Monday, July 28, 2008

Comic-Con 2008 Wrap Show: Zap! Pow! Ham!

Barbecue, anyone?

Back from San Diego! Since this was our first Comic-Con, we learned a few things.

1) If you want to attend Thursday sessions, arrive Wednesday night.

Like many others, I was stuck in that hellish traffic around Camp Pendleton, due to the Ham Truck Explosion, which The Boyfriend and I agree would be an excellent Rock Band band name but which sucks as a road hazard.

Now of course you can't plan for crazy, newsmaking accidents, but in the future I'll look at Thursday as a real day rather than a travel one and get into town earlier.

So I arrived too late and/or too enervated and annoyed to make it to any of the sessions I wanted to go to, so I just did a quick recon of the neighborhood and hung out at the hotel until The Boyfriend arrived in the evening.

Who ya gonna call?2) You can in fact book a hotel room at the last minute.

We stayed in Old Town, which worked out fine thanks to the handy San Diego Trolley, and I booked that through the Comic-Con site only a few weeks ago. A friend called last Monday, which is when the companies release the extra rooms they've booked, and got a room at the Marriott right next door.

Old Town bonus: No lack of yummy Mexican food. And margaritas!

Slave girl back in 5 mins.3) There are two Convention Center trolley stops. The second one, Gaslamp, is closer to Hall H. Save yourself the walk. You'll need your energy.

After getting our badges Friday morning -- Professional registration = shorter line, happily -- we went straight to Hall H. We arrived about an hour before the WATCHMEN panel and I figured we'd have no chance of getting in, but we did!

And it was awesome.

Cool new footage they screened twice, Zack Snyder and the whole cast, Dave Gibbons too. The Q&A was hilarious, and apparently curated for color: first question came from a guy dressed as Batman. Second? The Joker. There was also a pair of twins who tag-team-asked their question, and a Rorshach.

And we each got a ticket for a WATCHMEN t-shirt! Swag!
Archie the owl-ship from WATCHMEN
4) Swag associated with a Hall H event disappears fast.

Which we learned when we went to get our shirts.

After WATCHMEN, we went straight to the Entertainment Weekly Showrunners panel, featuring Josh Schwartz, Carlton Cuse, Damon Lindelof, Bryan Fuller, and Josh Friedman. It was very entertaining, as you might expect from such an accomplished and visionary and funny group, although kinda LOST-centric, especially the Q&A. No bigs, though -- the panelists made jokes out of the situation, and everyone on the panel was having their own session later in the con anyway.

Archie interiorSo we didn't flock to the floor right after the WATCHMEN panel, and they were all out of t-shirts.

All three of the booths with the shirts. Out.

We got to one booth just in time to see the last two shirts given out to people right in front of us.

I was in a really bad mood after that.

But we kept our tickets.Jedi and friends

5) Swag gets resupplied over the day.

Never say die! We wandered back to the WB booth later and saw WATCHMEN tickets and t-shirts changing hands. Sweet! So, all ended well.

(Of course, those same precious shirts were probably getting handed out willy-nilly on Sunday, no tickets required, so the exhibitors wouldn't have to ship them back.)

We spent most of the rest of Friday checking out the floor. On our way out to dump swag at the hotel and freshen up before dinner, we ran into my bosses from MOONLIGHT, who were on the writing for genre TV panel that night. I was glad to have the chance to catch up with them there because...Ironmonger from IRONMAN

6) If you arrive at a popular panel late, or even right on time, forget about it. It's full and they won't let you in.

So, bah. Coming back from Old Town we were late to the genre writing panel, and couldn't get in. We couldn't even get into panels that hadn't started yet, because they were already full. So we people-watched for a bit before getting dinner.

And we got plus-oned into the DC party! It was loud, not too crowded. People emerging from the VIP area had tote bags with stuff in them, but we had to content ourselves with drinkable swag in the form of specialty cocktails named after DC characters. I had a vodka and Red Bull-- erm, I mean a "Booster Gold."Dexter collectibles and show props

7) Get your floor time in as early as possible. And not on Saturday, if you can help it.

Mob scene. MOB SCENE. We made a final pass through before meeting friends for lunch, but were glad we'd seen most everything on Friday. Thursday would've been better yet.

Saturday is clearly better spent in panels, and we did catch Mike Mignola and the HELLBOY team (The Boyfriend is a fan from way back).

Then we picked up the car and our luggage back in Old Town and hit the road, which was happily free of incinerated meat products. That means we missed the Masquerade, which was Saturday night, along with a bunch of other panels. Next time we'll leave on Sunday, I think.Luke... *I* am your backpack!

8) Miss something? If it's relevant to Hollywood or is big news in comics, it's probably online.

After getting home Saturday evening I glutted myself on Web coverage of the missed panels, including DEXTER, BSG, Joss Whedon, and HEROES. Announcements from the big comics publishers and presos by the industry's heavy hitter creators also got liveblogged/recapped/etc.

Whew! It was a ton of fun, and we're looking forward to next year. In the meantime, I have my own comic book to write.

Oh, and while as noted we skipped the Masquerade, there's no reason I can't hand out a few costume awards of my own. The envelope, please!Stay on target!

Best Costume, Male: Tie! A picture-perfect Davy "Squidbeard" Jones from PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and a Borg-assimilated Klingon

Best Costume, Female: An all-chixx0r squadron of Rebel pilots

Most Desultory Costume: V FOR VENDETTA mask. Dude. Make an effort.

Most Popular Costume: DARK KNIGHT Joker

Zeitgeist Award: Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer (one with groupies!), alone or togetherIndiana Clones

Best Use of Cardboard, Runner-Up: Weighted Companion Cube

Best Use of Cardboard, Winner: Two guys dressed as TIE fighters, wings on arms

Best Game-Inspired Costume: HALF-LIFE scientist, complete with lab coat, Black Mesa badge, and plush headcrab hat

Least Effective Costume, Runner-Up: All the anime and Final Fantasy outfits, which only make sense if you're a devotee of those series and games

Least Effective Costume, Winner: Anyone with a "Free Hugs" sign

Guy Who Probably Regretted His Costume the Minute After He Put It On: Colossus, face and arms covered with silver paint, who was unable to put his arms down for fear of smearing

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Speaking of comics, The Boyfriend and I are heading to Comic-Con tomorrow and Friday for that key annual gathering of the tribe, one of the most sacred seasons in the Geek Calendar.

We may try to catch the WATCHMEN presentation on Friday, although something tells me we should already be in line for it. I'm hoping to get in a few TV panels, some comics industry stuff, and of course the lion's share of the time will be wandering around and people-watching.

We've never been, so newbie tips are most welcome!


I still find it fascinating, and kind of dark and funny, the TV terminology of "breaking" a story. It sounds so violent and painful. Which it sometimes is. Breaking -- outlining -- is the heavy lifting of writing, where the hand-waving ends, the holes emerge, and you have to figure out exactly what the hell it is you're going to write.

And if a story doesn't work? Like a badly-set limb that's healed wrong, you re-break it. Ow.

So, a broken story is a happy and good thing, despite the image it calls up -- to me anyway -- of a little baby bird flapping a busted wing, on the ground yards below the nest, with the alleycats circling.

I've broken my comic book story, and it's a three-issue arc of 24 pages each after all. On paper, it works pretty well: I'd outlined the story originally in three acts, and as it turns out the content of each works out to 24 comic book pages.

Each issue/act has its own beginning, middle, and end, of course. The end of the first issue is the revelation of my hero's calling, the second ends with a dark moment that steels his resolve to embrace that calling, and the third ends with a big ol' superhero fight, his team assembled, the Big Bad vanquished... and the introduction of a Bigger Bad to be fought another day.

Everything slotting out so neatly in this phase means it may all go south once I start the actual script, of course, but I'm feeling pleased right now and excited to write.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

MAD MEN Marathon Today

Tune into AMC all day today for martini-soaked season 1 goodness. Season 2 starts next Sunday, w00t!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Animated WATCHMEN on iTunes

There's a new version of WATCHMEN being released episodically through iTunes, one that uses the original Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons/John Higgins art and text in a cool 2D/3D-papercraft-type animation.

It's abridged a little, and the narrator is no Jim "Harry Potter audiobook god" Dale, but it's nifty seeing the book come to life.

Sequential Tart

In addition to some freelance game consulting gigs and the usual TV writer job-searching activities like going to general meetings and reading and watching pilots, I've started several new spec projects. I'm developing a couple new pilot ideas, and have begun a feature, and--

I'm writing a comic book!

I've read comics for years, but am a n00b at writing them. And I'm finding it a lot of fun, creatively challenging, and a fascinating formal exercise. For screenwriters who write lolloping 130-page movies and find the short length and rigid act structure of network TV too confining, tackling a comic book script would probably atomize their brains. Mine's getting there.

Not only do you have a set length to work with, usually 24 pages (with some variance in either direction), but you have to consider conventions such as when you change locations or switch storylines (typically not in the middle of a page) and the tease-and-payoff from the last panel of one page to the first on the next.

Unlike film or TV scripts, where the writer is not encouraged to get specific with angles and shots, comic book scripts often describe each panel in precise detail. Basically you end up with the text version of a storyboard.

(I'm speaking here of what I understand the industry calls "full-script" style, as opposed to the "plot-first" or Marvel style, which is -- surprise -- used a lot at Marvel. The latter is more like a prose description of the entire page, with the panel contents and page layout largely left up to the artist. The writer then adds the dialogue once the artwork is complete.)

Comic book scripts aren't meant to be read. Even more than TV and movie scripts, the comic book script is a work document, a specification delivered from the writer to the artist(s). Consequently they can be very hard to read, as I've learned. As I've also learned, there is no standard format for these scripts, although Movie Magic Screenwriter has a couple of comic book templates, one of which I'm using.

Because I'm considering the script as a potential original sample for screenwriting jobs as well as something to be taken to publishers, I'm going to try for a more readable, TV-script style. We'll see how that goes!

Story-wise, it's fun. There are no budget constraints. You can make the reader linger on a single moment by unfolding it over several panels, or blow the reader away with a full-page splash, the comic book's money shot. You can juxtapose disparate scenes in time and space or introduce a whole other style and story like TALES OF THE BLACK FREIGHTER, the comic-within-a-comic in WATCHMEN. In all, it's a very intimate and evocative canvas on which to paint, something Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics discusses in detail (if you haven't read this book, you should. I've found that it comes up equally in discussions with writers and game designers.).

All this freedom may in my case be a little too freeing. I've gotten my story broken, and find myself trying to cram 10 lbs. of story into a 5 lb. bag. Hence the squishy brain issue mentioned above.

It's obvious that there's no way my story will fit into 24 comic book pages, but since it's a spec I have some flexibility. So as I tackle the page and panel breakdown I'm considering making it a double-size issue, a Part 1 and Part 2-type thing.

Um. Maybe Part 3.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed for the iPhone

Do want!

There's a lot of skipping cutscenes at the start -- gameplay kicks in at about 2:40.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

E3 2008: The Big Three

As is often the case, Penny Arcade has the truth of it.

Although, as I noted yesterday, I don't think Microsoft's plan for the Xbox is scattershot and ill-focused, rather the casting of their usual large net. I.e. what's the market for a Windows PC?

Nintendo's lineup was about 80% meh as far as I was concerned, but the PS3 is on the rise. They're gaining ground on the Xbox, outselling it in the first months of this year.

Little Big Planet looks extremely polished and cool, and the use of the game to present normally snore-inducing sales figures both livened up Sony's preso and gave some insight into LBP's potential.

Beyond that, Sony presented very little for the non-core in terms of games, but their media store looks impressive, featuring TV and movie downloads from a power-hitting set of partners like Warner Bros., Disney, and Fox, videos users can port onto their PSPs.

DC Universe Online, SOE's new MMO, City of Heroes/City of Villains. It was hard to tell from the presented footage what the gameplay will be like, whether you inhabit DC Universe characters in instanced game spaces, or play your own created heroes a la CoH alongside the marquee names, or both.

And Home continues to be underwhelming and late to the party-- it may be out this year, maybe. It's odd to me that Sony went realistic rather than stylized with Home, like the Wii's Miis and the new Xbox avatars. Especially since WoW and its heightened, accessible look is kicking their own Everquest 2's photorealistic ass.

I Can Haz Snooz?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Xbox Rampant

You can almost still hear the echoed wailings from attendees at Microsoft's E3 press conference yesterday:

"A cuddly new interface for the Xbox? Living-room social games?"

"A cute multicolored dingus of a controller that looks like it was designed by Playskool?"

"Avatars, for the love of Master Chief?! They're totally copying the Wii!"

Of course they are. They're Microsoft. That's, well, what they do, duplicating other companies' breakthroughs and bringing them to the mass market. Aaaaand it's worked out pretty well for them so far, with some exceptions (I'm looking at you, Zune).

So, fine. They're copycats. That being said, Microsoft's Xbox 360 plan for the year is really smart. They've got the core gamers with their solid lineup of franchises like Gears of War, Resident Evil, Fallout, and Fable. The players of these games are what the industry is starting to call "primary gamers," the person in the household who plays a given console the most.

The fact that Microsoft devoted about half their time yesterday to the "innovations" noted above means that they get the potential for the market of "secondary gamers," other people in the household who play the console but not as much as the primary gamer. These folks are likely to play casual games like those found on Xbox Live Arcade, party games like Rock Band, and "family game night" type titles like Scene It.

The type of person, in other words, who might buy a Wii, and who probably doesn't think of him- or herself as a gamer, definitely not someone who's going to gib the neighbors in a lively Call of Duty 4 matchup.

Hell, with Microsoft's shiny new media partnerships like NBC Universal and Netflix, you don't even have to be a gamer at all for the Xbox to have value-- you can download TV and movies on the thing.

All of which, incidentally, are selling points when Timmy or Susie Primary Gamer is lobbying Mom and Dad to buy a console.

Oh, and the Portal sequel will be on the Xbox.

Shit. I may actually have to buy one now.

Friday, July 11, 2008

DR. HORRIBLE Starts Next Week

Wondering what Joss Whedon was doing during the strike when he wasn't picketing at Fox? Here's a sneak peek:

Teaser from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog on Vimeo.

The "supervillain musical" airs in three parts next week: Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, with all three parts disappearing like a ninja with a smoke bomb on midnight Sunday 7/20.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Hautboys Off

Come later this month with the return of MAD MEN, BURN NOTICE, THE CLOSER, etc., summer TV will get started in earnest, but I've already been enjoying IN PLAIN SIGHT.

A character-driven procedural with a generally lighter tone a la its USA network-mates BURN NOTICE and MONK, SIGHT stars Mary McCormack as Mary Shannon, a marshal for the Federal Witness Protection Program who has a crunchy shell of suffer-no-fools snark hiding her soft sentimental center.

One recent episode had a fantastic final beat, a great example of leaving offstage stuff that just isn't the show.

(*SPOILERS AHOY* if you haven't seen the episode guest starring the fabulous Missi Pyle as a grifter... )

The episode involves missing diamonds and the scary smugglers searching for same. The final showdown happens in a stable, Mary and her partner Marshall vs. the scary smugglers. Mary spooks a horse to cause a diversion and they take down Smuggler #1, while Smuggler #2 mounts the horse and gallops off bareback with the diamonds.

Cut to Mary and Marshall wrapping up the case outside the stable, cops everywhere, with Smuggler #1 escorted into a black-and-white in the background.

But what about the other smuggler? The diamonds? Hell, the horse for that matter? Wait for it...
MARSHALL, looking offscreen: How cool is that?

Detective "Bobby D" Dershowitz, with whom Mary has a contentious professional relationship with a side of flirty sparks, rides through frame on the horse, diamonds in hand, towing a lassoed Smuggler #2 behind him.

BOBBY D: 'Sup, y'all.

MARY, annoyed: Where did he get a lasso?
Love that.

This isn't a show about Mary chasing down a diamond smuggler on a horse, so why not skip it? Sure, there's a bit of hand-waving in the logistics, but Mary's line hangs a lantern on it, so the scene plays. It's funny, wraps up the plot's loose ends without belaboring them, and most importantly illustrates how amazingly cool Bobby D is.

And as if that wasn't enough good stuff, earlier in the same episode, Marshall scolds Mary for throwing food at him. "These are my mambo pants," he complains.