Endings … and Beginnings

It’s finished.

mixtape #5 cover-small

With the files out the door to the printer’s I can announce production on Mixtape #5 and Mixtape Vol. 1 is – to borrow movie biz terms – “a wrap”.

It’s oddly fitting that April 2014, a month that sees the first Pixies album since 1991, also sees the conclusion of the first arc in the saga. But, Mixtape #5 is indeed finished and indeed closes out the story begun in April 2012.  I’ve always been a believer that for a story to have resonance, it has to actually end.  And Mixtape #5 represents an ending of sorts. It concludes the journey our characters have been on the past five stories, bringing them together just in time to start pulling them apart.

So the question you’re asking is probably something along the lines of: “is it over?”

Believe me once you read this one you’ll believe it is actually The End.

Probably because this issue in particular deals with death, with losing a person you expected to see every day, and takes us back to that basement and that box of magazines, T-shirts and mixtapes unearthed on page one of issue one. We also learn the identity of just whose box of memorabilia it is.

mixtape 01 pag 01

While much of this issue will read like an end to the series rest assured it’s not – scripting has already commenced on the second arc, which takes our mains through their final months of High School and living in the same town together. College and real life beckon, and where these characters all end up will be surprising (at least I hope so).  Volume 1, which I’ve titled “Left of the Dial”, is really the first act of a much larger story. We’ve set our characters up and their central dilemma - how do we remain friends when it seems like the entire world is trying to pull us apart  – is the one that carries us through the second volume “Daydream Nation”, into the third, and beyond.

Speaking of surprises, we’ve included one (or several, depending on how you look at it) in this last issue of the first arc. Hopefully it’ll make you want to go back and re-read the first four issues (or check them out if you haven’t already).

Mixtape #5 will be available April 30 thru Indy Planet, and this website.  Digital versions of issues 1-4 are available on iTunes right now, with #5 arriving same day as the print version.  There’ll hopefully be a flurry of activity on the Mixtape front. Media copies of the newest issue have already gone out, and some interviews on the series and its future are in the planning.

Thanks again to all of you for your support of Mixtape. Believe me a black and white comic about teenagers and feelings isn’t the easiest of sells so I appreciate every person who’s read it and will hopefully continue to read it. It’s certainly been the most rewarding project of my career, and believe me when I say it’s just getting started.

Every (Fictional) Life Has A Soundtrack

I’ve come to realize I’m not one for writing or talking about my “process”. There’s plenty of other places online you can look to read about “process”, and there’s plenty of people who are happy to share what their process is. They’re all interesting and informative, and also contradictory and probably of little use to you.

Ahem ...

Ahem …

That’s because they’re talking about their process; they aren’t talking about what process works best for you.

Some insist on powering through the first draft and revising after it’s finished; others swear by revision as you go.  Some obsess on word count or pages per day; others are concerned only with “good” pages. Some brave souls rise at 5am and write for three hours before starting the day proper; others write in the evenings when the day is done.

Point being, you have to find a process that works for you. And what works for you will probably work for nobody else but you.

So here’s a piece about my process. Please feel free to ignore it.

* * *

For me it begins with the idea. Sometimes it’s a well-conceived idea; other times it’s just a rough sketch of one. From there I think about whose story “my” story is; the characters. Male or female, child or adult – I’ll try various combinations and complications before settling on POV. From there, assuming the story I’ve put together is any good, and the characters I’ve conceived are going to be interesting enough to follow, I clear the decks, close my door and start writing it. I outline before I draft, I treatment after I outline, I look for leaks and plug plot holes the best I’m able, and once that’s done, I start writing. Because if I don’t, this happens:

Sinking-Titanic-titanic-25510772-450-255

But before I do any of the above, I listen to music. Music may in fact be the most important part of my process. If I haven’t decided on what music I’m going to write to, chances are I won’t be able to do any writing, and what I do write will be shit.

Okay maybe not shit, but difficult.

My favorite approach to this is to assemble a playlist or mixtape to accompany whatever particular project I’m working on.  This is music that gets me into “the zone”, but more importantly into the character’s heads.  I’ll tailor a playlist to a specific character, and use the songs I choose to illustrate their personalities, their hopes, their fears, their everything. I’ll create several such playlists for any given project, and I’ll listen to them when I’m focusing on a particular character or subplot.

There’s a couple of reasons for this. The first I already mentioned; to get into the characters and the world they inhabit. But the second is more basic; to get me going. Because sometimes you just … can’t … get … into … the writing part of writing. You have lousy sleep or a lousy day, you’re at one of those points in the story where you’ve lost the plot.  You want to do anything but write.

That’s where the playlist comes in. Because you’ll sit there and you’ll listen to it, or you’ll throw it on your iPod and go for a walk, and pretty soon the story will come back to you. And once the story comes back to you, you find you’re able to write it down.

Now, this music doesn’t have to be of the period the project is set in. In fact I’d advise strongly against that. The reason you create a writing playlist is not to be authentic but to be real. To connect with the characters and the story on an emotional level.  So unless you grew up listening to Civil War era grassroots music, using that music to score your Civil War era story is going to make it a dry museum piece. Ask yourself what your characters would listen to if they were alive today (and seeing as they are your characters they are alive)? Would they be into rock? Punk? Country? Hip-hop? Try and see them as living, breathing people, not just words on the page and an idea in your head. Put yourself in their headspace and assemble a list of songs that relate to them, their trials, their troubles.

A long-in-the-works project of mine is a murder mystery set in Renaissance Italy. It’s a novel, my first (unpublished, though if anyone’s interested …), and it was written primarily to 60s British Invasion and 90s Britpop. There are two main characters, each with alternating perspective chapters. One was 50-something, the other a 20 year old. Any time I was writing for the older character I lived on a steady stream of Rolling Stones, The Hollies, Manfred Mann, and the Yardbirds. For the 20 year-old, it was Blur, Oasis, Elastica, Inspiral Carpets, Happy Mondays, and so on.

Pictured: a renaissance man

Pictured: a renaissance man

A screenplay I wrote about famed Canadian WW1 Flying Ace Billy Bishop was written to early 90s alternative; grunge mostly, but a lot of Pogues, Dropkick Murphys, early U2, Depeche Mode, and Duran Duran. I wanted to capture a feeling of excitement in the lives of Billy and his fellow fliers, all young twentysomethings taking to the skies to vanquish their enemies. Because a substantial portion of the screenplay dealt with the after effects of being the most famous killer in the world, I balanced fast paced rock with more introspective music for the quieter scenes.

There are other examples. A suspense thriller I’m currently writing is being scored to a lot of Madchester era music, which is appropriate given the main character has walled herself off from the world and is living in something of a nostalgia bubble, so it made sense for her to be into the music she was into as a teenager.  A thriller I wrote for a prod co about an EMT on the edge had a lot of 70s Punk in the mix – The Diodes, The Demics, The Clash, The Ramones. Music that reflects the thoughts of a main character living on the edge.

And obviously, there’s Mixtape. A lot of people have asked about the role of music in writing a particular issue, and I’ve talked about that here and here. But the shorthand of Mixtape is every issue has a mixtape; a 14-15 track playlist assembled by whatever character is front and center for that issue. I start with the playlist in a lot of cases (I only really cracked issue #4 after cracking the playlist), but sometimes the playlist results from the plotting, as if the character assembled their mix in the aftermath of the events dramatized. Since I outline each issue with a great amount of detail anyway, by the time I’ve settled on the story itself I’ve got the playlist ready to go.

That all being said if your particular project is of a  period where music – contemporary music – is available, use it. If there’s an emotional component also, even better. A TV pilot I’m penning right now is set in the 1950s, so naturally that playlist is comprised of 50s Rock and Roll. This works on both levels for me as I grew up with that music, not because I was around in the 1950s, but because my parents were.  That was the music they grew up with and I grew up with it by osmosis (and on long rides in the family station wagon). Listening to the music the characters in this TV project would be listening to helps me understand them better, whether the scene or scenes I’m writing are being mentally scored to The Platters, Etta James, Ricky Nelson, or Elvis.

Not this Elvis. That's a different project.

Not this Elvis. That’s a different project.

Now, things I’m not a fan of using are movie soundtracks or scores. I know a lot of people swear by them, screenwriters in particular. And there have been times when I’ve thrown on chase music when writing a chase scene, or fight music when writing a fight scene. But the problem I always run into (and I’ll admit it may be a personal thing) is that the images I associate with that music – Indiana Jones chasing a truck, Batman chasing The Joker – are images crafted by somebody else, and those images have a tendency to infect whatever you’re trying to write.  Now there are worse crimes in movie making than riffing on something someone else has done to great success – and to be blunt, it makes what you’re writing a much easier sell.  But as I’ve become a more seasoned, confident writer I try and step back from those influences. I figure I have my own stories to tell, so why try and duplicate what’s been done, subconsciously or not?

* * *

So that’s it, really. That’s my process and it probably only works for me. But maybe it’s worth a shot if you’re stuck on a plot point, or something with your story that just isn’t working for you. Or maybe all you need is white noise to keep you from getting distracted. The point is you need to find what works best for you, and stick to that. Don’t let people like me or anybody else tell you what you’re doing is wrong because it’s not wrong; it’s right for you.  As long as what you do works for you it’s better to stay on that track than try and write like someone else.

Because they already do that.  Your job is to write like you.

 

Left of the Dial

Well, it’s all been building to this.

mixtape 05 cover v2Mixtape #5 will arrive in February/March 2014. It is the concluding story in the “Left of the Dial” arc that contains issues 1-5. It also brings the story full circle, to a degree, returning us to events in issue #1, which made its debut in April 2012. In a way it functions as the end of the Mixtape story, and represents a new beginning at the same time.

I first conceived Mixtape in October 2008 (though the roots of the story go much deeper than that). So you get the idea how long a journey to this point it has been.  There were delays even before the first issue was published, and delays that followed that first issue. But in the last 12 months we’ve managed to get issues 2, 3, and 4 out the door, which is something of an accomplishment given how many indie books don’t make it past their first issue. At times I was tempted to throw in the towel, but it was through the encouragement of the book’s many fans that convinced me and everyone else involved in Mixtape that ours was a story worth telling, and continuing.

Mixtape #5 (the title of which you’ll just have to wait to find out) revolves around endings, of moving on from the past, of the inevitability of change. It’s a story about death, but also one about life and memory, about those moments that didn’t seem significant at the time but took on a greater importance when you look back on them from years down the road.  It closes the first chapter in the Mixtape story, and to some it may feel like the end of the series (don’t worry; it isn’t)

So reaching this point, the conclusion of the first arc, has been bittersweet. I’m glad I’ve been able to see the first story arc to completion; though what form the series will take from this point is still a bit of a mystery. Do we stick with single issues, or do we focus on a series of trade editions that tell one overarching storyline?  How much of the story do we tell?  Market forces will decide some of that, but the next arc, “Daydream Nation” has already been plotted (with two of its five stories already scripted), and the third arc (tentatively titled “Come As You Are”) is just appearing on the radar.

So rest assured the series will continue in some form, though currently the focus is on finding a publisher to help us get the trade edition of Mixtape Vol. 1 into stores. I’m already talking to a few, and the hope is that we’ll see this TPB in time for NYCC 2014, which as of this writing is still just under a year away.  I’m also hoping to include some bonus tracks in the trade edition; additional pages, playlists, character sketches, some behind-the-scenes stuff, and maybe a few surprises.

I’m also looking into locking in a couple of foreign language editions of Mixtape Vol. 1. I know many of artist Jok’s fan community has been anxious for a Spanish language edition of Mixtape, so finding the right publisher for that will occupy a good part of the new year also.

That means that Mixtape #6 likely won’t appear for some time still. I’d like to get going on it in 2014, but getting the trade edition out will be my priority for the immediate future. What’s been great about the book is that 2013 saw it gain a wider reach; new fans discovering it; old fans discovering it still exists. There’s a slate of 2014 Con appearances in the works and we hope to take the series to an even wider audience. But getting a trade edition will be essential for the future of Mixtape

Comics take a long time to produce. And producing Mixtape has been worth every penny, every hour, minute, and second. It has been the most satisfying creative endeavor of my career.

And it’s just getting started.

The Sound of my Voice

I’m a notoriously shy person. You won’t find too many photos of me online (and the ones that are = unflattering). I probably became a writer partially so I could be creative without having to actually appear in front of people. I was once asked by a producer to send them a headshot for a sales package they were putting together and I sent them one of actor Oliver Reed because technically they didn’t say they wanted *my* headshot.

Though I do share his smoldering intensity

Though I do share his smoldering intensity

I do like talking though (when I have something to talk about), as my hoarse, gravelly rasp earned at NYCC this year will no doubt strike you as you listen to this podcast I recorded with the lovely and talented Amber Love of Vodka O’clock. In it we talk mixtape, mixtapes, comic books, road trips, cooking (yes, cooking), and why so many great women are treated so horribly by the “geek” community (hint: it’s because guys are dicks). Check out the podcast, and Amber’s website here.

Also, Crave Online has reviewed mixtape 1-4, and posted that review here. They said nice things about it and me, saying “Abraham concocts the perfect elixir of nostalgia, teen angst and great jams. While Mixtape does have the trappings of a period piece, [his]writing is strong enough to allow it to appeal to anyone who loves music with their whole heart.”

Thanks, guys. You might actually help me get over my near crippling shyness.

Nerd Christmas Part 2: Aftermath

Well, it was a hit.

I lived here for 4 days

I lived here for 4 days

We sold out of issue #1 and all but 1 copy of issue #2.  Copies of 3 and 4 moved fast, with the remaining books already sold off to local and not-so-local stores. A lot of familiar faces stopped by – people I’d met at last year’s NYCC when I didn’t even have a table, people from MoCCA Fest, people from Twitter (justifying the ridiculous amount of time I spend on it).
Velma from Scooby-Doo investigates Mixtape #3 on her way to solving the mystery of how a Great Dane learned to talk

Velma from Scooby-Doo investigates Mixtape #3 on her way to solving the mystery of how a Great Dane learned to talk

But most of the business was from new fans. A few instances were people who bought issue #1 on Thurs-Fri, then returned Saturday for 2,3, and 4.  One guy did all of that, then came back Sunday to say how much he liked the book, and asked if I wanted to be on his podcast (details to follow on that). A couple other journalists stopped buy to buy the book (they said they prefer to support indie creators with their money, and if they like the book, review it), and likewise popped back to ask about reviewing it etc.  One girl even came back to ask when she could get #5.
A good number of new fans were guys and girls in their early-mid 20s. People born too late to remember the Mixtape era firsthand, but who grew up listening to 80s/90s alternative rock because their parents were into it and played it on a lot of long car trips.  One guy in his 40s, there with his kids, was checking out the books, and when I told him what it was all about, he fished his money out and said “finally, something here that’s aimed at guys my age”.  Same as one who was there with a couple of friends. He looked bored, but when he asked about Mixtape and realized what it was, he bought a set because his friends had an extra ticket and dragged him to the con even though he’s not interested in “comic book superhero stuff”.
Overall a lot of the new readers just saw the banner with the name Mixtape on it, and came running over to ask what it was about. The fact a cassette tape features in the design told them music was involved, and when they learned there was no “twist” of superheroes or whatever, that it was just a slice of life book about the alt rock era, they were sold.
But the best thing about the whole NYCC experience wasn’t the books sold, or the numbers; it was the people. I had so many conversations with people just about music – older music, newer music (a lot of people are looking forward to the new Arcade Fire album, myself included), but also about the diversity of the comic book business. NYCC literally had something for everyone, and as it happens a lot of people were looking for a black and white book about a fabled, almost mythic time called “the 90s”, when MTV played music videos, when you had to go to a record store to buy music, and when if you wanted a mix of songs you had to record it to cassette.
Now to catch up on sleep.
And to prepare for next year. That's right, Mixtape will be back.

And to prepare for next year. That’s right, Mixtape will be back.

BONUS ANNOUNCEMENT:
Mixtape has arrived on iTunes!  issue number 1 is available right now, with #2 and #3 arriving shortly (and #4 due next month). You can buy issue #1 here (and if you like what you see, please let me and everyone else know).