One hundred years of Attitude
You can’t tell me what to do, me
Uber Update 2023
I didn’t realise this was out last week until it was too late for a newsletter. Obviously, I’d normally do a newsletter late, but last week, I was off on adventures. See my sign off bit for more details on that.
Anyway – the two trades collecting Judgment Day. The main one collects the 9 issue core story – the six issues with Valerio and the 3 interstitial stories between issue 5 and 6. The Companion collections all my work which isn’t in there or the Immortal X-men collection(s) and a few other stories that didn’t have a home. Crossovers!
Judgment Day is my huge disaster movie epic set in the Marvel Universe. It’s about the end of the world, how we justify ourselves and what heroism means, and whether that’s possible (or even desirable.) It’s about people. Specifically, it’s about just shy of eight billion people.
I hope it holds up outside the context of the thrill of serialisation. Hell, I hope it works better. I tried to write a story which had something to say about the world, full of everything I love about Marvel comics. You should just be able to pick it up and read. Valerio and Marte made it look like a dream of a blockbuster, all scale and humanity. Clayton dealt with my overwriting with style and panache, as always. I had the keys to the Marvel Universe for a summer, and I tried to make something worth sticking a spine on and coming back to.
It was fun. Never again.
Oh, don’t look at me like that. Sins of Sinster is petite in comparison – though an even larger story in terms of the scale of the events it’s describing. At least we’re doing this one together, in a Si, Al and me hybrid beast.
This is Si’s turn to take the baton, launching the +100 era, where things have continued to go badly for all right thinking people. I’m back next week, with Immoral X-men #2.
This is a bit of an expanded version of some idle writing thoughts I put on my Mastodon.
When I do comics writing suggestions, I’m almost always talking about absolute fundamentals - comics grammar, essentially. I don’t do story advice. I don’t do key advice for anyone who actually is good enough to get work. I’m all about helping people reach a broad competence, and then allowing them to discover what they want to do when they have it. If you can’t write a sentence, you can’t tell a story. That’s true in comics as anything else.
That said, I do chew over bits of advice I would give to a new WFH writer.
One which keeps on coming to mind “Consider reducing your cast by half”.
I don’t obey that one, but you should at least consider it.
If you consider it, you may not cut it by half, but you may cut it by 1 or 2, which will likely make your comic better. I think of way back in Phonogram when there were many more characters, and I ended up merging a bunch – Kid with Knife was at least two people. Seth Bingo was three in Rue Britannia… and then I cut him into 1… and then I cut him into zero, and gave his role to Emily Aster.
Phonogram lost a bunch of people, for a bunch of reasons. Imagine how many more it would have lost if it had another four or five significant characters.
It follows from the standard Space = Meaning, which works for narrative weight as well as panel size. To make people care about people, you need to give them space. If you have too many people, you can’t make people care. If you can’t make people care, no-one likes your comic, and even people who like all your cast from previous books are annoyed they don’t get to do enough. More so – more characters leads to more complexity, and at a certain point, people will lose track of characters, at which point they instantly stop caring as they have no idea what’s going on.
You may see on most my books with huge casts (as in, most of them) how I try and mitigate that, but that’s likely another essay, and besides the point. Offering any solutions implies they’re the only solutions, rather than tactics you deploy when you consider exactly where you are and the aesthetic goals you’re trying to achieve. Young Avengers builds up the cast a step at a time – Eternals does that too, for other reasons. WicDiv has a distinct lead who explores the world and you aren’t separated from her for a long time – and we oh-so-rarely get the whole cast together. Immortal X-men focuses intensely on a single character each issue so you have firm guidance on your attention, and what to care about (while also letting you really get to know the cast). There’s lots of options.
It’s also worth noting that despite all that, the problems above is how a good chunk of people who don’t like my work respond to my work. I lose them as they no longer care, and they no longer care because they’ve lost track of why they should care. Yet again: tactics are tactics, not solutions.
I mention this as advice for people coming to Work for Hire rather than general writing rules (because it certainly holds true there as well) because Work for Hire presents an awful temptation to anyone who’s also a fan. You love all these characters, so you want to grab as many as you can. It’s your chance to have all the toys.
I get that. But if you grab too many, no-one else will love them, and you will be frustrated by you being unable to show your love in the space you have available.
That said, if you swap your no-name antagonist for Doctror Doom, your review score average will jump by a star and a half. But that’s another essay, right?
I do want to answer a bunch of Tumblr asks properly, but I did answer the 2023 edition of The Uber Question....
Hi, any news for the end of Uber this year?
I was waiting to be able to speak to Avatar properly before giving an update on Uber for this year, but the conversation has had to be delayed for a bit.
So the interim update answer is: no change in the situation yet. We’re waiting on Avatar, who own the book, to decide on their publishing going forward.
I’m committed to finishing the book - the second things are sorted, I’ll polish up the last four scripts and get them over. Daniel and I talk regularly to check in with each other.
I’ll update when I talk properly with Avatar.
Michael on the DIE RPG Discord asked me a question with a long enough to include here, I think.
In Breevort’s latest newsletter, someone asks “Do you generally want writers to have a through line/ending in mind when pitching a series? or is it enough to have an outline with some cool stories to tell?
And he responds: Depends in part on the series, JV, but in most instances, the latter. I can’t think of many (any?) times when I brought somebody onto an ongoing series and they came in with their endpoint all worked out and a number of issues set.
I’m curious about whether Young Avengers had its endpoint in mind, or it changed in the telling. I remember reading something from you about how despite the enormous praise it wasn’t quite what you’d hoped for/wanted (and was thus part of the genesis of WicDev? That’s my speculation). I don’t know if or where you’ve expanded on that sentiment to express what you’d hoped for and what got in the way.
The “Not quite what we wanted” refers to a whole bunch of stuff, and they’re not really related to the things you’re asking about. It’s much more a “We wanted to be as good as Hawkeye, and we were never as good as Hawkeye” sort of place. There’s also the standard pithy one liner is “Young Avengers asked the question “Is it possible to do a pop-comic at Marvel?” and the answer was “No.”“
With YA, as someone who had done a lot of crossover work - JIM’s plot was planned around knowing I’d be doing a lot of tie ins to stuff I didn’t even know about yet - I wanted to do something which simply didn’t tie in to anything. We set that up with the plot (i.e they can’t to New York, which is where most Marvel stuff happens), but in reality, we also looked at the other books at the time that managed to carve a space and see how long they could keep that - X-Force is the one I remember, which managed 17 or so before entering a crossover’s gravity well.
As such, we figured we should be able to pull off 15 issues, which we did - accelerated shipping meant 15 issues were a year, with Jamie doing 13 of them.
Jamie and I were always planning to just do a year - we were asked to continue, and we declined.
I went and had a skim at the pitches I sent to marvel to see how much the specifics of the ending were in there. Not a huge amount - there was a bunch of stuff that I didn’t even use, except if you squint. There’s some talk about the broader themes, which certainly play out. That said, what I don’t think Tom includes is that a writer having an ending in mind doesn’t mean the editors know it per se. At Marvel, you’re not going to plan a specific number of issues, as there’s so many moving pieces - the planning would be pointless to that degree. But you mostly know what direction you’re going, even if the terrain is discovered on the journey.
I have to presume I knew at least some of how I wanted to tie it off - big beats like Loki/Leah are set up in the first arc, for example, and the rest of the big stuff is as well. YA is pretty claustrophobically plotted.
Work-wise this has been a quiet two weeks. I reached the place where I’m sufficiently ahead on Immortal that I moved onto something else – specifically, a complete draft of the OGN. The family then headed up to Edinburgh for the best part of a week – C had been invited up to be a monologist at one of the Edinburgh Improv Festival shows, and we decided to make it a whole thing. I was mainly on child-care duty, with the spare time around that basically keeping things ticking over and seeing friends in the area. It was really lovely, those the pram-walks where I slowly had to circle outside the government building has probably got me on a terrorist watch list.
I’m back now and getting things aligned. I suspect I’ll polish up the OGN and get it to the artist to see what they make of it – I suspect we may expand by 10 pages, but we’ll see. There’s a new project that had a kick off call, so I need to go through the details on that.
I’m also going to forgive myself and strike one thing off my “stuff I want to write about in the newsletter thing”. I’ve got behind on talking about books, and I will just do a short form thing here. I had a sort-of-comfort wander into Jingo, one of the Pratchett books I hadn’t read, which I’d bought prompted by Desert Island Discworld about it way back in 2021. The latest Wayward Children book, Lost in the moment and Found dropped and was instantly devoured. The series has mainly become a device for telling the children’s wayward, individual histories in coming to the school for Portal-World-Survivors and each offers a way for Seanan’s unrelenting storytelling attack. This one had me a weepy mess in the first chapter.
Most of all, prompted by naming a future comic The Idiot (no prizes for anyone guessing which one ) made me feel shamefaced that I was name-dropping a Doesdovesky book I hadn’t read. So I decided to change that, which makes it the first big literary book I’ve read since Iris arrived. It’s also very much my jam, in the heighened hot mess of emotions and some genuinely funny stuff. I mean, I wasn’t expecting a joke about someone claiming that in retaliation for a lady throwing his cigar out the window, he threw her dog. And then the rest of the chapter is another character unrelentingly doing the 19th century equivalent of “That’s clearly fucking made up, you just stole that from twitter”.
Oh – and a quick plug for Rebecca Wilson’s What Mummy Makes, a family-with-young-kid-cook-once-for-everyone cookery book which clearly had AND/OR DADDY scrawled on it the second it entered the house. I’ll forgive that – it was just the name of her old twitter account rather than a directive for Who Should Cook For Baby, and is exactly what I desperately needed. Nothing more than 30 minutes in time, one-meal for the whole family, etc. I’m doing a lot of the cooking at the mo and with my brain, this volume has proved really useful, and has me thinking more confidently about food in a way that I really wasn’t before.
Basically, I have learned that most cookery problems can be solved by throwing cheese at it.
I never said I was smart.