Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Doctor Who and The Case of the Right Way Retcon

Hey there, Meat-Heads!

So everyone's favorite wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, British, sci-fi import has started its 8th season in its modern incarnation, and I thought "hey, what a perfect time to talk about retconning!"

For those not in the know of nerdy writers terms, "retcon" is short for "retroactive continuity," which is when new, previously unknown details, events, or actions are added to events that have already happened in a character's life/story after the fact, in order to flesh out new story possibilities, or, in some cases, rewrite motivation and character history completely.

The casual viewer/reader/whathaveyou experiences retconning all the time, but probably just didn't know there was a term for it.  For instance, in Sam Raimi's Spider-man series, it is established in the first film that a robber kills Peter Parker's Uncle Ben due to Peter's failure to act and apprehend the robber when he had the chance.  Plain, simple, black and white.  However, in Spider-Man 3 (ugh), we find out that said robber didn't actually kill Uncle Ben, it was actually his partner, the man who would become Sandman, who fired the shots and got away!

(That's right, Bob, it IS quite the twist.)

Now, this may SEEM like just a revelation of new information that was pre-planned, but the fact is, the involvement of Sandman was just shoe-horned in for the third movie, in order to create a lame connection between him and Spider-Man. Retcons are usually used as ways to open up new story lines when the status quo is starting to get stale, and other times it's used to completely re-write entire sections of story history to justify a change in direction for the series.  This brings me to my next point:


Making large-scale changes to continuity and story can often feel lazy and hacky, as well as insulting to fans of your series or characters, especially when the changes make years of beloved history irrelevant, or are contradictory to the core of the characters your audience has come to love.

For instance, Marvel comics is constantly making large-scale retroactive continuity changes to their flagship character, Spider-Man, and really who can blame them? When you're writing a character for 50 years who doesn't really age, you're bound to hit some walls and need to take a new, radical tack every now and then...

The most recent and widely derided of these changes came when, feeling there were no more stories to tell with Peter Parker being happily married and in his mid-30's, a story was written where Peter must save his Aunt May's life by making a literal deal with the devil, which ends up wiping the previous 30 years of continuity and stories from existence, re-sets him as a young bachelor, and even brings back to life characters who had since died.

As you can imagine, with a character whose history is so beloved to fans around the world, this change wasn't welcomed with open arms.  So that poses the question: How do you tell your audience "EVERYTHING YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW IS WRONG!" and implement mass changes without it feeling like a cop out?

The answer is to find a way to change everything, without changing anything.  And how does one do that?  Or should I say...WHO?

"You're going to need a big blue box.  And possibly a bow tie."
Since Doctor Who's revival in 2005, one of the main plot elements is that The Doctor was involved in something called The Time War, in which he was forced to make a horrible decision to eradicate his own planet, destroying his entire race in order to end the fighting.  As you can imagine, this decision has weighed heavily on the character for the last 7 seasons, and is a constant reminder of the lengths to which he'll go. It is a burden and his greatest failure, and added a great, much needed edge to a character bering re-introduced to a 21st century generation of viewers. As you can imagine, however, this idea eventually reached a point where it had run its course, and needed to be dealt with head on instead of being limited to subtext, and they decided to do just that last November when Doctor Who celebrated its 50th anniversary. The writers in charge decided to change one of his core character elements, and free him from the pain he felt over his horrible decision, but how? You'd have to some how allow him to go back and prevent the destruction of his home planet, but that would make all the preceding episodes and stories irrelevant because of the way time travel uh..."works," right?

Well, the 50th anniversary special showed us the time right before The Doctor decided to blow up his planet, as well as the thought that went in to that decision, but it also injected 2 other elements into the story: a sort of ripple in time that allowed The Doctor about to blow up his race to see the consequences of his actions by interacting with 2 other versions of himself from the future.  
They're all the same character. Just...hang with me here.
Together, the 3 of them figured out a way to save the planet and end the war by effectively making the planet disappear (short version), re-writing The Doctor's greatest failure into arguably his greatest triumph, but again, doesn't that make everything that'd happened on the show irrelevant now?

No.  The writers worked in a detail that because The Doctor was interacting with himself on his own timeline, in this sort of time-ripple, once the ripple was ironed out, his past incarnations would have no memory of anything that happened in it.  SO, to someone watching the first 7 seasons, everything still works because that character DOES BELIEVE he has blown up his own planet, but from the 50th anniversary special on, he knows he saved them all, and can grow as a character in that way, opening up the door to a whole new line of stories and ways to approach the character.

They changed everything, without changing anything.  Brilliant.

Fantastic, even.

I hope you enjoyed that nerdy breakdown of the do's don'ts of retconning. As long as you don't do what Donny Don't does, you'll be fine.

Until Next Time,

Eat Dead Meat!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy, And The Case of the Mad-Libbed Plot

Hey there, Meat Heads!

 I'll spare you the apologies in my lengthy blog absence, and let you continue to assume I've been traveling the world like Kwai Chang Caine.  You all saw Guardians of the Galaxy, right?  Of course you did!  Marvel's newest blockbuster film was a great time, and super fun, but there was something about it that seemed unfortunately familiar.

Now let me preface this by saying I thought it was great, and enjoyed it quite a bit, BUT I'm going to throw down the Infinity Gauntlet because I had a major problem with it.

"I shall never throw down the Infinity Gauntlet! It is all powerful!"
Yeah, yeah, Thanos, that's not what I mean, but I'm glad you're here, I'll get to you in a bit.

Anyway, do me a favor: I'm going to describe a movie plot, and if you could please tell me which movie I'm describing, that would be great.

"An angry, larger than life villain seeks to teach a devastating lesson to those who wronged him by the use of a super-powered weapon, and only a group of mismatched, quirky heroes can stop him by working together in a race against time to prevent mass-destruction!"

Did you answer Guardians of the Galaxy?  Well then you'd be correct! You'd ALSO be correct if you had mentioned any number of other modern, big budget action films, including, but not limited to, The Avengers, Thor 2, Iron Man 3, Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, any of the Transformers movies.  Like honestly, how many times can we watch a city get blowed up, or crashed into by a giant space ship in the third act? It's starting to become the new "everybody's got a gun." Seriously, it has almost zero weight to it anymore. I actually fell asleep during the last act of Transformers 3, which is just a city being blown up, woke up 20 minutes later and felt like I had missed nothing of importance.

Fact is, for as much fun as the characters were in Guardians, the plot was about as cookie cutter as it comes, and calling the villains paper thin would be an insult to thin paper.  This continues a trend that permeates practically every big budget action film in recent memory, and really hinders these films from becoming the classics some of them deserve to be.  Guardians could be a classic of sci-fi comedy, but it lacks a great plot, a memorable villain, and interesting action, stopping it from being truly great.

    Ok, ok, I'm glad you mentioned...yourself...because you, and that shiny glove thing you're wearing are adding to the problem, Thanos.  The thrust of "Marvel Phase 2" seems to have two main issues to deal with: The re-emergence of Hydra, and the introduction of the all-powerful Infinity Stones.  The problem is, they seem to be playing out these parts of the story with the SAME plot in EVERY movie they've made.  Seriously, think about every Marvel Phase 2 movie.  Fits the above plot breakdown to a T doesn't it?  
"Wait...then why do you pick on Thanos and the Guardian pukes, and not Stark and the puny mortal with the flying disc?"
Good question Thanos, so as Nick Fury once said, "well allow me to retort."  Guardians of the Galaxy suffers MAJORLY from "Over-important MacGuffin Syndrome."  Before you ask, Thanos, the term "MacGuffin" was a word coined (or at least popularized) by Alfred Hitchcock, referring to the thing or item in the story that everyone is trying to get.  Macguffins are incredibly common, are generally the driving force of the action, and have supported such great films as The Maltese Falcon, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Xanadu.  It's the thing that gets things moving, the thing that raises the stakes, and the thing that shows you what action your characters will take in order to obtain it.  So what's the problem?

Well, the problem occurs when your Macguffin becomes the entire plot.  For some reason, modern blockbusters are written with the idea that as long as there's a thing to be gotten by someone evil, and you can show that it potentially will blow a lot of stuff up, the rest writes itself, and this causes these stories to be less engaging plots, and more paint-by-numbers stories with lots of snarky dialogue between its heroes.
"You got an issue with that?"
Well, I'm glad you're here as well, Tony, because I want to talk about why it's ok to have stories structured this way SOMETIMES.  I still think Marvel's best movie so far has been The Avenger. I know what you're thinking, you're thinking "but Clay, The Avengers is the QUINTESSENTIAL 'Macguffin-chase-city destruction' movie you just told me you were tired of," to which I would say yes, BUT, in that case, and in some other cases, it works.

The Avengers works for two reasons: 1. the characters, and their interactions, are the draw of the film. You have 6 or 7 charismatic characters meeting for the first time, and you only have 2 hours to work with, so you need to devote a lot of time to their interacting and getting to know each other. And 2. because even though the plot is as thick as "Loki is going to blow up the world," we already know who Loki is, thanks to Thor, and we know what kind of a character he is, so he's got some weight to him.  This is where Guardians falls short: we get the first half of the puzzle, which is the engaging, charismatic heroes we love to watch interacting, but we know next to nothing about the villain, or where he's from, why he's mad, and hardly even anything about who the hell it is he's mad at!  At least in Avengers, they're attacking Earth, so we have at least a little attachment to the target.  In Guardians we have...I don't know, John C Reilly I guess?

"For your...Earth"
That being said, I don't think that set up is necessary to tell that story at all.  Look at Star Wars. Same set up (more or less) as Guardians, with a bunch of snarky snarkersons putting aside their differences to save the universe, but what's the Macguffin there? It's actually R2-D2.  R2 has the plans that the empire and the rebels both want, and is the driving force of the action in the film. The thing is, it doesn't just STOP with that!  Star Wars had great, fleshed out characters, and built an incredibly rich world complete with history and even mythology/religion in ONE movie without half-assing the conflict in order to do it.  Think of the MacGuffin as a dinner plate.  You want it to have some food on it, otherwise all you end up eating is some tasty porcelain. 

I personally think the culprit behind this trend of storytelling is Star Trek (2009).  They had almost literally the exact same plot as Guardians of the Galaxy, with an equally weak, identically motivated villain, and they knocked it out of the park, because when the stuff with the main characters is that good,  you can overlook the other stuff sometimes.  Avengers is the same way, and so is Guardians, but my point is, Marvel is 10 movies deep into their Cinematic Universe, and they've told the exact same story more or less in every movie. If Guardians of the Galaxy had been their first or second, rather than their tenth, I may have been able to overlook it more, but knowing that they have so many great storytellers working for them in all their different divisions, it surprises/bums me out that they keep going back to the same well.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you. I'm in the shower. The money shower."

Yeah, I know, Thanos, what do I know - after billions of dollars, if it ain't broke, don't fix it I guess?

Feel differently?  Feel the same?  Leave a comment, I'd love to discuss further with you!

And until next time,


Monday, August 26, 2013

Interviews and Reviews With Yours Truly!

Hey there, Meat-Heads!

So a couple weeks ago at the Boston Comic Con, I was interviewed by Frank and Deshawn, the cool cats at the Real Books Don't Have Batman podcast, where they asked me all sorts of questions about Dead Meat and about my process.  They also were kind enough to review the first volume of Dead Meat as well!

Here's the video interview they shot at my table at Comic Con:

And here's the full, uncut interview in audio form:

And if you'd like to hear their great review of Dead Meat Vol. 1, you can do so right here:

That's all for now, until next time,



Wednesday, July 10, 2013

CONSEQUENCES, or Why Game of Thrones Is The Best Show On Television

OCTOBER?  I haven't written here since OCTOBER? Yeesh.  I am sorry, Meat-Heads, you are more than over due some meaty content, so here we go!

CAUTION: There will be spoilers.

So for the last couple years, we've been in a bit of a television renaissance.  The original name of this post was actually going to be "Why Breaking Bad Is the Best Show On Television," and while I still think it is pretty heads and shoulders above the rest (the scene in the parking lot with Hank from season 3 is probably the best sequence I've ever seen in a TV show), I recently finished catching up on a show called Game of Thrones.

As I'm sure you already know Game of Thrones, the game show, where contestants compete in toilet-based skill tests in order to win great prizes,

And Clay wins the "Most Obvious Joke" section of our contest...
It is also a widely popular Medieval fantasy show from HBO that just ended its third season.  Of course you know what it is, everyone watches it, it's breaking downloading records, and it's turning everyone who thought the Lord of the Rings movies were only "kinda cool" into full fledged Fantasy nerds worthy of all twenty sides of the dice.

The next season of Fantasy Football might take an interesting turn... I retain my "Most Obvious Joke" crown...

But why?  Why is it so popular, more so than other "attractive people humping and killing" shows like Spartacus: Whatever, or the modern, sexy King Arthur retelling Camelot?  While I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the dreaminess of Peter Dinklage

What makes it different is that it's extremely well written.  More specifically, what makes it so well written is that every decision any character makes has CONSEQUENCES.

Lack of character consequences might be my least favorite thing in anything, be it movies, tv, or comics, but I feel like it especially stands out in TV shows where you more or less know that nothing the main characters do, no matter how stupid, is going to come back on them because their actor's name is in the main credits, and the status quo has to be maintained for next week's episode.  There's a certain late-night, basic-cable gore-fest which is wildly popular but drives me NUTS for this very reason.  The story drives the action, instead of the action driving the story.  Game of Thrones is the first show I've seen in a long time where the action actually drives the story. The characters make decisions, and have to live (or die) with the consequences of their choices.

**************SPOILERS BELOW******************

There are many instances of characters making a clear decision, and then having the consequences of the decision come back on them at a later point, but there is one that stands WAY out, given how unexpected the consequences were, and how it actually cut off the head of television series tropes as we know it:  The Red Wedding.

A handful of episodes before said Red Wedding, our de-facto hero, Robb Stark, made a promise to an old man that he would marry this man's daughter in exchange for aid in battle against the Lannisters, the family who had his father killed.  Later on, Robb Stark meets, and falls in love with, a different woman, in a very par-for-the-course TV relationship, marries her, and continues along with the narrative, now with a new character for Robb to play off of.  Everything is fine, everything is great, hey they're at war, but they're in love and really cute together, so whatever, right?  He's got his mom and wife around, this'll be just like Everybody Loves Raymond, but with slightly more chain mail!

Robb, his now pregnant wife, his mother, and most of his troops arrive back at the home of the old man and offer their awkward apology for Robb's hasty nuptials. Robb offers his own uncle to marry the man's daughter as recompense, the old man agrees, and they have a big wedding feast!  Great!  Wedding scenes are always good, fun TV, right?  What's the worst that could happen?

Well in any other TV show, the fact that Robb broke this more or less minor promise to the old man would probably either get forgotten, or glossed over by some expository dialogue during the wedding feast, but not in Game of Thrones.  No, no.

Robb Stark made a decision, albeit a seemingly minor one, and had to live with the consequences.  He betrayed a deal made with the old man, so the old man teamed up with the Lannisters, and used the wedding feast as an opportunity TO MURDER ROBB, HIS MOTHER, HIS PREGNANT WIFE, AND ALL OF HIS TROOPS WITH HIM AT THE MAN'S HOME.  EVERYONE. DEAD. ALL.

Do you realize how crazy that is?  That'd be like if mid-way through a later season of Cheers, Shelley Long came back and burned the bar to the ground!  It'd be like if Walker had to deal with the civil suits filed by all the people he'd kicked through windows over his years of Texas Rangering!  It'd be like if Carl had to actually deal with the fact that his foolishness got Dale eaten by a zo--wait, that actually probably would have been a good thing to do...

Robb Stark's decisions came back on him, and just like that, the story of a son seeking revenge on his father's killers, the main driving story of the series, is lopped off at the head, leaving viewers in shock, because they DO NOT know what will happen next.  Let the choices your characters make dictate what happens to them, because it will always make your story better, and leave your audience guessing.

...unless they've read the books your thing is based on.

Until Next Time,


also, just because:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Things I Could Have Done Better Vol. II: FOCUS

Hey there Meat-Heads!

So previously on Things I Could Have Done Better I talked about the importance of thinking everything out before you put your pencil to the page, and today I'd like to talk about a related subject, namely how and when to create focus through spotting blacks.


No not that kind of...ugh... anyway.  When I was prepping Dead Meat to be put on sale through (available here, plug plug), I found myself looking at the pages for the zillionth time, and as I scrolled through issue 2, there were a number of panels that felt kind of kind of off to me.  Take a look for yourself at a couple:

Dead Meat #2 Page 4, Panel 2
Dead Meat #2 Page 23, Panel 2
For me, anyway, these panels lack focus.  It might not appear that evident when isolated, but within the context of the page, I noticed the eye doesn't really know where to go, at least without a struggle.  This is where spotting blacks comes in.

Spotting blacks is the practice of filling in areas of your image with black ink in an attempt to push the reader's eye to where you want it to go.  It's a compositional tool, and a very important one that can be easily overlooked.  When creating a comics panel, you have to do 3 things:

1. Create a dynamic composition and camera angle
2. Make sure you the reader sees what the script requires them to
3. Leave room enough for lettering.

But sometimes number two is more difficult that it should be (try more fiber, maybe?) because your panel, though dynamically composed and plenty wide open for lettering and containing all the information you need is not FOCUSED. You can draw all the pretty lines in the world, but if the reader doesn't know where to look, then you're not doing your job.  This is where dropping some sweet, sweet black can focus up your panel.

In the first panel, even though the text clearly shows where the action is happening, I still felt that it was  unfocused, so I went back and dropped some black in some choice areas like so:

As you can see, taking the wall of that building and blacking it out instantly focuses the action to the right side of the panel where all the fun stuff is taking place.  You can see the same in the changes I made to the next panel:

Here, dropping some black into the ceiling instantly stops your eye from veering right out through the top of the page, and reinforces the main point of the image, Walker looking back and spotting Cordy and Galdos.

Being relatively new to inking, concepts like these, though obvious to others, didn't come naturally to me, and I have plenty left to learn as far as this stuff goes, but that's what this is about, right? Learning and continuing to get better at this crazy thing called comics!

If you'd like to learn some more about applying copious amounts of black to a page, please watch these video demos from one of the best comic artists working today, Sean Gordon Murphy.  His work is fantastic, and watching him work is definitely watching a master.  I could watch this video every day, and probably should


Thursday, October 4, 2012


Hey there, Meat-Heads!

It's been so long since I've talked to you all, my how you've grown!  I see you've changed your hair...not my favorite, but who am I to complain?

So recently I completed my third convention this year, the wonderful Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (or MICE) put on by the great Boston Comics Roundtable here in Boston.

Keep your eyes open for next year's!

  Now from what I've experienced tabling at conventions, no two are the same, and this year has been no different.  Things that didn't sell well last year did much better, and things that sold great last year sort of leveled out, and this just seems to be the way things go.


Honestly I'm not sure.  I'd like to say "hey, your sketch cards just did better this year," or "that new print you had came out really nice, so I can see why that sold well," but the fact is, I table at these conventions for one reason really, and that's to push DEAD MEAT, and if sales are down on that I'm probably doing something wrong. 

After the convention, one interaction in particular stood out to me.  A young fellow approached my booth, and after discussing some light philosophy and waxing poetic about the victorious aspirations of the local sporting concern he was heard to remark: "I say! Wouldst you take a cherished moment to relay the delicious intricacies of your illustrated wares?"

Yes he looked like this

In other words, he asked me to tell him about my book, and I was rather dumfounded to realize that I...didn't know exactly how to respond.  One thing I hate is when people decide to take 45 minutes to tell you each plot point for the first 20 issues, so I made sure not to babble too much, but I actually found it difficult to summarize what DEAD MEAT is and is about.

This is a problem, I know.

Looking back on this interaction, something occurred to me: Every convention interaction is its own pitch meeting.  

You're there to get people to buy your work, right?  Well how is that any different than if you were infront of a publisher or a company?  It's all the same thing--you're trying to get someone unfamiliar with you to buy your work.  It's your job to get them as excited about your work as you are, to the point where they can't wait to give you their money, either to pay for your book or to get you to shut up.

In retrospect this is where I blew it--I just wasn't talking enough.  I was trying to let the material sell itself, instead of selling the material, and that's just not going to work.

...unless you have some sort of futuristic, talking sales robot, where part of its sales programming includes selling itself, the sales robot, in which case you can probably go get a sandwich or take a nap or something.

Until Next Time,


Friday, September 14, 2012

So It's Been A Year


Hey there, Meat Heads! Woof, it's been a while since I've written a blog post, but here I am, ready to write you in the FACE! A little over a year ago, a year and 4 months, actually, I launched and started my freefall into the unknown, so what's happened? Did my chute go off? Where am I? Who are you? How'd you get in my house? Well I have to say I had a great first year, and it's all thanks to you guys. Up till now I've updated over 80 pages, 3 and a half issues, of Dead Meat, and that alone is an accomplishment I'm very proud of. I dipped my toe into the pool of comic book conventions and sold out of all my printed copies of Dead Meat, which is fantastic, and to the people who bought them I can't thank you enough.

"Well I've sold like a billion albums, so..."

  Damnit, John Mayer, let me have this! To top it off, I even won the honor of "Best Webcomic 2011" from, which was a fantastic way to end my first year!


  MAYER!!!!! So with all that's gone well, what needs to improve? Well with anyone who wants to be successful in creating an entertaining product, you have to have people who see it! All the work you're doing is for nothing if no one gets to see it, right? RIGHT. So for the next year, I have to improve on probably my weakest area right now, which is marketing and promotion. It's great to talk to people at conventions, but that will only get you so far. You have to get eyes on your work ALL THE TIME if you want to be successful. So that's my goal for this coming year--to get more eyes on my product, and hopefully get more people on this ride with me. I'll be at this year's Boston Comic Con once again (April 21-22), I've got the Daily Alphabeatdown over at, and we've got some really fun new things coming to VERY soon, something I'm really proud of and think you'll all really enjoy, and as I get closer to finishing the first arc, I have the collected graphic novel printed edition to look forward to! There's going to be a lot of great stuff coming this year, and it's up to us to spread the word about it! And if that doesn't work, maybe I'll "reinvent" myself as a blues singer.

That's cold, bro.

 Until Next Time,