RIP Stan Lee. Humans entertain, gods bore.

A bright light has gone out in the world. I was but a kid when Spider-Man and Fantastic Four were first published. Compared to DC Comics at the time, Stan’s characters were more flawed, more human, more fun. Super Holly Hansson is the Superman of my writing world, but she is not a perfect boy scout. She is a geek girl with a short fuse. Lesson learned.

John Trumbull ran an article a while ago that showcased Lee’s dialog when some of the jerkier fanboys would say it was ALL Kirby and ALL Ditko and Stan just took all the credit. In the article, John showed a panel from Fantastic Four, Lee’s writing and Kirby’s art.

And one from New Gods, Kirby’s writing and art.

Have I mentioned that one way to have Super Holly Hansson give you a fat lip is to call her a goddess? Putting “Gods” in a title puts me off. Fellow writers tell me that they like how Holly is “very human.”

On Stan Lee’s Fresh Air interview, he asked Terry Gross to imagine a monster: 12-feet tall, purple skin, breathing fire, two heads. In the 1960s, a typical superhero would have said, “A creature from another world – I’d better capture him before he destroys the city.” Spider-Man might say, “Who’s the nut in the Halloween costume?” Stan said he tried to do dialogue that represented the way real, flesh and blood, three-dimensional people would talk. What better writing advice can I get?

Stan loved making original sound effect words: “btkooom” (the third O is, of course, silent) and “PFZZAKT” (a bullet going through a wall). I have been a little lax with crazy original sound words lately, but I admit that I still love Harry Headbutt punching Super Holly and then she clobbers him with five: THOOM! POW POW POW POW POW!!! THOOM! POW POW POW POW POW!!!

Stan said he used those fun alliterative names (Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Reed Richards, Sue Storm) because he had a bad memory. I use them too, I like their sound: Holly Hansson, Katsuko Kimura, Cal Critbert, and my favorite: Harry Headbutt! (Nice when the name says a bit about the character.)

P.S. I was going to have a Stan Lee type character in my stories: Dan Mann. But I already have three older men in Super Holly’s life: her Uncle Pops, Bennie the rubber cop, and Lash the barber. So I am gender-flipping Dan Mann into Fran Lee. When I FINALLY finish The Comic Book Code, Fran will be the head of a Marvel-type company who publishes Holly’s graphic novel, The Last Super. She will know comic book history. She’ll be Jewish. And she will have some of HERstorian and writer Trina Robbins in her soul.


Quick writing idea: phonetic

I often use phonetic dialog. From an upcoming novel chapter after Holly is brainwashed into thinking she is the evil cowgirl Laura Shrub:

Not them two dudes again. On the sidewalk, two teen guys gave Laura a look sadder than starving hound dogs. Laura crossed her arms and jutted her chin at them. “Whut’re yew lookin’ at?”

I was writing all the text in chapters where Laura is the point-of-view character to use her phonetic misspellings. But in the above paragraph, I kept that only to her spoken and internal dialog. Seems to work. I’ll try it more. (But I still might keep the style of the non-dialog to be Western.)

How to write a comic book accent.

I talked with author Todd Borg again last Saturday. In his latest book, Tahoe Dark, I was amused by a pseudo-gangster accent: “unnerstand” instead of “understand.” Very Chicaguh, I mean Chicago. Todd told me he’d run into the same problem I once did when I wrote dialog for the Bjorg (my Star Trek satire Swedish Borg): too much accent makes dialog unintelligible. Todd sprinkled it sparingly, as he should.

In my soon-to-be novel, Kittygirl’s firecracker of a mother has a fast and furious Japanese accent. On Youtube, I found advice from andysunstory on How To Speak With A Japanese Accent. Replace “an” with “ahn”, “R” with “L”. But what if a word ends with “R”? “Daughtal” instead of “daughter”? I remembered Urusei Yatsura’s Lum saying “Dahling!” And there’s the matter of an older white male like me not sounding racist. “So solly?” YUCK!

I wrote (and rewrote and rewrote) the following for when Kittygirl’s mother confronts Holly at Holly’s first book signing. (I’m really wrestling with “lite” instead of “write.”)

“This glaphic novel! I had to buy anothah one! You did not lite it fah kids, but my daughtah found it in my manga stash and has not let go of it since! Until now. She loved when,” she smiled, petted the girl between pointy Kittygirl ears, and enunciated like she’d rehearsed her next line, “the princess gave up her crown.”

Many great writers say never write accent into dialog. Usually true. But my style is goofy comic book, so I offer the rebuttal of Al Capp’s Lil’ Abner. Like Vulgorilla the Slobbovian (Russian): “I got fonny for you. A travelink blubber salesman’s sled broke down…” Or Brooklyn’s Evil Eye Fleegle wanting his “goil” back: “Anudder triple whammy! I’ll keep poppin’ until my beloved Shoiley is in my arms again!” Or pure hillbilly.


Writing an accent is hard, but sometimes worth it!

P.S. I just changed “mahnga” to “manga.” To avoid confusion, that word for Japanese comic book should not be spelled phonetically.

Writing to a Musical Muse

I did an open mic reading at the Peninsula Writers Club. The chapter in my novel where Cal “The Intellectual” Critbert experiences a 5D movie preview. 5D is two better that 3D! But Cal is a movie critic, and does not like 3D (Roger Ebert reasons). Then the 5D preview makes him LIVE the heartbreaking climax of Holly’s story, The Last Super. Anyway, I played music during the reading: Unchained Melody from the movie Ghost. A section in this chapter fit the beats and the emotion from that song. The small gathering of club members liked it.

I love music. Music has inspired lots of chapters in my novel. Music plays like a movie scene in my head. Holly’s fight with Dan Mann: Battle of the Heroes from Star Wars III. Holly’s fight with the hundred or so super soldiers: Burly Brawl from The Matrix Reloaded. Holly and Cal watching a sunset: So Much In Love by The Tymes. An angry and heartbroken Holly trying and failing to sleep: Last Night I Didn’t Get to Sleep At All by The 5th Dimension. I write a chapter more easily when a song has helped me see it. I have bought a LOT of music off iTunes to help me write.

However, a lot of music is owned by big corporations who are not going to share. So do not expect me to use my iTunes music in a podcast, or in anything even remotely professional, or at any gathering other than a very very small circle of friends or fans. I do not need a business that zealously defends the copyright to the Happy Birthday song sending lawyers to beat down my door.

Music can be a crutch. My writing must be strong enough to stand on its own, without music or my DRAMATIC performances. I am not gonna tell my readers that they have to buy and then play John Williams’s theme to Superman as they read my story. (Um, probably I won’t.) My short stories have NO music in mind. So far.

And consider this: real time and reading time do not match. In Storyist (the Mac and iPad app I use for my creative writing), each double-spaced, 12-point-courier-text page takes one and a half minutes to read out loud. Do you see the problem? Actions you imagine in music are hard to fit in text. Maxwell Alexander Drake said that you can speed action up, or slow it down, but you cannot read action at the same speed it happens in the real world. Oh, maybe if Holly punches a bad guy, I can write, “Holly punched him.” That’s boring, and it STILL takes too long. I could write “POW!” Not much better. (I’ll write later about superpowered sound effect words.) An early version of Holly’s fight with Dan Mann fit in the 3 1/2 Battle of the Heroes song, and I would never use that early version now. Short, dry, very little flowing prose to draw the reader in, and when my barber read it, he said, “This character Holly. What does she look like?” I was told my chapters read like screenplays. You need more than dialog and bits of action. You need description, feelings, emotions, thoughts, in other words, PROSE! You can match a text passage to a song, but do NOT stuff too many actions into that song’s short timespan!

I will continue to be inspired by music. But I cannot rely on songs to help me write or open-mic-read. (Oh, but I remember a reading where I used music, and the chapter had Holly so very heartbroken, and the open mic audience was RAPT. Boy, that felt good.)

P.S. I still wonder what it would cost to use music. Probably too much for me to consider it. Even if I say, hey readers, this is a cool song, run to iTunes and buy it cuz it is only a dollar! Maybe if I found indie music where I know the people who own it? Or maybe I just need to finish my novel (sound effects: my voice changes to Stewie Griffin), that novel I been working on for about five years now, that nnnnnnnnnovel …