Archive for August, 2009
As promised, some proof as to why the postings are delayed.
The wedding was a phenomenal affair. Everything was smooth as can be and the bride and groom looked to be having a wonderful time. Some wonderful speeches, excellent eats, tasty drinks, adorable nieces, and tons and tons of close family and old friends. It will easily go into my list of best weekends ever, and I have no doubt the bride and groom are ecstatic on their honeymoon.
So, here are some key images from the event. I won’t post too many, because I wouldn’t want to steal Ollie’s thunder. I’m sure he has tons of stuff he wants to share with you himself. Back to the regular schedule on Wednesday with my thoughts on District 9!
Today is a no-post post. I’m busily assisting Mr. Oliver Grigsby to prepare for his wedding tomorrow. As such, my time has been stretched fairly thin. I have some Friday Fiction I’ve been preparing for you, we swears it we does. However, if it comes in under the 1500 word cutoff that McSweeney’s has, I may have to divert and only post it here upon its rejection (let’s not get crazy and assume lightning strikes twice in one place).
And speaking of segues, my piece went up on McSweeney’s yesterday. You can find the perma-link here. I’m still pretty jazzed about the whole thing, and even got a fan e-mail about it. First fan mail! Score.
So, hopefully on Monday I can return with some fun wedding pictures to share. In the mean-time, cute videos of cute animals to tide you over. Victor, the first two are for you.
I’m going to assume that for a classic film, I don’t need to worry about spoilers. If I’m writing something about a recent film (next Wednesday will feature a write-up on District 9, for example) I’ll let you know before I launch into spoiler-laden content. The classics, though, as you’ve likely had about twenty years to catch them, are past that statute of limitations. That having been said…
Raging Bull is a film that I was looking forward a great deal to seeing. It’s a Scorsese film, it’s a DeNiro film, it’s an early Scorsese/DeNiro film. It has all the elements of cinematic success (who knew there were so few elements?). Considering the film is argued to be one of the best film of the 1980s (if not the best), I would have expected to enjoy it a bit more than I did. Since seeing it, I’ve spent some time trying to puzzle out why I would have such a tepid reaction to a cinematic giant such as this film, and I think I’ve got it.
The modern bio-pic is very different from the way Raging Bull handles things. Films like Walk the Line or Ray or Erin Brockovich or even titles that are less obviously bio-pics like The Insider are very focused on a theme and a moral. Johnny Cash is battling the personal demons he has relating to his brother’s death and his father’s approval. Ray Charles is dealing with addiction and pioneering the fight against racism. Erin Brockovich is an everyday Jane fighting corporate greed. Similarly, Jeffrey Wigand is taking a stand against Big Tobacco in spite of the dangers it represents. These are all pretty targeted stories. These are less films that chronicle the lives of their subjects and more films that tell a story that just happen to have their subjects as the protagonists.
Raging Bull is a film that in very honest terms is telling about the life of boxer Jake LaMotta. There’s a story being told, but it’s almost told in vacuum. LaMotta’s life isn’t something that can be equated to a struggle that the everyday film-goer can relate to. It’s not connected to the era in terms of any social movement or historical event. LaMotta is the film’s hero and its sole villain. He begins the film as a brash, stubborn, violent and jealous man who wants to be a big shot. He ends the film as a brash, stubborn, violent and jealous man who has seen those traits take him from his role as a big shot to his current position as a has-been. LaMotta never seems to learn a lesson throughout the entire film, making him exceedingly hard to identify with. He beats his wife, is insanely jealous of her (ignoring the irony that he left his first wife to be with her) and alienates his brother after almost beating him to death after his brother had spent his life doing nothing but helping LaMotta to achieve his goals. So, while the film is shot and written with the authenticity that Scorsese is so well known for, and DeNiro and Pesci give characteristically strong performances, I didn’t feel that the meat of the film was satisfying. It was basically “everything sucks for Jake LaMotta because of Jake LaMotta and then the movie ends”.
It seems to me that much of the film’s reputation is formed around DeNiro’s weight gain for the film, considered to be the epitome of method acting. The film shut down production for months in the middle of filming so that DeNiro could complete LaMotta’s weight gain into his later years, packing on 60lbs. for the role.
Raging Bull is a film with excellent performances, excellent direction and cinematography, believable dialog and characters and a story that is perhaps too real to be workable for today’s audience. Is it bad that I found myself dissatisfied with a film that appeared to be missing the veneer of Hollywood storytelling all over it? Probably. But at the same time, my taste is of course infallible (I mean, obviously). So we appear to be at an impasse.
It’s not terribly likely that there are people reading this that are not connected to me personally, or via Facebook, Friendfeed or Twitter. On the off chance that there are, though (hello!), I’ll take things from the start.
I recently had a piece of fiction accepted for publication on the McSweeney’s website. McSweeney’s, brainchild of author Dave Eggers, was created to highlight fiction from new and upcoming hopeful writers. It is for this reason that the site does not publish any material that has itself been published elsewhere. The sharp-eyed among you will notice a post has vanished from my archives. Turns out that having a blog that about 20 people read counts as publishing. Truly we live in an age of wonders!
I mention this only slightly to toot my own horn. I mention this mostly as proof of concept. I wrote, weeks back, about Oliver Grigsby’s venture with Penny Arcade. Ollie is an up-and-coming screenwriter, but that fact has come about after years of paying his dues as a flunkie in the television industry. What may prove to have been his breakout venture with Penny Arcade, who have it made it a sort of accidental hobby of theirs to make and break careers, came about strictly because Ollie said “What the hell?” and tried submitting something to Penny Arcade. I don’t think he ever really expected to get a response.
The exact same thing happened with me. I had written a post, wasn’t sold on its quality, was convinced by my wife it was good enough, and then posted it to the blog. To date, it’s been the only piece of fiction for the blog that I think fits McSweeney’s standards and format. I figured, as Ollie, “What the hell?” and never expected to get a response. Five days later, the piece had been accepted. Believe me when I say it can be done. If you are confident in your work and feel it is worth sharing, find an outlet to share it. If you can find an outlet that will also help increase some of your visibility, then go for it. The worst that happens is that they don’t take it and then you’re free to take it anywhere else you choose.
I’m also going to call focus back to a recent post regarding scheduling and the viability of creative content creation on a tight schedule. The piece I sent over to McSweeney’s is something I crafted in under three hours. I pondered and prepped on and off throughout the days before I was writing, but that was all mental work. The only headstart I had when I sat down to write was that I had brainstormed. Then I tackled it in two hour long sessions over two nights and spent about 30 to 45 minutes proofing and editing.
The last point I want to make before closing, as I don’t want this to be the world’s longest thinly veiled “Hey, I did something cool”, is that the lesson I intend to take away from this success is not that I’m The Man. But I think it will be easier for me now to shout down the little nagging doubts that always tell me that what I make isn’t that great. Those fears are what I think are the chief cause of writer’s block. It’s less that you don’t know what to write, and more that your mind isn’t lending you the confidence to write whatever you think of. These thoughts are normal, pretty common, and totally counterproductive. You’re only at your best when you allow yourself to be, and you get there by believing that it’s as acceptable to reach for something and fail as it is to reach for something and achieve it.
I’m dipping into the archive here. This is something I wrote my sophomore year of college, if I remember correctly. It’s also probably one of the only things that I wrote during college that I can think back on and not cringe. It’s a bit awkward in parts, but I enjoy the spirit of it very much. Matt Rake is a ludicrous and reactionary character and I think I’m going to feature him in something new soon. Soooo… for now, please to enjoy this look at some old school work from me.
It has what I think is my favorite descriptive phrase I’ve ever written: “They garnished the room like heavily armed parsley.” So there’s that at least.
It was a dark and stormy night that enveloped my building like a wet paper bag around a soggy, depressing sandwich. Not a good sandwich, not peanut butter and jelly. No, this sandwich was olive loaf. A depressing, sad olive loaf. I had been keeping late hours in my office—located on the third floor of my damp bag building. Another late night meeting with my friend Jack. We go way back, me and Mr. Daniels. He helps me think.
I could see myself reflected back in the glass as I stared out at the rain: square jaw, hard flint eyes, strangely attractive, rogue-ish face. There I was, Matt Rake, Private Dick, just like the glass on the door said. From here though, it said, “ekaR ttaM”. That’s me.
I wondered: What is it that makes Matt Rake so sexy? And Matt Rake, well he stared right back at me and he said to me, “Matt, it’s because the ladies love your gentle, yet unhinged personality. You give them flowers and you give them adventure. You’re a private dick, but you’ve got a heart of gold. Are you hard-boiled? Not a bit. You’re over-easy, just the way the ladies like it.” I just nodded my head, when Matt was right, he was right.
I had gotten into this business after 10 years walking the beat as a cop, promoted all the way up to detective. My partner and I, we were trying to solve a series of gangland murders. One hit right after another. We traced it back to one man, Cesar Mendoza; thought we had him nailed. The cards were all stacked on the other foot, it was only a matter of time. We followed him back to his building one night, had him cornered; there was no way out. We’d brought him down. Sure, maybe the only charge we could get on him was tax evasion, but we could take him down anyway. Before we could nail him, though, he pulled a gun from an ankle holster, killed my partner, then started to run. That’s when an untied shoelace stopped him in his tracks. He ended up dancing cheek to cheek with a dumpster that was about ten feet away. Hit it like a big, fat sack of copper monkeys. Some people say it was blind luck that got me that arrest. I say it was something more, some innate super-sense that only I, Matt Rake, possess. Mendoza could feel the heat that I was bringing his way, he could tell that with Rake on the case, he wouldn’t last for long. It was subconscious really. He tripped because he wanted to get caught. Wanted to end the charade that would have been his flight from my steely justice. Either way, I couldn’t stay on the force after that, I saw my partner in every other cop on the force. So I came here. Detective work was in my blood. I started my own practice.
I started to get upset thinking about Mendoza all those years ago, but Jack had some comforting words for me. His first argument wasn’t convincing. So I made him toss three more my way. The last one was a good one. I began to feel a little better.
Suddenly, my door burst open like the bottom falling off a wet paper bag and then there she was in the doorway, blonde hair nicely framing her face in waves of perfection in spite of the moist air, blue eyes sparkling with the intensity of a community pool in the summertime, flecked with spots of green that reminded me of elderly couples during adult swim time. Her dress was a blue, full-length number that was slit nice and high up the right side. She had a pair of gams on her that made me want to stand up and do the can-can. And I would have, had I the proper musical accompaniment.
“I am if you want me to be, dollface.”
“You’ve got to help me, Mr. Rake, you’ve just gotta!”
“Dames. It always had to be a dame. A hysterical dame, at that.”
“Did I say that out loud?”
Silence hung in the air like a hummingbird, but much bigger than that. It hung like a fat, huge, mutant hummingbird. Without the humming.
I could tell she wanted me.
“Listen sugartits, why don’t we discuss your business here so we can get down to business here.”
“Oh, Matt. You’re so strong and forward. You must take me!”
“Wait. What? Really?”
“Yes, yes! Take me! Take me now! “
“This is all working a little too well for me. You, uhh, wouldn’t by any chance be planning something nefarious, would you?”
I took a good look at her. She pulled out the puppy-dog eyes act on me. I kept my gaze as steely as a fork. No dice. Next she tried the old push-up bra defense. She leaned forward, pushing her arms together in towards her chest to accentuate her, well, chest.
“But Matt, surely bodacious hooters like these bad boys can’t belong to someone with evil intentions, how could I possibly plan on using you for anything. Anything, that is, other than sex.”
She had a good point there.
“You have a good point there.”
The fat, silent hummingbird puttered around the room again as I gazed into her chlorinated, old people filled pool eyes and she fingered something she was hiding in her Beretta-shaped purse.
“Alright honeycheeks, what is it that Matt Rake can do for you?”
“I need you to find someone for me, Matt.”
“I’m right here.”
“No, no. I need you to find someone ‘comma’ Matt. Not ‘period’ Matt.”
“Oh. Right. Who is that you need found candyass?”
“I need you to find my husband, Mr. Rake.”
“Husband, eh? Yet you seem to be strangely drawn to my devilish good looks. That a problem for you?”
“Does it seem like it?”
She had a good point.
“You have a good point. I’ll take the case.”
“What’ll it cost me, Mr. Private Dick, sir?”
Seven minutes later I was on the street, prowling my territory. I owned the soggy night. She had told me, in between three-minute marathons of love, that I could start looking for her husband at a room he’d been renting at the Ritz Hotel.
It had stopped raining now. The night felt wet still, like the counter in a bathroom after a too long hot shower when the windows were all closed up. In the bathroom it leads to a sticky build-up. Out here, it leads to soap scum of the soul. The kind of scum you just can’t get out. I had a tub ring all around my soul and I didn’t like it.
Twenty minutes later, I started to wonder why I hadn’t just taken my car, but I got over it when a nickel on the ground caught my attention. It was shiny. I bent down to grab that sparkly circle of wonder that some folks just call a nickel when a pair of burgundy pants stepped into my line of sight.
“Good evening, sir.”
“Whoa, whoa! Back up there, commie boy!”
“You heard me, Chairman. Take your pinko pants and keep on walking, Trotsky.”
“I, uh, it’s just my uniform sir. I’m just the bellhop. Umm… welcome to the Ritz?”
“Right. Right. Uniform. Right. Well, can’t be too careful these days. Red menace, you know.”
“Sir, communism’s been dead for years.”
“Yet it seems to live on in those fancy pants of yours. Now watch yourself boy before I get Senator McCarthy to come down her and clean your clock. Get out of my way.”
I’d never seen anyone open a door for me that fast since, well, since the last time I came here and was accosted by a damn commie that I had to set straight. I strolled right on through that lobby like it was a large open area and went straight for the maitre’d.
“Hey! You. Yeah, you. Garçon. Get over here.”
“I think you mean, concierge, sir.”
“Whoa, whoa there, Vichy-boy. I don’t want Belgium or anything. I’m just looking for some information.”
“I’m from Vermont.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. So you gonna talk or what?”
“Look, don’t play your little French word games with me. Sacred language my ass. Just because you guys managed to steal all the consonants that no one needs doesn’t mean you get a medal. Now let’s make with the info, alright?”
“I would be more than happy to oblige you, if you would first ask me a question.”
“I see your game and I’ll play along. Where is he?”
“You find this amusing. Perhaps I need to grease the wheels a bit.”
It killed me to part with it, but I slid my shiny little five-cent friend across the counter. Everybody’s got a price.
“Again, sir, I would be happy to oblige you if I could only give a more specific request.”
“I’m looking for, you know, the guy… with the wife. She’s blonde. With the hooters. You know, that guy.”
“You’re looking for the guy, with the wife with the blonde hair and, I’m assuming two, breasts?”
“You’re damn right I am.”
“Room 304. Second elevator around the corner.”
That’s how you have to get things done in this town. It’s not pretty, but sometimes you’ve just got to get vague on somebody. If you can’t hack it, then this just isn’t the town for you.
The gaping maw of the elevator opened up like some mouth that opens really wide. I got on and pressed the button for the third floor. After a few gloriously musical moments with that ode to the piña colada, I got off to go and find my mark.
The hotel suite door was open, which I hadn’t expected, but hey, never look a gift horse in the mouth. I tiptoed inside. The room was as black with my eyes open as it was with my eyes shut. Both ways I got those little lights dancing in front of my eyes. The ones that don’t actually light anything up. I love those things.
Suddenly, everything flashed a bright white, I fell to the ground, pawing at my damaged eyes, screaming for sweet mercy before I heard a familiar voice say, “You’re not blind, Matt. I turned the lights on.”
I knew that.
“I knew that.”
I turned around. It was the blonde. You know, the one with the hooters and the husband, from before. At the start. That one. She was pointing her Beretta shaped purse at me.
“Why are you pointing your purse at me?”
“It’s not the purse. It’s the Beretta I was hiding in the purse!”
“Enough, Matt. I brought you here to kill you.”
“With a gun?”
“Yes Matt, I’m going to shoot you because you put my husband in jail 10 years ago.”
“Really? Isn’t he out? How else could he have checked into the hotel?”
“No, I did that. I just needed to get you here to the hotel. It was a trick.”
“Right… I got it now. That’s a good one. So… who’s your husband?”
“Cesar Mendoza. You locked him up and now I’m here to put you away for good.”
“Isn’t it kind of a long time after the fact, though?”
“I wanted to wait so I could savor my moment of revenge. Now, Mr. Rake, you die.”
As her finger squeezed the trigger there was a sound like a huge window shattering off to my right. I spun my head towards the sound and, sure enough, the huge window off to my right had shattered. Glass sprayed the room like the snot from a giant, glass-nosed ogre. The dame screamed her fool dame head off as four men in black suits leapt through the window’s frame, rappelling in from the roof attached to thick ropes. They garnished the room like heavily armed parsley. One stopped right in front of me, with the others in a semi-circle behind him. I stayed on the ground right where I was, choosing to enjoy the subtle, damp warmth spreading through the crotch of my pants rather than moving around and making things worse than they already were.
One of the men came up to me. He was wearing an all-black outfit. Black pants, black turtleneck, black mask with eyeholes and a mouth-hole cut out of it, black boots, black gun. A large black gun. That’s what bothered me the most, even more than the turtleneck, the gun.
“You! On your feet. Move!”
I got up slowly, using the bed for support. The man looked me right in the eye. Then he looked down at my pants.
“Hey, hey, hey, bucko. Eyes where I can see them.”
“What kind of man are you that wets your pants at the sign of danger?”
He jabbed me in the stomach with the barrel of his gun. I giggled and swatted at him. He turned to the other men and laughed, saying, “Mira este maricón, amigos.”
“Amigos, eh? Your game is up you dirty Finnish bastards. Just wait until I notify your country’s consulate. We’ll nuke you commie sons of bitches back into the stone age. Just you wait. Oh, yes. You are certainly going to regret your little soiree on this private dick’s homeland turf.”
“Finnish? Finnish! You son of a motherless goat, we are not from any Finland. We are from Colombia! Somos Colombianos! You would do well to remember this thing, puto. Especially after we seize your precious stock exchange.”
“Pluto, eh? Well, your knowledge of beloved Walt Disney characters won’t save you here, gringo. I don’t think any of you boys will be seizing my stock anytime soon. We don’t take kindly to foreigners around these parts.”
“In New York? But what of your Statue of Liberty and her message of welcome to all peoples? What of that, stupid puto?”
“Hey, just because that French hussie out there is claiming an international toga party doesn’t mean that that’s how Uncle Sam intended it. Now I wager it’s about time someone put a stop to all these shenanigans, and I wager that person is me.”
“What are you going to do, cabrón, piss all over us?”
With that, the three of them howled with laughter just like a pack of third graders. Well, that just tore it. I never could stand third-graders. I knew it was time to introduce these knuckle-heads to someone very close to my heart, a little down and to the left, to be more specific.
“Hey, gringos. You’re all foreigners, right?”
“Allow me to introduce you to a friend of mine. He’s foreign, too. Might be able to convince you to get the hell out of this country.”
“You think this? What is the name of your little friend?”
“Him? Oh, you can just call him Glock.”
I welcomed my friend into our little party. He made four very profound statements and then went silent. Each of the foreigners jumped and ducked and danced around the room, but none of them went down. I must have missed each and every one of them. They must have all been ninjas as well. Diabolical!
They all started to laugh their stupid, not-American laughs one more time. Powered by rage at being bested by a bunch of dirty Latin ninjas I took my Glock and threw it right at the one who had been speaking to me. I hit him right in the face.
Caught by surprise in mid-laugh, the gun slammed into his face and knocked him backwards, towards the window. He stumbled back three steps, slipped on some glass and fell out of the window. As he fell, he threw out a hand and grabbed the closest life-line he could, which just so happened to be the rappelling line of the man on the farthest left end of the semi-circle of thugs. The jolt of having this line pulled knocked that man into the middle man in the formation, who was close enough to the window to get knocked back through it as well. As the middle man fell, he grabbed the man who hit him and dragged him out the window. The fourth and final man did not look happy with me. He raised his gun and was about to fire when suddenly he was yanked out into space with the others as they grabbed hold of his line in a futile attempt to counteract my brilliant offensive strategy.
“Oh Matt! You’re my hero.”
“Sweet fancy Moses! You scared the hell out of me. I didn’t know you were still here.” The dame hadn’t left yet. I looked her up and down. She hadn’t been hurt.
“Where would I have gone?”
“Well, I don’t know but you hadn’t said anything for such a damned long amount of time. How am I supposed to keep track of where are you? Christ, woman.”
She ran the five feet over to me, wrapped her arms around my neck and began smothering me with kisses.
“Didn’t you want to kill me about five minutes ago?”
“Matt, how could I kill an international hero like you?”
“Well, it’d probably involve that gun you have in your hand there.”
“Just shut up and kiss me.”
So I did. I put a hand around her waist, pulled her tight to me, dipped her back and then planted one on her. After a few seconds I pulled back and she stared deep into my eyes and said, “You wet yourself before, didn’t you?”
Today I’m featuring a bonus post to share what I saw driving to work this morning.
As I made my way down the 8 West to meet up with the 5 North and continue my journey in to La Jolla for work, I noticed that distant traffic on the 8 East was stalled completely. I then noticed a police car blocking the advancement of said traffic. I then looked around to see what might be causing the stoppage, as I saw no accident, no ambulances, no tow trucks.
What I saw was a tall man, at least six foot, wearing shorts, a long sleeve flannel and a backpack in the middle of the freeway. In his hands was a piece of metal pipe that was also about six feet long that he was twirling around like a ninja as he kicked a soccer ball around.
He had to be at least level 60 to pull that off.
It’s been a little while since I last geeked out good and proper. Consider yourself forewarned.
The Marvel Ultimates are reimagined series of some of Marvel’s most famous superheroes. The concept was that these comics would start fresh and free themselves from the sometimes wonky backstories that they had earned over decades of comics. The Ultimates exist side by side with their standard counterparts because the Marvel Multiverse has, as the title would suggest, a wide vartiety of parallel universes. This lets Marvel use their characters a bit more freely, knowing they can always hop into another universe where things are as the fans have always wanted them to be.
Jeph Loeb wrote a series for the Ultimates arc called Ultimatum. This was intended to be a conclusion for the Ultimates, and the completion of his miniseries did result in some Ultimates comics being discontinued and others being relaunched anew.
***MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD***
Ultimatum deals with Magneto’s attack on the Earth via the Ultimatum Wave. Magneto has tired of humanity and intends to wipe them from the Earth. He begins by using his magnetic powers to tilt the Earth’s axis, causing portions of the world to freeze over, wreaking general tectonic havoc (not to be confused with “teutonic havoc”, though that would be funnier) and, in the event that the series focuses most on, causing a massive tidal wave to wipe out most of the Eastern seaboard of the United States. In the aftermath of this attack, essentially, shit happens.
The series is a violent and shocking look at what would happen if superheroes and supervillains stopped doing a Bond/Bond-villain dance around one another. There are no evil plots that are easily tossed aside. Villains and heroes don’t choose to nerf their powers so that they’re not hurting anyone. It’s a grim and gritty five-comic series. There’s not a ton of depth to it. Magneto has caused the deaths of millions, including many notable heroes. The heroes then attempt to regroup and fight back. They do, and succeed in defeating Magneto in a grisly and far-too-easy fashion. This is a man that can tilt the Earth itself, but you’re telling me that the X-Jet has no critical metal parts in it that he could have shorted out to keep the heroes from even arriving at all? The man has his arm cut off by someone with a sword for jeebus’ sake. A metal sword does in the Master of Magnetism? I don’t think so, Jeph. It seems lazy.
I’m getting off topic. The highlight of the Ultimatum mini-series is the violence, no doubt about it. Heads explode, limbs are severed, people are eaten. There is a good deal of gratuity, but at the same time, Loeb is showing things a bit closer to how they might really occur with heroes. Magneto has been foiled for years by Professor Xavier. So… he visit his old friends Charles and snaps his neck. Why not? Why would he leave him around to spoil his plans for the bajillionth time? It’s cold and callous and violent… but it is believable. Not all of the violence is believable or necessary, but it is in keeping with the overall tone Loeb has set for Ultimatum.
But that’s not what I want to gripe about today. I want to gripe about the critical reception of Ultimatum. Critics LOATHED it. Loeb was panned left and right and up and down. The series has sold exceptionally well, but it hasn’t stopped the critics from slamming him hard. I think this is unfair.
Ultimatum is extrapolating a common trend in comics today. As comics hit the mainstream, they reaching for ways to reinvent themselves. It’s not a surprise that many comic artists chose to go for stark, realistic violence. There’s a reason the costumes heroes wear, for the most part, are toned down for Hollywood consumption. People who were not fans of the comics back in the day might find it silly. The natural progression would be for comics to get more intense and a few shades darker to convince new readers that they’re approaching some heavy stuff that they need to take seriously. Comic readers are getting older as well, and the presumption is that older readers want more mature content. Mature content doesn’t equal explicit content, but that tends to be the most obvious conclusion content producers reach.
My beef with Ultimatum’s reception is that it is being villainized for the same things that Wanted was lionized for. You’ve likely heard of Wanted as a film starting Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy. The film bears almost no actual resemblance to the comic series, though creator Mark Millar was closely involved the film’s production. The film deals with an ancient order of assassins that are charged with keeping the world safe, no matter the cost. The comic deals with a world where super-villains have killed all the heroes off and rule supreme. The “hero” is an unabashed Eminem look-alike who learns he is the son of one of the most famous of all super-villains and the story covers his rise to power in the fraternity of bad-dudes.
Wanted as a comic is interesting… but totally disgusting. It is more violent than Ultimatum, and more crude. A villain named “Shithead” actually kills someone by pooping him to death. The hero’s main ability seems to just be that he’s really good at killing lots of people, and when he’s bored he takes to raping and killing at whim (at one point he kills everyone in a police station, Terminator-style, just because he’s in a bad mood). Some of the ideas presented in Wanted are more clever than Loeb’s Ultimatum, but the content is much more abhorrent because it is presented as a sort of fantasy life for a loser who has finally become a big shot. Wanted felt to me like it was trying to make some ironic statement about self-confidence and to poke fun at comics for the last fifty years, but in the end it felt to me like what happens when you let drunk frat guys write comics.
I enjoyed elements of Wanted, but felt it received too kind a reception. It was probably the first very popular comic to be so violent and explicit, and it was embraced. Here we are a few years later and Loeb is being crushed for what seem to be the same reasons that Wanted was praised.
From IGN’s Wanted review: “Wanted is a fresh, vivid and uncensored look at the world of villains.”
From Comic Book Resource’s Wanted review: “Despite all the super-villainy, raping, and territorial intrigue, Millar and Jones’s “Wanted” is about a lad whose life is dominated by the lack of a father’s love.”
From IGN’s Ultimatum review: “The gruesome deaths only grow more and more ridiculous as the series draws down. Several A-List characters get killed in ways that will make you grimace. It’s a wonder Loeb is even allowed to depict this level of violence and gore in a mainstream Marvel comic.”
Wanted is great in spite of all the raping, but Ultimatum is a snuff film. Wanted is fresh and uncensored, but Ultimatum is the kind of comic that’s so violent maybe it’s unpublishable. The flip-flop in standard bothered me quite a bit.
I’m simplifying a bit, as some of the critical comments are accurate. Loeb is trying to tell a story so big that he’s forced to devote only a couple panels to major events like the death of a hero to fit it all into five issues. Ultimatum was an interesting look at the Marvel world gone a bit mad. It’s a story painted in broad strokes that is being panned because it took shots at favorite heroes, instead of going the Wanted route and slaying approximations of those heroes. It’s not for everyone, and it is probably more interesting and entertaining than it is good, but it’s certainly not deserving of the destruction it is receiving from general critics.
My father sent me an article a few weeks back discussing the differences between the Maker’s Schedule, and the Manager’s Schedule. The two are, admittedly, very different in concept. The Manager’s Schedule, the article asserts, is best formatted into tight scheduling blocks, typically around one hour apiece. Tasks tend to shift each hour for the manager to adjust to ever-changing needs for their position. The Maker’s Schedule, however, is basically diametrically opposed to the Manager’s Schedule, requiring that tasks essentially be blocked in whole day or half day increments. This presumes that a creative thinker needs time to get rolling, time to process and time to stay within their creative space for a sustained period to get things done.
I live trapped between these two worlds. My day-to-day schedule is exactly the Manager’s Schedule presented in the article. Each Monday, I start my day by blocking out my entire week at work in hour-long chunks. I have few meetings to attend to at this point in my manager’s life, so my calendar doubles as my to-do list. I have around five projects at a given time that I am focusing on and I will break up my daily schedule to deal with at least three of those at various points. I also must include time to answer e-mails and respond to technical issues, as well as time for my various freelance sort of pursuits.
Those freelance pursuits are where things get tricky. Some of them can be very much “non-creative”. I’m either monitoring a schedule, or just catching up on the overall to-dos, or replying to queries via e-mail. Sometimes, though, I need to work in creative content. I need to develop a storyline for a game, or help puzzle out how to resolve an awkward plot that another writer has crafted, or I need to write this blog. I don’t have the luxury of being able to say “This afternoon, I’m spending four hours writing my blog.” I have work to do. I need to crank this out. I could go home and perform that work on that timeline… but what would that mean for my personal life? For my marriage? I’ve only got about six hours between the time I get home and the time I go to bed. I don’t intend to have 50% of that time be strictly devoted to my creative pursuits. (Maybe that’s my failing point as an artiste… but that’s probably a whole topic in and of itself) I need to be able to create on a schedule, or I can’t really create at all.
One of the most common statements about writing you can read (and a point I’m sure I’ve made a few times now on this blog) is that your creative instinct is a muscle. The more you flex it, the stronger it gets. Ideas will beget ideas and all that good stuff. But your body and your mind will get accustomed to certain methods of exercise. By working in short bursts on creative activities, you’ll learn to be able to crank out creative projects on a tight schedule. But you need to be aware of the limitations that your schedule will bring to a generally open-ended sort of work.
Make sure that you’re set to be working during that period. You can’t just wait for the clock to turn and kick off your creative work. You’ll want to schedule at least a little bit of time to get a rolling start. Make sure that when it comes time to jump into your creative endeavor that your materials are ready and waiting for you. If you’re going allot yourself an hour of time, you can’t have 10 minutes of it involve prep work. Try and schedule a task beforehand that you know won’t take an hour, but block out that much time anyway. When you finish that task, use that bonus time to get a head start on your creative work.
Part of that head start, for me, is getting distractions out of the way. For as much as I like to berate the standards in attention span among “those kids today”, I am a child of the MTV and Nintendo generation and sometimes when I go to buckle down on a task my brain wants to do nothing but wander. Get that wandering done early. Part of getting ready to tap into your imagination and call upon those reserves is ensuring that your mind is clear. Take a few minutes and play a web game, stare off into space, read a few pages in your book. Burn off some of your desire to goof off, then you’ll be that much more likely to be able to dig in hard.
Some of the most critical prep work for tackling a creative task in burst mode like this comes at the end of your allotted time. Let’s say your ultimate goal is to finish a novel. In your one-hour of work, you manage to crank out an entire chapter, tying it off in a neat bow when you’re complete. It might not seem like it, but you’re doing yourself a bit of a disservice completing things so cleanly. It can be difficult to start from a zero point when you’re jumping back into a larger project. Next time you sit down to write that next chapter, you’ve got to think about things from start to finish. You have to warm yourself back up to the content and characters and world. What you should be doing is making sure that when you’re ending, you’re leaving things in a place where you can pick up easily and then continue into your groove. Leave characters in the middle of a conversation or a scene that you know the method they would use to resolve. Heck, end something mid-sentence if it helps. I wrote this blog in two parts today.
At 10am, my wife left for dance practice. At 10:50am, I needed to leave to meet with friends for a regular Sunday session of gaming we have. I had a couple chores I wanted to finish, but I wanted to work on this blog post for 30 minutes to make sure I planted the seed of this idea to make finishing it later in the day easier. So I wrote right up to “The more you flex it, the stronger it gets…” in the fourth paragraph. I knew what else I wanted to say there. I wasn’t 100% on the entire end of the post, but I knew how I wanted to finish the rest of that thought. So, I left it hanging. Then, after 5 hours with friends, dinner, some DVR, catching up on my comic book reading and some Bejeweled on Facebook (why is it so addicting?!) I was able to sit back down, look at what I had written, and use that unfinished thought as an instant jumping off point. I didn’t have to try and rev up and get into a groove, I’d left a groove sitting there that I was able to settle right into. 20 minutes later, and here we are at the end.
Creative work in short bursts is not my preference. I would love to be able to spend my day working on projects like writing in longer blocks. Four hours… five hours… eight hours long. But that’s not the reality of the work environment for those attempting to break into a creative environment while they hold down their dayjobs. Learning to work on your passions quickly and to treat them like any other non-creative endeavor can be a critical part of bringing a project to fruition without needing to take time off or discount other aspects of your life.
Everyone knows the story of the tortoise and the hare. The hare mocks the slow-moving tortoise for, you know, being a slow-moving tortoise. The tortoise announces that he will be able to best the hare in a race because of his determination. The hare laughs and accepts the challenge and then it’s go time. After the race begins, the tortoise plods along doggedly and the hare bolts on ahead. He gets so far ahead, he takes a nap. He falls asleep too long and then awakes to see that the tortoise is crossing the finish line. Oh noes!
The moral we are given is that “Slow and steady wins the race.” The implications of the fable are all over the place, actually. It teaches children not to be braggarts, that they can accomplish anything if they set their minds to it, hard work can take you as far as raw skill, etc. etc. But if you read the fable as written (which is essentially the same as my summary above, and just about the same length), the moral should really be adjusted. I propose the following:
That’s what you get for being a douchebag.
Let’s be honest here, the tortoise should never have won that race. The story makes abundantly clear the hare was going to DESTROY the tortoise. He took a NAP in the middle of the race. Slow and steady wasn’t going to win jack. Slow and steady got beaten like a kid with no arms in a tetherball tournament. Slow and steady didn’t win that race, douchebaggery lost it. It may be a harsher lesson for kids to learn, but it’s still pretty valuable. They need to learn that the path of the douche is the road to a slapdown.
It’s a pretty safe bet that if you’re ever working on something, you’re on a deadline. If there’s no deadline, then it’s probably too enjoyable to be called work. (Yes, I suppose it can be enjoyable AND on a deadline) Managing deadlines is a critical and oft-overlooked aspect in writing and freelancing. Hell, even in a standard office space environment.
There are a few types of deadline out there. There’s the hard deadline: where a project absolutely must be finished by a certain date, no ifs ands or buts. This is typically because you need the project to finish before some other project can begin, or because completion is linked to some other event or release. There’s no much you can do about a hard deadline, outside of be smart about accepting the gig or not. It’s doubtful you have enough pull to actually get them to move or delay the item that your project is running up against, so all you can do is be wise enough to know your limits. Look at the project, work backwards from the deadline and estimate how long all the various steps will take you. Now add 25% more time on top of your estimate, to plan for emergencies. Will you still finish on time? Will you finish on time but hate every second of your life leading up to the deadline because you destroyed yourself trying to meet it? It’s something to consider.
If you’re lucky, the client will ask you when you feel you can have the project done. This is the ideal situation… but only if you handle it right. Too often, people are too eager to please their client and will quote a timeframe that they haven’t thought through. It’s not entirely likely that the moment someone says “How long do you think this should take?” that they expect an immediate answer and will settle for nothing less. Your automatic response to that question should always be, “Let me look into it and get back to you as soon as I have a solid estimate.” They’re not going to drop you and go with someone else because you want to give them realistic ideas of how long your work will take. In fact, in time, people will opt for you strictly because of this precision.
Then take a day or two to really run the numbers on your project. How long will prep take? How long will the body of work take? Review stages? Rewrites? Do-overs? Again, take that time, and boost it by at least 25%. That’s your number. If they say that that deadline is too far out, reduce your padding by a bit, that’s why it’s there. Ideally, you have plenty of time to do your work and if you wrap early, you’re a rockstar and they love you for being such a hard worker.
I like the idea of having milestones that you present to your client. As you complete pieces of your project, whether it be chapters or sections or features or whatever chunks you can break your work into, run them by your client and let them provide feedback. Their responses will help keep you on track and gauge their expectations, and it gives them a palpable sense of a working freelancer. No one wants to promise you money and then have you vanish into a cave for four weeks while they hope you’re not partying hard in Mexico with their funds.
Milestones, however, are something I would advise to not turn in early to your client. If you have your project broken into 10 stages at specific dates and for every single one of those stages you are 3 days early in turning your work in for review, what do you think the client will expect when your final deadline approaches? That’s right, an early completion. If you can only provide them “on time”, it’s a bit of a let-down, even though it shouldn’t be. Manage the expectations of your work. Be too early and too available and you run the risk of seeming overly eager or needy, and you also run the risk of feature creep. The client sees how fast you can crank work out, and maybe they start to request more and more, and soon even your padded timeline is useless.
Instead, use that extra time between milestones to either get a jump on later stages of the project at hand or, ideally, take a look at some personal enrichment. Indulge in your hobbies, practice some new skills, or just kick back and relax and recharge your batteries. Do not feel too guilty to take this time. You and your client have already agreed on an acceptable end date. Your time on how you get there is your own, as long as you meet your bottom lines. So, if you’ve been wise enough to schedule in leisure time, then you deserve to enjoy some leisure time. Besides, it’s precisely that time spent exploring other avenues that will make your skillset broader and give you more value to anyone who wants to work with you.
The last deadline is one I’m going to gloss over, because much of my thoughts on it are covered above. It’s the type of deadline that is mandated, but not drop-dead, as in the first sort. Your boss or client says “I need X done by Y.” You can say no. It’s a big thing for people to wrap their brains around. It took me years of experience at my company to reach the point where I could do it. But you need to learn to say “Nope”.
Of course, I don’t mean “No, I won’t do it” (unless of course someone is asking you to complete a task that you aren’t paid for or a task that someone else should be completing instead), I mean “No, it can’t be done by then.” I’m a manager now, so I can say with a certain degree of authority that when someone asks for something by a certain date, they have pulled that date right out of their butt. Unless they are actively involved in doing the work along with you, they don’t really know the time it will take to do what you have asked. So, if they say 2 weeks and you think you need 3 weeks… well… say you need three weeks. I can almost guarantee the response will either be “Oh, okay. Great.” or “Really? Why so long?” and then you can just explain your reasoning. People want things done right before they want them done fast. So don’t be afraid to tell them how long it will take you to do it right.
It’s important to remember when working on a deadline that fast work isn’t the same as early work. Earning a reputation for getting work done fast is great, but it will likely also be the cause of your first ulcer. Earning a reputation for getting work done early likely means that you are simply managing your time well. Both are equally attractive to clients, but one will result in a much happier worker.
Which leads me to my final thought for today: “Corporate Juice Pimps” is a great name for a band. That is all.