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Pipeline, Issue #355

ON CO-WRITING AN 80s ICON. . .

VOLTRON co-writer Marie P. Croall isn't quite a household name yet, but she's quickly working her way into the industry, and has the promise of more to come. She's one of those classic American success stories, working her way up from the comics equivalent of the mail room to a role as a comic book writer.

Croall began her ascent in Phoenix, Arizona, working at Atomic Comics. When she attended one of Chaos! Comic's legendary "Fiend Fests," a conversation with Brian Pulido about the industry led to a job offer for the publisher's marketing department. There, she learned more about the industry from a new perspective, and one that would be most helpful in landing a job actually writing comics.

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After leaving Chaos!, Croall decided to give the writing thing a try, full time. It wasn't easy, though.

"I had, and still do have," she writes in an e-mail interview, "a hard time with the lack of control I often have over my life as a freelancer. I've been lucky to get to know and work with some extremely talented and amazing editors and they've helped so much."

That's right, folks, we get back to networking. For some, it's as simple as being personable at a convention. For others, it's done on-line. For Croall, working just outside the world of comics creation became a track to making friends, buying time to learn some of the craft, and getting herself in the right time at the right place.

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How, then, did VOLTRON come about? Croall describes it as "a freak accident. One afternoon Dan Jolley was telling me about his first story arc for the ongoing series (after the five-issue limited). Afterwards, I stuck my foot in my mouth and told him that I had a better idea. Fortunately for me, Dan listened to my idea and actually agreed that it was better."

Early reaction to the Vehicle Voltron storyline would back up that decision nicely. The current storyline, now on issue #3, sends the Voltron team to earth to rescue the five stolen lions. What they find is a government experimenting with making their own Voltron. The robots clash, and, of course, they "Form Blazing Sword!" E.J. Su and Clint Hilinski provide the art, keeping an open line for the characters in the foreground, with a more painted approach to the backgrounds. It's an effective way to simulate the cel look of traditional animation.

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Croall had been a Voltron fan growing up. Along with her older brother, James, she had the toys and books and everything else. Playing in that world again, she says, is "a blast." But does working from the inside of a property with fond childhood memories present any problems or disillusioning moments?

"Working on Voltron has been a dream," Croall says. "I don't think there was a single licensor correction in the first story arc, or if there was it was so minor I didn't notice, so it hasn't slowed us down at all. It's especially cool since Dan and I are taking the book in directions the T.V. show didn't touch."

So, it's an easy licensor, with room for new creations, and a fairly high profile gig for a relative newbie. Not a bad deal.

For now, it means working with a writing partner, something few in comics do today. I asked Croall about how that works, and she says it varies from project to project. "For Moonstone's LONE WOLF, we split everything pretty equally. After hammering out the plot together, I wrote the panel descriptions and Dan did the dialogue. For the first VOLTRON story arc, I just contributed to the story while Dan did the scripts.

"Later this year, I'll be writing issues 11 and 12 of VOLTRON with Dan taking the backseat driver role. I had a short story arc I wanted to be able to tell and showcase a different side of my favorite character. For those issues Dan will just be standing over my shoulder, making sure I don't give the dancing mice too much screen time."

When asked about the "glut" of 80s revivals, she answers the question like a true writer, and even manages to throw in a plug for her book. Obviously, the freelancer lifestyle is growing on her.

"There are so many 80's properties with great story potential," she writes. "As long as they deliver solid art and writing I think they will have an audience. Of course it wouldn't hurt to have those people out there who swear up and down that all 80's properties are junk to actually give them a try, or just VOLTRON."

80s cartoons and comic books are not the only influence on the writer. Croall specifically cites Dame Agatha Christie when asked about her influences, nothing that "today's instant gratification audiences might struggle through some of the denser prose, but she knew how to murder someone and that's really all that matters."

Of course, there are also comics influences. Croall declines to list the usual and obvious comics writers that everyone else cites, but does mention that "the entire catalogue of E.C. Horror books had an impact. To this day I can't get enough of the scary stuff."

Remember, folks, she started at Chaos! Comics. This shouldn't be a surprise.

VOLTRON is just the beginning of the career, though, and not the end. In addition to the aforementioned LONE WOLF comic from Moonstone (with another in the works), sharp-eyed readers of Wizard's EDGE magazine might have noticed her name attached to Metron Press' upcoming MARY MAGDALENE comic. Besides that, you'll also find her name attached to an upcoming story in VAMPIRELLA MAGAZINE and one in METAL HURLANT.

Let's face it, though. We all want to see the dancing mice for 22 pages. Preferably, I want to see it in an oversized European-format hardcover album. If MR. O can find a publisher, why not VOLTRON'S DANCING MICE?

THE REVIEWS SECTION OF THIS WEEK'S COLUMN

Due out in stores this week is the first issue of NEGATION WAR, the new mini-series that tears apart the CrossGen Universe. Since none of the books are really left anymore, this seems like a good idea. Go out with a sigil-powered bang and all that. Let's face it: writers love the chance to change characters and settings without worrying about the long-term viability of a given trademark. Hopefully, Tony Bedard will use this mini-series as the chance to do that. In the end, things will change.

I admit that I haven't read that many CrossGen books from the original Sigil titles in the past year, so there was a bit of catching up I had to do with this issue. The biggest thing is that Evinlea changed sides. NEGATION was always the book at CrossGen that was packed with surprises. If you didn't like the way the story was headed, wait an issue and wait for Bedard to pull the rug out from under your feet again. It was the classic roller coaster ride comic. It's also the perfect place to unite the universe one last time, since it's the most accessible cosmic comic.

The story relies a lot on the concepts laid out for the universe over the past few years. The Sigil is there, the Sigil creators are there, the Negation Universe is there, Charon plays a big role, etc. etc. Bedard does a great job in explaining everything as the story moves along, stopping the flow completely on only a couple of occasions for necessary exposition. I think it's a good enough job to be inviting to new readers, but it's something only a CrossGen Familiar would want to bother with. Otherwise, you feel like you're being dropped into the middle of a great big world without a clue as to what it's about. If you've followed this stuff at all in the past few years, though, this is an exciting opportunity to learn once and for all how many of these things have been connected all along.

Paul Pelletier's art is as strong as ever. The faces might look like puffed up balloons, but there's an expressiveness and an artistry at work that so many artists in the industry today lack. You even get hints of Ed McGuinness, Dale Keown, and John Byrne in some parts of the line work here and there. (I'm just citing a comparison, here, and not necessarily a reference or inspiration.) It's amazing to look back at the past ten years of Pelletier's career and see how far he's come and how much stronger and more confident his line has become. From EX-MUTANTS to SUPERBOY AND THE RAVERS to NEGATION and everything in between -- it's all been worth looking at.

Laura Martin does the coloring, and it's a testament to her style that I can read these photocopies black and white preview pages without a problem. It means she's working on lighting as much as she is in coloring effects, and also that her palette is light enough to expose the art. If only Top Cow's staff would learn that little trick.

With the likes of KISS KISS BANG BANG and EL CAZADOR currently poised to be the future of CrossGen, I'd like to think of this mini-series as the fond farewell to a once proud and bold lineup of titles. They'll be going out with style, at least.

One thing jumps out at me in ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #55: Doctor Octopus looks cool in the trench coat. I wonder, though, if it's one of those things that's only ever going to look right in a comic book and not on the big screen. We'll know the answer to that by the Free Comic Book Day.

I'm also trying to figure out if Mark Bagley's art is undergoing a metamorphosis, or if the hectic pace he's been keeping lately (leading to THE PULSE going bi-monthly) is starting to impact the quality of his art. Drawing all those caricatures on the movie set has to slow things down a bit, but I wonder if that's affecting the way he draws other characters, too. Until his schedule lightens up and we know for sure, we'll have to deal with the occasional face that looks flat or rendered slightly off-perspective.

The story, in the meantime, is cute. Nothing ground shaking. I get a bit of the "treading water" feeling with the current storyline. This one is being done to time out well with the movie, but it doesn't really move the overall ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN story forward at all. It's mostly repetition, but there's a chance for something new to come out of it if Gwen remains as inquisitive and troubled by recent events as she seems at the end of this issue.

UNCLE SCROOGE #328 starts off with a new (to North America, at least) Don Rosa story called "Forget It!" It's a ten page story filled with great laugh-out-loud funny gags that pile up on each other until silliness reigns. At that point, Rosa wisely pulls out and ends the story, complete with a nice reversal or two.

More shocking to me -- for personal reasons -- is the inclusion of William Van Horn's "The Bedeviled Dime." It's another story of Magica attempting to steal Scrooge's dime without any luck. Gladstone originally printed it in the DUCKTALES comic of the late 1980s. I remember this story from its original printing. It's one of the first comics I ever bought at a comics shop. Now it's being reprinted. This isn't the first time that's happened, but it does make me start to feel old. I have friends who can claim the same thing about Barks tales, usually following it up with "Woe is me, I'm ancient." Now, I know how they feel.

I'm working my way through some of these Duck books that have piled up in the past couple of months. Right now, I'm reading whatever catches my eye. Eventually, I hope to review a couple of these books, including the non-Barks/Rosa/Van Horn stories. In the meantime, this issue of UNCLE SCROOGE is worth it just for those two stories alone.

ONE LINERS

* For those UNCLE SCROOGE fans in America wondering what Don Rosa is up to next, there's a web site to keep you updated.

* Image switched from a Canadian printer for their books to a Korean one. So far, it doesn't seem to have impacted shipping too badly, and the result is a nice heavier stock cover. The books look great.

* Here's a writer who definitely shouldn't try writing comics. I can only imagine what she'd make of this business and its publishing practices.

* I have one more reason to appreciate Chuck Dixon now.

Pipeline Previews returns this Friday, doesn't it? I can't believe it's that time again. Look for the column on April 2, then. Here's a teaser: Marvel is attempting to drive me bankrupt on hardcovers, but they got at least one thing right for the first time with them this month.

Pipeline Commentary and Review continues on next week. No interviews, but I'll throw in some reviews for you.

Various and Sundry updated this week the usual AMERICAN IDOL dissections, DVD release updates, more PINK PANTHER movie news, your movie trailer of the week, words from John Carmack, the greatest NBA game ever played, and more.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

Over 500 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page.

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