White House, Black Heart

Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau had an interesting chat this week. In an effort to justify tariffs in the current trade war, Trump suggested that Canada was a security risk to the United States because we burned The White House down during the War of 1812.

Critics were quick to point out it was actually the British who did that, and Canada wasn’t a country until 1867. True. But Canada was certainly a thing, split into Upper and Lower Canada. And our fighting boys had been repelling American invaders for many months before the British showed up on the coast to lend a hand.

I did a lot of research on this topic years ago because I had to be historically accurate…while I was writing a funny comic book about a bunch of dots.

Probably overkill.

But with the release of Longshot Comics Book Three: The Inauspicious Adventures of Filson Gethers, it’s time to reveal the unabashed truth of who exactly set fire to The White House and why. This revelation promises to be a scandal that will rewrite history books and our understanding of colonial North American history.

Coming very soon.

Longshot Comics Cover Reveal

I should never ever mention my own personal deadlines. I always set impossible numbers and schedules for myself, and then miss them. Which is perfectly fine, so long as I don’t tell anyone what my target date was.

Remember last blog post, when I said we were still on track for a Longshot release this week? Turns out, not so much. I decided to go with one final round of revisions, and another three proof copies to add to the stack of proof copies piled in my office. I think, at this point, the proofs from Createspace now outnumber the entire original print run of Longshot Comics. One day, when I gather them all together again, I should take a picture. And then have a bonfire.

I was hoping to get the new proofs in today, but it looks like they’ll be delivered on Monday instead. Once I do a final anal-retentive quality-control check, I should be clear to approve the books for distribution.

In the end, I only altered 33 pages. Only. At this point, we’re mostly talking nit-picky perfectionist crap that nobody but me will ever notice. Although, in my defence, I did catch a few genuine errors, including one some readers might have actually spotted if they were paying attention. Egregiously, I had transcribed the wrong name for one of Roland’s brothers in one panel. Unpardonable, I know. Rest assured, I kneecapped myself with a hammer as punishment.

Talk about the development and history of Longshot Comics will resume, leading into next week’s release (I’m pretty sure). To make up for lost days, I’ll just jump straight ahead to the cover reveal for all three volumes.

Mind you, this isn’t the true premiere of these covers. If you were subscribed to the newsletter, you would have already seen a slightly earlier version of these covers weeks ago. This is my not-so-subtle hint that you should sign up for said newsletter. People on the mail list will be getting a free Longshot Comics short story (or two) when the main-event comics come out.

Time Bomb

Two hours to air time.

Since the last time I mentioned Cinema Smackdown, I’ve become a staple on the show and have lost track of how many episodes I’ve done. You can pick through the archives at CJLO to try to figure that number out.

This week at 2:00 PM (Eastern), we’ll be talking about the catastrophic box office returns for Solo: A Star Wars Story, and the unfathomable reality we now live in, where a Star Wars movie can flop. Expect rants and recriminations as you listen live.

Work on the ebook editions of the Longshot Trilogy continues. If I ever said anything remotely neutral about Kindle Comic Creator in the past, I take it all back. As software goes, it’s a colossal piece of shit. But it is getting the job done, even as I fight it to the death every step of the way. We’re still on schedule to release this week.

That’s it for Longshot talk today, but to round out yesterday’s discussion of the back-cover history, here’s the full scan of “Mrs. Cliff’s Yacht” from 1896.

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.