The Real Thing

And there it is … on shelves as we speak.

I snapped this photo at Midtown Comics on Friday April 13th.  As I was lining up the shot someone picked a copy from the stack, looked at the cover, flipped through some pages, and added it to their armload of purchases for the week.

The cynic in me says “lucky me, happening upon the stack of Mixtape comics the very moment the one person who bought a copy at that store happened by.”  Of course, I got to that store after a couple delays, so the odds are good someone else bought a copy sometime between April 11 and 13.  Then again, on the 11th, I witnessed Forbidden Planet sell out of their last copy of Mixtape.  They’ve assured me more are on the way, so if you’re looking for a copy, and are NYC based, they’ll fix you up.

Did I mention this was all unexpected?

Diamond, the main comic book distributor told the publisher (who subsequently told me) the date of publication was April 18th.  I actually found out through a post on Twitter, where a fan wrote he was thrilled Mixtape #1 finally arrived.  Brendan, the book’s editor and co-publisher, found this out while ducking into the shop down the street from his offices, and was informed by the owner he had new book out this week and that said book was selling.

Hopefully this raises the bar on solicits for #2.  Second issues typically get a lower number, as the general consensus is that issue #1 is the collector’s item.  I also received the final pages for #3 last week, so we have that on the boards too.

[Regarding subsequent issues, I plan on announcing where we’re at with those soon.  We’ll be doing something cool in tandem with them, and as issues 4,5, and 6 are probably my favorite of the first arc, I’m as anxious as you to get them out the door]

To be frank, it’s a strange feeling, walking into your local comic book store like you have countless times before, and seeing YOUR BOOK on the shelf along with the other new releases.  A book you’ve been thinking and dreaming about for the last three and a half years; a book that, with its publication, finally gives me the right to call myself a comic book creator.  At least I think it does — feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

So if you’ve been following my Mixtape antics, I’d appreciate you supporting the book and spreading the word about it.  Mixtape has always been a comic book for people who don’t normally buy comic books.  As I’ve said before, the characters in Mixtape don’t have super-powers.  They don’t fight zombies or date vampires or have crazy adventures.  The aim was to tell real stories about real people — people you or I could have known (or indeed may have known) in High School, no matter what your age is now, or what era you were a teen in.  So far I’ve received some nice comments about the book on its FB page.  One reader wrote “I felt like I was back in high school and I see my old friends in each character.” 
Another said “It more than lived up to the expectations. Memories have been kickstarted after reading issue one and I am currently playing 7″s on my floor from the 90’s.” 
That was really the goal with Mixtape.  To tell stories that prompt them to do stuff like that — drag out the old 7″s, dust off the boom box and those old cassettes, switch from the morning news on the commute to music. To unlock those memories we all bury, and discover we’ve spent the past twenty years or so running away from our teen years, only to wonder why we ran so fast and so far.

On a sidenote, I am talking with a couple local stores about doing a signing, and hope to do the same next month when I’m up in the Toronto area for work.  If anybody has any suggestions please message me here.

No Excuses

Timing is everything.

Like most creatives, I owe my career to it.  A stint volunteering at a film festival turned into the opportunity to pen a TV miniseries, and launched me into the world of being a professional writer.  Had I not volunteered at that festival and ingratiated myself with the producer running it, who knows where I’d be?

Success is predicated on the ability to recognize an opportunity when it presents itself, and acting accordingly.  Being in the right place at the right time is key; being able to recognize when you are in one of those moments is crucial.  If you’re not paying attention to the signals, that ship sails, leaving you standing on the shore and realizing that you just missed the golden opportunity that would have put you on it, rather than looking at it from a distance.

So what does that have to do with Kurt Cobain?

Everything.

Kurt is immortal.  He’s deified and lionized and memorialized every time you hear “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”  He’s a genuine rock icon on the same level as Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin (all of whom, like Kurt, died at 27).  Heck, NECA even released not one but two collectable toys of Kurt:

His journals have been published, a movie is forever in the works, a MUSICAL has been talked about (dear God, please no) books have been written, conspiracy theories about his death abound.  He’s forever trapped in amber, howling like a demon in a fog shrouded high school gymnasium as a pep rally goes out of control.  He’s forever twenty-seven.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of his death on April 5, 1994.  He’d be 47 had he lived, but he didn’t.  And another year comes and goes minus Kurt Cobain. Everyone knows who he was.  But he’s not the reason I’m writing this.

He is:

If you don’t know who that is just by looking at him, chances are you’re one of the ones who forgot that Layne Staley, lead singer of Alice in Chains died 12 years ago, on April 5, 2002.  He died of an overdose.  His body lay for two weeks in his luxury Seattle condo before they found him.  He was 35 — the same age Kurt would have been in 2002 had he lived.

Both deaths were tragic.  Yes, even Kurt, despite suicide being widely regarded as a dick move.  Unless you’ve dealt with crippling depression, or drug addiction, or chronic health problems like Kurt did, you’re in a glass house throwing rocks.  But as years pass on, I find Layne’s passing to be the more tragic.  It’s also hard to remember now just how big Alice in Chains was.  Multiple platinum albums.  Sell-out tours.  A legendary Unplugged performance.  Legions of devoted fans.  And the songs, man the songs still have the power to send chills up one’s spine; The Rooster, Angry Chair, Man in the Box, Them Bones – fantastic.  I saw Nirvana once, in 1993, in Toronto.  But I saw Alice in Chains twice, once in 92 and again in 93 when they co-headlined that year’s Lollapalooza festival and for my money, their work cuts deeper than Nirvana, who had the luxury of releasing three great albums before imploding in such a dramatic fashion.  They never got old or stale.  Neither did Alice, but as each April passes with piles of stories about Kurt, I wonder why Layne isn’t afforded the same.

Why is Kurt commemorated with galleries and books and toys, but not Layne?

Obviously, timing – or as much timing as death  requires.  Kurt died, if not at the height of popularity, then at the height of fame, when he’d shifted from being the indie rock star who broke into the mainstream and heralded a shift in music, to becoming a tabloid train-wreck aided and abetted by his very public marriage to Courtney Love.  His rise into public consciousness was meteoric – roughly 5 years lapsed from Nirvana’s debut Bleach, to the shotgun suicide that ended Nirvana, and alternative nation.  Kurt had timing on his side of going out when Grunge and Alt-Rock were at their peak.  His death triggered their decline.  It was hard to listen to Bleach or Nevermind with the knowledge that the guy singing about angst and loneliness blew his brains out.  Face it, when “the voice of your generation” kills himself, it doesn’t say much about that generation’s prospects does it?

When Layne died in 2002, Grunge had been dead for nearly 8 years.  Generation X had grown up, graduated college, gotten jobs and started families.  I’m sure some people reacted with more surprise that he was still around – heck, I probably reacted the same way.  There were no vigils at the Space Needle in Seattle like there were with Kurt.  Rolling Stone and Spin didn’t publish commemorative issues.  There are no toys of Layne.  The band took time to mourn, and lick their wounds, and eventually reform with a new singer … and as it turns out they’re pretty damn good.  But Layne’s absence is one they’ll never overcome, just like as great a band as Foo Fighters have became, they’ll never be a game-changer like Nirvana.

Now that era is a legend; as mythic to 17-18 year olds as the 60s were to people my age.  People who never experienced it firsthand, and only have the songs in place of firsthand memory.

Kurt is remembered/deified because his death signalled the end of Grunge, and the end of Alternative Rock as a mainstream force.  It was like that moment in high school when a classmate dies sudden and unexpected. It’s that big moment that forces everyone around it to grow up.  I know for my personal experience that Kurt’s death and Nirvana’s break-up marked the beginning of the end of music in my life.  Not that it ended entirely, but its importance in my life began to wane.  School became more important, as did getting my career off the ground.  I gradually stopped going to shows, and while I still bought music, it wasn’t to the degree it had been since 1989.  It took fourteen years, and the beginnings of Mixtape, for me to rekindle that passion for music.  Growing up means letting go of childish things and accepting responsibility.  Not everything ends with a shotgun blast or a lonely overdose.  Life is rarely that dramatic.

But as years go by I think about Layne more than Kurt. In a way Layne’s death shaped my life and career more than Kurt’s death did. We all dream of a blaze of glory but for most of us the end comes when we don’t want it to. When there’s nothing left but darkness. That’s why, as I do get older, I’m more determined than ever to kick at that darkness, to make it bleed, and to not go willingly into it. To burn with a brightness so hot and so brilliant it banishes those shadows entirely.

Someone, and I can’t remember who, said something to the effect that “Foo Fighters are to Nirvana what New Order was to Joy Division”, and that’s as apt a comparison as any.  Nirvana became legends the moment Kurt pulled the trigger.  Alice was wounded the moment Layne OD’d, and while that’s unfair, it’s what it is.

So as the music world prepares to mark another sad anniversary, I encourage everyone to give more than a passing thought to Layne.  He deserves it, because sometimes the worse thing than being trapped in the spotlight is going on after that spotlight has passed you by.

Rhymin’ and Stealin’

Thirteen years

That’s how long I’ve been writing professionally.  And by professionally, I mean “writing full-time, and earning my living by writing alone.”  Since January 1999 I’ve earned my keep as a writer without holding down a “day job” at the same time.

Thirteen years is a long time.  In human terms, it’d be mouthing off to me and calling me an asshole while they sneak out to smoke cigarettes and listen to crappy music.

But it’s not a person; it’s a passage of time, and it still boggles my mind that I’ve managed to earn a living at it.

This means one of two things: I’m either incredibly lucky or incredibly stupid.

On the stupid side:

I don’t get to take vacations.  Even when I’m on vacation, work is there.

I have to pay for my own health coverage, dental, retirement fund etc.  Factor that into a year where you barely break even before those costs.

I always take a hit at tax time, unlike those who have taxes deducted from their regular paychecks.  Good year or mediocre year or bad year, out comes the checkbook.

I don’t get regular paychecks.  Annual pay fluctuates wildly, but generally you have a very good year, followed by two to three lousy ones, which evens out the good year and plays havoc on any retirement savings or investments.

On the lucky side:

I haven’t had to be up at a specific time to commute to a job where I’m required to work at an assigned task for an assigned number of hours, since late 1998.  That’s right; most days I’m still in my pajamas three hours after you started work.

I work my own hours, at my own pace, on my own schedule.  If I want to go see a movie, or play video games, or read comic books, I can do that whenever I feel, because it’s all technically part of work anyway.

Flexibility of schedule gives me freedom to actually live my life while I work.  It also affords me opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise.  Were it not for that flexible schedule there’s no way I ever would have met my wife.

I get to earn a living doing what I’ve wanted to do since I was seven.  Top that.

I am actually working in the profession I studied at University.  Top that too.

So yeah, despite the hassles that come with the job, I love what I do.  I will never do anything else.  I don’t aspire to direct movies like a lot of screenwriters, because the writing part of movie making is, for me, the most enjoyable (and frankly there are far too many mediocre writer-directors out there).  Plus, I hate waking up early and call-times on movie sets are in the 7:00 am range.

But every year around this time (i.e. Tax Season) I always seem to stop and take stock of how far I’ve come.  I remember the first time I got to list “writer” as my occupation on my Tax return – it was both awe-inspiring and frightening.  Awe-inspiring, because I had made it, and at a relatively young age too ( like, within three years of graduating).

Frightening, because I always worried if this was it – that things will collapse or go downhill and I’ll be forced to slink back to an office job after a brief moment in the sun.  Hell, it could still happen, and what’s frightening about that is it’s been so long since I worked an office job I’m pretty much unemployable.

My first year as a pro was, until recently, my best financially. In that year my income tripled from the year previous, I was able to pay off my remaining student loans, register as a business, get a bigger apartment, get an agent and a manager, and be what I’d wanted to be since kindergarten … amazing.

The following year I earned half the amount of the year previous.  The year following was worse.  The year after that was great.  Things picked up and while there were other dips and rises, I figured “hey, it’s just a like a roller coaster so I might as well enjoy the ride”.  It’s still a rollercoaster, but over the years I’ve figured out how to weather the ride.

First; keep moving.  Be like a shark, always on the prowl. Don’t take a moment to rest on your laurels.  A break here and there is okay, but don’t let it run for too long.  I’m talking a week at most.

Second; keep seeking inspiration.  Get away for the weekend or a week, take in some new surroundings and stimulate your creative centers.  I capped off a very busy 2011 with a week in Paris, and found myself rejuvenated on returning home.  You don’t have to go that far — Philly is fine.

Three; avoid self-reflection.  Avoid taking yourself too seriously.  Don’t spend weeks retooling an old project.  Finish it, send it out the door, and move onto something new.  Otherwise you sink into stagnation, and that’s creative death.

Still, that feeling, that it’s all going to end, that the work’s going to dry up, that I’m going to find myself back in the same dead-end job I was in before, never really goes away.  I’ve come to see it as extra motivation to keep pushing hard at work; to keep busy, to keep working on a variety of projects across a range of mediums.

I’ve got a movie coming out later this year, and am going into production on another.  There’s also the matter of a top secret project I’m in the early stages of, with someone I’ve wanted to work with for nearly twenty years.  There’s also MIXTAPE, of course, which is the first genuine passion project I’ve had to see the light of day.

But with each year that goes by, and each time I list writer (and since moving to the US – “Independent Artist”) as my occupation on my taxes, I realize; it is what I do.  It is who I am, and I won’t stop doing it until the pen is pried from my cold dead hand.