Scientists develop telepathic typewriter, and I’m not sure what to make of it. On one hand, it would be damn cool to type with my brain. On the other hand, I’m not really sure people are ready to actually read what’s really on my mind. Heck, I don’t even want to know what I’m actually thinking half the time. ^_^

Okay, things are finally settling down from a whirlwind beginning to the year. It’s a good beginning, but it’s been hectic. The new day job is going well… I’m really enjoying it (getting to play around with a lot of different technologies that I just didn’t have access to in my last job). It’s also nice that I was sent to work on a project in DC and Baltimore while the cherry blossoms were in bloom (it’s a pretty sight to see).

Travel is a bit of a two-edged sword though. I’ve been catching up on movies and TV shows (via travel packs of DVDs), and now that I’m getting a handle on all the travel and requirements of the job, I’m starting to get a little extra spare time for writing. On the flip side, I miss the family when I’m out (and they miss me) but having the entire weekend with them really makes a difference. And it gets lonely on the road, but I’m finding some of the characters I write make for “interesting” company. ^_^

Now, on to other stuff…

Scryptic Studios (a website I co-founded with a few other writers) made the Writer’s Digest list of 101 Best Websites for Writers. It was a little odd flipping through my copy of Writer’s Digest and seeing Scryptic listed there. It was also a little odd finding out about this just after I made the decision to get my “The Art of Words” column rolling again (since I have a little extra spare time now).

• Also, some of you out there know this already, but for those that don’t, I’ve been doing the writing chores on a new comic created and co-plotted my Jim Valentino. A comic called, “Task Force 1” being published through Jim’s Shadowline imprint at Image Comics. The press release on it should start circulating next week, and it’ll be listed in the next Previews guide (at the end of this month for a July ship date). I’ll provide more details and sneak peeks when I can… and for those in the Austin, TX area, I’ll be doing some signings around here.

• For those asking about getting more of Steampunk Faeries, here’s the plan… Seth and I discussed it, and we felt the response from the one-shot was good enough that we want to finish up the entire first story arc as a full-color trade paperback. We just want to make sure that when the rest of it comes out, everyone’s guaranteed to get the complete story (and nobody has to worry about any current storyline possibly not getting finished if we get busy with other projects).

• I’ve been slowing picking away at mine and Seth’s updated website. It’s still in progress, but if you’d like to take a peek, you can do so here. As soon as I finish recoding all the different pieces, we might see some momentary downtime when I switch the site over to the new code. Just a little head’s up for ya.

Well, I’m at a new day job now and getting past the spinup period… so it’s time to get blogging again. The new job requires a lot of travel, and since I spend a decent chunk of time just hanging around airports each week, I figured I’d test out some apps for blogging from my Treo (which is what I’m posting from now).

Travel… is actually a lot of fun. I get to meet a lot of people (I get a lot more interaction with others in this job), and I get to visit exotic locales like Cleveland (aside from the weather, it was nicer than expected) and… Omaha (it was flat, dusty and the speed limits felt really slow to me). I also made it to the very scenic Colorado Springs, and the view of the mountains was invigorating and inspiring (and surprisingly, the 24-hour drive-thru taco shack wasn’t that bad).

Look for more chronicles from various parts of the country (working on adding some pictures to posts in the future), and if anyone has any recommendations for good comic shops and places to eat in their areas, pop on over to the contact page and let know.

Next week… Atlanta.

… and there’s a reason for it. Actually, there are about four reasons, but I can’t reveal any of those just yet. Maybe soon, but for now, I’ll do my best to sneak in some comments here on the blog. Let’s start with New Year’s.

Yep, the end of the year is right around the corner, and I always do a quick evaluation in my personal journal of what I’ve accomplished over the year. It’s always weird because I don’t ever feel like I’m getting much done, but when I sit down to do a tally, it always surprises me (especially considering I usually only have an hour a day for most of this)…

Comic pages written: 296
Prose/article pages written: 168
Screenplay pages written: 172
Journal entries written: 517
Blog entries written: 262
Pages lettered: 160

Not too shabby for a year’s part-time work/fun. And I have a feeling I’m gonna surpass all those marks next year.

Speaking of New Year’s, I hope everyone’s ready to adjust their clocks for this year’s leap second. ^_^ And if anyone’s interested in a breakdown of 2005 notable scientific news items, New Scientist is running a series of articles recapping the year in various scientific areas (environment, technology, biology/medicine, etc). It’s an interesting little look back at what’s been happening this year… from cell phone viruses to mystery mammals in Borneo. Definitely an “interesting” year for watching scientific headlines.

And for those interested, the listing for mine and Seth’s Steampunk Faeries book finally went up over at comiXpress. Response to the book was fairly good, so we’ve already started working on the next chapter. Seth’s working on the design for some really crazy monster concepts I came up with (and I know he’s having fun with them) while I’m picking away at the script in my spare-spare time. We’re debating on whether to do colors on this next one (at the least, we’ll get some nice grayscales to help with the darker atmosphere of the book).

Okay, that’s all the rambling I can spare for now. If I don’t get a chance to post before the 1st, I hope everyone has a great New Year!

Updates have been a little infrequent around here lately. Some might think it’s because of the holidays, but it’s not. Well, not completely. I’ve been fixing a bunch of issues around the website (some news feed problems and some behind-the-scenes stuff that’s supposed to automatically update on its own). I’ve also been working on a major update to the site–there will be some minor tweaks seen on your end, but there will be a lot of changes on the inside (to make it easier for me to add sections and content as well as adjust the look of the place). I’ve also been working on the layouts/designs for a website for someone else. And working on a series for a comic publsiher… and still writing and lettering the two weekly webcomics (Brat-halla hit its 2-year anniversary recenly and Spook’d hit its 1-year)… and I’m also writing up some requested horror prose for an editor I know (among other things… finishing up another screenplay and already plotting out the next and also outlining a novel).

Busy, busy, busy.

But I’ve let this blog slide too much on my list, so I’m putting in a little effort to get some more ramblings out there. So here’s some quick pieces to start off with:

Mission statements and the big blue. Looks like the Air Force has a new mission statement.

The mission of the United States Air Force is to deliver sovereign options for the defense of the United States of America and its global interests–to fly and fight in Air, Space, and Cyberspace.

Having worked in the computer arena at the tail end of my Air Force career (worked at the headquarters level for both the Air Education and Training Command and Air Combat Command), I can definitely vouch for there being some top notch computer people in the Air Force. But I always saw one major issue with computers in the military… the organizational structure. How many Fortune 500 companies would hire a computer programmer straight out of college with no practical experience in programming (and sometimes not even an IT related degree) and put them in charge of a mission critical team of developers, network admins or sysads (most with at least 2-4 years of experience in the field)?

Every once in a while you get lucky (“Hey, you guys know what you’re doing. Get the job done and keep me up to date on what’s going on, and I’ll keep everyone else off your back.”), but most of the time, you’d run into the kind of conflict you’d expect from that kind of situation. Yes, I encountered those kinds of situations, but I’m not gonna hold a grudge… one of those people forced me to go see the military doctors about my knee, which resulted in me getting out early as a disabled vet and leaving an already undermanned (and somewhat overworked) shop. It helps my perspective on the situation that I had a much, much better paying job in the civilian sector lined up before I even finished my outprocessing.

Shadowline. What is it? It’s an imprint that’s part of Image Comics (Todd McFarlane has TMP, Marc Silvestri has Top Cow, and Shadowline is Jim Valentino’s line of comics). Current line-up for Shadowline is Shadowhawk, Intimidators, Runes of Ragnan, and Bomb Queen. All fun stuff, and there are some more titles on the way from them next year (and definitely some good people working on the books over there).

Steampunk Faeries. We have copies of the books, but they still haven’t released it for online sales over at comiXpress yet. Need to drop them a line to see what’s up with that (they said it’d be in this month’s listings).

Ted Noodleman rides again. From my buddies, Kep and WyA. And of course… a few backup stories from me (like “Geektopia” with art by Pirate Club creator Derek Hunter) and some other talented creators. One of the things I really enjoyed about this was getting to do a backup story featuring a concept I’d left on the backburner for a long time (kind of gave up on it after I found out about Fables)… “The Detectives Grimm” (the Grimm brothers as hard-boiled detectives investigating “unusual” crimes.

Okay, that’s it for now…

Over at the YABS message board at Comic Book Resources, Gail Simone (Birds of Prey, Villains United, Agent X) likes to ask questions. Lots of questions. Some are a little off-the-wall and some seem serious enough. A couple days ago, she kicked off a thread titled, “Okay, So You’re In Charge Of Comics” where she asked the question…

Let’s hear it. How would you ‘save’ comics?

There were some interesting thoughts in there, so I picked away at a response whenever I got a minute or so to spare and went to post a reply… but you’re reading it here instead because my little contribution to the discussion exceeded the CBR message board post limit of 10,000 characters (consider that fair warning that this is a lengthy post… the blog is called Dark Ramblings after all). So, here ya go. Some quick and crazy thoughts on “saving” comics.

What if comics doesn’t want to be saved? What if comics came back and sued someone for saving them like Mr. Sansweet did with Mr. Incredible? ^_^

Okay, let’s take a look at some of the issues…

Accessibility: Comic shops are the major outlets for comics. Sure, they carry some in Borders (and there might be a stray issue or two at Wal-mart), but those aren’t where you get a majority of your sales. Bookstore chains and newsstands don’t really want to carry comics for various reasons.

1) Returnability. They don’t want to get stuck with a lot of extra inventory that they’ll have to destroy or warehouse if they don’t sell it. It’s their insurance policy to make sure they don’t get burned by a product they can’t sell. Comic companies tend to shy away from returnability for the simple reason of… it’s too risky for them (print up a ton of books and have a ton of returns and you could be out a lot of money).

2) Shelf space. If they have to make room for a few hundred magazines AND a few hundred comic books, that’s a lot of store real estate to eat into. And when you get a magazine with a $6-7 price tag (giving you a return option) and a comic with a $3 price tag (no return option), you wind up having a better profit margin per shelf space ratio with the magazines. It’s tough to compete with that unless you’re a specialty store that sells comics where you have a lot of shelf space dedicated to displaying the titles, and a system set up for storing back issues of nonreturnable merchandise.

But even specialty stores have issues with making comics accessible because they might not have the book in the first place. They could miss a suddenly hot book in their ordering, be shorted issues from the distributor, lose a shipment (or have a shipment damaged), only carry books they know they can sell, sell out of a hot issue too quickly, etc.

Too many potential points of failure. In programming design and database design, it’s sometimes a good idea to look at the critical paths in your system. Break it down and streamline it to minimize the number of critical paths that could bottleneck or take down the system. Let’s look at the current paths involved in getting books from a publisher to a comic book reader (this is just an abstracted look at the overall system to break it down into the different processes that are dependent on each other):

Currently, publishers solicit their books, retailers read through the solicitations and order the books they want to carry in their shop (based on their experiences with selling books and sometimes in-store subscriptions), Diamond tallies the orders and invoices the publishers, publishers send the files off for printing, printers create the requested print run, printers ship the books to Diamond and/or the publisher, Diamond divvies up the books and ships them to the retailers, and retailers either sell all their books or toss them into inventory for back issue sales.

At a quick glance (so quick I’m probably missing something in there), that’s at least eight areas where something could happen to disrupt the entire system (causing delays, missed orders, etc). And overall, it’s very time dependent. If someone discovers a great book later on, they have to hope its been collected in a trade or available in back issue inventory somewhere nearby (or on eBay). This gets into some other paths of execution where someone could discover a series for the first time and not be able to pick up back issues at their store or an issue could sell out quick and the retailer would have to wait on reorders.

Now, there’s not much you can do to deal with these factors. Returnability will always be an issue with book stores (and retailers), and for what it does, Diamond is probably as streamlined as it’s gonna get. But what if there was another way to do business with comics? That article was something I wrote as a joke about people always talking about making comics cheaper… by developing a machine to access digital print files and print the comics yourself (the jokes in there… you just have to add up the numbers of the Marvel brand paper and ink ^_^).

• Readers could get any comic at any time with a static area of store “shelf” space (a place to put one or multiple terminals/kiosks) and inventory/storage (for paper and ink). Returnability becomes less of a factor because the majority of their inventory space for this system will be used for paper and ink (which can be used for any comic printed).
• With a downloadable system for print files, ANY issue would be available. Need a back issue? No searching through bins. You just do a search for a kiosk/terminal, swipe a credit card to pay for it, and print it up.
• If a publisher discovered an error with their book after it was available for sale… no need to recall and reprint an entire print run. Just make the changes in the files and upload them and all future printings will be correct.
• Want to start up a comic shop but don’t have the back issues to really support it and would like to get up and running quicker than what it would take to place orders and wait for your initial shipments of books to arrive (a couple months later)? Buy one of the systems and start selling.
• It’s international! Don’t want to deal with overseas shipping? If an overseas store has one of these, they’re in business… just connect to the digital file service and sell some American comics. Want access to original manga or European comics in the U.S.? Let foreign publishers upload files.
• Reader niceties. If the people want future convenience for comics, they could sign up for a service that gives them a “comics card”… card with an id key that will let them know what books they’ve purchased and allow them to set up a “subscription” of series they’ve flagged where it will point out any issues available since their last purchase of that issue (and allow them to pick up the series as their budget allows without losing track of any missed issues).
• More reader niceties. Willing to pay extra to have the advertising put in the back of the book? Publishers could offer that option. Want your choice of available variant covers on your book? That’s an option, too. Want to add some options to your purchase like concept art, artist sketches, a few pages of the original script, or even something like a choice of extra short stories/previews for other series? It’s your book, you can print it up the way you want (and the publisher can pad out to even pages with extra ads).
• Deliver comics to the people whenever you want. Is your book ready early? Send it out now. Is it late? Get it to the fans as fast as you can.
• Retailers set their percentage of profits. The publisher/distributor sets a base fee for each comic and lets the retailers set their price in the system itself. They can set different percentages for different books or publishers. Set sales prices (today only, everything’s 20% off), provide an extra discount to long-time customers (flag their machine to give a discount to that customer’s identification key), and similar sales strategies.
• Self-publishing the easy way. Self-publishers can just upload files into the system or go to any nearby machine (maybe in a local print shop or their local comic shop) with a cd/dvd and print a copy of their book (paying a set fee for paper/ink and a surcharge for using the retailer’s/printer’s machine). This could be a side business for some places… low print run comics or magazines. Stores could even have the option to carry mini-comics or indy comics from local creators that might not have been picked up by the distributor (and if the distributor sees good sales numbers on the book from a retailer’s system, they might reconsider distributing it).
• Wondering what’s hot? Can’t decide on what you want? Just look at what the top sellers are from right there at your terminal. The company serving the digital files (for a percentage) could easily build in a system to provide preview pages, creator bios, and more information for each issue. All available at the terminal/kiosk.
• A similar system could be developed to print magazines. And could provide a new revenue stream for book stores with the system… selling idle cycle time on the terminal screens to show the cover of a publisher’s latest issues (in store advertising).

• Expensive initial investment for both developing the product and for stores to put it in place. Developing a machine for print on demand comics would take a serious engineering effort to ensure it could produce a quality product with minimal upkeep hassle (easy to maintain, easy to add paper/staples/ink, easy to use). Also, a system for storing and serving the digital print files would be needed, which could go to a distributor type of company like Diamond. This would require a big investment in servers, software, development, and bandwidth.
• Standardization. All comics developed to be printed on this machine would either have to be all the same size or be from a limited selection of sizes (digest/ashcan, standard, and/or magazine size) and be restricted to an upper page limit (probably 64 pages or less). But these could be templated to help get publishers going with it.
• Opposition. Sure, it would be a convenient system for readers, retailers, and publishers, but you’d be making enemies with the big printer companies and possibly Diamond. Unless a big printer and Diamond worked together to develop this system in the first place.
• Quality control staff. Each book would need to be printed on a test system and proofed prior to the files being made live. Some of this could be offset to the publishers by providing them with a machine designed for proofing the files. A company would probably also need to put together a team that would regularly audit machines to verify quality of printing (and schedule maintenance and such).
• Limited broadband access in certain areas. Would need to develop a method of dealing with limited broadband capabilities in some areas. Possibilities could include built-in satellite download access (like the Sirius or XM satellite radios) or shipping out weekly update DVDs stores could use instead of downloads (could provide them with an optional DVD jukebox system for convenience instead of constantly swapping out DVDs).
• No matter how good the quality turns out, you’ll have your skeptics and whiners. “The cover’s too thick” or “The interiors are too thin” or “That staple’s slightly crooked” or “It doesn’t smell like a real comic”.
• Speculators. The collectors will always be there to complain that this type of system could devalue the market, but you could throw in some extras just for them. Maybe have a finite amount of special variant covers that can be printed out (X number for each retailer with those numbers rolling back into the system for access by any machine if the retailer doesn’t sell all their variants within a specific time period). Stuff like that. But for hot issues or standard issues, there would be unlimited supply, which would hurt a collectible market (and potentially companies like CGC… although the chances of getting a high grade on a book printed in a machine with all the different variables involved might make those “mint” books a little harder to come by).

… Yeah, Gail’s question produced a few thoughts. And yes, this is outside of what a publisher could do… it would probably have to be initiated by a big company with resources for developing that kind of system (a printer/copier/electronics company that could make money off sales/maintenance of equipment or a paper company looking for a new market) or a distributor (Diamond or someone new) looking to “revolutionize” the way things are done now.

Safety Tags:

Yeah, it’s that kind of night. Having the Austin Film Festival and the Game Writers/Developers Conference back-to-back like that slowed me down a bit because I had to catch back up with the day job afterwards. I also encountered a rare technical problem with all the writing I did between panels at the conferences… had my sync software setup to push down to my Dana (pda with a full-sized keyboard and 24-hour battery life) to force newer versions of some files down to my pda before the conference, but I forgot to change the setting back prior to syncing up my writing from the conference. Oh well… crap like that happens, and that’s why I’m up late writing tonight to get caught back up (it’s all still in my brain… just gotta take the time to type it all out again).

So, I’ve been writing for a couple hours straight now on one project (secret comic project… more on that when I can say more) and just needed a break to some different kind of writing for a bit to let things process subconsciously while I think about other things. Plus, it gives me a chance to post a few updates.

• The Game Writers Conference was fun. How much fun? Well, I need to polish up my writer resume. ^_^ And there was lots of useful information presented (and pried from the panelists with a snazzy questioning crowbar). It was also nice running into some old friends (like Sword of Dracula’s Jason Henderson) at the show. Looks like turnout and interest were high enough for them to continue the conference next year. If you have any interest in writing for games, you might want to give the conference a visit next year.

• Got to see the Xbox360 in action. Looked nice and smooth when I was watching someone playing King Kong wrestling a T-Rex.

Worldwide D&D Game Day is this Saturday. Seth and I were working on a new project to roll out this Saturday for it (and then ongoing during the weekdays from then on)… unfortunately, it’s been delayed due to the other project I’m working on. One of the reasons I’m up late tonight is to get caught up on that other project and have time this week to finalize the webpage coding for this new project. I guess in a worst-case scenario, I can post the first installment in the blog here (but I’d prefer having everything up-and-running before launch).

• Do you read that nice little Image comic book, Small Gods? Thought about it but never got around to picking it up? Well, if you get a chance, try to grab a copy of issue #11 that made it onto the shelves just last week. Then take a look at the back cover… created by none other than the Brat-halla/Spook’d/Arazel & Xarenia/Dark Rhythms/Steampunk Faeries team of Seth and me. We probably had too much fun working on that, and we were glad to help out Jason, Juan, Kris, and Kep over at Small Gods.

• Milestone: Our Brat-halla webcomic reached episode #100 today. That’s one hundred weekly episodes without missing a single week. Here’s to many, many more. In a few weeks, we’ll be hitting our 2-year anniversary at the ‘Shoot. I’ll probably drop the head honcho over there an email to see about holding a contest. For a free t-shirt or poster or… we’ll think of something. Keep an eye out for it.

• Stephen King… Dark Tower series… Marvel Comics. Hmmm? It’s interesting to see the timing on things some time. Announcement for Dark Tower going to a serialized format in comics (hmmm… could it be serialized for TV? I guess a comic would be a good way to show them it could.) hits shortly after it’s announced that King’s Creepshow is getting remade (the movie that took you into the pages of an EC-style comic… and then had an actual comic published afterwards by King and Wrightson). Well, sometimes the timing just works its way out in odd ways… and sometimes you wonder if there’s a rhyme-and-reason to it. Hmmm…


Well, tomorrow is the kick off to the first Game Writers Conference here in Austin. It’s running alongside this year’s Game Developers Conference, so it should be a lot of fun. I’ll actually get to approach it from two different fronts… as a writer and as a database geek. I’m mostly interested in the writing aspects, but Curiosity compels the geek in me to find out more about the tips, tricks, and strategies they use for such high demand database servers (hopefully, they’ll have some info I don’t already know about).

For any writers in the Austin area interested in finding out more about writing video games (useful skill considering how many gaming companies are located here in Austin), give it a shot if you can. Maybe I’ll see ya there.

Tagatopia: writing storytelling writer gaming Austin conference

Well, I’ve been running some new software through its paces the past couple days, and I’ve gotta say… this little app is really good so far. With one program, I’ve gotten rid of… my journaling software, outlining software, note-taking/story development software, and if this post works out just fine, my blogging software might be gone as well.

I’ve tested out dozens of different programs for journaling and note-taking/organizing, but this is the first one that’s had all the options I’ve liked from various programs all in one place (and it’s set up nicely for keeping everything organized, which is very helpful bonus). Figures that another avid gamer would develop a program like this.

Gonna try to break it over the next few days… if it survives, I’ll toss a link to it over on my “writing links” page.

As I’ve mentioned before, I keep a running diary of story ideas I call a “thought bucket.” I generally write one or two quick ideas down there with some notes and maybe a few references. I was taking a quick break from some of my other writing (outlining the first story arc of a story scheduled to hit shelves next year, working on another screenplay… well, two screenplays simultaneously, finishing up a short story submission, the webcomics, and a bunch of research for other projects), so I decided to go through a couple old ideas and think about what actually inspired them…

• Cartoon Kings – At a visit to the studio that produces their favorite but unsuccessful and soon-to-be-cancelled cartoon show, two brothers stumble onto a secret device that controls everything on the show as its playing on TV. They use the device to have fun with their favorite character not realizing that their mucking about with the show is broadcast live around the country. Their antics revitalize interest in the show to make it successful again… until their older brother gets ahold of the device shocking the country and bringing down the fury of the FCC. Inspired by a drunken costume party where I ran into a prior “short term female acquaintance” of mine who was dressed as a cartoon character. I was dressed as a King Tut, and as the night went on, she got a little tipsy and flirty and asked me, “How’d you like to be the king of cartoons?” Of course, the story idea morphed into something a little more innocent in my notebooks. The rest of that night? Well, that’s a different story… the kind where the almost-a-stalker you never knew about takes you back to her apartment.

• Our Private Purgatory – A romantic takes his girlfriend to a place recommended by a friend where there’s a beautiful view of the ocean and the sunset. But being in the middle of nowhere after the sun sets with a car that won’t start lets this panicked, young couple get to know each other a bit better than they really wanted. Drove a girlfriend to a “quiet” beach spot when the full moon was out. It was a fun night… until we tried to drive home and my rear wheels were spinning in the sand leaving us stuck there. On the beach… in the middle of winter… no one around for miles… and way before I ever owned a cell phone. Working in the wet sand in winter to get the wheels freed up wasn’t as romantic as I’d hoped.