And because it's a totally fake reality, a full page would be crossing the line of misleading the audience. It's a big moment put in small framing to tell you something isn't right – his grand entrance reduced in size. It's a storytelling format trick, but it's very effective in telling you something extremely subtly… and I'm a sucker for format tricks.

2) The 'good luck pills' (complete with another lucky number, '49'). A loving plot device created directly from the dream I had which inspired the story. I had good luck pills during my escape from the devil, which made escape a lot easier for a short while and thought they'd be a perfect antithesis to the story's 'evil'. We'll come back to them in the next page, though.

3) Neon's eyes. As noted before, eye symbolism is rife in Bad Luck Inc. Neon starts with his eyes closed, and 'wakes up', expressing false awakening. The Bad Luck Inc cat's eyes are never shut, following us and Neon around, expressing omnipresent bad luck and oppressive supervision. Yui made the child's eyes bleed on Page 3, which was a very perceptive addition – a bleeding of innocence from the 'mirrors of the soul' (which ties in perfectly to the fact Neon's daughter doesn’t exist). And here, Neon has his eyes closed while he swallows the pill, telling us he hopes it's the last time his eyes are closed to anything. Which of course couldn’t be further from the truth – his eyes are closed permanently for most of the story, both in a literal and symbolic sense. The eye imagery continues later on, but we'll move on for now.


PAGE SIX

Loved the montage Yui did, lots of different angles and perspectives as Neon does his 'hero/spy' bit. Now you know the truth of the Neon's reality, it's left to you to decide whether the good luck pills are actually working or not, but let's face it, on second reading it's a moot point really, given the circumstances.

The main punch of the story comes from the final panel, where Neon is shot and we get the caption "A future of the abyss"; exactly what awaits Neon.

And he doesn’t even get the chance to use his gun. To be honest, this is a very loose skirting of Chekhov's Gun (I don’t mean to show disrespect, but I get away with it all the same… if only just). The 'rule' of Chekhov's Gun (named after the writer/playwright Anton Chekhov), is that if you introduce something of ominous intent early on in the story, you better have used it by the time you get to Act 3. In his example, if the writer shows a gun on a mantelpiece at the start of the story, it must be fired by the end - "One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it." It's literary device.

At the start of Bad Luck Inc., we see Neon pocketing his gun, but he never uses it. While the gun is not really important, I show it at a few stages and so a typical reader will expect that he uses it at some point. But he doesn’t. Uh oh.

My nice and easy out is pretty simple, really. IT'S NOT A REAL GUN. Nor, in fact, is anything but Neon's state of mind truly 'real' (which is stated as such on the next page, but I digress). I can get away with showing a gun and not firing it because the reality of the story's narrative becomes quickly apparent and the protagonist is essentially helpless. Again, it's another trick to subvert expectations of the story's reality and tell you, as from the first page, that things are not right. That's the nice thing about playing in an 'unreality' – you can afford to bend the rules a little because it plays directly towards that fact. So much, that I have Neon himself get shot instead of him shooting – a kinda inverted metaphorical play on Chekhov's Gun. I'm not a total maverick. Honest.


Next week I'll go into the final pages of the story and probably break a few more storytelling rules in the process, too. I like breaking stuff.



This week's teaser: Look at the other 'victim employee's' names. Can you see a pattern emerging?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bad Luck Inc. – the annotations and expose pt 1

You're never supposed to explain your 'art'.

At least, that's what they say. Explanations tend to weaken it and remove the more personal parts of which the art impresses on the audience. I agree with that to a certain degree, but as my first published story I have no qualms in going into a little more detail about Bad Luck Inc., especially as the number of people reading it aren't likely going to reach more than double figures anyway. Such is the life of an independent publication.

So, how to do this. Many ways have crossed my mind, but I've decided the best way is to go through page by page and let you do some of the legwork in working some things out too. Consider it a DVD commentary style sneak peek, but there's a lot here so we'll do this in weeks. Those of you who havent read the story yet, I'd advise you to (buy a copy!) before you venture in, as this obviously contains spoilers.

So grab your copy, and hopefully you'll get another side of Bad Luck Inc you've not considered or noticed.


PAGE ONE

Okay, kicking things off. The name, Neon. Now, those of you who are attentive to my prior blogs will know part of the story of why I've named him Neon – it sounded futuristic and sci-fi genre styled. He was originally named 'Nuon'. However, long after I wrote the story and started going through it for Yui to draw, I realised something that actually paralyzed me.

"This is actually really close to The Matrix."

Followed by:

"SHIT."

I honestly didn’t realise the similarities. As you already know, the story was based off a dream, but also loosely linking to my experiences of when I was unhappy working as an office drone, so that's where the plot emerged, but only when I took a step back did I see how close it initially may have seemed. Argh.

However, I re-read it and realised that the stories are saying two entirely different things. The Matrix is about freedom and liberation from establishment. Opening your eyes to reality. Bad Luck Inc is the polar opposite. It's the lock of establishment from perceived sham freedom. And with that, I realised the story, while not obviously so, is fine to stand alone. To some it may seem like a rip, but the core of it is totally different, and given the inspiration was from myself rather than the film (or the realisation which came far too late for me to change it in any large way), I was happy to take any finger pointing in full knowledge. I didn’t expect everyone to 'get' the thematic and narrative differences straight off, but that's the risk you run.

So, with that in mind, I thought, 'hell, why not play with it?' Why not lead readers into thinking 'this is a bit like The Matrix' and toy with that expectation? Which is why 'Nuon' turned into 'Neon' – which thematically was perfect. In The Matrix, Neo is an anagram of 'One', as to say he is The One. Neon? Ha, well that's an anagram of 'None'. As to say, he is nothing. Barely a number or a blip. And by the end of the story, that's reinforced. He doesn’t escape. He isnt The One. He's merely another blank in a sea of corporate drones. Also, 'Neon' suggests illumination, as the character has woken up and 'seen the light', which in a narrative sense runs an ironic parallel to his actual reality. If I was going to be accused of taking off The Matrix, then hell, I'm going to at least give it some damn depth.

This fear also became the genesis of the numbers scrolling down the page for the first panel of this page. Just like in The Matrix. A set up of expectations, not to mention the fact numbers play an important part of the story, which we'll explore in the next week's expose. It's not like I sat there and went, 'well, no one's going to notice' – which is why I'm so damn blatant about it! It's more a case of: 'Here is the reference, I'm not hiding it, you just hold on to it for me, I'll come back to it later'.

Another big thing about this page is layout. The panels are falling. This is to mimic a 'waking up' effect, that couples with Neon's eyes opening. However, if you look at them closely, the panels go from being the right way up to upside down. It's totally intentional to represent that fact what we're seeing here ISNT REAL. It's skewed. Disoriented. A little clue to what's actually happening in the story; the start of a sham.

Reinforcing this are three other subtle clues; one is the tattoo numbers on Neon's collar, which you can see in panel 3. They say '6:7'. These numbers recur throughout the story, but you don’t need to be a math genius to work out what they mean…

The second clue is the name of Neon's PC hardware: 'Purgatorio'. Seems obvious now, but when it's upside down it's far less noticeable.

Third one – Neon starts with his eyes closed; the only time he's 'seeing' the truth of the sham story per se. Eyes are a constant motif in Bad Luck Inc, so we'll get back to this later.

There's a few other things on Page one, but I'll leave them for you to work out – these are the biggest ones to take note of. If you noticed any of the above though, give yourself a big pat on the back.


PAGE TWO

The all important splash page. Yui does a great job of giving the office a very typical 'veal fattening pen' (3 points if you get the reference) feel here. The big 'not totally obvious thing' on this page is literally staring at you. Top right hand corner. Look familiar?



PAGE THREE

A little production hiccup is shown on this page, which really boils down to me having too much dialogue here for the panel's natural 'weight'. The Bad Luck Inc. logo and sign is shown for the first time, but mostly covered up by my words. Thankfully you can still see the logo, which is effectively a creepy ass black cat staring at you with eyes made of 2D dice. Yui really did me a huge favour by making it also look a bit like a devil, which would be the whole point. This logo follows Neon around the story, which should be of no surprise if you know about how it ends.

Underneath the dialogue you may notice that Neon worked for, yes, you guessed it, the Human Resources department. Don’t let it be said that I don’t give you a lot of clues in the narrative of my stories. Also covered up is the company/department motto: "Shit happens, we're here to make sure of it", which is my cheerful way of saying 'this company will destroy you and take and make money off your corpse'. Happy happy joy joy.

Neon's caption dialogue is quite telling here. He's worked at the company for 10 years. Presumably knowing what it does.

Now, think about that. 10 years working for this big evil company.

And he's only NOW wanting to get out?

Sure, it's not easy to escape, hence the extraction requirement, but 10 years is a long time. Again, we reach the crux of the story very early on – it's too late for him. He's already doomed because he's waited too damn long to leave even if he could. He sold his soul a long time ago and now he's paying the price for it. Which, you having read the story, already know. But I try to narrate it as early as possible so you have some foreshadowing and subconscious (at least) warning that things are not going to go well - I've not many pages to play with after all, so I need to get to the point quickly. The very fact the final panel has a mother holding her dead child should also give you an idea of the tone we're dealing with – doesn’t Neon have a wife and child? Hmm.

Also worth noting on this page – we find out the name of Neon's extraction handler, which is Trimurti. Again, a play on 'Trinity' (from The Matrix) but more prominently, Trimurti has real world significance. Look 'her' up and see what you find.


Next update we'll go into the next few pages. But I'll leave you with one more nugget in the meantime, one you may have noticed: how many pages (excluding the title page) does the actual story of Bad Luck Inc. come to?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Hiatus

I've spent most of this week in bed/vomiting/on the loo, so you can probably work out why I've not updated until now... sadly, all this bed/vomiting/loo action has put me REALLY behind my work, so I've had no time to even post anything beyond this little notice as of yet.

Sorry.

Normal service will resume sometime next week when I've got a couple of my monthly scripts out the way, virus recovery pending.

In the meantime, feel free to check out my most recent columns/features at Wii Chat http://www.wiichat.com/ - many are handily located on the first page.

I'm also planning a Bad Luck Inc. 'expose' soon to see just how many of you got all the hidden stuff and references (and there's a fair bit) in the story.

Until then...

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The contest begins! And for me, likely ends soon ;)

As writing related surprises go, I've had worse.

Had much better, mind, but had so much worse.

The short prose competition over at Rusty Axe has officially started, and the big surprise is Bad Blood is among the first to be judged this week.

Sadly, the judge (going off the first page only for now, which is more than fair) is not that impressed – the first page has scraped an 11/20, based on the components of plot, creativity, writing, grammar, mechanics, and style. The other piece alongside it scored 13/20, so I'm already languishing behind.

The remaining entrants over the next few weeks will go under a similar process, with the top four from nine going into the next round. You can leave your comments and rating here (they've thankfully made it a painless process): http://www.rustyaxe.com/writing_contest_first_page.php - although they won't contribute towards the piece's success or failure, so don’t go spamming the site or anything ;)

Reflecting on the judges comments, they're fine – a couple miss the point of what I was trying to do, but on a whole I think they hit the mark with more than valid criticisms and have given me plenty to go on for a re-write. Most of the issues seem to boil down to a lack of judicious editing, a flaw which I'm painfully aware of. It seems the problems with the analysed page are mainly due to syntax, which is frustrating on my part (at myself) given the judge declares that the page is a "near miss" and just in need of some polishing, as everything else intrigues her. In short, Bad Blood is in need of a tidy-up and reshuffle. Fair enough; I do tend to go on a little...*


All valuable stuff to take away, then. I don’t see the entry going any further in the contest (I doubt the other entrants are going to score less than 11), but I've got a good idea of where to take the piece next before I go any further with it, as well as giving me something to be aware of in general with my prose…






*Which is what makes my comic writing so comparatively economical - I have so little space to write flowery prose in comics!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Fleeing the scene of the crime

Fear.

I'd be lying if I said I didn’t feel it at the moment.

If you've been reading this blog long enough, you may remember an entry where I talked about the apprehension of publication, the fear of whatever you do isn't going to be good enough because it's held to this invisible standard that you can never reach.

The reason this has come up now is because I've been so busy of late, I barely even realised that so much of my stuff is actually close to public consumption, which is mostly due to the good news I mentioned in the last entry.

Bad Luck Inc. is already out in Tales From the Plex Vol 2 – something I imagine a few of you may have read by the time I publish this. Scary.

But there's a fair few bits that you may not know about.

First up. Again, long time blog readers will have read some samples of this already, but my novelette, Primes: Bad Blood, passed the quality entry barrier and was accepted into a short fiction competition last month, being held at Rusty Axe (http://www.rustyaxe.com/writing_contest_entries.php). Surprisingly, only 8 stories managed to be admitted – could be that not many people entered. But either way, it's there and judging starts this week, where samples of each story will be shown to the public and whittled down through popularity. Final prize is $216, but really that's quite academic; I'm just damn curious as to how Bad Blood will be received. In any case, if you like what you read, I'd be happy to have your support. Not sure what the format will be, but I'll likely post about it when my week of judging is open. I'm mostly expecting to be a first round casualty, but it's nice to know it qualified at all I guess.



Secondly, the ink has now dried on my second contract and I can publicly divulge that I've been signed up for another comic book series. It's under the same company that signed me up for the first series, and I've only just finished the first issue script, but I'm REALLY happy for obvious reasons. And the concept itself is quite novel, certainly more original than many other concepts I've seen in a while. While I cant really say much about it right now (contract!) the project is very exciting to work on and I'm pretty hyped with how the first issue turned out in script form. Hopefully this time next year I'll be showing you the finished article.



Thirdly, that first series I just previously mentioned, which is also shrouded in secrecy. Well, I've been writing it for over half a year now and after a shaky start I think I've found my feet. To be honest, I've written so many scripts for the series now it's part of my usual work routine- so I was VERY surprised to suddenly find my editor/publisher send me half of the first issue FULLY DRAWN to my inbox this week. Apparently the artist (cant name him yet, sorry) should have the whole issue done very soon before starting the next. And he's superb. Really freaking good. I wish I could show you his stuff, especially a couple pages that are really eye popping – quite literally in one case.

Now I've been sweating about this project for a while, as some of you may know – various reasons. But to see the drawn pages for the first time, the characters I've spent nearly a year creating and 'living' with, suddenly get faces, watching everything come to life… man, I think I went crazy for about 2 hours in disbelief. Really amazing stuff. There's always a great feeling when you see your script be 'translated' into physical visual form, but given this is my first ongoing series and all the pressure, research, stress and so on, seeing these pages… it hit me:

This is really happening.

It's real.


Not to say it all cant fall through at any given moment – it's at the publisher's discretion once the product changes hands because they buy and subsequently own the property, but it's penciled, due to be inked and coloured soon and then lettered, printed, then finito. Done. Ready to be put on shelves. For potentially thousands to read.

Hmm.

Yup, that would be the fear thing I was talking about.

But still, the project is going full steam ahead now, which offers a stark contrast to last year which had me sitting around telling people the publisher would never hire me based off my script and plot sample. Crazy.

Now that this project is well and truly off the ground, I'm really hoping the second one I'm signed to gets running too (because that one is likely to stir the biggest reactions from people and has some spectacular -if I do say so myself ;) – action sequences in that had me consulting some of my favourite movies and books for inspiration). But either way, it's a great feeling (when I'm not worried about the reception) to have my fiction career dream actually stop being… well, fiction.


Last, but far from being least – I've recently been hand picked for another project for another publisher, which was a wonderful feeling to say the least. We've spent the last week tossing ideas around, talking about schedules and generally getting all excited about the whole thing, with even some concept sketches being drawn up (the artist I'm teamed with is brilliant and so so fast). Very early days to go into specifics right now on record, but it's something that will be on a fairly fast track of creation, so I'll be talking about it again soon enough. It's all been very sudden but needless to say if you thought I was pimping Tales from the Plex Vol 2 hard, you ain't seen nothing yet ;)

So yeah, lots of things going on right now that I had no idea would happen barely a month ago. No doubt this time next year I'll be lamenting what I could have done to spare the inevitable criticism slings and arrows, but I cant help but feel good that after two years of transition (a relatively short time, thankfully), things are moving in the right direction for once.

So: Fear is healthy.

Fear makes me want to do better.

And ultimately, if it's a choice between the fear of public failure to reach my dreams and goals or just giving them up and not having to deal with the fear...

...then screw it – bring on the degradation.





(Hell, I've been a little known games journo/writer for over half a decade and had to put up with public libel being fired at me from all sorts of readers; I should be used to it by now…)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Skipping a beat… down

This is more a case of letting you know I've not abandoned the site (force of habit; net culture rule of thumb usually states if you keep visiting a site that hasn’t updated in its usual time frame, you tend to stop visiting). Things are just a tad busy at the moment and I still wanted to focus on the fact Tales From the Plex Vol 2 is out, before I go into anything else. So consider my previous entry below this one as my most recent blurb until early next week when I'll come back with a couple of other relatively big bits of news.

If you've already purchased a copy of Tales; thank you!

If you've not; what are you waiting for? ;)

I'll be back again late weekend with various bits of newsage regarding more fiction of mine spraying itself all over the place with little shame. Should be an interesting ride…

For now - back to deadline script editing!

Joy :-s