The Evolution of a Back Cover

I thought I’d take this moment to look back at one of the most iconic gags of the entire Longshot Comics series—the back cover.

When I first conceived of the joke, the priority was to get a scan of a public-domain Victorian drawing that would be a match for the contents of The Long and Unlearned Life of Roland Gethers. In the pre-web, early-scanner days, this wasn’t a simple matter. Thankfully, I was already collecting antiquarian books, and a volume from 1896 led me to a page from the story “Mrs. Cliff’s Yacht” illustrated by E. W. Kemble. He is, I’m sure, still rolling over in his grave twenty-five years after first being unwittingly recruited for my often crass and puerile project. Scanner time was provided by a friend who lingered in university and had access to the computer lab where such exotic equipment could be found. I remember what a marvel of technology it was to see the scan from the book combined with a scan of a magnifying glass I owned to create one image that would be a key selling point for my epic experimental minicomic.

The original minicomic was an 80-page photocopied booklet that instantly caused waves in the comics industry. I was unconvinced anyone would ever buy it, but it was soon selling faster than I could produce new copies (painstakingly by hand). That original back cover was instrumental in putting across the whole premise to an audience who had never seen anything like it before.

When it came time for a new full-sized, widely distributed edition for Slave Labour Graphics, everything had to be reformatted and redone. That included the back cover, which was now going to be printed large enough to actually read the mock-up text of the comic page. I wrote a short extension of one of the scenes that could be read and understood around the edges of the magnifying glass, which, in turn, was rescanned at a higher resolution to go with Kemble’s drawing.

The subsequent German translation of The Long and Unlearned Life of Roland Gethers didn’t attempt to recreate the original back cover for their editions, however the Italian version went above and beyond to mimic everything I had done with the book to date (and then added lots of footnotes to explain many of the historical references and cultural in-jokes throughout). Although they didn’t have access to the Kemble sketch, they managed to find something very close.

It was back to the scanner for the latest edition (which also required a complete redo of all the artwork). With technology leaping forward, everything I needed on the software and hardware front was now standard issue in my home office. The newest reformat made the old magnified page obsolete, but it was a relatively simple matter to grab an actual page from the interior and make that part of the joke. The original magnifying glass was pressed into service to help me read all the tiny text I was transcribing, while the printed version was replaced by licenced art from a stock photography site.

The Failed Promise of Bradley Gethers and The Inauspicious Adventures of Filson Gethers now also feature the iconic gag, but with pages from their own volumes, and original Victorian illustrations from other artists and antiquarian books. Shout-out to V. Gribayédoff and F. H. Townsend who, though long dead, are probably similarly miffed about their work being subjected to such an indignity.

Join me on my brand new Patreon page for more Longshot Comics material as we approach the release date for the entire trilogy.

Dot Dot Dot Ellipsis

Barring any late-stage hiccups, the entire Longshot Comics trilogy will be available to order through Amazon next week.

Yes, it’s done.

I thought I’d take these closing days to look back at the history of the Gethers saga, and the process of dragging the (mostly) Victorian and Edwardian shenanigans into the 21st century.

And what a process it was. Over 11,000 panels later, I have to admit it was more work than I could have possibly imagined. Despite worming my way through this routine before, the technology involved has changed enormously over the last 25 years, and everything was new and unfamiliar again. With improved tech comes higher expectations, and there were times when it was touch and go whether I could force various platforms and pieces of software to perform the way I needed them to perform in order to do these latest greatest editions justice. Compatibility issues, glitches, and bugs conspired to set fire to all the hoops I had to jump through. Let me take this opportunity to extend a special “fuck you” to the fine folks at Microsoft and Adobe in particular. Next time you need someone to stress test your shoddy coding or gouging business practices, put me on the payroll. I’m sure I can supply you with some handy, enlightening notes.

At this 11th hour, it’s now Kindle Comic Creator’s turn to tweak my balls for sport. This time last year I was still looking into the possibility of taking the project to an outside publisher rather than doing it all myself like it was 1993 all over again. One of the deal breakers was that my preferred publishers don’t do ebooks. That’s an essential market for me. Most of my sales come through Kindle copies of my books, or page reads from Kindle Unlimited subscribers. Although I do recommend Longshot fans opt for paperbacks when the day comes, I wanted a quality ebook option to exist. Thus Kindle Comic Creator. It’s a decent enough piece of software, but not without its quirks. Like its habit of arbitrarily closing on me for no other reason than I had the audacity to move a page. I think it does it for shits and giggles. There’s some AI algo out there that’s having a laugh every time it gets to inconvenience me for another 30 seconds. Well laugh it up, asshole. We only have to do this dance for a few more hours.

Longshot Comics goes dark for one of the mining sequences.

Roland utters his last line of dialogue in The Failed Promise of Bradley Gethers.

If you’re chomping at the bit for Longshot material, or if you just want to help support my efforts here at Eyestrain Productions, I now have a Patreon page. Patrons at various levels will get access to exclusive material, including new and expanded versions of the old Longshot short stories, some of which are spectacularly rare. For instance, were you one of the handful of people who bought the Longshot Comics t-shirt that featured an original 120-panel tale on the front and back, circa 1997? I bet you weren’t. But that’s the sort of fun stuff that’s going to be cropping up on the Patreon page in the coming days and weeks. Back me at the Collector tier and you can even receive signed paperbacks of the whole trilogy for less than you’d pay on Amazon—not to mention other upcoming novels I’m eager to get back to work on.

The Grind

To give you an idea what my days and nights have looked like for weeks, here’s a typical setup on my desk as I continue to typeset the new editions of Longshot Comics: Books One, Two, and Three. You’ll note from the computer screen that I’m currently transcribing the most torrid sex scene to ever appear in a Longshot Comic. Those dots can get up to some really nasty shit.

Astute fans of the series might recognize the magnifying glass as the exact one that appears on the back cover of the Slave Labor Graphics edition of The Long and Unlearned Life of Roland Gethers. Now I’m using it to help my old eyes see what the hell I’m doing with all this tiny text. The new editions will feature 40 panels per page with larger text in order to torture readers less. Novel as the overwhelming grid of panels was for everyone who ever cracked an issue back in the day, that was born of a 24-page limit for standard comics. I had to squeeze all 3840 panels into this format in order for the book to be cost effective. These days the same configuration is impractical, if only because the Kindle Comics algorithm can’t even recognize that many panels on a page. The paperbacks will be done first, but yes, there will also be ebook versions for those who want to spare a tree.

Also on the tree-murdering front, I just got my copy of the latest Sherlock Holmes anthology from MX Publishing. My story, “The Adventure of the Old Boys’ Club,” is featured in this, the ninth volume. What tickles me even more is that I’m in a book with a forward by Nicholas Meyer. With all due respect to Lee Child, who wrote a forward for the last one, I’m a bigger fan of Meyer. He not only wrote one of the finest Sherlock Holmes stories of the last century (The Seven-Per-Cent Solution), but also single-handedly saved Star Trek from oblivion (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) after the collective yawn that greeted the first movie, and adapted and directed the wonderful H.G. Wells/Jack the Ripper adventure, Time After Time.

Okay, that was my break from the grind for the day. Back to it…

Too Many Plugs, Not Enough Sockets

Despite my recent diatribe against unprofessional publishers, I continue to have good experiences with a few I’ve worked with in the past. Most recently, my story “Crocodile Tears”—heretofore an exclusive for newsletter subscribers—has been published in Betty Fedora Issue Four. This will be of particular note to Necropolis fans, since it prominently features professional moiroligist and funeral livener-upper, Tracy Poole.

There’s also my latest Sherlockian adventure featured in The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Part VII. The Eliminate the Impossible chunk of the series also encompasses Part VIII.

That leads us, naturally enough, to the Kickstarter for Parts IX and X, AKA the 2018 Annual. My next story is confirmed for Part IX. The Kickstarter has been backed for a long time now, but it’s winding down, so if you want to take advantage of reduced prices and early shipping, now’s the time to do so.

Then there’s the latest multi-author giveaway I’ve entangled myself in. This is a big one, with not only a shit-ton of free funny mystery novels up for grabs (Sex Tape included), but also a new Kindle Fire for one lucky winner. You have until Monday to enter.

On the current-project front, it’s been very same-old. I get up in the afternoon. I have breakfast at an entirely inappropriate hour. And then I work away most of the night on Longshot Comics. I’ve picked up the pace in an effort to get it done at last. Longshot Comics Book Three: The Inauspicious Adventures of Filson Gethers is effectively complete. I’m just waiting for what I hope will be the penultimate paperback proof copy to show up in the mail. They’re stacking up on my desk, with copious Post-It notes to remind me how I tweaked the art on this page versus that page. This will be, fingers crossed, the one that allows me to make a final decision on percentage of contrast against sharpness in which piece of software moving forward.

Typesetting on Longshot Comics Book One: The Long and Unlearned Life of Roland Gethers is nearly done. Longshot Comics Book Two: The Failed Promise of Bradley Gethers remains dreaded unexplored territory.

As 2018 is the 25th Anniversary of the original minicomic edition of The Long and Unlearned Life of Roland Gethers, the entire trilogy will be published/back in print/available as ebooks this year. Hopefully in a month or two at most. I can’t wait to work on something—anything—else again.

Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Friends

I sometimes wonder where all the professionals went.

I’ve now lost track of how many publishers are in breach of their contracts with me. In major and minor ways, one after the other has taken it upon themselves to not honour the terms we both agreed to and signed off on. I’ve seen everything from a refusal to send me a contributor copy of a book because “postage to Canada is more expensive than I thought it would be” to an outright failure to pay a four-figure installment of my fee because, apparently, math is hard. The cavalier way legal documents are ignored for petty, self-serving reasons makes me wish I were more litigious, but in most cases they’ve safely hedged their bets. How many starving artists are going to throw away more money than they’re owed just to pay a lawyer to write a firmly worded letter? None, that’s how many.

The breaches even flow the other way, like a bad case of acid reflux. In recent years, I myself have been accused of being in breach by one publisher—right up until I reminded him of a specific clause I had added to our contract to cover the precise eventuality in question. That one turned on its heel damn fast, going from a vague threat of legal action, to a polite “my bad” mea culpa in less than an hour. Still, it left a bad taste in my mouth. Read your fucking contract before you start with the cease-and-desists. You might be surprised what’s in there.

On the screenwriting front, this sort of shit is handled by my agent. When I have to cope with it myself on the publishing end of things, I’m reminded why I pay her a substantial cut of the proceeds for TV gigs. Most artist types aren’t built to swim with the sharks. Even if we don’t get eaten alive, we sink to the bottom without our water wings and drown. I normally try to avoid confrontation, and I don’t like to play the bad guy, but I have to keep reminding myself that if I’m getting screwed, they’re the ones being the bad guy. An “unfair engager” is what they’re called in the film and television business, where writers have an entire guild to bring pressure to bear and put these short-changers in the doghouse where other members aren’t even allowed to work for them until they set things right and pay up.

Independent publishing is too new, too scattershot, too disorganized to expect any sort of collective bargaining to emerge anytime soon. It’s still the wild west out there, and that’s a good thing. There’s a certain freedom I enjoy when I have to do it all myself. On occasions when I deal with middlemen because I’ve opted to sell a story to a promising anthology, I know that if I end up eating shit, it will only be a one-time affair. I may not like confrontation, but I hold grudges forever. Screw me once and you don’t get to work with me ever again. That might not seem like a dire threat. There are plenty of other sucker writers out there waiting to bend over, but not an inexhaustible supply—especially when it comes to talented or even competent ones. Publishing has long been a pulp business, and writers are the trees in the forest. Chop down too many and you’re left with nothing but a spoiled, clear-cut wasteland.

Only a couple of years ago, I’d typically have as many as ten stories making the rounds, trying to hook publishers at any given time. As of this writing, I have one story out, flirting with two different publishers. I have another two that have been placed and are awaiting publication. That’s all. My writing hasn’t slowed down any. I’m still pumping out a new short story here or there, but for the most part I’m hoarding them. There will be more collections like Raw and Other Stories in the future. Increasingly, they’ll feature more stories that have never appeared anywhere else, and stories I never so much as submitted. The rewards for handing over exclusive first-print rights for a year are often token. And the time these stories spend in rights limbo, or collecting dust in a slush pile, is better spent getting edited, prepped, and formatted for the next book of my own making.

The industry has changed vastly since the first time I had a story printed in an anthology. Few publishers have stepped up their game to contend with this change, and authors are leaving them behind in droves to go independent. If it’s gotten to the point where many publishing houses can’t even meet the bare-minimum requirements of a professional relationship—like honouring a legal contract—they’re going to vanish into history like the Gutenberg Press.

Dream Deals and Fantasy Fodder

January has rocked the spreadsheet here at Eyestrain Productions. Only a few days past the mid-month mark, a number of personal records have fallen. This is already my biggest month for Kindle Unlimited page reads, and today has hit a new single-day record for most pages read (taking out the previous record that was set only yesterday). It didn’t just break that record, it shattered it. And the day is far from done.

Some of the success lies with the current multi-author fantasy-novel promotion that is going on thanks to the efforts of Andrea Pearson. Necropolis is featured along with over fifty other books that are being offered at a reduced price under the broad genre umbrella. Everything from epic fantasy to urban fantasy is included, with self-selected content ratings ranging from G to NC-17. I chose an R rating for Necropolis, humorous though it is, due to some naughty language and the icky nastiness of the infamous Chapter Thirteen. If you haven’t grabbed a copy yet, it’s priced at $0.99 until the end of tomorrow. If that’s going to break your wallet, plenty of other books in the promo are free, including Andrea’s own five-book box set.

I should reiterate for those of you who always tell me, “But I don’t own a Kindle,” you can still read Kindle ebooks on many other devices. Amazon offers free apps for your phone, your laptop, and your desktop. I’m pretty sure, if you look hard enough, that you can find a reader for your electric toothbrush and toaster oven as well.

The Last Star Wars

SOME SPOILERS AHEAD.

Rewatching The Force Awakens on Netflix the night before the next film in the series opened, I came to realize something. Despite my best efforts to keep Star Wars at emotional arm’s length, to regard it as nothing more than the money-milling asset it is, to dismiss its high points and low points as ultimately meaningless, the venerable franchise was too important a part of my childhood to ignore. Forty years later, Star Wars remained important to me.

The next afternoon, I hiked out for a matinee of The Last Jedi. There was no line. Gone, it seems, are the days of queuing up hours early to get a ticket. There are too many theatres, too many screenings, too many post-release streaming options, and ultimately too many Star Wars films to stretch a horde of people around the block like it’s 1983 again.

Still, I felt a certain relief once I had my ticket in hand. I was going to see the new Star Wars movie before anyone had a chance to spoil it for me.

See it I did. And my initial reaction was, “That was a heaping pile of meh.” The film, it seems, spoiled itself.

A first impression is not always the right impression. Despite answering some initial questions about what I thought of The Last Jedi, I thought it would be prudent to sit on my opinion and let it percolate a while longer. Over the course of the opening weekend, I’ve had time to more carefully reflect on what I saw, and what it all means, and indeed I’ve revised my verdict somewhat.

I now consider Star Wars: The Last Jedi to be the new worst Star Wars movie ever made. So…uh…congratulations everyone involved!

Am I saying it’s worse than The Phantom Menace? No. I’m saying it’s even worse than the Star Wars Holiday Special. Cocaine-fuelled TV-variety-show trainwreck though that was, it was still Star Wars, and it didn’t piss all over the characters and their legacy. Even when Carrie Fisher was forced to sing that fuck-awful Life Day song, there was a certain laughable dignity to it.

But this… This hits a new low on so many fronts. I could go through it scene by scene, refuting apologists, but there’s going to be a million dissections of the film out there on the web. Anything I’m likely to say here would be redundant, and the last thing Star Wars needs is more rehashes and redundancy. Let’s just focus on one thing: the disgraceful treatment of Luke Skywalker.

I waited 34 years to see Luke Skywalker, one of the towering icons of my childhood, back in action. What I got was a depressed and bitter, tittie-squeezing, cowardly hermit who has let all his friends and family down, grumping about, forsaking everything he ever worked for or believed in, and acting like a total dick. Even his final sacrifice is literally phoned in, and plays more like a sad, lonely suicide. They may as well have had him die an inglorious death by autoerotic asphyxiation in his man-cave—thinking about those green-milk spewing titties, no doubt.

What a wasted opportunity. This trilogy was the last-chance last-hurrah for three characters who ushered in modern blockbuster Hollywood, and made many people in that town rich beyond their wildest dreams. Killing off Han Solo was forgivable. Harrison Ford had lobbied for the character’s death before the original trilogy even played out, so it only made sense he would return and promptly die in Episode VII. Carrie Fisher dropping dead in real life has effectively ended Leia as of this film. Luke was the last hope for a meaningful continuation of what once was. Everything was reasonably set up for that by the end of The Force Awakens. But, apparently, there’s no one at the helm. No overarching storyline. They just let the new guy come in and write the next chapter however he pleased. He tossed away plot lines he didn’t like, killed off characters he didn’t give a shit about, and threw in a mess of junk and loose ends for J. J. Abrams to try to stitch together when he returns for Episode IX.

Disney has been firing directors off of Star Wars projects left right and centre. There seems to be a lot of second guessing of high-level decisions. But I think they fired one director too few. I would have sacked Rian Johnson the moment he handed in a draft of this dog’s breakfast script. My assessment of him has gone from “promising new voice worth keeping an eye on” to “irredeemable hack.” The fact that he was offered his own off-shoot Star Wars trilogy after delivering this cookie-cutter insult suggests a certain insanity in the ranks. Disney needs to dump Kathleen Kennedy immediately and search the galaxy for a showrunner who can function as the Star Wars equivalent of Kevin Feige, or their four-billion-dollar investment is going to capsize and sink.

It’s too late to win me over at this point. I’m out. Star War was a magical lightning-in-a-bottle trilogy that ran from 1977 to 1983. Everything since then has either been a cynical cash grab or elaborate fan fiction. Sometimes both at once. I’ve searched my feelings, and I know this to be true.

Paperback Writer

After many weeks of proof copies and revisions, all my books are finally available as paperbacks from Amazon. Those of you who aren’t into ebooks and only like to curl up with a book they can physically spoon with, now’s your chance.

Here are some quick links to get you to the appropriate pages fast.

If you’re an Amazon.com buyer, you can get your copy of…

Necropolis here.

Sex Tape here.

Raw and Other Stories here.

and Filmography here.

If you’re an Amazon.ca buyer from Canunkistan, you can get your copy of…

Necropolis here.

Sex Tape here.

Raw and Other Stories here.

And Filmography here.

And if you’re an Amazon customer from anywhere else in the world, with your own local yokel-outlet, I’m sure you can look up my work all on your own because I’m all hyperlinked out.

Merry Halloween

Just in time for Christmas, I’m back on the air for the tardy Halloween episode of Cinema Smackdown on CJLO.

I’ve done the show so many times now, I stopped bothering to plug it here. But since we’re talking about a subject near and dear to my heart (horror movies), I thought I’d mention it a whole hour and a half before showtime.

Listen live and see if we manage to break the station again–like how the rerun last week became dead air for twenty minutes before it defaulted back to automated music. That may prove to be a preferable fate to the answers we have in store tonight at 7:00.

 

The Jumping Dead

It happens to even the best shows. They have a great run, a huge audience gets really engaged with the story, and then the main character retires to become a lumberjack. Or something.

A lot of my favourites have been slipping of late. Westeros discovered quantum physics this year on Game of Thrones, so characters can now teleport around the map at will. I mean, hey, why not? Properly depicting time and distance is hard work, and it’s not like George R. R. is still minding the till. Sherlock has mostly sucked since that ill-conceived bait-and-switch Christmas special a few years ago. Good luck finding a hole in the calendar to book Cumberbatch and Freeman for a gig at the same time these days. And House of Cards is suddenly packing it in after a pederasty plot twist. Who saw that one coming? I mean, other than everyone in Hollywood.

The Walking Dead has been trying to jump the shark for years now. But you can’t keep a good zombie down, not even with a well-placed headshot. Every time the show does something stupid (like faking the death of a beloved character only to kill that character again for real a few episodes later), it manages to crawl out of its grave and get fun again. How can a bunch of British actors pretending to be Mericans at the end of the world (and personal hygiene) ever fail to be fun? Despite the frequent cast culls, there’s always a pile of characters worth following.

Like Rick Grimy; his lovely daughter, Coral; Larping Samurai; Filthy Hick; King Rasta; Tony the Computer-Animated Tiger; Junkyard Lady-Spock; The Comedian; Popeye Pizza-Boy; Angel-of-Death Soccer-Mom; Annoying Priest Guy Who’s Still Alive for Some Reason; Samoan Lancelot; Bedroom-Eyes Jesus; the gay guy who’s been on the show for years who we keep forgetting is in the cast; the other gay guy who’s been on the show for years who we keep forgetting is in the cast; Sexy Tiny-Scar Face; Mullet Sheldon; and Lucille, the most engaging piece of anthropomorphic sports equipment since Wilson was robbed at the Oscars.

And ultimately, it’s a show that gives us hope that a diverse group of people can come together in trying times and work as a team to murder other diverse groups of people. I’m a sucker for an uplifting message like that.

Lately though, I’ve had to try hard to enjoy the show and ignore the fact that the last few episodes didn’t make any goddamn sense. Granted, that awkward flash-forward to Rick having a bad J. Jonah Jameson hair day isn’t supposed to make any goddamn sense…yet, but I’m talking about everything else. The problem is we’re now in a storyline called “All Out War” and I haven’t understood anybody’s tactics, plan, or strategy since before last year’s season climax. How could Sasha have possibly anticipated her move was going to pay off in any positive way? What was Negan’s shtick with the coffin supposed to be—other than weird and not at all intimidating? More recently, who is attacking where in this multi-pronged offensive? What are the objectives? How do any of these raids affect each other? If this is the plot they’re tackling, perhaps the crew should have tried to watch some war movies to see how it’s done. This is like trying to sit through The Guns of Navarone without knowing where Navarone is, why it has strategic value, or that the mission is to blow up the guns there.

And then—itsy bitsy spoiler alert that you won’t even care about because nobody else does—there was last episode’s big reveal. MORALES IS BACK, MOTHERFUCKERS!!!

Who?

Exactly.

At this point, having killed off damn near everybody who was around for Season One, the producers dug deep to bring a beloved original cast member back into the fold. Unfortunately, there were no beloved original cast members left who hadn’t already become zombie chow, so they rang up some actor nobody remembers at all and offered him a gig.

You know, Morales! He had a family. And they were with the group, but they wanted to leave and go someplace else. So Rick and the gang gave them some food and bade them a fond farewell. And then nothing dramatic happened. I think. I don’t know. I watched the first season twice back in the day and I still had to Google who this dude was, that’s how much of an impression he didn’t make.

That this untriumphant return was presented to us as a big moment we should care about reminded me how little I care about anybody anymore. I’ve become so disengaged with everyone’s fate, I might as well be watching Fear the Walking Dead.

Really. As bad as that.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll still watch my trashy, formerly great TV shows, no matter how many years they linger past their prime. I’m not going to give up on them like I did ER around the time they blew up the ER for the THIRD TIME. They may be jumping the shark, but at least they haven’t dropped the helicopter. Yet.