Scribbling Scrivener Reads: Three Comics

This month I decided to do something a little different and will review three different comic volumes contain the first 4 to 5 issues of a series. I recently picked these up at Heroes Con for a reduced price, figuring it was a great way to see if I might find one or two or three recently launched series I could get into. I’m not the biggest comic book person. Only as an adult have I discovered a few series with well-developed characters and can appeal to people of all ages.

First I read The Tithe Volume I by Matt Hawkins, Rahsan Ekedal, Bill Farmer, and Mike Spicer. The plot is a group of four people, referring to themselves as Samaritan, decide to rob some prominent megachurches. They do this not because they disagree with religion or church itself, rather because the leaders of those megachurches are criminal hypocrites misusing the donations for personal gain. They are led by Sam, a hacker who donates most of the money stolen to charities. The other members are her boyfriend, his junkie younger brother and his equally junkie girlfriend. They act as the muscle while she is the brain.

Chasing them are FBI agents Jimmy Miller and Dwayne Campbell. Dwayne is straight-laced, by-the-book agent who also happens to be Christian so the case is more complex than it is for his partner. Jimmy is a former hacker himself, eventually hired by the FBI, and is an unknown contact to Samaritan. Jimmy and Dwayne clash as Jimmy is sympathetic to Samaritan’s cause viewing it as not as bad as the leaders of the megachurches swindling their parishioners. Meanwhile Dwayne recognizes the criminal behavior on both sides. They work very well together and have a lot of mutual respect with Jimmy being friendly with Dwayne’s family.

Volume I covers issues 1 – 4 and it moves at a quick pace. In fact they resolve one storyline while setting up what I’m assuming is the rest of the series by the end of issue 4. Yet even though it moves quickly, the writer manages to not only give the reader fully fleshed out and sympathetic characters, but also starts planting the next plot line.

I also enjoyed the art work. It has a gritty tone to it with browns and dark greens used primarily yet feels realistic. People are drawn proportionally which makes sense since this story takes place in the real world rather than a fantastical one.

Overall I’d give The Tithe Volume I three and a half pencils out of five. It’s something I’m looking forward to reading the next volume.

Next I read something completely different from The Tithe. Rasputin: The Road to the Winter Palace by Alex Grecian, Riley Rossmo, Ivan Plascencia, and Thomas Mauer covers the first 5 issues of the series. It spins the idea of Rasputin as The Mad Monk, transforming him into a man who has some kind of supernatural abilities. It bounces back and forth between the night of the many attempts to kill him and a fictionalized version of his life. This shouldn’t be considered historical fiction or even alt history as there are many details missing from the narrative. This isn’t a bad thing as this is a reimagining of the legend of Rasputin.

Throughout the issues we see how even as a young boy Rasputin uses the ability to heal and revive people and animals. The first time he does this is when his abusive father battles a bear. He uses his ability sparingly, sometimes without realizing what he’s doing. Naturally, it scares him and he tries to hide it from people. Eventually rumors of what he can supposedly do reach the Tsarina and high-ranking MI6 officials as World War I commences. Not much time is spent within the Winter Palace and healing the Tsar’s son, Alexi, from his hemophilia even though this is what most know about Rasputin.

The artwork is very different from The Tithe. It’s a little sketchier and angular which fits the tone of the story giving it an irregular beauty. Since this is a more fantastical version of Rasputin, much of the artwork supports this. I really enjoyed the panels which integrated Russian folklore.

While it deviates from the blurry history we have of Rasputin, I think the writer captured the spooky, complicated, magnetic personality he’s known for. The writer has also made him a more sympathetic person, one the reader can understand and feel more of a connection with.

Overall, I’d give Rasputin: The Road to the Winter Palace three pencils out of five. Like The Tithe, I’m interested in picking up the next volume and following The Mad Monk around.

The final comic book volume I read was Sovereign Volume I by Chris Roberson and Paul Maybury. This is set in a fantasy world with a group called The Luminari setting out for the Lowlands to warn the king of impending doom, the King’s three very different sons, and an envoy from another part of the world sent to study the city of Khend.

A lot happens with the reader introduced to a large ensemble. The Luminari are an ancient religious order whose primary job seems to be re-killing un-cremated dead people before they rise up as demon infected zombies. A trio is sent out by the order to warn the Khendish king of something called The Convergence, an event which will eliminate everyone and usher in a new age. The King’s three sons have scattered to various parts of the world, although two of them have remained close having spent a lot of time together in battle and in the capital city. The third set of players is a trio coming to Khend from a very long distance. Two of them are warriors with the third member being an intellectual charged with learning more about Khend for some reason that isn’t made clear other than “Because it’s there.”

It was difficult for me to get into this one. Very little about it intrigued me from the shoddy artwork to the large cast of characters to the plots. I liked a couple of the characters, mainly Goodman Ravenstone and Lady Joslyn Evrendon, as well as their plot line, but while it proclaims itself to be along the same vein as the novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, it’s nowhere near the quality or depth that series possesses. Perhaps that’s the biggest flaw; too quick of a pace to set up an epic fantasy in five issues instead of introducing one, maybe two, of the groups that will be important to the story.

Another major flaw is the artwork itself. The best thing I can say about it is the color scheme changes when we switch from group to group. I appreciate that as it signals to the reader not only a shift in subplot, but allows the reader to see how visually different each part of the world of Sovereign are. Other than that, it’s not very well drawn and I found some of the action in scenes to be confusing and almost physics defying.

Overall, I give Sovereign two pencils out of five. Not interested in reading anymore as I don’t really care about any of the characters.

Weekly Musing: How Not to Spam Your Friends a Guest Post by M.K. Williams

This week’s Weekly Musing comes courtesy of my first ever guest poster! Through the website blogtour.org, author M.K. Williams and I started a dialogue about posting on my blog. Her debut novel, Nailbiters, a dystopian sci-fi thriller, is out now. You can find her on Facebook, Goodreads, and her website. After reading her post, go pick up her book!

 Being an independent author often means I juggle the act of writing my stories with the business end of marketing and promoting my book. With the proliferation of social media outlets there are now more cost effective ways to market books. It would seem this would make it infinitely easier, but in reality it makes it much more difficult because anyone can go online and promote their product.

You likely know someone, or are at least socially linked to someone, who has their own business or is selling something. I know several entrepreneurs who work hard every day to get their message in front of me on every social channel. Some do this graciously, others not so much. After observation and fine-tuning, I carefully navigate my networks to make sure I keep the right balance of shameless self-promotion and social interaction. Here is how I have been working to make sure I’m not just spamming my friends on social media:

Treat your friends like you would treat your friends.

Simply posting, “Hey, come buy my book” every day doesn’t work. One reason being I would very quickly lose many social connections by spamming everyone with the same message over and over. Social media is about a conversation and making a connection, not just saying one thing. This would be the equivalent of going to lunch with a friend and hearing all about what they are doing in their life and in return only talking about my book. It would be rude and very one-sided. I tend to stay off of social media for the most part (so I can focus on writing), but when I do log-in I focus on genuinely interacting with others before posting about my book.

Set up a separate account

I try to make my life easier by having fewer electronic logins to remember. But, social networks do allow for users to create business pages or profiles to be used for the purpose of promoting their brand. I have only done this for Facebook. So far it seems to help keep the level of spamming down and not irritating friends and family. I post my personal photos, life updates, etc. on my personal Facebook page. I post information related to reviews of Nailbiters and when the book is picked up by a new online store on my author’s profile page. This has allowed me to gain a specific following on Facebook of fans who want to see updates. If they don’t want to see anymore updates, they can un-follow the specific page without having to un-friend me.

Finding balance

For my other social accounts I have only one login so my personal and book related posts get mixed in together. In an effort to still be part of the conversation I try to monitor what I post. I don’t post very often so when I am about to post something about my novel I scroll through to make sure I have a good ratio of personal posts to book related posts. Adding this level of self-screening allows me to stay more authentic. It may not lead to lots of sales, but it means I am not abusing my social network. I can handle low sales; I couldn’t handle having every one of my friends and family frustrated with me.

Give the people what they want

It seems that most things in life are really just a matter of trial-and-error. This has also been my experience with posts I put up for my book. I found just putting up the cover image and saying “Hey, buy this!” didn’t work. I really connected with other brands what I saw that they posted something really authentic and genuine. I decided to give that a try. When I feel extremely grateful and humbled by a good review, I post something to that effect. When I see another young writer succeeding, I give her praise. The more appreciation I show the more my followers appreciate me. Because of this, most of my posts focus on the person who has written a review, done an interview, or just taken the time to read my book. Again, this may mean a much slower pace in getting readers to find out about my work, but I am having much more fun.

Just ask for some help

Because I know my network will only be able to tolerate my repetitive messages for so long, I have been reaching out to others to help promote my book. Even if every single one of my friends purchased the book, it wouldn’t hit any best-seller list. I need people to tell a friend, who will tell a friend, and so on. Because I have friends with greater social influence than I do, I reached out and asked for their help promoting the book. The worst they could have said was “No,” but they each very graciously agreed to help. In this case, a very sincere and targeted message yielded the best results and allowed me to connect with those friends again.

 

If you have started out on the path to become an independent author, you will certainly be faced with the dilemma of how much to promote your book on social media. The right balance will be different for each person and their network. Hopefully these tips will help you on your way to becoming a non-spammy best-selling author!

Weekly Musing: Pet Peeves

Once again I take the writer’s hat off and don my reader’s cap. In a similar vein to last week’s post this week I’d like to discuss my pet peeves as a reader. Throughout my life these things have bugged me and I’ve just now been able to capture into words. I’ve noticed over the last few years I can somehow separate out my reader pet peeves from my writer pet peeves. Perhaps in the future I’ll do a list of those.

Too Much Italicizing: When this italicizing words in used in dialogue as a way to show a character’s speech pattern or to accentuate meaning it becomes grating. If you can’t craft a character through actions and how and what they say to the point a reader could understand what is important, then you are either not confident as a writer or you think the reader is stupid.

I also cringe when it’s overused with a character’s inner dialogue. What purpose does this serve? Sometimes I get the impression an author employs this to somehow tell the reader “Looky here, subtext is going on. Get it? You get it, right?” Yeah, I get it without the italics. Please do stop with them.

Questions in Internal Thoughts: I know it’s natural when we are privy to character’s honest thoughts they will have questions about a situation or what somebody said. I’m the reader, I was there for the scene and if you’ve constructed it well enough I’ll be asking myself the same questions. So it’s really grating when I’m told what the questions are. Good to know we’re on the same page. Or good of the author to sit there and spoon feed me and tell me what I’m supposed to be thinking. I’m not suggesting a character never come up with questions. He or she should because it is part of character development and we need to see them work things out. But I do find it makes me want to slap the character around when they do it too much as he or she comes across as almost stupid.

Stereotypes/Genre Tropes: I’m pretty sure most readers resent stereotypes this. To me a stereotype is this context is beyond racial but gender, cultural, sexual orientation, etc. Not all stereotypes are bad and I don’t necessarily mind if a character starts off as possibly fitting into a stereotype, but the author quickly establishes this isn’t the case. What I do have an issue with is when a character is defined by a stereotype. Give the reader something fresh. Break down those walls. Granted, there are people in real life who fall into stereotypes and fiction shouldn’t shy away from that, but one way fiction can change the world is by challenging a reader’s view of the world. Have empathy for someone different from them and defying stereotypes shakes a reader’s expectations. Don’t always have dark associated with evil. Don’t always associate light with good. Don’t have your hero be heterosexual and the strong, silent type incapable of getting in touch with his emotions. Don’t have the smartest person in a group be Asian.

Genre tropes are a little bit trickier because one of the main reasons a reader is attracted to certain genres is because they know what kinds of characters they will get. And they like those types of characters. Not necessarily a bad thing and to a certain degree there are some genre tropes which I do like and expect. However, much like stereotypes, genre tropes are something I’d like to see a new take. It could be something as simple as flipping genders or races or sexual orientation. Or it could be something more significant such as adding some kind of disability which doesn’t hinder the character as one would expect. Or perhaps does pose some additional challenges. Again, shake it up. Sometimes it’ll work and sometimes it won’t but give the reader something new. But don’t make it a big deal to the point too much emphasis is placed on how “unusual” it is.

Characters That Are Too Much Alike: People don’t sound, think, or act the same. Even people within the same family and raised the same way. That’s one thing which is fascinating to me to observe in life. So when I pick up a book I demand variety. It’s disappointing when I read a novel in which everyone sounds the same. Makes me shake my head. It shows me little thought was put into viewing the characters as people. On the other hand, not everybody in a scene must act differently. That gets messy and complicated, but when everyone acts and speaks the same in every scene the reader is left with cardboard, boring characters.

Female Love Interest Younger Than Male Love Interest: I get it. Historically speaking most women were and are younger than their beaus for a variety of social, religious, and quasi-biological reasons. Got it. But flip the script with the woman older than the man without it being shocking or without some ulterior motive like a rich widow. The few times I’ve read this scenario the older woman in question is still quite attractive and young enough looking. Yet when a young female marries an older male the man is usually unattractive and looks decidedly old. The reader is meant to sympathize with the woman for having to be with this old man when the younger, albeit still older than the female, man is a far better option. That also grates on me. There are some silver foxes out there who aren’t all pervy and predatory on young women.

Overly Badass Women: Believe me I’m all for girl power. I grew up in the ’90s watching Dana Scully being intelligent and badass on The X-File. With Daria Morgendorffer offering up sarcastic honesty on her fellow humans. With Xena: Warrior Princess being well, a warrior princess and Buffy, the Vampire Slayer which had your almost stereotypical female badass, Buffy, as well as your almost stereotypical nerd, Willow.

But I think we’ve gone overboard on the badassery. It’s gotten to the point where it seems to be the only way a woman can be awesome is to be able to kick butt and take names. Apparently if I’m not this way they I have no strength as a woman. It’s as if we’ve matched the “ideal” man as being strong because he’s physically strong. Is this the only way women can be on par with men? The badass woman is the only way to show empowerment for an entire gender forgetting we, like men, come in everything in between.

Women Getting Pregnant: This grates on me because too often it’s done as a way to add more drama to the plot. Every time I’ve seen this the pregnancy is unintended and seems to happen the woman’s first time having sex or the first time she’s has sex with a particular man. Apparently having a woman become pregnant is the only way to raise the stakes for a woman. Or to get the reluctant male to finally realize how much he loves her and wants to be there for both her and his child. Come on, authors, you can do better. Don’t make your female character pregnant so quickly within a relationship or as a way of forcing two people into a relationship even though realistically those people shouldn’t be together. Show me you understand how the real world works.

Now there is an exception to this and it’s when a pregnancy is important to say the line of succession.

Constantly Repeating Another Character’s Name: Authors, please stop doing this in dialogue. When I’m drafting I do this more as a way of reminding myself of who the hell is talking. When I edit and try to look at the story from a reader’s viewpoint, I cut a lot of those references out. It’s easy enough for the reader to track who is speaking and to whom. But when I read published novels and characters are constantly doing this, in particular when only two or three people are in a scene, it makes me question the author’s abilities a little bit. Does the author think I’m too stupid to keep up because maybe they couldn’t? In real life we rarely use each other’s names when speaking so why subject readers to this?

 

With all of these pet peeves, it’s rare I don’t finish a book. Lately, though, I’ve become tougher on books and won’t finish if it has a few of these. I simply don’t have the patience and time to get to the end of a book that clearly gets on my nerves. When I see these things pop up I wonder how in the world did this get past an editor let alone published? But again, these are just my pet peeves. I’m sure a lot of these things don’t bother most readers and that’s great.