FIRST EVER DALLAS SOLO FEST

DSF_Large Interstitial AdAudacity Theatre Lab is pleased to announce the 2014 Dallas Solo Fest, May 15-25, 2014 at the Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park. Eight solo shows highlight this inaugural festival with several local performers as well as performers coming in from around the country. The inaugural Dallas Solo Fest line-up includes Deanna Fleysher’s Butt Kapinski, Veronica Russell’s A Different Woman, John Michael’s Crossing Your I’s, Zeb L. West’s Innocent When You Dream, David Mogolov’s Eating My Garbage, Alexandra Tatasky’s Beast of Festive Skin, Elaine Liner’s Sweater Curse: A Yarn About Love and Danny O’Connor’s Bouncing Ugly. Collectively, these performers represent a wide variety of solo performance styles from storytelling, puppetry and improvisational clown pieces to pieces that defy easy explanation.

The purpose of the Dallas Solo Fest is to celebrate extraordinary solo theatre as well as increase awareness and appreciation for the form in the north Texas area.

The Dallas Solo Fest will be produced by Audacity Theatre Lab and will play at the Margo Jones Theatre. Located at the Magnolia Lounge in Fair Park at 1121 First Avenue, Dallas, TX 75210, the Margo Jones Theatre features ample free, well-lit parking, access to the DART Rail, and a handy BYOB policy!

Single tickets and Festival Passes for all shows go on sale April 23. Festival Passes, now on sale, include one admission to each festival show and are $55. Individual ticket prices for each show are $12. Reservations can be made at the Dallas Solo Fest website or by calling (214) 888-6650. Details about the shows, artists bios, the full schedule and ticket information at: www.DallasSoloFest.com

The inaugural Dallas Solo Fest line-up includes:

A Different Woman: A True Story of a Texas Childhood by Veronica Russell (New Orleans), adapted the book My First Thirty Years by Gertrude Beasley. This solo show presents an unvarnished, unapologetic and cynical tale of a rural Texas childhood told by a woman who pulled herself out of the cycle of poverty and abuse in which she found herself. A Different Woman is a darkly humorous stage adaptation of Ms. Beasley's controversial banned memoir. Playing Thursday, May 22 @ 7:30 pm, Friday, May 23 @ 9:00 pm, Saturday, May 24 @ 10:30 pm

Beast of Festive Skin by Alexandra Tatarsky (New York City) is an absurdist vaudeville about alchemists, rappers and other creative visionaries stuck in Hell. These deranged darlings of the underworld tell their tales of woe with a truly fiery need to get by. The horror of existence! The agony of creation! The one-woman show people are dying to see! Playing Friday, May 16 @ 10:30 pm, Saturday, May 17 @ 7:30 pm, Sunday, May 18 @ 5:00 pm

Bouncing Ugly by Danny O’Connor (Dallas) recounts his experience as a bouncer at the Coyote Ugly Saloon in NYC. He has stories, oh yes, he has stories. Playing Thursday, May 15 @ 9:00 pm, Saturday, May 17 @ 9:00 pm, Sunday, May 18 @ 8:30 pm

Butt Kapinski by Deanna Fleysher (Los Angeles) stars as Private Eye Butt Kapinski. The audience is invited to co-star in an improvisational film noir fantasy. This funny, filthy, fully-interactive ride is riddled with sex, sin, shadows and subterfuge. Playing Thursday, May 22 @ 10:30 pm, Friday, May 23 @ 7:30 pm, Saturday, May 24 @ 9:00 pm

Crossing Your I’s by John Michael (Dallas) concerns John’s experiences learning from and working with dementia patients. This World Premiere solo show about intergenerational understanding and the messiness of human connections is filtered through John Michael’s uniquely kinetic and hilarious perspective. Playing Thursday, May 15 @ 10:30 pm, Friday, May 18 @ 9:00 pm, Friday, May 23 @ 10:30 pm

Eating My Garbage by David Mogolov (Boston). Dumbfounded by a call from a political pollster, David searches himself for a reason to believe the nation isn't utterly doomed. When he can't quite think of one, he turns to irrational reasons. That's when his search gets more promising. Playing Friday, May 16 @ 7:30 pm, Saturday, May 17 @ 10:30 pm, Sunday, May 18 @ 7:00 pm

Innocent When You Dream by Zeb L. West (Austin) takes place in the belly of a whale. A heartbroken castaway, swallowed and driven mad has only two books to read - Don Quixote and Moby Dick. He acts out the books using puppets and masks fashioned from flotsam. This solo adventure uses physical comedy and sea shanties to smash two literary epics into an hour of shameless antics! Playing Thursday, May 22 @ 9:00 pm, Saturday, May 24 @ 7:30 pm, Sunday, May 25 @ 3:30 pm

Sweater Curse: A Yarn About Love by Elaine Liner (Dallas) was a 5-star hit at the 2013 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Bring your knitting (or crocheting) and stitch along as Dallas writer-performer Elaine Liner shares her obsessions with great literature, old movies and the romantic entanglements of knitting sweaters for significant others. Playing Thursday, May 15 @ 7:30 pm, Sunday, May 18 @ 3:30 pm, Sunday, May 25 @ 5:00 pm

ADVICE ON BREAKING IN

427110_10150645139076802_1938552693_nI had a former student email me a few days ago, asking about how I got into comics. He was seeking advice on what to do. There's no singular way to get into comics. There's no path except the one that works, and then it usually only works once and under precarious, fleeting conditions. A few things have worked for others, and any combinations of these tactics (listed below) would be better than doing nothing.

  •  In the words of Steve Martin, "be so good they can't ignore you." People like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison were always going to be successful, because eventually someone, somewhere would see the genius. The shine was too bright.
  • Find a job where you can hide away or slack off while you actually write.
  • Be homeless. You can access computers at the public library. You can spend your time writing while sleeping in a shelter somewhere in the evenings. I don't know if this works.
  • Take out loans, live under crushing debt, start your own small press company, and attend every major comic book convention as a publisher. You may eventually go bankrupt. However, by that time, you may be well-known enough to get some gigs elsewhere.
  • Start a shitty web comic and self-publish your own projects.
  • Find one small press company and befriend them. Intern. Run errands.
  • Write about comics. Start a podcast or a blog, or both. Be a resource to others. If you can grow as a pop culture authority, eventually, someone might trust you to write for them.
  • Find work as an editor, be really good, and then shift into writing.
  • Pay an artist to work with you on a larger project. I paid someone to illustrate my first 24 page comic. Nice guy. From there, I started getting more breaks.

taught for several years, and that gave me spare time in the evenings, weekends, and summers to write. I started by writing mini-comics, occasionally co-hosting Fanboy Radio, and contributing short stories to anthologies. I met people in San Diego and elsewhere. I always had about two or three things in the works that I could share at a moment's notice, and I wasn't afraid to throw away a project that clearly wasn't working.
If your ideas have a commercial appeal and you can skillfully execute it, someone should be interested somewhere. Make sure you can explain your idea concisely in one sentence. It needs to be interesting, a variation on a theme, with a clear market in mind.
The "how to break in" question is an odd one. Nothing will happen if you aren't clearly better than your peers. So, keep writing and keep writing and keep writing. Being a creative professional requires a certain degree of ego, swagger and deluded sense of worth.
What advice would you have? Feel free to post in the comments.

[tweet "Advice on breaking in: There's no path except the one that works."]

SPEAKING AT THE SMU WOMEN'S SYMPOSIUM

Wonder Woman taller than SupermanTomorrow, I'm speaking at SMU's 49th Annual Women’s Symposium. My 30-minute talk will be about the historical and social impact of women superheroes, from Wonder Woman to Emily Edison. In particular, my jumping off point is this letter to Lego from 7-year-old Charlotte Benjamin. What I will try to say in 30-minutes, she says much more concisely (and eloquently) in just a few words: "Let them go on adventures and have fun. OK!?! Thank you."

Comic book writers, take note. It's all right there. Let them go on adventures and have fun.

In honor of Wonder Woman and my presentation, I want to share something I wrote that never got published. Smart Pop Books, a few years ago, was considering a Wonder Woman anthology to accompany a possible Joss Whedon helmed Wonder Woman movie. Of course, we all know what happened there. I wrote the first part of my essay, working title: "Wonder Woman and Superman in Conversation: The Gender Gap in DC’s New Frontier," and then stopped when the DC movie fell through. So, the excerpt below is unpolished and unfinished, but some good ideas exist in there somewhere. Feel free to read and look for them.

***

Why do fans always want Wonder Woman and Superman to hook up? After all, Wonder Woman has had a long running relationship with Army officer Steve Trevor, and Superman will always been associated with the intrepid reporter Lois Lane. Yet the thought of these two Super Friends becoming more than friends is too tempting. From one perspective, Wonder Woman represents a greater conquest than Lois Lane. Diana is the Amazonian Princess, an immortal – and for Wonder Woman’s creators William Moulton Marston and his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Wonder Woman is meant to represent the ultimate woman. She is to be the greatest ambassador for her gender. Superman, if he deserves the best, it’s Wonder Woman.

From another perspective, this super-union is not about a conquest, but compatibility. These two people are godlike. How could they ever find someone they truly relate to among everyday people? As Brodie in the film Mallrats so eloquently explains, Superman is too power to even have sex with Lois Lane, nor would her womb be able to contain the super child of their union.

“He's an alien, for Christ sake. His Kyrptonian biological makeup is enhanced by earth's yellow sun. If Lois gets a tan the kid could kick right through her stomach. Only someone like Wonder Woman has a strong enough uterus to carry his kid.”

Only someone like Wonder Woman. Also, we should consider Wonder Woman and Superman do not age as normal humans. Steve Trevor and Lois Lane will be shipped to a nursing home, while Wonder Woman and Superman are still stopping powerful locomotives and leaping tall buildings.

The desire for this hypothetical union is rooted in our most primitive mythological concepts. Wonder Woman, the Amazonian, comes from the earth. Literally. Queen Hippolyta created her out of clay, and the Greek gods brought Wonder Woman to life by granting Hippolyta’s wish for motherhood. Thus, Wonder Woman is representative of the earth. Superman comes from the sky, rocketing to this planet from the devastated planet of Krypton. He takes to the air, up in the sky; it’s Superman. Their relationship satisfies a symbolic union of the feminine nature of the earth, the Earth Mother, and the masculine sky god. No wonder fans are begging for Superman and Wonder Woman. They are only asking for the most ancient of mythic norms.

Despite all this, readers shouldn’t expect too much between the two Titans. Lois Lane has been connected with Superman since Action Comics No. 1, and in every radio drama, television series, cartoon, and movie since. Likewise, Wonder Woman meeting Steve Trevor crash landing on Paradise Island is central to her origin story. Still, when comic book readers see Wonder Woman and Superman, we instinctively see them as the ideals of woman and man, as representatives to their gender. DC Comics should be keenly aware that when Wonder Woman and Superman share the page, they make a statement about the nature and roles of men and women, our values – similarly, how we relate to each other, how we communicate. While limiting the male or female experience to a sole representative may seem to reinforce harmful stereotypes, to ignore how men and women are presenting in popular culture might be more damaging. We can find gender typecasting as far back as Adam and Eve. Such insights should inform our perspective and not diminish it.

Numerous comic book writers have explored the Wonder Woman/Superman relationship. Each contributes a slightly different (and sometimes contradictory) piece to their continuity. If the Wonder Woman fan is searching for something definitive, they may be greatly disappointed. However, Darwyn Cooke offers the most compelling look at their relationship, with a touch of complexity and understanding to their symbolic role as ambassadors to their gender.

The New Frontier

In 2004, writer and artist Darwyn Cooke began his ambitious award-winning six issue miniseries called DC: The New Frontier. This epic storyline bridges the gap between the Golden Age of Comics and the Silver Age, moving from the America of the 1950s to the 1960s. This series also bridged other gaps — looking at the gap between hero and superhero, the gap between races, socio-economic levels, and the gap between men and women. In many regards, the mid-20th century could be summarized as a convergence of these gaps. After World War II, the United States was seeking to redefine itself from its long-standing Monroe Doctrine of isolationism to a great responsibility as a Cold War Super Power, playing the tenuous role of global superhero. DC: The New Frontier is such an impressive achievement, because Darwyn Cooke balances numerous plot lines, involving almost the entire pantheon of DC characters, while carefully examining America’s identity in the Atomic Age. These plot lines are unified through a common threat.

Wonder Woman’s story arc deals primarily with her relationship to Superman who she respects, but ultimately disagrees with on national politics and personal responsibility. This arc covers two different scenes with a third scene of reconciliation.

[And that's all I wrote on the subject. See you tomorrow at the symposium.]

SORTING THROUGH THE PHOTO BOX

Last Saturday, April was livid. Her outdated iPhone had failed her one too many times. The chief complaint was that it would not notify her when a call was coming. And what is an iPhone without the "phone?" (Actually, Apple already has the answer; it's just an iPod Touch.) After a conciliatory conversation about the evils of planned obsolescence, I convinced April to take her losses to Tmobile. We have lived together for six years, and we would finally have a shared phone plan. At Tmobile, we were able to get an iPhone 5S without paying a dime upfront. Even with the increased installment plan to account for the pricey phone, we are still paying less than our separate phone bills from the previous years. An all-around win. The only crisis came when we discovered April might lose the photos from her previous phone. Tmobile was having trouble with "the cloud." Hundreds of photos, potentially lost. Fortunately, Dropbox did what iCloud could not, and the photos were saved.

Following this theme of "preservation," on Sunday, April took me to Michaels to buy some boxes to store my old photos from high school and college. I was organizing everything in my new study/reading room/chess room, and I decided it was time to retire the Airwalk shoe box where I had crammed these photos. Scrapbook? Not happening. I just needed a nice box to keep the dust off my archives.

Time to play the game, "Back in My Day."

Back in my day, people used cameras that required "film." You might be able to buy a roll of 27 exposures -- that means, 27 photos, 27 clicks. You then had to go back to the photo processing center to get these photos "developed." Basically, you were paying to see the photo you had taken. It could take a few days or an hour if you were impatient. Often the photos would be terrible (an accidental shot of your foot or the wall, an awkward facial expression, bad backlighting, and so on). Not only that, you had to keep your camera with you, at all times, in order to take a picture.

I am envious, extremely envious (I need a stronger adverb than "extremely," tremendously, acutely, decidedly, damn?); I am damn envious of the kids today. They carry their slim phones with them at all times. And when needed, these phones become cameras. They can take hundreds, thousands of photos. Look at them immediately. If they don't like the photo, they can delete it and try again. They can take as many photos as they want until they get the most pleasing representation of that moment. And this costs practically nothing (data plans and $600 phone notwithstanding). They can save these photos on the social networking site of their choice or print them, either way, and then move on.

How will their polished memories of the high school/college experience differ from my fractured record?

Their photos will be like a flipbook, animating day-to-day experiences. While my shoe box of photos is like the precious torn fragments of a parchment that once told a complete story.

Yesterday evening, I went through my photos -- sorting and, yes, throwing some out. (Do I really need a photo of some girl's shoe? Why did I take a picture of her shoe? Whose shoe is that?) I lovingly moved them from the battered Airwalk box into two crisp black photo boxes.

I have a few observations I'd like to share.

  •  I'm terrible at taking photos. I should have warned people to pose, or at least, stand still. I have blurry photos and odd side shots. I should have used a flash. There are numerous silhouettes in the dark. I have no clue who these people are. I have photos of people that are off-center, marginalized, cut in half.
  • I should have taken more photos of people, less photos of locations. I don't know why I have some many photos of buildings and empty streets. I don't care about those buildings now. It's the people I miss.
  • I should have taken, and kept, more photos. I didn't have much money in high school and college. I mostly depended on the kindness of my parents. In high school, I worked in my dad's warehouse a few hours here and there. In college, I worked a minimum wage position at the Wesleyan Campus Ministry, 20 hours a week. I was always saving money for a new guitar or amp. I should have bought more film.
  • I should have learned how to smile, a nice normal smile. I was always giving this crazed, open-mouth exclamation: HEY! Sure, it looked enthusiastic. But now, I see it as overbearing and upstaging, like I was trying too hard to have the most fun. Instead of being part of the scene, I was dominating with gusto. Maybe that's just part of being a teenager?
  • I had more friends than I remember having. I see photos of people who have slipped my mind, and I remember just how much I cared for them. How can teenagers fit so much caring into such a short period of time? Nowadays, all my "caring" energy is guardedly reserved for my daughter, my wife, the rest of my family, and a handful of friends.
  • I should have taken fewer photos of Robyn, more photos of Susan.
  • What was going on with my hair? It was terrible, even by '90s standards. Why didn't anyone tell me? In college, especially, I had Bettie Page bangs. Bettie Page bangs. It looked ridiculous. I'm going bald now. The few hairs that are left are usually flying free like a bad Tom Waits impersonation. And my hair is LESS embarrassing now than back then. I should have gotten a better haircut. I can't wait until I'm completely bald, and I can fully surrender.
  • I wish I had taken more photos at "non-events," just hanging out with friends and such.
  • Every photo where I'm posing with my guitar looks idiotic. And it's obvious that I asked my mom to take the photo. I was never a rock star.
  • Some friends completely avoided my camera.
  • The word "nostalgia" implies a degree of pain over the past. I always think of the song "Bob Dylan's Dream." ("I wish in vain that we could sit simply in that room again. Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat, I’d give it all gladly if our lives could be like that.") I had a privileged and blessed adolescence. But I can't help it, there's a little bit of sadness thrown in.

I gave up around midnight. I put my two boxes on the top shelf of the closet in the chess room, knowing that I may not revisit these photos again for a few more years. But I would come back. I always do.

The house was dark. Everyone else was asleep. I checked on my daughter, sleeping soundly in her new room. She's nine years old, nearing ten. My high school and college years barely spanned eight years. And those years crawled so slowly, deliberately. The ten years with my daughter have sped by with no regard for my attempts to tap the brakes.

I navigated the new house in the dark to get to my bedroom on the other side. I didn't stub my toe once. I got into bed with April.

I can't imagine loving anyone or anything more than I love Kennedy and April. It puts everything else in perspective.

Asleep, April had a firm lock on the blankets and sheets. My karmic punishment for staying up late. I fell asleep in minutes, if not seconds. But for a moment, I thought about how navigating my house in the dark felt like an apt metaphor for what it's like to be a teenager. And how I should probably blog about it in the morning.

[tweet "How will their polished memories differ from my fractured record?"]

ME AND HUFFINGTON POST

Last year, I wrote and performed a story as part of the Oral Fixation series. Now it's available on Huffington Post. For those of you who want "all the dirt" on my divorce, it's here. Kinda. Original title was "One Request Before You Leave: How a road trip, the Beatles, and a motel in Missouri made me a better ex-husband." But long titles are pretentious and don't work for SEO (search engine optimization) purposes, so it's been shortened to a more respectable "How a Road Trip Set to a Beatles Soundtrack Made Me a Better Ex-Husband." Either way.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/oral-fixation/how-a-road-trip-set-to-a_b_4747794.html

I've received a lot of positive responses from people, both friends and strangers. I'm glad that my story (mine and Melissa's, actually) has been able to connect with others and their own experiences. What more could a writer want? I believe in good divorces--amicable partings, where parents can remain not just "friendly" but friends, and they can work together in the best interest of their child. Thank you Melissa for your blessing on this story and, the one thing that wasn't really mentioned, how you played such a huge role in supporting me with your patience and kindness during that difficult time.

And thank you to Oral Fixation creator/director/editor Nicole Stewart for the opportunity. Between this and Lyndsay Knecht's behind the scenes story for KERA's Art&Seek, we've gotten about as much mileage (pun intended) as one could ever hope for from a single performance. Now that it's on YouTube, I wish I wouldn't have shaved my beard at that time. Yes, I look strange to myself without a beard. That's my only complaint. I should have grabbed a fake beard from the prop room.

BACK WITH ESPN 1660 AM

“Unnecessary Roughness,” the afternoon show for ESPN Central Texas 1660 AM, brought me back yet again for a segment on the Dallas Mavericks. Three times. That makes me a regular, yes? We talked about Coach Carlisle, the Clippers game, Monta Ellis, the nightmare that is Andrew Bynum, and mid-season trade pipedreams. As always, I was there representing the Mavs Outsider Report. Click the play button below (or the link). [audio mp3="http://thatdavidhopkins.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/1_16_14-espn.mp3"][/audio]

linkDavid Hopkins on ESPN 1660 AM (11 minutes, 33 seconds)

MY RETURN TO ESPN 1660 AM

"Unnecessary Roughness," the afternoon show for ESPN Central Texas 1660 AM, brought me back for a segment on the Dallas Mavericks. We talked about the season, which started last night, and reasonable expectations for the Mavs. I was there representing the Mavs Outsider Report. Click the play button below (or the link). [audio mp3="http://thatdavidhopkins.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/David_Hopkins-1383086196.mp3"][/audio]

link: David Hopkins on ESPN 1660 AM (14 minutes, 13 seconds)

THE WILD AND WAYWARD TALES OF TAMMI TRUE

I wrote a book. THE WILD AND WAYWARD TALES OF TAMMI TRUE. It will be available in late November. Cover design by Paul Milligan. Please spread the word. This book is one of those independent projects that lives or dies based on word of mouth and that pesky social media. I have a little more writing and a little editing left. Nancy still needs to look over everything. April is going to read through it too. I don't have a link for pre-ordering yet, but I will soon. The book will be available on Amazon. And I'll have some copies. We'll try to put together a book signing somewhere.

tammi trueIn the 1960s, Nancy Powell became TAMMI TRUE, the burlesque headliner at Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club. She lived a double life, PTA mom by day and stripper by night. Then Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald and everything changed.

From Catholic school to the juvenile court system, from a noisy club in Dallas to a quiet farm in the country, Nancy’s life is wondrous and wayward, hilarious and heartfelt. Here it is, her world in her own words—in and out of the spotlight, and ready for an encore.

Tammi True bares it all.

“Using the glamorous backdrop of Dallas in 1963, Tammi True brings the truth about Jack Ruby and the JFK assassination to a whole new generation. It is a must read story!” - Katie Dunn, director, producer of True Tales: JFK. 1963. EXPOSED

"Tammi True is the ultimate Texan burlesque queen with big hair and big attitude. Nobody can turn you on and make you laugh quite like Tammi." - Ginger Valentine, co-producer, director of Ruby Revue

HAVE I TOLD YOU ABOUT THE TIME WHEN...?

My friend Kristina Krengel interviewed me for an assignment in her graphic novel class. (Pause. How awesome is it that "graphic novel class" exists?) Since you're here and I'm here, I thought I'd share what I shared. Some of these anecdotes have been posted before. Am I turning into that guy who shares the same stories over and over?

When did you begin reading comics/graphic novels and why?  I know I've talked to you about it helping with dyslexia (I've used that as a pro with my reading teachers before.  Thanks.), but was that why you began to read them or just a positive byproduct?

I began reading comics when I was about nine years old. I have dyslexia, but I wasn’t diagnosed until I was an adult. All I knew as a kid was that I had a hard time reading, and I got held back in elementary school because of my grades. Then I discovered comic books, mostly Marvel Comics -- X-MEN, POWER PACK, CLOAK AND DAGGER, X-FACTOR, and NEW MUTANTS. And something clicked. Of course, now I know word balloons group the text in a way that makes it easier for someone with dyslexia. And the illustrations reinforce the words, working in harmony, so that the reading experience is at a more “natural pace” and can be enjoyed. It helped that the stories were wonderfully dramatic, heartbreaking, funny, surprising, and a little crazy. I never missed an issue. It was the fun, expansive universe that I was able to engage in.

What are your favorite types of comics & GN?  Why?  Do you have a favorite artist or author?

It may sound like I'm cheating to say I love all comics, but I really do. I love mainstream, small press, and independent comics. I love a wide variety of genres. I love Japanese comics (manga) and European comics. Wherever there's a good story, I want to read it. I have a few favorite creators. Right now, I'd say my favorite is Naoki Urasawa. He's one of the most talented storytellers we've ever seen. MONSTER, PLUTO, 20THE CENTURY BOYS -- he crafts these amazingly dense, epic heartfelt stories. His comics are as engaging as anything you'd see on HBO, A&E, or Showtime. I also like Rutu Modan. She's an Israeli illustrator and comic book artist. Urasawa tells big, often loud, stories. Modan's work is much softer and more tender, but her stories will just destroy you. From the U.S., Will Eisner, who passed away in 2005, is my Twain, my Hemingway, my Fitzgerald. His work and his name should be right up there with those authors. He created some of the greatest literature I've ever read, and yet you won't see his name spoken with the same veneration.

I know you helped build a larger GN section in Martin's library while you were there.  Why did you want to do this?  Was it easy to get support or not?  How was the circulation of the section?

Librarians are amazing people. I've never met a librarian who wouldn't move heaven and hell to get you a book. And when I gave Martin's librarian a list of comics/graphic novels that the students would enjoy (and it was a long list), she ordered every single one. It's the most popular section of the school library. I know people bemoan that these comic book kids are no longer reading "real novels," but these kids are actually the ones who are more likely to read novels. They're not the problem; they are our future. It's the kids who never set foot in the library that we should worry about. They don't think there's anything in there for them. And I guarantee we could find a comic book they would love.

Why did you decide to start writing GN? 

I always wanted to be a writer. I've dabbled with fiction and non-fiction, essays and short stories. I've written for magazines and websites. And I knew I'd eventually stumble into comics when the opportunity was there. Twelve years ago, I wrote a one-act play for my friend who had a theater troupe. I had about a week to write it. The experience was a trial-by-fire for scriptwriting. The day after opening night, I started writing my first comic. Writing is about momentum, and one experience led me to another.

How did you go about writing (the short version) your graphic novels? How many have you written?

I've written five major works -- KARMA INCORPORATED, EMILY EDISON, ASTRONAUT DAD, WE'VE NEVER MET, and an adaptation of ANTIGONE. I've written twice as many graphic novels (mostly treatments and some full scripts) that have never seen publication. I've had 18 smaller comic book projects published in various formats.

The writing process is different for each comic book/graphic novel. It largely depends on the type of story I write. (Once again, I dabble in different genres. Each story takes a different shape and a different approach.) It also depends on the artist I work with. I try to tailor our collaboration to his or her own preferences and abilities. For instance, Paul Milligan and I largely co-wrote our graphic novel project. With Brock Rizy, our graphic novel was a lot of creative back and forth. On WE'VE NEVER MET, Chad Thomas had ideas that I injected into the work, but it was mostly me passing the finished scripts to him. I wrote ASTRONAUT DAD several years before I found an artist. It all starts with me and a notepad. I brainstorm ideas, jot down a loose outline. I then type a four page synopsis, which I reference when I type the script.

"It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle." -- Ernest Hemingway

REVIEW OF MOVIE, MAN OF STEEL

I saw MAN OF STEEL last night. This was the summer movie I was most looking forward to (more than THOR, WOLVERINE, or IRON MAN), and I really enjoyed it. Yes, Richard Donner made a better "Superman movie" that was more faithful to the original mythos. With Donner, we get Krypton, Smallville, and Metropolis, Lois and Lex and Jimmy Olsen. We get gags with glasses and alter egos. But if you treat MAN OF STEEL like an "Ultimate universe" (an edgier, reimagined and updated version of a superhero universe... with more goatees), then you can set your checklist aside and just enjoy the film. And I did. SPOILERS abound.

* I saw people complaining that it's not the joyful, fun adventure of other superhero movies (or even the previous Superman movies). However, it's about "saving the world" and I think the tone matched the theme. It opens with the destruction of his old home, and ends with him saving Earth. And you really get the sense that "these assholes are going to freakin' destroy the world." I'm okay with it being dark.

* Loved the elemental imagery: lots of water and fire throughout.

* Loved the use of colors: After Krypton's fall, scenes are accented with pops of yellow, red, and blue. Very clever.

* I don't know if they will ever find the perfect Lois Lane. Amy Adams was serviceable, much better than Kate Bosworth in SUPERMAN RETURNS. I like how they completely throw away the hiding-his-identity-from-Lois bit. She's smart. She's intrepid. She figures it out before everyone else. It worked, and it set up the last line of the film perfectly. Which...

* I loved the last scene: Clark's first day at the Daily Planet ("Welcome to the Planet"). And it resolves his father-induced dilemma of how to be a hero and remain hidden. I love that the secret identity is something he discovers at the end, not the beginning.

* The goofy line after Superman and Lois first kiss, "They say it all goes downhill after the first kiss" (or something like that). I wanted Superman to respond, "No one says that." Because I have NEVER heard anyone say that.

* Henry Cavill has muscles.

* General Zod was great.

* The music was great. It was time to retire the John Williams score. (It wouldn't have worked in this movie anyway.) Hans Zimmer gave us a perfectly moody replacement.

* I loved Pa's response to "should I have let them die?" "Maybe." So many layers in that delivery and the silence that followed.

* Pa Kent's death felt forced--as if the tornado should have been classified "plot device." Just save your freakin' dad, who will believe the bystanders anyway? Mark Waid does a good job defending the scene. And I agree with Waid: "It was a very brave story choice, but it worked. It worked largely on the shoulders of Cavill, who sold it."

* You should read Mark Waid's Man of Steel review. We agree on a lot of it. However, where he gets disgusted, I was still onboard.

* [UPDATE 6/19] Another interesting MAN OF STEEL review/defense from Craveonline.com.

* If you're going to nitpick the logical consistency of MAN OF STEEL, then remember that the Richard Donner SUPERMAN (while great) was not the gold standard of logical consistency either.

* I love how Superman gets his name, as if it were a military designator, "Air Force One" etc.

* On Rotten Tomatoes, Man of Steel's 56% with critics/82% with the audience perfectly illustrates the error with the rating system. Roughly half the critics disliked it, but that doesn't indicate how little or how much they disliked it. And there's no way this is a worse film than Superman Returns--75% with critics and 67% with the audience.

* Great fight scenes. 100% punchier than any other Superman movie.

* Holy crap, the collateral damage! I would hate to be an insurance auditor in Metropolis. Was any building left standing? I wouldn't call this a victory. Not really.

* The scene with the girl trapped under the rubble was intense.

* Acting was a little "eh" in places. However, I think it was more a director problem than an actor problem. Snyder needed a few more takes for some scenes or needed to better guide the scene. For instance, the scene between Clark and his Mom, the whole "I found my parents" conversation.

* And I'm out of notes. Please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section below.

FIVE CRAZY SUGGESTIONS FOR THE 12TH DOCTOR

Dear BBC and Steve Moffat, do not take me too seriously. Now that Matt Smith is leaving Doctor Who, fans are making their suggestions/predictions for a new Doctor. My daughter is in the camp that wants the first girl Doctor. She is also adamant that if it's "someone old" she will stop watching. I explained to her that she loved Chris Eccleston, and then David Tennant, and then Matt Smith--and she will come to like the 12th Doctor as well, whoever it may be. Give 'em a chance. All the same, she's still saying "no geezers allowed."

Doctor Who is a great show because it is fearlessly odd and imaginative. I want to be surprised, and confused, and amazed every time I watch. Whovians don't think outside the box; they envision the box as being infinitely bigger on the inside. So if anything is possible, I have a few thoughts on the next Doctor to surprise, confuse, and amaze fans who have come to expect anything.

1. Alex Kingston. As River Song, she was a divisive character, but I've always enjoyed watching her. River Song gave the Doctor all her regenerations (episode: "Let's Kill Hitler"). I think he owes her. Wouldn't it be wonderfully bizarre if the Doctor could rescue River from the library's computer by allowing his wife to embody his next regeneration? (Two shall become one?) Let's tone down the catchphrases. I think we're done with "sweetie" and "spoilers" for a while. Instead, the new Doctor will be an amalgam of both personas. Others may want this character to finally be put to rest; I'd love to see more.

2. Paul McGann. Yes, he already played the 8th Doctor in the 1996 television movie. But why not return to the past? After all, the story is about time travel. Let's revisit the unseen adventures of the 8th Doctor for a season--a wonderful detour before returning to the actual 12th Doctor.

3. Saoirse Ronan. My daughter wants a girl Doctor. Let's also make her Irish and really young while we're at it. Ronan was such a bad ass in Hanna, an alien of sorts. I have no clue how she would play the Doctor. And it would drive some fans insane. I'm all for it.

4. Idris Elba. His name has been floated around quite a bit for the role. Actually, this one would not be too crazy. He is the kind of actor who could do anything, play anything, and I would watch it. Many would expect him to play up his strong build and tough presence, a sexy action-hero Doctor (?), which makes me want him to go in the other direction. Bookish, peaceful, gentle.

5. No Doctor. You heard it here first. The Doctor stepped into his own timestream and is lost forever. Goodbye. Now Strax, Madame Vastra, and Jenny pilot the TARDIS, trying to fill his shoes. Maybe by season nine, the Doctor will return.

THE REAL REASON NEWSPAPERS ARE DYING

I'm doing research on the trains that run through Arlington. It's for a feature that will appear in the Fall issue of UT Arlington Magazine. UTA librarians Evelyn Barker and Lea Worcester, also the authors of this book, have been tremendously helpful with the historical research. They gave me a story from the Fort Worth Daily Democrat (July 20, 1876) about the first train that went through Arlington. Here's the lead sentence:

Yesterday morning, at twenty-three minutes past eleven, Engine No. 20 of the Texas & Pacific railroad, Kelly engineer and Beal conductor, uttered its shrill scream within the corporate limits, arousing the 'panter' from his lair, startling the birds from their nests in affright, and carrying joy to many anxious hearts who have waited long and patiently for the sounds that then for the first time reverberated through the hills and valleys around the beautiful city of Fort Worth.

Now that is a sentence! It meanders a bit, but I follow every twist and turn. Unfortunately, no byline. And also unfortunately, I doubt I will ever read a sentence like this in a contemporary newspaper.

By comparison, let's look at the New York Times--arguably the greatest and most important newspaper in the United States. From today's front page, I found:

"Renewed sectarian killing has brought the highest death toll in Iraq in five years." (link)

Important news, but hardly "startling the birds from their nests in affright." Newspapers just aren't willing to write exciting sentences anymore. It's not that today's writers aren't capable of such sentences. This is more a matter of "won't" than "can't." In their efforts to make the news sound like news, they have sacrificed a lot of heart and personality. I'm not the only person to suggest this. I first came upon similar accusations in Bob Cauthorn's talk at UC Berkeley. His message "The Changing Rules of Journalism" is available on iTunes U (Journalism & Media), and you should listen to it if you care at all about the future of newspapers.

Yes, the first sentence of this post isn't "carrying joy to many anxious hearts who have waited long and patiently." But even without the structural acrobatics of the Fort Worth Daily Democrat's lead sentence, I still sound more like a human than a news-churning robot. I'm also not charging money for you to read my blog. In theory, newspapers want you to spend money on their words. Let's make them be worth their weight.

CAN GREAT WRITERS BE TAUGHT?

A 2009 New Yorker piece written by Louis Menand ("Show or Tell: Should creative writing be taught?") has a cynical and comical view of creative writing programs.

Creative writing programs are designed on the theory that students who have never published a poem can teach other students who have never published a poem how to write a publishable poem. The fruit of the theory is the writing workshop, a combination of ritual scarring and twelve-on-one group therapy where aspiring writers offer their views of the efforts of other aspiring writers.

It's a good read for anyone who wants to teach writing or anyone who wants to dump money into a writing program. However, at times, Menand offers a limited view of how creative writing classes operate in order to prove his point--until eventually coming around to defend a rather flimsy reason for such programs, i.e. "I don’t think the workshops taught me too much about craft, but they did teach me about the importance of making things, not just reading things. You care about things that you make, and that makes it easier to care about things that other people make."

Several questions are raised. For instance, do writing programs actually make writers great or are they simply attended by great writers? To my knowledge, after almost a decade of teaching creative writing, the only professional writer to come out of my class... was me. Hardly a prestigious alumnus. But then, the other question: is the point of a creative writing program really to produce professionals? Is it publish-or-perish?

I believe my class made good writers better. The great writers didn't need me; they'll figure it out on their own. And as for the terrible writers, if I made them slightly more conscious of the clutter in their work, I'll take that as a win. In my class, we didn't "workshop" much at all. For my high school students, I wasn't interested in the "ritual scarring/twelve-on-one group therapy." They already get that enough simply being in high school. I focused on clarity in their work, using Zinsser's ON WRITING WELL as a foundation. And I talked a lot about story structure. I did this to address my two biggest concerns about young writers. (1) Students have been tricked into overvaluing adverbs and adjectives. They're rewarded for convulted sentences. (2) Students have lost the ability to tell a story. It all comes back to my mantra (which I discovered here): "No one will ever complain because you have made something too easy to understand" and "Nobody has to read this crap."

For my UIL Ready Writing team, I had a smaller group of students to work with. Instead of 30 teenagers in a classroom, I sat with four or five at a table in the library during lunch. They were gifted and hungry. Some of them already took my creative writing class. We moved from Zinsser to my favorite book on writing, A WRITER'S COACH by Jack Hart (Amazon | Kobo). We also workshopped like hell. It was easier to do with the UIL Ready Writing contest. They had a singular task: In two hours, write an expository essay based off a prompt that included an excerpt from literature, publications, or speeches. It was easier to show them good examples, and we could be more systematic in our efforts. There was a formula. My last year as the writing coach, we kicked ass. We placed (1st, 2nd, or 3rd) in every single tournament. And all my writers were in the top ten, every time. I told them the goal wasn't to win, even though we did, the goal was to be better writers. Honestly, I just made them more confident and a little more self-aware of their process.

How does anyone make someone great? I think you have to find "great" on your own. I'll settle for better.

[tweet "Do writing programs actually make writers great or are they simply attended by great writers?"]

PECHA KUCHA 12: METROPOLIS

Tonight, I presented a talk for PechaKucha 12 at the beautiful Lakewood Theater. The PechaKucha presentation format is simple. 20 slides, 20 seconds each. This time, all the talks centered around the theme "This is My City." We had lots of great people: Lily Smith-Kirkley, Stefan Reddick, Tom Dennis, Angela Mondragon, Catherine Cuellar, Cone Johnson, Robbie Good, Jenn Dunn, Alan Lidji, Jim Hart, Fred Holston, and me. Thank you Frances Yllana (via AIGA DFW) for inviting me to participate. Here's what I had written for my 6 minutes and 40 seconds. I went off script just a few times to better accommodate the timing of each slide.

Metropolis

1. I love that word “metropolis.” It simply means the main city of a region, but thanks to Fritz Lang and Superman the word now carries the weight of terrifying grandeur. It’s a place to behold, to cherish, to protect, to be inspired by. It’s a utopia constantly on the brink.

2. Metropolis was a German film, made in 1927, directed by Fritz Lang. It’s a story about the distant future, 2026, when industrialists rule the city from towering skyscrapers. It was a silent masterpiece of tremendous ambition and imagination.

3. Twelve years later in 1939, Metropolis was reborn in Action Comics no. 16 as Superman’s New York-esque adoptive home. There, Superman fought the corruption of industrialists. While Batman’s Gotham was a dire place, drawn for the night, Superman’s Metropolis was the shining hopeful city of tomorrow.

4. From the word “metropolis,” we also get the neologism “metroplex” which is an ugly creation, a blight upon our language only possible from the demented brain of a copywriter on deadline. Which is what happened. In 1971, the North Texas Commission wanted to promote the region and DFW Airport.

5. So, Harve Chapman of Tracy Locke stitched together this word from the Greek “metropolis” and the French/Latin word “complex,” the lyrical and the utilitarian, to designate what had been known as Dallas-Fort Worth. I hate “metroplex,” but I love “metropolis.” And Dallas is the metropolis of my childhood imagination.

6. Superman needs Metropolis to be “super.” Nothing happens in Smallville. I grew up in Smallville, a town 25 miles from Dallas called Mansfield. Actual dirt roads connected my town to other cities. By contrast, Dallas was a place of adventure, this large, loud, bawdy, thriving pulse of humanity.

7. In the 80s, my dad would take me to watch the Dallas Mavericks. Reunion Arena had the aesthetic of a parking garage. The stark, boring usefulness was endearing. Even the location of Reunion Arena said: “Come for the game, then go home.” There was nothing around it.

8. To get to the game, my dad and I would cross a series of railroad tracks. Occasionally, a train passed and it would halt our journey. It gave the city this sense of being off-limits. I left my suburban nest, trespassing into this other world of concrete, hardwood, steel and noise.

9. Other times, my mom would drive my friend Wim and I into Dallas for the Fantasy Fair. It was a comic book convention in downtown. One year, it took place at the Statler Hilton—which then was called the Dallas Grand. Wim and I would wander the convention floor.

10. While my mom spent all day in the lobby, reading her romance novels, we would explore. We were surrounded by comics; these fantastic stories packed into cardboard boxes. I felt like a boy who just joined the circus. Here I decided I wanted to be a writer, a high-flying wordsmith.

11. In high school, I cheated on Dallas with Fort Worth. Closer, more places to hang out, and, at one time, they had a better arts district—but Fort Worth could never have my heart. Too safe, too well-played, too calculated. A good town—but not for me.

12. I wanted to go to SMU, but I couldn’t afford it. Instead, I went to a college in Commerce, Texas. Wim went to SMU, and I would visit him on weekends. I’d sleep on his dorm room floor. Yet again, Dallas was my first choice—while I was estranged elsewhere.

13. After college, my first wife and I moved to Dallas, an apartment on East Grand. It was the happiest year of our marriage. Everything felt close. For instance, it was close to a nice neighborhood. Nearly safe. I only saw one knife fight. And I should’ve never told my in-laws.

14. When Melissa found out she was pregnant, her parents bribed us into moving “some place safer.” We were poor, and they were not. How could we refuse? They graciously paid for the closing costs on a house in Arlington.

15. Exiled in Arlington, longing for Dallas—where all my friends were, most who lived in Lakewood, a few miles from this theater. I visited when I felt lonely. Lakewood was the place of weddings and weekends. I wanted this city to be mine, but it belonged to them, those who stayed.

16. Of course, Wim never left. He started Lakewood Brewing Company. He recklessly followed his dreams. Dallas, the Metropolis, does that to people. And since he jumped, I wanted to jump too. I wanted to quit my teaching job to become a writer--hoping this city would catch me.

17. The metropolis did, in a sense. Through a series of mutual friends, I was invited to serve on the advisory committee of La Reunion. I met people who loved this city as I loved it. We wanted to bring art, beauty, and wisdom to its concrete shores.

18. These connections led to others. And with my writing, I got a break. An editor at D Magazine saw something in my work and passed me along to another editor willing to mentor me. I quit teaching and dove into magazine writing, with Dallas as my muse.

19. I couldn’t return, but I could endear myself. I joined D Academy. “Academy,” another beautiful Greek word from “Akademos,” named for the garden where Plato taught. D Academy would host the Big Read, attempting to rebrand Dallas as a city of readers, a city of reckless imagineers, not just industrialists.

20. I may not live here, but this is my city, my metropolis. I lost my sense of place when my Smallville was destroyed by suburban sprawl, when my parents moved to California as I stumbled toward college, as I was displaced in Arlington. Like the lone survivor of a dying planet, Dallas, adopt me, please.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY

Today is a good day for people who love the finer things. It's Star Wars Day ("May the 4th be with you"). It's Free Comic Book Day. And Iron Man 3 is out this weekend. Zeus Comics (new location on 1334 Inwood Road) is celebrating it all.

May the 4th be with you! Happy Star Wars day. We have the wonderful Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) with us at Zeus starting at 10am. It's Free Comic Book Day too! Come meet 8 other wonderful comic folk including Phil Jimenez, Stephen Sadowski, Randal Keith Milholland, Robert Wilson, Chad Thomas, David Hopkins, and Benjamin Hall! Zeus will be handing out over 5,000 free comics over the course of the day and our back-issues are half off today only!

I'll be there with some free comics too. Come by and say hello.