As a freelance creator, I spend a lot of time in the middle of things…sometimes by choice, sometimes by chance.
Well, not really. It’s always by choice, actually.
Y’see, it’s all about conflict. I’m all about conflict. Conflict is the Bernoulli-esque effect that drives a story forward; compressing, accelerating and then fusing its separate elements into something greater than the sum of its parts. It’s also what transforms aspiration into accomplishment, fear into confidence.
I’ve always had aspirations. And oh my god do I have fears. To me, at least, both of these things are equally debilitating. Keeping in mind that I have a pretty expansive imagination, how is it even possible to live up to my dreams? And that fear, that yawning pit of desolation and depression…that’s what the future looks like to me. The road to failure is a mile wide and straight as an arrow. It slopes continually downward — I don’t even have to walk, I can just stand still and let gravity take over. It’s the path of least resistance. It’s my fuckin’ destiny.
That is, if I was okay with going out like an emo pussy. Which I’m not. So I fight it. Every day. Every day.
Every day I write the book.
Three or four years ago, I was writing two ongoing series for Marvel; “Wolverine: Origins” and “Deadpool.” I was also co-writing (what would become) “Dark Wolverine” with Marjorie Liu. In addition, I was picking up random gigs here and there at the company — things like my arc on “Astonishing X-Men.” As is the case with almost every ongoing series at a mainstream publisher, I had at least two art teams for each series (sometimes, with “Deadpool,” I had three). Having multiple art teams can be a real challenge, as not all artists work at the same pace and, even more challengingly, not all artists “maintain” a pace that can be accurately scheduled. Every day, five to six days a week, I’d wake up knowing only that I had to write at least five pages of “something” that day; I didn’t know which series it had to be, which story arc or even which issue.
Sounds insane, right? In the freelancer community, though (at least, in “mainstream publishing”), this is as close as it gets to “job security”. And it has nothing to do with how good you are; it’s just the fact that so many streams of revenue are dependent upon you that the paradigm shifts over to the company needing you more than you need the company.
I hated it. When an escape hatch appeared, I jumped. Well…hopped.
I was approached by a very well known video game company that wanted to work with me to create a new IP from the ground up. The contract amount was…substantial. I signed it, then promptly went about extracting myself from involvement in as many of my Marvel projects as I could — Origins went from being sixty issues to fifty and the full writing duties for Dark Wolverine were handed over to Marjorie Liu. I kept Deadpool because, at that point, I could almost write it in my sleep. With my schedule thus opened up, I’d have more than enough time to work on the game (games are very start/stop — sometimes you’ll have nothing to do for months) while, at the same time, also working on creator-owned projects like “Gun Theory,” “Radiation Nation,” “Stanko Gets The Ladies,” “Picked” and “Raised By Wolves,” all of which had been sitting idle for years.
After a few months, the developer pulled the game on which I was working from the schedule. Though I didn’t know it at the time, such things are pretty common in the gaming industry (not so in mainstream comics, where every dime spent has bring back at least a dollar, no matter what). Soon afterward, the game director who brought me in on the game de-camped and moved on to a game company with whom I was contractually disallowed from working. The plan, it seemed, had gone all to hell.
And yet, I was happier at that point than I’d been in years. No longer was I churning out random scripts at a breakneck pace, less concerned with doing them right as I was with doing them right now. I had “Deadpool,” I had the “Deadpool” game (yikes, now there’s a story…) and, most importantly, I’d stopped being afraid. After being conditioned for years to relentlessly seek out work, even if I didn’t have the time to actually do it to the best of my abilities, I’d finally moved in the opposite direction; I’d turned work down.
From that point forward, I became much more selective when choosing my projects. For the most part, Marvel was very accommodating; even going so far as to green-light “Thunderbolts,” a series that, conceptually and ideologically, was pointed in almost the exact opposite direction as pretty much every other title they were currently publishing.
I think that may’ve been unintentionally intentional, on my part. And if that phrase doesn’t make sense, well…then it kinda does make sense, right?
Okay, let’s get back to the middle.
I’ve been a guest at lots of conventions; often, I’m seated next to artists. I love to watch them sketch. And though I love a great sketch as much as anyone, it’s the process that fascinates me more than the product. More specifically, I’m fascinated with that very first line. Sometimes it’s sketchy and faint, sometimes it’s sure and bold. Often, it’s part of an eye (but not always, and not always that of the principle character in the piece). But what it really is, is an anchor — a bridge from the conceptual to the corporeal. Once that circuit is made, the rest of the sketch comes forth, onto the page. I’ve seen it happen over the course of minutes and over the course of hours and, every time, I love, love, love watching it happen. It’s a process I know well.
It’s a process that sometimes takes me years to complete.
Pieces of story occur to me all the time. When they do, I file them away…sometimes in my mind, sometimes (if they’re kinda intricate or specific to/dependent upon other components) in a scratch file. At that point, they’re just that — pieces. I don’t know of which story they’re a part, or of which act. But then, a piece will show up that fits with another of those pieces…and then, in turn, another…and another…until finally, there coalesces a functional story. That’s the first line. That’s the part I love. That’s the moment where I make the void my bitch.
Hey, void — suck this.