Monday, July 9, 2012

Need Some Inspiration? Comic Books FTW!

Superman was always misplacing men under vintage cars
I love summer movie blockbusters. The more blockbustery the better. I prep the same way every time, by stuffing my pockets with graham crackers, marshmallows, Hershey's bars and a sterno can. Then, like my father before me and his father before him, I make s'mores over an open flame as the previews roll. Ahh, sweet tradition.

Just before the movie starts, I take off my thinking pants so I won't be bothered by the little things. Like superhero physics (where does Hulk buy expand-o-matic trousers?). Or the implausibility of Hollywood hook-ups (Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen, Shia Labeouf and Megan Fox, Woody Allen and anyone). Or the completely unbelievable story lines (Game Change, about a presidential candidate who nominates a barely literate Alaskan Governor for Vice President - c'mon, people!).

As the lights dim, I savor every flying aircraft carrier, every chest-bursting alien and every angst-ridden web-slinger. If the movie is even moderately good, I come out of the theater with an elevated pulse, bouncing on my feet and feeling unstoppable.

With the energy of a thousand suns coursing through my body, I get in my car, squeal out of the parking lot (scaring the hell out of families headed to the 3:05 of Brave), jump the curb and slide sideways through a red light on the way home!


It's OKAY! I have Allstate!
The adrenaline rush of seeing beautiful people do impossible things is a pretty powerful motivator to me and I usually get a lot more done after a good movie than I do after, say, a roll in the hay. And by that I mean actually rolling in hay which is, like, a thing around here. Southern Virginia. Am I right?

If I could watch a movie every day and suck down s'mores by the pallet, I'd be far more productive. I'd also be pre-diabetic and afraid of the sun. Like an obese Edward Cullen.

It's the sweatbands, isn't it? They make me look fat?
Sadly, that's a no-go. I could turn to Pandora and pull up a decent Abba playlist, which is just as good for putting me in the mood.

OMG! I almost showed up wearing the same thing as Agnetha! Sooo embarrassing.
But I like to write without distractions. That includes music, nature sound CDs, or the incessant mewing of bored children. Are you listening, boys?! You'd better find something to do that doesn't include asking Daddy every five seconds where your clone trooper action figures are or you're going to be grounded until Lucas makes a good Star Wars prequel!

So daily movie viewings are out of the question and music just keeps me from getting anything done. Also, exercise makes me belch, so that's out too. What to do?

Personally, I've been turning to comic books lately. And if you're looking to recharge or reanimate just before your next 1K lunch, you might consider doing the same. Here's why.

I'm partial to "BIFF," the sound of someone getting hit with a shuttlecock
Comic books have all the visual intensity of a good movie without all the driving, spending and sticking to the floor-ing. And their story lines run the gamut from the familiar cape-centric hero tropes to less mainstream indie titles. Think of them as tunable Pandora playlists for any mood.

Perhaps you're thinking, "Yes, but I'm not writing a testosterone drenched YA about men in Spanx." You would be forgiven for thinking that flights in tights still dominate the comic book shelves. In many ways, they do. The biggest-selling titles still showcase bulging muscles on their men, impossible proportions on their women and spandex on everyone. Good if you're into that sort of thing. Not much of a resource if you're not.

But comic books cover a lot more ground now than they did when I was a kid. In many ways, comics parallel the evolution in YA publishing where titles now go well beyond the mainstream and delve into topics that went untouched even a few years ago. No matter what your interest or what gets you fired up about writing, there is a comic book series out there that you can devour in an afternoon for a pick-me-up that rivals any Red Bull recipe. Except for Red Bull and heroin, maybe.

For example. Let's say you're writing paranormal YA that was inspired by all those hours watching Buffy re-runs. Did you know Buffy continued in comic book form, literally picking up exactly where the TV series ended?

File:Long way home tpb.jpg
Yes, but how does your machete-brella actually perform in the rain, humh?
Maybe you're writing a Variant-esque take on the mysterious shenanigans at an exclusive prep-school. Well then allow me to introduce you to Morning Glories (which has been described as Lost at boarding school).

In retrospect, hosting a Carrie-themed prom was just asking for trouble 
Or perhaps you're writing a Gallagher Girls-inspired YA about teen thieves and you need a good heist story to get your one-last-job juices flowing. Say hello to Thief of Thieves.

May I suggest for your next heist you steal a face?
And we're not just talking intense, big people stories. If nothing gets you in the writing mood like watching a good episode of Futurama, then maybe you should pick up a few copies of Futurama, the comic book, for your reading pleasure.

Spoiler Alert: Even in print, Bender's still a dick
Victorian Gotham? Alien abductions? Badass time-traveling Albert Einstein?


These are just a few examples, of course. But think about the books, movies, TV shows, albums or other forms of entertainment you like to mainline before sitting down to a blank page. Given the number and variety of comic book titles out there, someone has probably given your muse the graphic novel treatment.

Part of the appeal is getting that hit without having to invest an entire weekend in the process (are you listening, Mad Men, Season 5?!). But don't mistake brevity for lack of depth. The best comic book titles, like any tale, resonate because the story and characters are fully realized. The paper comics are printed on might be flimsy but the stories are not.

I know, I know, you're doubtful. You're afraid of what might happen if you step into a comic book store. All those excitable nerdlings pawing at you, asking you to check out their newly constituted Magic: The Gathering domination decks. There are only so many fanboy tears you can put up with over the whole Prometheus debacle.

Yes. He might be there. Just avoid eye contact, you'll be fine.
But trust me, it'll worth it. The next time you're looking for some inspiration and need a change from your usual espresso I.V., stop in to your local comic book store. Yes, they've hit the modern age and you can buy all your comics online and even download many of them to your iPad. But you go to a physical comic book store for the same reason you haven't abandoned your favorite indie book store: the people there know their shit and actually give one about your interests.

Go up to the person behind the counter and tell her or him what you're looking for. More often than not, you'll be talking to the owner. He or she can point you in the right direction.

With your supercharged grey matter, you'll be finished with that WIP in no time!

Already an aficionado? Tell us about it in the comments. What comic book titles do you read for inspiration, fun or just good spandex fashion ideas?

Copil writes YA the same way his mother made menudo: veeeeeeery slooooowly and with lots of tripe. You can follow Copil's stream of consciousness (such as it is) on Twitter (@copil).


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