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I was inspired to start writing speculative short stories after reading Fondly Fahrenheit by Alfred Bester. The story broke a lot of preconceptions I had about short fiction and the limits that were inherent to the form. For example, before reading the story, I had gotten it into my head that because of the length he setting, scope, and pacing had to be limited and slow.

 

The story contained several characters that reminded me of people I had encountered in real life. Coincidentally, Fondly Fahrenheit also involved subject matter from my academic life and interests of mine. All of this prompted me to research Alfred Bester and I soon discovered some real life commonalities. One of these commonalities was that Alfred Bester left short story writing to write comic books for a while, penning one of my favourite superhero comics, Green Lantern.

 

One of the most interesting bits of weird trivia is that Alfred Bester was often credited with composing the Green Lantern Oath that went a little something like this:

 

In the brightest day,

In the blackest night,

No evil shall escape my sight,

Let those who worship evil’s might,

Beware my power,

The Green Lantern light!

 

I’m writing this from fanboy memory, so I could’ve gotten some of the words wrong – my apologies to the more scholarly fans out there. The weird part is that he had been quoted as saying that the oath existed before he began writing the comic.

 

A recent post over at Boingboing.net about a Magic Lantern museum got me thinking about Green Lantern again.

 

The result of my musings is my conclusion that Green Lantern should be every writer’s favourite superhero.

 

Why?

 

Well, for those of you not familiar with Green Lantern, he or she (there used to be a GL Corps with hundreds of these appointed space-policing Green Lanterns) derives his / her power from a ring which he/she needs to charge with a green lantern (hence the name). Once charged (yes, like a cell phone), he /she is able to fly and create just about any weapon / vehicle / whatever out of solid green light.

 

You’re probably thinking: Hey, mildly interesting, but why should GL be adored by us writer folks?

 

Okay, sorry for all that background (infodump). The reason for my contention can be found in Green Lantern’s limitations and weaknesses, namely:

  • A green Lantern’s creations are only limited by his / her will power and imagination. This holds for writers too.
  • A Green Lantern ring must be recharged regularly, because it can only hold finite charge of energy. This holds for all writers (even the full-time ones), because we need to recharge our writing batteries with outside interests and real life.
  • The original GL Corps rings were all weak against the colour yellow / gold. To translate into writer language: Never pay too much attention to your own press and praise (gold). Keep striving to be better.
  • Alan Scott, the first GL, possessed an older GL ring that was weak against wood. However, even with the risk of flying into a tree during a low air chase, he soldiered on with the mission as his successors would one day do. Writers should keep in mind that although technology has changed, the mission (to write) stays the same.
  • The GL corps was comprised of heroes from different worlds across the universe and each guarded different sectors of space. Although, we’re all writers, each of us occupies a different point in “writing-space’. Learn from each other but follow your own path.

 

Wow, I surprised myself with how motivational this post has become. This is where my ‘charge’ has run out on this topic. Do you have a favourite superhero? Does he / she embody an ethic that you feel can help in your writing?

 

As always, keep writing and keep submitting!

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 I just read Hub magazine # 30 (available in PDF and other formats at www.hub-mag.co.uk). In it, an interesting editorial by Alasdair Stuart entitled ‘The Banquo Effect’ reflects upon the UPHEAVAL in the world of specific print mags (or at least, the BIG 3) and quite sensibly points to the various successes of online specific venues – particularly those that give away fiction for free or use non-traditional formats (read: everything not written on a piece of bark).

Off-at-a-tangent Aside: Speaking of “non-traditional” formats, the inventors of PDF must’ve been blessed with second sight or uncommon foresight, because Portable Document Format is successful as a result of exactly that: It’s portable. Still, PDF has been around for ages. So, there’s no excuse for a print mag to NOT exploit its advantages (at substantial lower costs). IMHO, PDF doesn’t really suffer from the “don’t like reading it onscreen” syndrome as much as other e-formats and even if it does (for individual readers) – nothing is lost during printing.

Back to our main feature rant presentation: Mister Stuart goes on to list many other online venues with innovative formats like Escapepod, Pseudopod (a bit of a plug for himself there), 365tomorrows.com (free flash fiction venue), and (probably most telling) points to Cory “I have a plan” Doctorow and John “Whatever” Scalzi (two of the big BIG 3 debaters) who have both given away entire novels for free.

Three points came a-screaming down the mountain:

1] If you make it free, they will buy. (This makes a lot of marketing sense.)

2] Specfic is the new Mainstream (if you look at most mediums of fiction entertainment – tv, movies, etc.)

3] The BIG 3 may be going down, but the (innovative) rest of Specfic is going up.

My favourite part of the editorial was this line:

“Stop worrying about how small the campfires are getting and go and make your own.”

Maybe it was the fact that Stuart pointed to the big instigator of the BIG 3 debate (that lovable rascal Warren Ellis) as a Comic Book author, but the debate reminded me of what happened in the comic book world in the early to mid 1990s.

Up until that point, the popular comic industry was a duopoly: As a writer or artist, you either worked for Marvel Comics or for DC Comics. You would often see someone working for Marvel exclusively for four years and then he / she’d move to DC for another long spell. You never saw someone working for both at the same time.

The most talented of these writers and artists commanded million dollar deals, but at a price:

1] They would never own any of the characters they created. Sometimes, they would not receive credit for creating those characters.

2] There were limits on their creativity in terms of what they could explore and create.

3] They had to adhere to the ‘comics code’ (a code that governed the level of violence, profanity, sexual suggestion contained within comic books).

In 1992 (or 1993, can’t remember exactly), some of those highly paid writer/artist guys bit the two hands that fed them and had held their leashes: They started five or six (memory fading) comic book studios, dedicated to creating their own comic books, and promoted themselves collectively under the name Image Comics. Image was different in terms of the entertainment it produced. In addition, Image more actively recruited new writing and artistic talent. In fact, a fair percentage of their creative talent were recruited at cons (something that DC and Marvel didn’t encourage).

“Those little punks!” the comic book establishment said.

“But we paid them big bucks!” Marvel said, puzzled by the founding of Image.

“But it’s an honour to work for DC Comics…” DC said.

What followed was a period of unknown variety and choice for the comic reader as well as unknown levels of competition for Comics’ BIG 2. So much so that DC killed off Superman and replaced Batman to draw readers back to the fold. Marvel tried similar things with flagship titles like the X-men and Spiderman comic books.

A lot of the innovative comic books of today would not be gracing the shelves if the “palace revolution” hadn’t taken place.

If we pull the above actions and reactions into the world Specfic short fiction, we can sketch a similar picture. Although the crises are different, some interesting parallels emerge.

Assume:

New competition (Image comics) = New (?) competition (online magazines)

BIG 2 (DC Comics & Marvel Comics) = BIG 3 (Asimov’s, Analog, and F&SF)

Note: The BIG 3 Specfic Mags could also be called the BIG 2 since Asimov’s and Analog are both owned by Dell Magazines (for those of you who want to get technical).

Compared to the comics giants DC and Marvel, I’m not sure that Asimov’s, Analog, or Fantasy & Science Fiction are as quick to react or even realise that there is a problem. Also, the above industry parallels ‘key’ asks whether new competition is really new or has just been ignored for too long. This brings up the fact that the BIG 3 (or 2) haven’t been a duopoly for decades and the online zines have simply emphasized the point. However, the BIG 3 (or 2) still act like they are the dominant forces in the Specfic short fiction market place.

Adapt or die…

An interesting aside: Warren Ellis often works for more than one comic book company at the same time. So, he benefited greatly from the Image revolution. In fact, in terms of being prolific, he is comics industry’s equivalent of Jay Lake and Mike Resnick (put together) and comics are huge collaborative efforts that need to be planned in advance and slotted into larger streams of continuity. Where does he find the time?

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