A Few Thoughts About Ideas
Every writer I know — and almost every one of the artists — has a stack of stories they want to tell, concepts they want to pitch. We’re really in the idea business. Stories are just ideas, once they’re all dressed up and ready to show the world, and comics are just about the best delivery mechanism for turning an idea into a story.
At any given time, I have a dozen or more concepts ready to go. New concepts and new characters, all waiting for the right opportunity to come to life. You want a crime story? I’ve got a few of those. Horror? Yes, take your pick. Superheroes? Yup, right here. And more besides.
There are always more ideas. If you don’t have ideas, you don’t belong in comics. Simple as that. Ideas percolate, they wait for the right time, the right place. Sometimes the ideas aren’t quite there yet, they need to simmer a bit more. Sometimes the idea is fully formed, but the time or place aren’t right. A lot of factors have to line up properly for a project to come to fruition: right concept, right writer, right art team, right publisher, even the right publishing window.
If a pitch doesn’t fly, it goes back into the drawer until another opportunity presents itself. It can be years in between. Good ideas don’t lose their luster, they don’t go away. They wait.
I’ve known artist Cully Hamner for about as long as either of us has been doing comics. He’s one of my best friends, in or out of comics. I honestly don’t even remember how we met. Probably a convention somewhere? Comics is a small community; there aren’t even six degrees of separation for most people in the business.
Cully and I have worked together a number of times — I’ve previously written about him almost being the artist on my “Thor” run — but unfortunately it’s always been on something of a single-issue nature, rather than an ongoing. He’s drawing something I wrote right now, but it hasn’t been announced yet.
Back in the early ’90s, when Cully and I were eager, young know-it-alls (as opposed to the jaded, older know-it-alls we are now), we decided to pitch an Hourman revamp. There’s always an attraction to getting your hands on a lesser-known character, because you’re likely to have more freedom. You can’t get to go too crazy with company-owned icons, but you’re likely to have more leeway with a second- or third-stringer.
Maybe our Hourman story was intended as a stand-alone miniseries, or maybe as an arc in the “Legends of the DCU” title. Cully’s redesign of the costume was inspired, especially the two-tiered cape that flared out like the hands on a clock. I truthfully don’t even remember if we ever officially pitched the story, or just discussed it with an editor informally. Either way, it didn’t go anywhere. Our Hourman never saw the light of day.
But one aspect of it stuck in my head. Our story was going to take place over the course of one hour, each page counting down a minute of Hourman’s Miraclo Pill-induced powers (with interspersed flashbacks). Imposing that kind of structure would have been a storytelling pain in the ass, but a thoroughly rewarding one if we had managed to execute it.
Cut to almost two decades later: a different character, a different project, a different publisher. Top Cow’s first Pilot Season competition was based around established characters. The winning one-shot was Cyber Force’s red-haired speedster, Velocity, meaning the character would receive an ensuing miniseries.
When the original creative team departed due to creative differences, I was asked if I’d be willing to step in to write the mini. Velocity is a character I’ve always liked, so I said yes immediately. We also needed a new artist, and the name at the top of the list was Kenneth Rocafort, the latest in the long line of Top Cow artistic discoveries. Kenneth is one of the more unique talents working on comics, as well as one of the sweetest guys in the business. I told my editor I’d crawl across broken glass to work with Kenneth, so we worked out the timing and made it happen (the “working with” part, not the “broken glass” part).
So I had a character I really liked, and an insanely talented artist, but I needed a story, since I wouldn’t be picking up any threads from wherever the previous team was headed. I live adjacent to a lake, and the road that loops around it is 2.5 miles. I do a lot of my thinking/plotting on daily walks around the lake. On that autumn day, for no particular reason I can pinpoint, I thought of Hourman.
More specifically, I thought about that one-hour framework we wanted to use. It worked for Hourman, for obvious reasons: his “power” lasted for 60 minutes. But I thought it also could work for a speedster character like Velocity, a literal ticking clock she’d be racing against. How much could she accomplish in an hour?
I called Cully, and made sure he was cool with me resurrecting the idea we’d hatched together, even though he wouldn’t be drawing it. He was.
I “>wrote the “Velocity” series with the vast majority of it taking place within an hour, as the title character races to save her own life, and that of her Cyber Force teammates. An old idea, but a new iteration. I had complete trust in Kenneth’s ability to pull off the specific and tricky storytelling. With the exception of opening and closing sequences, every page of the story recounts about a minute of time.
Everything lined up: right concept, right writer, right art team, right publisher, right publishing window. The “Velocity” mini is one of my favorite projects, in large part because of Kenneth’s amazing work on it (combined with gorgeous color by Sunny Gho). But also because I got to revive an idea that wouldn’t go away. You can read the first issue for free right here on CBR.
I’ve had people ask me if I keep a notebook next to my bed, to write down any ideas that occur while dropping off to sleep, or even remembered from a dream. The honest answer is no. I’ve learned that if an idea’s good enough, you remember. And if it’s not good enough to remember, you didn’t need it anyway. The good ideas keep nudging you, reminding you they’re there, until they find a way out into the world.
Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it’s pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes “Artifacts” and “Ravine” for Top Cow, “The Protectors” for Athleta Comics and his creator-owned title, “Shinku,” for Image. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com.