Nothing infuses energy into a story like a good villain. If you ardently hate a villain in a book you’re reading, then you’re hooked! You’ve invested emotion in the battle between good and evil, you’re waiting for justice to be served.
These wicked characters must get under your skin. They have to arouse a visceral sense of repulsion and fear, the way spiders and snakes evoke primitive terror, the way decaying fecal ooze repels the senses. Villains are difficult to write because we instinctively recoil from the dark sides of life and the more grotesque aspects of our selves. That dark side, that shadow, is the only place from which a truly compelling villain can emerge. We can’t tear off evil like a number at the grocery meat counter.
“Number Twenty Two!”
“Here I am. Let’s see. What have you got that’s horrible and scary?”
Let us pause and consider the concept of Evil. What is it?
I’ve parsed my own definition of evil to a simple formula: Evil is the inflicting of pain to avoid pain. Evil lays its destructive spell on those in its path because someone (or some Thing) has found reliable ways to scatter pain onto others. I exclude those beings who enjoy causing pain because it’s their nature. Such creatures exist, but not for the purpose of this essay.
Evil characters have malice and they have power. Many of them are concealed behind a facade of charm or apparently benign goodwill.
Evil people are trying to wriggle out from under a burden of pain by forcing others to feel that pain.
It’s not always so simple. Each of us is a composite personality. Our inner child is really a little car filled with squabbling midgets. The steering wheel passes from hand to hand, the brakes are fought over, the car veers crazily.
A villain takes advantage of the muddle of human nature by having a clear point of focus. A fixation, an obsession, a purpose. This purpose empowers the villain at the expense of ordinary people. Bad guys know who they are and why they act. In many narratives the hero struggles with doubt and obscurity of motivation. His struggle isn’t just with the villain; it’s with his own confusion. When he sees clearly, when he knows what he wants, he obtains the weapons he needs.
All through this post I’ve been thinking of two characters: Adolph Hitler and South Park cartoon nasty Eric Cartman. Hitler annihilated millions; Cartman is a fictional character in a television show. Yet they have attributes in common.
My emotions regarding Hitler are an historical abstraction. He’s become a universal symbol of evil. Cartman, on the other hand, keeps my guts in an uproar. I HATE the fucker, I loathe him! It’s a very personal engagement.
The lessons of Cartman are numerous. All of his actions are manipulations. He is completely without sincerity. He’s a bigot. There is no minority group who escapes his ire. When he’s told that white people have become a minority group, he simply doesn’t hear the message. This may be Cartman’s greatest signifier: his inability to hear anything with which he disagrees. Intellectual and moral deafness is a widespread symptom of evil.
Cartman, and villains in general, like to blame other people for their own emotional discomfort. This profound moral choice, to blame others, is a basic step into the world of evil. When writing a villainous character, it’s useful to give him someone to blame. Give him a scapegoat.
A villain can’t be frightful without power. It may be supernatural power, political power, military power, physical power, but a villain cannot elicit fear, revulsion and anger without significant power. It’s the abuse of power that sparks the reader’s anger. Most of us see power as a privilege that entails responsibility.
We get angry when power is used for gratification of the ego and the appetites.
Cartman’s power comes from several sources. He’s clever, inventive, without moral scruple and completely selfish. His mother gives him everything he wants because it’s easier that way. Cartman is a fatherless boy. His mother always takes the lazy way out; she gives in to her son’s demands. If I take South Park as a microcosm, a model for the larger society in which we live, Cartman’s mother represents economic power. She makes him rich in comparison to the other kids.
He has all the latest toys, the best video games and a total lack of supervision.
To further amplify Cartman’s power he has a follower: Butters. This sweet but witless innocent will go along with any outrageous scheme Cartman dreams up. Cartman generates momentum. While Stan, Kyle or Kenny may have qualms about Cartman’s ideas, Butters is always there to support him. The plan, the idea, the scheme always seems to run away with itself before it can be thought through.
Its consequences are never anticipated. The only brakes on Cartman’s destructive power are the other boys’ common sense and lack of malice. In the end, Cartman always brings himself to destruction, but he will never admit defeat. In some people this is an admirable trait. In Cartman, it’s merely irritating.
In Hitler it cost millions of lives. If Cartman were a real adult person he would be a frightful monster. Think what Hitler and Cartman have in common. Scapegoats. Blame. Moral and intellectual deafness. Unwillingness to take responsibility for errors in judgment. A will that generates great momentum, and attracts followers who are willing to obey without question.
In the episode called “Breast Cancer Show Ever” Cartman takes a schoolyard beating by a mere girl, by Wendy Testaburger. She played the righteous avenger when Cartman mocked breast cancer and persisted in telling hurtful jokes on the subject of breasts. When she established the time for the duel, when Cartman realized that Wendy was serious, he tried to buy her off. She would have none of it. In spite of the fact that Cartman was pounded to a bloody mess, he twisted events in his mind so that he won the fight, that he was still “Cool”, or “Kewl” in the eyes of his compatriots. Kyle and Stan told Cartman “You suck, you’ve always sucked. We hate you.” Cartman can’t hear these declarations. He is still Kewl.
This amazing deafness made me want to jump through the screen and pound the fat twerp to a pulp. My emotions were completely engaged. When a writer can raise the emotional stakes to such a pitch, that writer has succeeded in creating a compelling villain.
I have used a silly villain in a silly cartoon show to highlight the power of a good villain to propel a good story. Ignore Cartman at your own risk. He’s a first class little asshole.
People ignored and dismissed Hitler as a buffoon. We know what happened to those people. Monstrous villains have arisen throughout history. We are writers; we deal in fiction. The most frightening villains in fiction draw resonance from history’s tyrants. Lazy writers may imitate these tyrants in their narratives. Good writers draw villains out through themselves, knowing that each of us is capable of monstrosity.
A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good. His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv.
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In my theme post for this month, I admitted that comic books and superheroes are not my usually reading fare, but in the spirit of our May celebration, I felt the need to review outside of my norm. Echo One, by Mercedes Lackey, Cody Martin, Dennis K. Lee and Veronica Giguere is an anthology of short stories which are set in the Secret World Chronicles universe, which I am unfamiliar with, so in reading this book, I’m at a slight disadvantage. However, as I read through these delightfully entertaining stories, a few things about the Secret World Chronicles universe quickly became clear, and although I had no backstory on these characters, I was easily able to immerse myself in each individual story, and invest myself in some of the characters, particularly Vicky Nagy and her rather unusual family.
This secret world takes place during WWII, and humans with super powers, called metahumans, exist on both sides of the conflict, which makes them excellent superheroes and supervillains. As you can imagine, the possibilities of metahumans on the German side triumphing, open up a plethora of world altering consequences that must be prevented. Great superhero stuff!
In addition, there are others whose powers lay in the world of magic, opening up realms of possibilities for the good guys to save the world. They are of a secret society, with only a few select humans who are aware they anything but the metahumans they pass themselves off to be. I found these stories to be really fun reads, and I didn’t have to know all the details of previous tales in order to enjoy them thoroughly. The characters are colorful and unpredictable, with the potential for surprise lurking behind every turn of the page.
Alternate universe superhero stories are always fun and entertaining reads, and Echo One is no exception. Great for those times when you’re not in the heavy literary mood and are just reading for the pure enjoyment of it. I give it four quills.
Amazon Buy Link: https://www.amazon.com/Echo-One-Tales-Secret-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B087QV6D5Q/ref=sr_1_1?crid=VKWWZF1LONQ5&dchild=1&keywords=echo+one+lackey&qid=1589244140&s=books&sprefix=Echo+One%2Cstripbooks%2C797&sr=1-1
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
The third Wednesday of each month, writer Jeff Bowles offers practical tips for improving, sharpening, and selling your writing. Welcome to your monthly discussion on Craft and Practice.
The Revision Process
So I’m in the middle of a fairly lengthy revision process for my latest novel, and it brings to mind a piece of advice a mentor once gave me. When I began writing short stories, I joined an online critique forum that in retrospect helped shape me in some crucial ways. It was a pretty tough, competitive space when it came down to it, and the other writers there didn’t mind (lovingly) tearing stories to shreds if it meant giving enough feedback to fix what wasn’t working.
There was a guy there called Gary, older than most everyone else who frequented the group, and I tended to see him as an authority, a friend, and a bit of a task master. Gary was fond of quick little rules and guidelines, notepad-like pieces of wisdom that could really set a young writer up for growth.
“Expect the revision process for any given story to last two to three times longer than it took to write in the first place.”
In other words, by Gary’s estimation, if you were to write a quick story in an afternoon, you’d expect to spend an additional two to three afternoons revising and sharpening it to an appropriate level. I’m sure I don’t have to explain to you how in-depth the revision process can be. Sometimes it’s pretty easy-going, but for the most part, if you’re not doing some cutting here, expansion there, general tightening of language on all levels, and if you’re not willing to kill your darlings, as the saying goes, odds are you may be doing it wrong.
So what if we’ve written a whole book? Does Gary’s piece of advice still hold up? In my experience, it does. Due to sudden and unforeseen circumstances in my life, my novel took about a year to write. So does that mean it’ll take me two to three years to finish it? Not precisely. I worked on it for a year, but in fact, I only wrote about 300 words a day for a grand total of maybe fifteen hours of actual writing per month. Fifteen hours times twelve months equals 180 hours, and 180 times two is 360. Bare minimum, that is the equivalent of fifteen full twenty-four hour days of revision. Maybe more like a month and a half if I plan on sleeping, eating, or ever seeing my wife ever again.
Now remember, that’s only the initial revision cycle. More work will likely need to be done in order to bring that book up to production quality. Realistically, once you add in the services of an actual editor, you’re looking at several additional weeks or months of back and forth nitpickery. It’s the nitpicks that save us, by the way. Make sure you get plenty of them at breakfast time. They’re like daily bowls of Wheaties. Nitpicks make writer big and strong!
It’s part of the overall level of dedication it takes to turn out a good piece of writing, right? And we all expect to have to work a little more after we’ve initially told a story, or at least we should. I’m not big on hard and fast rules. Really, I’m not. I think “rules” in writing can and should be broken now and then. Generally speaking, these kinds of prescriptions are for writers, not for readers. Inside baseball, not meant for actual spectators, you know what I mean?
Even so, there are some commonalities to this process I believe every writer can and should keep an eye on. First of all, get comfortable removing chunks of flesh from your manuscript. Just straight-up cutting large sections that may have had stuff in it you liked. Also, get comfortable rewriting everything you just took out. Only better. Hopefully. If parts of your story slow the narrative down, add unusual or unnecessary complications, or otherwise just don’t fit in with what you’re trying to achieve, that stuff’s dead weight, detritus. It’s got to go. Gird your loins, fellow word-wielder. Things are about to get messy at the slaughterhouse.
A good piece of meat isn’t born precooked, and neither is a good book. You can always resurrect some of that cut material and insert it elsewhere, but the same idea applies: if the words don’t fit, you must acquit.
Man, I’m on a roll today.
Another important thing to consider is if you want to make focused passes or not, keying in on just one element at a time, starting with larger issues like pacing and character development. This is a good idea if you’re new to the process or just like to stay organized, and it’ll probably save you some time in the long run. By making several focused and element-specific passes, you’ve got the opportunity to hone in without distracting yourself with other stuff that may change in the long run. My only suggestion for this type of revision process is to keep notes along the way. Ideas may spring to mind, better concepts for how to handle any given character or scene or larger story element, and you’re going to want to keep track of everything you intend to change for your next pass.
Admittedly so, I’m much too erratic and scatterbrained for this method, which means I tend to just charge in like a bull in a china shop and really tear the place up until its “redecorated” just how I like it. Mine is a messy process in this way, but it’s also just how my mind tends to work. Not everyone has the equivalent of sixteen trained chimpanzees careening around their heads, doing their level best to run the ship. If I don’t feed them at a regular time every day, Bingo—he’s the captain, see—he orders the rest of the chimps on strike, and then I’m in a real chimp ship pickle. Nobody wants that.
Where was I? Ah yes, serious discussion of the revision process.
A lot of what you’re going to be doing is in fact that more minute stuff, especially when you’re really getting down to it and most of your broader strokes have been made. Changing the language of the piece, the flow, tightening your syntax, all of that is important as finishing maneuvers. Just make sure you’re not revising so much you’re only shifting elements around and not necessarily improving anything. That can happen easily, which is why it’s also important during the revision process to take breaks when you need them. And I don’t just mean a break of a few minutes or hours. Sometimes you’ve got to let your manuscript go for days or even weeks just so you can come back at it with fresh eyes. The ability to forget what we’ve written is a great asset, so use it.
The annoyance and pain of all this is temporary. You have to keep that in mind. However, once they’re released to the general public, your words are forever. So now is your opportunity to line them up exactly as you want them. In the end, all you can do as a writer, as a creative individual of any kind, is your honest best. Will all your extra hard work pay off? That’s an eternal question, always in motion, and anyway, what’s your definition of success? I mean really?
I’ll have another Craft and Practice topic for you guys next month. Until then, cut a little, cut a lot, but don’t cut to the quick. The chimps in your brain may not like losing any of the good stuff. See you in June!
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I am so pleased to welcome my author guest this month on “Chatting with the Pros”. He is the most prolific writer I know and he’s written numerous books that have made international bestsellers lists. He’s best known for his science fiction and fantasy stories, but he’s done a good amount of writing for hire and lives by the motto of, “I can do that”. I’ve asked him to join me here today as we celebrate superheroes and supervillains, because of one single book that he wrote, Enemies and Allies, which delves into the universe of superheroes, in hopes that he will share with us his unique perspective on this often overlooked genre. Please help me welcome Kevin J. Anderson.
Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Kevin: When I was five, even before I could write. I knew I wanted to tell stories.
Kaye: You’ve been on bestseller lists, won multiple-awards for your writing, had your books made into screenplays, published both short fiction and novel length works, collaborated with some big name authors, and started your own independent press. In your own eyes, what has been your greatest writing accomplishment to date?
Kevin: I think the greatest thing is being able to do what I love and actually make a living at it—not getting one thing published, not winning an award, not seeing a movie option on one of your stories, but by being able to do this not as a hobby, but as the thing by which I pay the bills. I’ve been full time for 25 years now. I’m probably unemployable otherwise.
Kaye: Do you remember the first book you ever read?
Kevin: THE TIME MACHINE by HG Wells
Kaye: In Enemies & Allies, who was the most difficult character to write? Why?
Kevin: Superman/Kal-el/Clark. Sometimes he comes off as a simplistic boy scout, but I really think I got to the core of why he’s a superhero, and why he’s very human at the same time.
Kaye: How does writing a superhero or a super villain differ from writing plain old heroes and villains? What makes super heroes so special?
Kevin: They can do bigger, more epic things, which is great fun as a writer, but you also have to give them greater weaknesses. The things they do MATTER to the future of the world and the human race, not just “Gee, who’s going to ask me to prom?”
Kaye: In Enemies & Allies, which superhero did you favor, Batman or Superman?
Kevin: I found Batman much easier to write and understand, a gritty lost soul, and so I worked a lot harder to get just as deep into Superman, to flesh him out more, and I think I succeeded in finding a very good balance between the two extremes while keeping them both heroes.
Kaye: What is the hardest part to writing a super villain?
Kevin: Supervillains are fun. You can be as twisted as you want and you can dive into their motivations. Why are they the bad guy?
Kaye: Which would you rather write, a superhero or a super villain? Why?
Kevin: Supervillains. But in most of my writing I try to make it a matter of perspective as to who is the villain and who is the hero. Depends on what side you’re on.
Kaye: Do you see superhero/supervillain qualities coming out through the characters in your other stories? Which stories do you see this in most?
Kevin: I still consider them all as characters, with good sides and bad sides, each with powers or skills. I have only done two superhero books out of my 165 titles, so actually approached it the other way around, bringing all my other writing skills to bear in a novel featuring superheroes.
Kaye: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Kevin: Wait, another apocalypse??? Hmmm, if I couldn’t write, I would be a publisher or a public speaker or a teacher…but I’m already doing those things. In these times, you can’t just be ONE thing. If I had to scrap everything related to the industry, I suppose I would be a forest ranger, because I love the outdoors.
Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?
Kevin: I get a lot of attention because I do all my writing by dictation, talking into a digital recorder while I hike. But I have been doing it for thirty years, so I don’t consider it unusual at all.
Kaye: Which is your favorite type of writing? Short fiction? Novels? Comic Books? Screenplays? Poetry? Graphic Novels? Why?
Kevin: Novels. I like the big scope, a project I can sink my teeth into and spend lots of time developing it.
Kaye: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Kevin: Don’t quit your day job. Keep writing and refining and getting better, and never stop.
Kaye: What do you think is the single most important element in a story?
Kevin: It’s not a single-element thing. It’s like saying which is the most important wheel on your car. You have to get the plot, the characters, the prose, the worldbuilding, the idea, everything.
Kaye: What is the one thing in your writing career that is the most unusual or unique thing you’ve done so far?
Kevin: Probably working with legendary Rush drummer Neil Peart to convert the last Rush album, Clockwork Angels, into a bestselling novel. One of my proudest accomplishments.
I want to thank Kevin for joining me today and sharing his insight into the making of a superhero or supervillain, and his thoughts on writing. Kevin is currently working in the fantasy realm, with his newest thoughts on Gods and Dragons. You can learn more about Kevin and his books at WordFire Press or on his Amazon author page.
Also, Kevin’s convention bookstore is no longer traveling, so there are a lot of signed copies of his books in inventory right now, as well as some obscure and hard to find books. Some sets discounted to half-price or even more, including all six original Dune books for $30. You can check out the selection at http://www.wordfireshop.com.
Join me next month, when we will be delving into speculative fiction, and my “Chatting with the Pros” author guest will be Dave Wolverton.
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Powers in Motion
by Jeff Bowles
As a storytelling medium, comic books have been around longer than anyone living today. Some disagreement exists among historians as to just what the first published example is, but more or less, comics have been with us since the mid-19th century. Certainly, they didn’t explode into absolute pop culture dominance until the advent of superheroes and supervillains, their best-known and most beloved subjects of exploration, but the truth is millions upon millions of comics have sold in all the time since.
It goes without saying that if not for the creation of one very special character, comic books would not exist in the form in which they do today. In 1938, two young men from Cleveland, hard-up for more satisfying and lucrative creative endeavors, concocted a simple yet compelling narrative based on the biblical stories they’d grown up with. An infant savior from another place, sent from on high by his father to protect and guide humankind. Jerry Seigel and Joe Schuster were thinking more Moses than Jesus, but the Judeo-Christian allegory that is Superman tapped into something deep within the psyches of readers everywhere.
When DC Comics published Action Comics #1, the first appearance of the Man of Steel, the company had no earthly concept what they were unleashing on the world. The first appearance of Batman followed a year later, and quick on his heels were characters like The Flash, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman. Sales were massive for this new kind of storytelling, so full of color and simple, easy-to-understand moral allegory. Until Superman showed up, comics were usually about hard-as-nails detectives and avengers of the night who could neither fly nor leap tall buildings in a single bound. But Supes, he was different.
It was and still is widely accepted that comics are for children, but adults like them, too. In fact, as the Allies went to war in Europe and the Pacific, young servicemen and women brought their recreational reading habits to the front lines. Japan in particular adopted comic books with unrestrained delight. In the year 2020, they remain the top producer of the entire global industry, having created a literary genre unto itself in Manga.
Back in the US, the end of World War II brought with it new social standards, including a certain suspicion of the medium. It became widely believed that comics contributed to childhood delinquency, vandalism, and violence. Senate hearings were held on the matter, not unlike those that plagued the video game industry after the Columbine massacre. In both cases, the federal government imposed rating systems, and at least as far as comics were concerned, the high flying antics of superheroes were dragged a bit closer to earth.
In the 1950s, comics gained a squeaky-clean image, which contributed to their overall decline in sales. It seemed that the original generation of kids who had embraced characters like Superman and Batman had grown up, and they were by no means interested in overtly sanitized farces. Network television had a hit on their hands with the George Reeves Superman show, carried over to some extent by earlier radio productions. But the comic book itself faced its first major hurdle: people just didn’t care anymore.
Times change, and so do the kinds of stories we like to tell each other. In 1961, Marvel Comics (formerly, Timely Comics) got into the superhero game in a big way with the introduction of Fantastic Four #1. This single issue began what enthusiasts call the silver age of comic books, and creators Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko didn’t stop there. Many other characters emerged from their Manhattan offices: Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, The Uncanny X-Men, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, Black Panther, all created within the first ten years of the company’s resurgence. They even added an old figure from their distant past to the roster of the newly-minted Marvel Universe. Captain America is almost as old as Superman, but he’d been all but forgotten by fans until Stan Lee decided to pull him from the ice.
The medium exploded in popularity once more, and the 1970s saw advancements that began eschewing the now decades-old Comics Code Authority. DC, for instance, who initially struggled to keep up with Marvel’s perceived hipness, got into all the major social battles of the time, including equal rights, racism, drug addiction, and violence against women. The decade introduced some of the most compelling and sophisticated comic stories told to date, and Marvel and DC became twin powerhouses of an artform many had thought dead and buried.
In 1978, Warner Bros. produced what many consider to be the first serious superhero film, Superman: The Movie. Demand for the character and other DC properties climbed to dizzying heights. In the decade that followed, comics continued to mature, became darker and much more adult, featuring storylines and characters that took advantage of the public’s newfound love of antiheroes. Marvel made huge waves with the likes of The Punisher, Venom, and new takes on classic characters like Spider-Man, The X-men, and The Avengers. Over at DC, things got even more experimental, with major new series like Watchmen and Batman: The Killing Joke, not to mention the introduction of their Vertigo imprint, which exclusively publishes adult-only material
A new collector’s market formed around special releases and big-stakes stories that reset the board, such as The Death of Superman and the first issue of Marvel’s five-variant-cover X-Men #1. Like so many other markets built on false commodity, however, the bubble eventually ruptured, and comics have seen a slow but steady decline in sales ever since. DC has faired pretty well historically, partially because they were acquired by Warner Bros. in 1969. Marvel, on the other hand, slipped into bankruptcy, and only barely pulled themselves out by the skin of their teeth.
By the late 1990s, the future of comic books was in question. It had become clear that the business of printing colorful heroes and edgy villains was on shaky ground, but the new millennium heralded in a trend few in the industry saw coming.
DC had always had hit-and-miss successes with their film division. Though 1978’s Superman and 1989’s Batman were big for their time and place, superhero movies were still widely considered risky business. In 1998, Marvel Entertainment co-produced a film based on their daywalking, vampire-slaying Blade character. Though the film did average box office, Marvel viewed it as a sign of bigger and better things to come. Two years later, they released an X-Men movie which fared much better, and two years after that, it was Spider-Man’s turn.
Marvel earned one success after another at the box office, creating new film-based iterations of classic characters like The Hulk, The Fantastic Four, and Daredevil. But it wasn’t until 2008 and the release of a little movie called Iron Man that everything changed. At the time, Marvel Entertainment and producer Kevin Feige hatched an idea to do for their movies what Stan Lee had done for their comics back in the early ’60s, namely, they decided to turn them into a working shared universe. Marvel released a few key introduction movies and then bet the farm on 2012’s The Avengers.
The absolute financial and critical dominance of that movie was eclipsed only by its potential for more stories and even bigger box office hauls. Disney bought Marvel in 2009, adding significant distribution and funding prowess to the small company that had almost folded not ten years prior. Though DC and the WB have tried to match the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the decade ending 2019 was completely dominated—in one form or another, it seems—by characters created by Stan Lee and his successors.
But what about comic books themselves? Do people still read them? Do they still sell? More or less, they do, though even fans get the sense the comic divisions of the big publishers only exist to fuel their filmmaking endeavors. Marvel, DC, and others still know how to tell great stories, and they do it every single week, every month, every year. More major contributors to the industry include Darkhorse, Image, IDW, and Valiant. Comics are not now and have never been solely about superheroes, and the indie space in particular proves that this kind of storytelling is open and ready for all.
Regardless of how you feel about the dominance of comic-bookisms in our culture, the slow decline of the publishing industry beneath it, and the ultimate moral ambiguity of “good guys” who beat the crap out of “bad guys”, the fact remains that comics have been a force of societal transformation for over eighty years, longer in fact, when you factor in the storytelling traditions at play, some of which are as ancient as humankind itself. The first comic book, published in the 19th century, whatever it may have been, set a ball rolling that continues to, well, crush the life out of everything in its path.
Only one question needs to be asked at this point: who do you like better, Marvel, DC, or the bold and bombastic characters of some other powerhouse company? Sound off in the comments section below, guys. And continue to stay tuned all May for more superhero/supervillain themed articles and posts right here on Writing to be Read. Excelsior!
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I love nursery rhymes and children’s poetry. When my boys were younger we used to listen to children’s songs and nursery rhymes in the car wherever we went. We used to sing along and I even bought them bells and shakers so that they could join in the music making.
One of Gregory’s favourite nursery rhymes was Aiken Drum, a popular Scottish folk song and nursery rhyme. It is believed to have its origins in a Jacobite song about the Battle of Sherifmuir (1715). You can listen to a version of it here:
I find nursery rhymes very fascinating, particularly when I probe the origins of some of them. Ring a ring o’ Roses, for example, is alleged to have originated from the black plague. A rosy rash was a symptom of the plague and posies of herbs were carried by people as protection and to cover up the smell of the disease. Sneezing or coughing was a symptom once the disease had progressed and then the sick person usually died and so literally “fell down” dead.
I have often wondered, however, whether there are any specific and acknowledged benefits to be derived by small children from listening to nursery rhymes and being read to in rhyming verse. If I think of Dr Seuss books, they are all in rhyming verse and they are always punted as being a really good choice of early readers.
I decided a little bit of investigation was in order, especially, as my own books, co-authored with Michael, are written in rhyming verse. The experts listed the following benefits to singing nursery rhymes to your children and reading to them in rhyming verse:
- Children love the sound of their parents voices, so singing by a caregiver calms and sooths a small child;
- Children enjoy the changes and variation in tone that result from singing and reading in rhyming verse. This helps inspire a love of language in children, thereby naturally increasing their desire to read and write;
- Rhymes help children learn to identify the different sounds that make up a word, how to play with words, change them and pair them together which greatly aids learning how to read;
- When reading in rhyming verse, most readers tend to speak clearly and slowly. This is beneficial to children as they are able to hear the way the words are formed properly;
- Songs and rhymes have a positive impact on children’s language and literacy development;
- Children that participate in singing and telling of nursery rhymes often learn to speak more quickly;
- Rhyming teaches children about word families;
- Rhyming teaches children the patterns and structures in spoken and written language;
- Rhyming helps children learn how to spell as they realise the words that sound similar often share common letter sequences;
- The repetition of rhymes helps build memory capabilities;
- Nursery rhymes or other rhyming stories and tales help preserve your culture and create a bond between generations; children, parents and grandparents; and
- Nursery rhymes and rhyming verse help children to hear a steady beat which researchers believe results in better reading skills.
I thought this was rather an impressive list of benefits and nursery rhymes and stories told in rhyming verse are such fun. So dust off your old nursery rhyme books and grab your Dr Seuss and other rhyming verse books and get going.
Happy reading and singing!
Just as an aside, Puff the magic Dragon is one of the nicest rhyming verse story books I’ve ever read.
About Robbie Cheadle
Hello, my name is Robbie, short for Roberta. I am an author with six published children’s picture books in the Sir Chocolate books series for children aged 2 to 9 years old (co-authored with my son, Michael Cheadle), one published middle grade book in the Silly Willy series and one published preteen/young adult fictionalised biography about my mother’s life as a young girl growing up in an English town in Suffolk during World War II called While the Bombs Fell (co-authored with my mother, Elsie Hancy Eaton). All of my children’s book are written under Robbie Cheadle and are published by TSL Publications.
I have recently branched into adult and young adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differential my children’s books from my adult writing, I plan to publish these books under Roberta Eaton Cheadle. My first supernatural book published in that name, Through the Nethergate, is now available.
I have participated in a number of anthologies:
- Two short stories in #1 Amazon bestselling anthology, Dark Visions, a collection of horror stories edited by Dan Alatorre;
- Three short stories in Death Among Us, an anthology of murder mystery stories, edited by Stephen Bentley;
- Three short stories in #1 Amazon bestselling anthology, Nightmareland, a collection of horror stories edited by Dan Alatorre; and
- Two short stories in Whispers of the Past, an anthology of paranormal stories, edited by Kaye Lynne Booth.
I also have a book of poetry called Open a new door, with fellow South African poet, Kim Blades.
Find Robbie Cheadle
Goodreads: Robbie Cheadle – Goodreads
Instagram: Robbie Cheadle – Instagram
Facebook: Sir Chocolate Books
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by Jeff Bowles
This month on Writing to be Read, we’re exploring superheroes and supervillains, so for May’s movie review, I thought I’d discuss a lesser known corner of the major comic book film adaptation landscape.
DC Comics and their parent company/distribution overlord, Warner Bros., have gotten a bad rap for producing superhero films that simply don’t meet the bar established by their rival, Marvel Studios. Well allow me to clue you in on one area DC has Marvel beat: animated films. Direct-to-video, barely seen by non-fans, but actually pretty good and by and large, better than their big-screen live action cousins.
Warner’s animation division has a long history of excellent superhero storytelling. Warner Bros. has owned DC since the 1980s. It took Marvel two additional decades to receive studio backing from Disney, probably because Marvel was in bankruptcy until it started making bankable movies like Spider-Man and Iron Man. But back in the early 90s, Warner Bros. and DC created the Emmy-winning Batman the Animated Series, which still holds up as one of the greatest Saturday morning cartoons of all time. All these years later, that same group is still together. They have released over fifty (count them, fifty) feature-length animated films that cover all areas of the DC universe.
Whereas Marvel requires audiences to have prior knowledge of their storylines before going into any given sequel, the DC animated film series rarely contains that much connective tissue, except in their main Justice League storyline, which just wrapped up this week with the release of Justice League Dark: Apokolips War. Now that’s spelled Apokolips rather than apocalypse; we’re talking a fire planet ruled over by Thanos-clone and best-dressed uber-villain of the year, Lord Darkseid. And that’s spelled Darkseid rather than dark side, because, well, he was created in the 1970s, and everyone in the comic industry at that time was on copious amounts of “powdered productivity”.
Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is an excellent animated film, one you may just skip if you’re not a fan. It’s got everything in it faithful DC-heads have come to expect. World-ending cataclysms, fists and superpowers and feats of incredible strength, magic and might, and more major character deaths than you can shake a batarang at.
John Constantine (that’s THE John Constantine, once played by Keanu Reeves in his own major film adaptation) is recruited by the Justice League to take down Darkseid for good. When things go terribly wrong, the population of Earth is more or less decimated, and it’s up to Constantine, a depowered Superman, and a small cast of other heroes to set things right.
Whether they do or not isn’t really the point. This small animated movie takes more risks with its characters than any big-screen Marvel romp. Perhaps because they can afford to. When I say there are a ton of unexpected deaths in this thing, I mean it. You never know who’s going to snuff it, which makes it all the more enjoyable.
The DC animated library is of much higher quality than you may expect. Most entries are made for adult fans, which is how you can justify an R-rating for Apokolips War. For crying out loud, these dying superheroes pop like balloons. Like bloody, spandex-clad, hope-to-see-you-in-the-reboot balloons.
You wouldn’t want to sit your kid in front of Apokolips War, but the point is that over the course of more than fifty releases, the full breadth and scope of the DC universe has been on full display. We’ve gotten to see all corners and permutations, from Gotham City to Metropolis to outer space and DC‘s dark magical underbelly, loaded with lots and lots of characters the general public haven’t even heard of. If you want your DC education without sifting through stacks and stacks of old comics, these movies may be for you.
Marvel has a great reputation for entertaining if underwhelming storytelling, and right or wrong, they’re also perceived as being the light and enjoyable flip side of DC Comics and their brooding nature. To a certain extent, that reputation is in error. Read some comics from both companies in any given week and you’re likely to find tonal and narrative identicality.
So it’s kind of wonderful to have such a huge library of animated films that communicate what DC Comics is all about far better than their live action equivalents have done. Truth be told, I’d rather watch some of these cartoons than the likes of Batman v Superman or even the much-hyped huge disappointment that was Justice League.
You remember the Justice League movie? Yeah, not many people do, it seems.
But a good Justice League cartoon, now that I can get behind. The ending of Apokolips War is perhaps not as definitive as was advertised. Really, it’s just stage one of a massive retooling, but I’m fine with that. The legacy begun by that legendary Batman cartoon series from the early 90s is still in good hands, and you can pick out any one of these animated films and have a pretty good time with it. Plus, they’re all available for digital download and streaming.
Maybe animation isn’t your thing, and neither are comics or superheroes. But the truth is there is a massive installed fanbase that is ravenous for any new story from Warner Bros. Animation. These releases don’t do well financially in the larger sense, but every one of them takes great pleasure and care extoling the virtues of this kind of storytelling.
Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and hundreds of other DC characters have gotten time in the limelight, a feat that will most certainly never be repeated in big-budget live action form. So maybe it’s a little silly to get invested in a bunch of cartoons, but if you have any love or curiosity for the full scope of what DC Comics has to offer, this is a great place to dig in and enjoy.
You weren’t planning on leaving the house anyway, were you? Oh, you were? Then stand six feet away and in that direction, please. I’m not Superman, you know.
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The first Wednesday of every month, writer Jeff Bowles muses on life, creativity, and our collective destinies as makers of cool stuff. You’re a writer, but have you ever thought about how or why? Here are some words to live by.
Look, Up in the Sky!
This month on Writing to be Read, we’ll be celebrating one of America’s original storytelling mediums, the comic book. In any other given year, one not smitten with the likes of COVID-19, May would see the release of the latest big-budget movies from Marvel and DC, their publishing divisions would be rolling out their next huge crossover events, and Free Comic Book Day would invite fans and newbies alike to visit their local comic shops and sample what’s available these days.
This year isn’t like any other year, of course. Practically everyone on the planet is being asked to make sacrifices to keep themselves and others safe. Superheroes are great at making sacrifices. In fact, you could say it’s their most important superpower. The truth is we don’t have to go out to the movies or visit a comic shop to witness feats of incredible valor and strength. All we have to do is look at the people around us. In fact, all we have to do is look in the mirror.
Now I know what you may be thinking, especially if you’ve never been a fan of the medium or if you’ve got no love for spandex-clad do-gooders on the silver screen. It is a certainty you’ve noticed Hollywood has pledged a good deal of their resources to the production of films and television series based on superheroes and supervillains. I have to tell you, as a longtime fan, it sort of gives me a thrill. When I was growing up, only nerds liked comics, spotty young men and women who argued with each other about who would win in a fight, Batman or Spider-Man, who dwelt in their parents basements and only went into the sun to hiss at it and then stalk around Lon-Chaney-style, searching for more comics.
That stereotype isn’t even close to accurate, but look, up until about fifteen years ago, it was supremely uncool to be into this stuff. Which is why I’m so pleased I inherited an absolute passion for it.
My brother, Chris, is ten years older than me, quite an age difference by the standards of most families with only two children. He started reading and collecting comics around about the time I was born, and when I was old enough to read them, he got me hooked as well. I learned so much about my favorite comic characters from cartoons and movies, but it was really Chris who taught me everything I needed to know, who allowed me to glimpse these worlds as they really are: static on the page, but full of life in your mind.
The sum total value of that knowledge is this: comic books are fun, colorful, dynamic, easy on the eyes, and short. Their stories take place over twenty-two pages, and they’re almost always about doomsday scenarios and strong, noble crusaders who nip them in the bud. I remember going through stacks and stacks of my brother’s collection, marveling at the artwork, the boldness and speed of the actual storytelling. Some of the best memories of my life involve curling up with my own short stack of comics. I looked up to Chris with all my heart. I still do. He’s a personal hero of mine.
Lots of people have analyzed the relationship between comics and myth, the Hero with a Thousand Faces, a modern manifestation of our desire for legends and tall tales. But I honestly think people’s love of superheroes, especially in today’s world, stems from a basic psychological need for good examples, guiding lights. If you venture into the world right now, you’ll see that heroes are everywhere. They’re the doctors and nurses staffing our hospitals, putting their lives on the line so we can be happy and healthy. They’re the people who continue to produce and provide us with food, the butcher at the grocery store, the delivery guy who gets your pizza to you right on time.
Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Even you, who must battle fear just to run a few weekly errands. And rather than seeing these fictional figures as a breed totally outside our experience, it might be more helpful to analyze their existence in relation to our deepest desires. Maybe we can see ourselves in the likes of Superman and Captain America. It doesn’t take much to look beyond yourself and lend people a helping hand when they need it, and this is the basic nature of the superhero.
Sure, their exploits are silly sometimes, even nonsensical. They wear ridiculous costumes and rattle off cheesy one-liners. You could even argue they set a bad example for young people, because no matter what seems to occur, they almost always solve every problem with their fists. But the truth is the modern world needs them. Realistically speaking, we’ve all got a good guy dwelling in our hearts and minds, and it’s possible, if we really try, to take courage and strength, and at the best of times, to let our inner super shine.
A lot of folks criticize Marvel and DC movies for their overreliance on end-of-the-world scenarios, but it’s all a subconscious thing, isn’t it? We’ve all had our personal doomsdays, have all needed to be strong when fate was against us and luck simply was not on our side. It’s a quaint pastime, reading comic books. There’s nothing magical or mystical about it. Just the enjoyment of disappearing into another world for about twenty minutes, and then reaching over to your brother’s stack and picking out another adventure.
We here at Writing to Be Read believe strongly in literacy and the spread of a better kind of virus, good storytelling. My storytelling mode of choice is often comics, which taught me right and wrong, strength and courage in the face of adversity, and which allowed me to form a connection with my brother that I value and cherish to this day. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my Mom and Dad, who bought us all those comics for all those years. As a writer, I learned a great deal of the craft from this medium. As a human being, I learned everything I needed to know about how to treat others with dignity and respect.
If nothing else, comics are clearly a great bonding opportunity, and in their purest expression, they allow us to feel, if only for a little while, like we too can bend steel, soar through the air, and leap tall buildings in a single bound.
Have a wonderful May, everybody, and tune in all month long for more superhero and supervillain themed posts and articles. We’re all in this together, always have been and always will be. You don’t have to wear a cape and save my life to be a hero in my book. All you’ve got to do is turn to your fellow man, decide you can help, and then do everything in your power to make it happen. Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane!
Up, up and away, everybody.
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What’s a girl to do when her boyfriend shifts the world into a comic book reality where half the population has super powers, and transforms himself into a superhero? Find out in J.B. Garner’s Indomitable.
Dr. Irene Roman finds herself in just such a situation when her boyfriend and fellow scientist, Dr. Eric Flynn decides to shape reality to his own liking with his research, (and hers). The rational Irene that she has always been knows that Eric must be stopped and she’s the only one who can stop him, but there is something pulling at another part of her that makes her want to embrace the new Irene and the new world. In fact, many around her seem to be accepting this new world blindly, and some who are “Pushed” even have newfound abilities and superhuman powers, but not all are using them for the greater good. It seems the world has gone crazy in this new reality, and Irene must find a way to put things back the way they were.
Skillfully crafted to suspend disbelief and draw readers in, sprinkled with comic book humor to lighten up this tale of world salvation gone awry. I give Indomitable five quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.