Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Second Thoughts

It's still early in my fine art career, and so often I look at older canvases and say, "Someday I need to redo this."

Is there a better time than a 5-day Christmas vacation to do just that? Subtract hours lost due to an unhealthy dose of procrastination, and you've still got a few hours there to work on these projects.

Recently I'd redone an older plein air (spellcheck hates that phrase!) painting. I tried to make the trees more realistic, add some more neutrals so the spring colors would pop better, place cleaner details. The result is "Riot of Spring," and to my VERY pleasant surprise, it sold! (The previous version is on the top.)

There was just a tiny bit of this one painting that I wanted to change, and of course if you change one thing you need to go in and work just a tad all around the painting so everything fits. This is "Twilight Tide." (If you click on these pictures, you get a popup with larger images.)
Unfortunately when I was cataloguing this, I discovered that I had this down as an oil painting. I was working in acrylics this week. Uh oh. Oils on top of acrylics? Fine. Acrylics on top of oils? Heavy sigh. I'll let this one sit in my storage unit for a year to see if the paint does anything odd. If it does, I'll fix it. If it's beyond fixing—well, I have a great photograph I can make a print from.

Lesson learned.

Here's something that was causing me a headache. Such a little thing. Can you spot it? "Wilmington 242401." (At that point I was naming things the way one of my teachers recommended. It works well for abstracts and a semi-abstract like this. Maybe.) The colors on the bottom (most recent version) are closer to reality, I'm happy to say. Now that I know how to work the lighting settings, I really like my new camera.
And finally we have "Summer Hay," a quickie I did in a workshop. Didn't realize that reworking this would take as long as it did! I noticed the paint going on oddly, but my records didn't specify what medium this had been painted in originally. I'm going to say that I painted the correct medium, but whatever white I was using is the problem. Again, I'll let it sit just to make sure things are okay before I try to get someone to buy it.
Overall I'm pleased with these revisions. I'm displeased that I might have gotten the mediums wrong, which means that from now on I'll make a subtle notation on the back of each picture as to what medium it was done in. That will mean no headaches in the future—at least from that direction!


Just a reminder that the Goodreads Book Giveaway for Stalemate is going on right now! With any luck, the book will be released TOMORROW in e-versions, with print coming in about 2 weeks. There will be three lucky winners! And remember: if you sign up for my newsletter (see the top of this page), you'll get a code with which you can get Touch of Danger (the prequel's prequel for Stalemate) for free in your choice of e-version!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

You CAN Judge a Book by Its Cover

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Holidays, Happy Solstice, etc. etc! 
Hope the new year will be your best year yet!

We're here to talk the BEST Wonder Woman covers. (You should be able to click on the pictures to see larger versions.) Now, she's had some good crossover, event and team covers, but I'm going to narrow the choices down to just covers from WW comic books.

Unfortunately, All-Star Comics #8, Wondie's first appearance, didn't feature her on the cover. But her Sensation #1 had a spectacular one! These were the days of H.G. Peter art, with all its vibrance. It was also child-friendly, and often showed both boys and girls having adventures with Wondie.

All-Star and Comic Cavalcade also had many iconic and kid-friendly covers, but these were team or anthology titles so we won't include those here. You can Google them if you want and enjoy.

Wonder Woman #1 had another iconic cover, full of life. Again, we were treated to a range of Peter covers that gradually allowed other artists to take over cover chores. Then we come to the post-Wertham era when Andru & Esposito produced covers in a more modern way. I love these covers; these were the issues I was reading when I was a young kid!

But oh boy, then came the Mod years! You all know that this is my favorite era. Not only did we get op art (it was the Sixties), but that marvelous artist and WW fan, Jeffrey [not yet Catherine] Jones, did two covers (middle, below) that knocked my socks off. They were so unlike anything that had been on a DC superhero cover before, and they were magnificent! Sekowsky's work is on the left in the group below (the issue appeared in the bus scene in the movie Midnight Cowboy), with Dick Giordano on the right. Those were days of great, POSITIVE changes at DC Comics. Pardon me while I heave a nostalgic sigh.

The Mod era ended and once again Wondie was a super hero. Her covers became a modern superhero type, very clean and eye-catching. Nick Cardy drew this one on the left below, and I love it dearly. Bob Oksner did the next, which I think is one of the best depictions of the Wonder costume ever. Then comes Miller/Giordano with a cover that was mentioned on Buffy the Vampire Slayer! After that is the final cover for Volume 1, a very powerful pose (though I think the anatomy's a little off) by Garcia-López and doesn't showcase Superman, unlike the final cover for Volume 2. (Bleah!)

Volume 2 dawned with a jaw-dropping cover by George Perez. You could always rely on George for clear and exciting covers, like issue 3 down there. But there came a time when Wondie's book was graced with a long series of covers by the magnificent Brian Bolland. Oh my! They were FABULOUS. It was difficult for me to pare the list down to a few. I might have left #64 down there off, but that innocent little girl saying, "Bang!" as the gun was firing shocked me to death when I first saw it. Still does.

The second one below, #72, is one of the all-times, isn't it? It even made a good couple of statues from DC Direct. Next to it is a cover that always makes me chuckle, when Diana dared to take on the Boston mafia, eye-to-eye. She scared them spitless! The final cover there, #82, shows the threat of Ares magnificently, doesn't it?

More faboo covers by Bolland appeared on the book, but eventually he left. Garcia-López drew the marvelous the "face month" cover for #128. (All DC's titles had big faces on them. It was an experience visiting the comics store.) Then came AH!, Adam Hughes, a superb artist who unfortunately often has no idea of appropriateness, especially when dealing with a feminist icon like Wondie. Still, look at these last two covers, especially the Diana-talks-to-Lois one (WW #170), and marvel.

I'm going to stick Hiketeia in here because I have other covers grouped. Yes, it's not a comic book, but it is a graphic novel, and that is one eye-catching cover, isn't it? It's by J.G. Jones. It's been utilized for a number of LOL memes.
Now we're finishing up Volume 2 with two AH! covers. After issue #172 down there, is a very funny one that plays off the story of Diana going back in time. We see the modern WW as well as the original Golden Age version.

Then Volume 3 began, tipping us over to a new slant of Wonder Woman that wasn't THAT far off from what had gone before. Terry Dodson did the cover for #16, which held a great little story, and Aaron Lopresti, one of my all-time favorite WW artists, did the cover for #25, which has a bit of a Golden Age feel in that it reaches out to children.

Finally we come to the last issue of WW that DC published. (I don't recognize newer issues. Well, maybe one. Or two. For all intents, DC laid Diana to rest in June of 2010.) Adam Hughes returned to do a variant cover that saluted Sensation #1. So nice.

So what are your favorite covers? Your favorite cover artists?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Report: Art of the Carolinas 2014

I've been going to Art of the Carolinas since it first started. Get this straight: I NEVER just drive around, but one day way back when, I was "just driving around" Durham because it was a nice day and I had gas in the car and the radio began to do a location report from this artsy something going on out in Research Triangle Park.

They talked about a trade show that had the latest art supplies, and of workshops being put on. I said what the hey, it's only 10 minutes away, and cruised over.

What I found kind of blew me away. It was the very first AotC, and from that point on I was hooked.

AotC is put on by Jerry's Artarama, which is like Heaven for artists. Well, artists who have money and who aren't bothered that the brand selection isn't as wide as it once was. Jerry's makes deals with certain brands and as a result, stops carrying other ones. Even so, whenever I go through Jerry's doors, I have to pause and let my heart pound for a few moments. Cue that heavenly choir!

AotC has settled to be housed at the Raleigh North Hilton, which is about three blocks north of Jerry's Raleigh superstore. There's always a van or stretch limo that runs between the two during the run of the show. Some of the workshops are now held at Jerry's, since the Hilton tends to run out of workshop space.

A schedule of workshops runs four days and the trade show runs the final three of those days. Big-name artists run a lot of the workshops, and others you see there year after year. Some big-name artists are there year after year as well.

I recall one of the first workshops I took, taught by the fabulous Tom Lynch. In it we learned how to paint windows and doors that had some soul to them: the top of the door didn't look like the bottom did. The window wasn't uniform. That kind of thing. It taught us to be aware of varying even the minor parts of our painting, to make the entire thing as entertaining as possible. Wow!

The second Tom Lynch workshop I took turned me off him. This was the kind where he had the entire class take their paper, mix up some yellowish-green, and then make a brushstroke across it. Whereupon he'd check that everyone had made that brushstroke. Then you'd put a square of blue wash underneath it. And so on, paint by numbers without the numbers and without learning anything.

So the quality of the workshops vary a lot, even with the same teacher presiding.

I once told my dad that I learned more at two years' of AotC—6-ish days total—than I had from four years in UNC's art department.

But AotC has changed through the years. There are fewer different vendors, though still quite a few, and familiar Jerry's inventory has taken over the majority of the trade floor, albeit with extremely good sale prices. One makes a shopping list before hitting the trade floor, and one checks one's bank balance before doing same, as well as confirming the cubic footage inside one's car. A few times I've come awful close to buying more than what my Civic will hold! This is the Big Art Shopping Trip of the Year with the best bargains as well.

Starting last year (or was it the year before?) I stopped taking so many of the workshops. This year I only took one: travel sketching in watercolor. I figure I'm traveling a lot more these days, and I'd love to do some sketching. In grabbing a sketchbook for the class, I was surprised to discover in it some work I'd done during my second trip to Montreal back in '05 or so. Not bad stuff, either.

It was odd not having to use my regular rolly-cart to bring in all my supplies; they fit in a single cloth bag, and even then I'd overpacked for the class. I claimed a section of work table. Even though Jerry's knew how many people had signed up, they still didn't have enough tables set up, and we had to wait a few minutes for two more to be brought in, with enough chairs.

AGES ago I'd taken a course in psychic/holistic healing in Durham. One of the students who also lasted through all three years was a woman I'll call Sandi (because I can't remember what her real name is). She can stick her hand in fire and have it remain unscathed. No, really. I've seen her do it. She has problems when someone screams (ahem), but otherwise, she's quite friendly with the fire element.

I've seen her at almost every AotC event. We'd never been in the same class until now (she's into more crafty stuff than I am), and we just happened (right, universe, I get it) to sit down opposite each other at the table before we both looked up and realized what we'd done! We had a lovely catch-up chat that likely confused our neighbors.

The older gentleman to my left had arrived without reference photos, as had MANY others in the class. I will never understand why people do this. AotC gives materials lists for every class, but there's always a huge amount of people who arrive lacking something important. Once I sat next to a woman who'd brought NOTHING, and wound up giving her an extra canvas, letting her use my paint, brushes, extra easel, etc, etc. Good golly! And of course, I've been in two classes where the instructor gave out completely incorrect equipment lists. Helloo?

The class began and our instructor showed us what kind of sketching she does, how she doesn't use store-bought sketchbooks but makes her own, etc. She showed examples of others' sketchbooks and how they used them not only to sketch in but to write or make notes, or gather little items that reminded them of—

"Excuse me!" a woman in the back protested loudly. "This class is only three hours long. Can we please get to the workshop part?" Her buddy added a similar complaint.

Our instructor assured them that we would begin immediately (even though what she was showing us WAS an important part of the workshop). Luckily for us, she has ADD or something and went on passing out samples that we all (except for the two biddies) studied.

The biddies went back to their tables and began to paint in their sketchbooks. The rest of us finished looking at everything, watched a couple demos, and then returned to try doing quick but bold sketches.

The teacher kept lecturing as we worked, and then she brought up using a pen. Good, I thought, we're going to incorporate pen-and-ink sketching as part of the watercolor, maybe learn what's best to note about a scene.

Instead the instructor outlined every change in color and/or value on her sketch. I asked Sandi why we were doing this. It had nothing to do with the scene we were sketching.

"It makes it look prettier," Sandi assured me.

But I didn't want 'prettier,' I wanted to make the best study I could so I could take it home and use it in conjunction with photographs I'd take on location.

This is the kind of thing you run into with these workshops, that the instructor's intentions are different from what you expected, but I was determined to learn what I could. Yes, the lines did make it look more finished, and people in the class assured everyone that they made the sketches more saleable. (But I didn't want saleable; I wanted reference.)

I managed two partially-finished sketches for the class. The first one we made a pencil sketch first (that's the Grand Tetons one), and the second we just dove in with paint first.

I like to think that these will help make more dynamic paintings when it comes to putting images on canvas. Certainly from the Gibbon Waterfall picture (below), I learned that the actual waterfall needs to be depicted much larger than I've done here.

The workshop ended, we packed up and left, and I strolled next door to enjoy my annual Bahama Breeze luncheon (mmm!) before returning for the trade show. I had my shopping list in hand and managed to find most of the stuff rather quickly.

But the show's checkout line looped clear around the three ballrooms that had been designated the trade floor. "Oh, the line's moving fast," one of the Jerry's employees assured me after I'd heard someone say they'd taken an hour to get through it. "You'll be finished in twenty minutes."

After 20 minutes I'd progressed ten feet. The massive line kept people from really perusing the stock in the crowded room, and it impeded traffic flow so that all the artists who were on the trade floor demonstrating various stock or techniques, weren't able to get a group to watch them because there was no place for the group to stand. I did have nice conversations with two of them as I stood waiting.

And the second-to-final stretch of the line did go by Jerry's "bits n pieces" displays. For example, I tossed a new kneaded eraser and gray scale into my cart. When we rounded the final corner, a woman a few people in front of me left the line to grab some paints. I told her that the Ultramarine she'd picked up was a very weak variety. I had the same jar, but only use it when it's pure, because the instant you mix it with something, it goes invisible. She frostily thanked me for the information but assured me that it was just fine with her, but about five minutes later I noticed her slipping out of line again to return it.

We stalled next to a table where a guy was demonstrating a new kind of organic brush cleaner made from lavender. Impressive! He'd gob up a brush with oil paint, scrub it around on a surface so the paint really dug into the brush, then dipped it quickly into the cleaner. When he brought the brush out, it was clean. Tried it out on a clean sheet of paper: no residue. "I don't care how much it is," I told him, "just give me a bottle."

It wasn't on sale yet; wouldn't be available for another two months. I got a little advertising card for it, as did just about everyone else in line, and eagerly look forward to trying it out in my own studio.

All in all, I was in line for an hour-plus. There were about eight? cash registers going as hard as they could, but even so, there were just so many people... They assigned a guy to help me load my car and after he'd gone, I wondered: should I have tipped him?

The folks at the show acted surprised when I asked if they'd do things differently next year so this kind of thing didn't happen again.

From there I toodled down the street to Jerry's. Jerry's doesn't ever put its alkyds on the trade floor and only stocks it in the store, so I grabbed new alkyds there. I asked one clerk where the acrylic gouache was, and she said it was all at the trade show. I assured her that I wasn't going back THERE again! I have an unopened tube of the stuff somewhere from a year or two ago; it's just a matter of finding it.

At the store there are three cash registers, but they only had two going. The line took about 25 minutes to go through, and people at the back were complaining loudly. The store manager was doing his best to keep people happy, cracking jokes about standing in line. Employees walked up and down the line asking us if we'd found everything we needed. They had a guy on steel drum playing stuff that got to be (sorry) annoying after a while.

All in all I was a good girl, spending-wise. Sure, the total was more than I'd estimated, but I got a lot of good stuff. (It helps that I know to stay away from the crap that's disguised by nice packaging.) I'd checked over the DVDs I'd bought last year but hadn't watched yet (good golly miss molly, how time passes quickly!) so I didn't buy any new ones.

With the new year I'll be painting again on a regular basis. Good to know I've got the supplies and know-how to do it!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The World's Greatest (Mainstream Superhero) Graphic Novel Ever!

You can talk about your Dark Knights and Blackmarks all you want. (Personally, I lay the blame the suck-titude of modern comics at the feet of the Dark Knight.) You can look at Buzzfeed's list of the superhero graphic novels you absolutely must read right now! (One of which is a compendium of nu52 faux Wonder Woman. As if!) You can point out that the book we're about to talk about wasn't quite the world's first graphic novel, though the cover claims it is. Other ones had come before, often utilizing reprinted material.

But the greatest superhero graphic novel of them all was Action Comics #360 (80-Page Giant #G-45). Correct me if I'm wrong, but this was the FIRST graphic novel starring a mainstream superhero!

Mar.-Apr. 1968. Author: Jerry Siegel. Artist: Jim Mooney. Editor: Mort Weisinger. Fabulous cover art: Curt Swan and George Klein.

The book was the epitome of the child-friendly, charming/crazy Silver Age. Within its (now torn with re-reading) covers lay the story of how Superman's young cousin, Supergirl, was finally deemed ready to go public.

For years since Supes had uncaringly dumped the frightened, orphaned youngster at an orphanage in a strange land, Supergirl, aka Kara Zor-El, aka Linda Lee, had been learning her new powers and operating as Superman's "secret weapon." We readers had been fascinated by the chutzpah she displayed with her fledgling career.

She had robots of her own, just like her cuz, and had a super cat, Streaky, to balance his having Krypto the super-dog. (Shortly thereafter she'd acquire Comet the Super-horse, who was a little more than just a pet.) (Hey! You stop thinking that! I'm saying that every now and then he turned into a human man, who romanced Sgirl.)

Our cover gives away the plot points that lie within, showing that Kara's going to go through several milestones before the climactic ending, in which she's presented to the world with accolades. Bad cover, for giving away the ending! Naughty!

The book begins with Kara in her secret ID of Linda Lee, performing a quick super-save and then fretting that she's been spotted. But it's only Krypto, who leads her to Superman, who has a big communications/teleportation station set up on a deserted coastline. (No, I don't know why he doesn't use his Fortress, other than that Supergirl will need the ocean nearby soon.)

He shows Kara a video he's going to broadcast to the world about her and her exploits... just as soon as he returns from this other-dimensional place he has to teleport to. But immediately afterward, a convenient cloud of convenient kryptonite conveniently wraps around Earth. Kara's too weak to fly off, but dives into the ocean, where she's pulled into safe depths (so water can shield green K rays? I don't think so!) by Jerro, the teen-aged merman from Atlantis, whom Kara has a crush on.

The people of Atlantis relay a warning that surface criminals have learned of the kryptonite cloud, guessed that this will keep Superman out of action, and have thus launched crime waves. Supergirl spends the rest of the chapter remote-foiling their plots from undersea, knowing that her actions will be attributed to Superman.

After she has done this, the K-cloud conveniently disperses, Superman returns, and the Big Reveal is ticking down.

But Supergirl's lost her powers.

Superman determines that this is a permanent effect of some kind, and quickly dumps Kara back at the orphanage, claiming that he'll do EVERYTHING he can to return her powers to her.

Now Kara, I mean Linda, must learn to function as a human.

We soon find out (thank you, panels that introduce characters by having them think their life story and circumstances) that it is Kandorian scientist Lesla-Lar, a double for Supergirl, who has used her science to destroy Kara's powers. She is jealous. We'll come to discover that she wants Supergirl's potential fame for herself as well as powers so she can take over the world. Bwah ha ha.

Meanwhile, Fred and Edna Danvers happen along one day to Midvale Orphanage, spot Linda, and say, "Wrap her up. We'll take her home." Home with them she goes (since she doesn't have to pull her usual trick to make potential parents choose someone else, because they'd just interfere with her Supergirl training), to be adopted and become Linda Lee Danvers. The Danverses don't even have to fill out any forms or go through any background checks, much less learn to know the child before they adopt her. The actual legal adoption seems to go through immediately, too. Ah, what an innocent time.

Really, this is important stuff, especially to us girl readers!
Fred is the one to tell Linda that her pigtails are "strictly kid stuff." This is on her first evening home. What a guy. But Linda is talented and restyles her brown wig into a chic, modern 'do that wore very nicely for years.

As Linda goes to bed that night, Lesla-Lar uses a transporter/shrink ray to bring her to Kandor (to my mind there are problems with a mere human surviving that environment, but it never bothered a bunch of other mere-humans, so I won't mention it), and sets a brain-wash helmet on her head to make her believe she's Lesla-Lar. Then Lesla takes Linda's place in the outer world.

Interestingly enough, young teenager Linda/Kara manages to keep up with the super-genius' workload (though she never notices any evil experiments). And like every Kryptonian criminal EVER, Lesla masters her mammoth new powers instantly.

Super-Kryptonian futuristic-science genius Lesla spies on Fred Danvers' work designing early-style Earth rockets (so THAT's what he did for a living!) so she can steal his ideas. She has superpowers on Earth, so she steals Supergirl's suit and then partners with the jailed Lex Luthor to help him do some nasty stuff. We'll find out later that there's actually a reason for her to do this: she wants him to bear the blame for her bad deeds once her own plan comes to fruition.

But Kara has been monitoring Lesla from Kandor (those nosy Kandorians were always stalking Earth people!) and runs to tell the authorities. Lesla overhears just in time and switches with Linda, who thinks her time in Kandor was just a dream.

On a school trip to the Daily Planet in Metropolis, Linda is drawn aside by Cousin Clark, who tells her that he's going to try just one final time to return her powers to her. Gosh, that guy gives his all, doesn't he? Lesla switches places, so it's to her that Superman reports that his experiment didn't work, so Linda is SOL. But "Linda" has him do some silly stuff with rock dust and his heat vision and inhaling fumes from same, that "cures" her.

Her thoughts betray her plans: she'll have Luthor kill Superman with kryptonite, and then she'll "accidentally" kill Luthor while apprehending him. That will leave her "free to conquer or destroy Earth," as she pleases.

See, if I were her, I'd just have taken away Superman's powers same as I'd done Supergirl's and then... What's that you say? "Shut up"? Well... okay.

But now Superman is all hot to make the Supergirl announcement to the world, but he has to fiddle with some experiment in his fortress first. Krypto joins them in the arctic, and apparently Krypto has no idea what Kara smells like, but recognizes that Lesla uses a different PERFUME than does Kara.


Krypto then uses his super-vision to spot Kara in Kandor (she's been hired as an actress on a Supergirl movie being filmed) (how convenient; I mean, ironic!), and Krypto uses some kind of exchange ray — no, really, Krypto aims it, hits the right buttons, etc. — and Kara (in costume from the movie) switches with Lesla-Lar.

Kara immediately loses her balance and bonks her head, creating confusion I suppose. Since Kara doesn't have powers, the grand announcement is nixed. Superman dumps her back home.

Days later, Linda has fun at the beach, catching up with her old friend, Dick Wilson, now adopted as Dick Malverne, who has turned into a hottie. Now she doesn't have to pretend to be weaker than he, and he likes it.

That night, Linda goes to the well at her house to dump her super outfit forever, but she dons it one final time—and discovers she has super powers! Not only super powers, but, as the night goes on and she rescues her cousin, she finds she's invulnerable to green Kryptonite!

Turns out (awp!) that Mr. Mxyzptlk had been puttering around Linda's neighborhood, thought it was hilarious that a girl would wear a super-suit, and magicked her with powers, as well as the anti-green-K spell. Tee hee! He says his name backwards and doesn't stick around to see the crazy results of his spell. ("But this SPECIAL spell won't vanish when I do, as my magic usually does!" he helpfully informs the reader.)

If he can create such an unending spell, why doesn't he do it more often? Right. "Shut up!"

The spell prevents Lesla from undoing Kara's powers again. The Kandorian police arrest her for using "forbidden rays" and destroy her evil lab.

This time Superman's excuse for delaying the announcement is that he has to go into the future to see the Legion of Super-Heroes. While he's gone, Supergirl cleans up the local space area by getting rid of three red Kryptonite meteors. However, Mxy's spell had been specific to green K, so she's affected by the red K, conveniently one at a time.

That's right, kids, this is what germs look like.
(As a child, I thought this bit was super-cool.)

She becomes fat for a little while (not the usual 48 hour effect), then shrinks to microscopic size just in time to battle killer bacteria in Dick Malverne's father's veins, and then becomes a super-mermaid. Again she visits Jerro, to find that a local mermaid has the hots for him, and is heartsick that Kara has his full attention. She runs off and into trouble and Kara saves her, just in time to turn back into a human and bid Jerra adieu, to the wanna-be girlfriend's delight.

On the way back home, Kara has to detour because a falling chunk of green K (man, that stuff was EVERYWHERE!) caused her pain. Superman returns from the future just then, revealing that he'd overshot his time exit and had seen Mxy bespelling Kara. Now that the magic has worn off (for whatever reason), Kara's natural powers have returned.

Superman plans the Big Reveal at 9 that night. (With the on-again, off-again powers of late, I'm surprised he doesn't postpone it to see if Kara will lose her powers again.) The Danverses decide to hit a movie in Metropolis, and Linda goes along since it will kill time. On the way, one of those poorly-constructed Earth-1 bridges collapses under the Danverses' car, and Linda has to leap out and save everyone. Linda says she can't explain, but cousin Kal arrives and tells her it was okay for her to save her parents. What a guy!

He explains Supergirl to the Danverses, giving us a recap of Kara's origins on Argo City, the chunk of old Krypton that survived for years after the main planet's destruction. The Danverses swear to keep Kara's secret ID, she sets up a secret tunnel at home for access, and Superman tears up, recalling his years with the Kents.

But FINALLY it's time for the Big Reveal! It's really milked, but after all these years of waiting, Supergirl fans could really revel in the thrill of it all. We see reactions from people around the world: excitement, jealousy, viewing it as a hoax. Jailed criminals say, "If that young girl captured us, the other cons would never stop razzing us!" and forget about their perfect escape plans.

Was this comics' first full-page, non-title-page panel?
Click to see this larger. (Hope that works.)

The Danverses are so proud of their new daughter, but they say nothing to anyone. The UN gives Kara a standing ovation. Kandor puts on a skywriting show in her honor. Atlantis as well as some planets also do all kinds of special events for the occasion.

As Superman goes off into the future again, Supergirl is left alone to guard Earth. Within three panels a dimensional rift opens in the sky and a gigantic red monster falls into the ocean. It has a protective aura that's like a force field, so when Kara tries to stop it, she just bounces off.

She sends a rocket 1000 years into the future (or would that be 1000 years minus the difference between her age and Superman's?) to ask that green-skinned hottie, Brainiac 5, for help.

He sends a ray gun back in time, but the monster stomps on it, destroying it. But Supergirl had examined the gun with her X-ray vision and now reconstructs it at super-speed. The gun shrinks the monster so Kara can pick it up, place it in a bottle in Superman's Fortress, and then forget to feed or water it. Poor lonely thing.

We see the Legion monitoring her, and they now uncover their monument to her that holds the date of the Great Reveal. They hadn't wanted her to know until now.

There are more huzzahs for the heroine: 21-gun salutes, a meeting with the President (Kennedy!) and Jackie not-yet-O. Superman opens a wing of his Fortress for her use.

The story ends with Linda Danvers lounging on her bed, looking forward to her new life as a public hero.

Cool stuff. The issue even has a text page detailing milestones in Supergirl's life, which goes up to her graduation from high school and enrollment at Stanhope College. These events had taken place after the original stories that comprise this book had been published.

So this was an 80-page (or thereabouts) story detailing Kara's progression through several life-changing turning points, culminating in her achieving what she'd worked for years: becoming a successful, public superhero. That she accomplished this with a lot of exciting celebration and a few boyfriends hanging around was just icing on the cake, and made the reading experience that much more unforgettable for her fans!

Original material:
Chapter 1: "The Unknown Supergirl" Action Comics #278
Chapter 2: "Supergirl's Secret Enemy" Action #279
Chapter 3: "Trapped in Kandor" Action #280
Chapter 4: "The Three Red K Perils" Action #283
Chapter 5: "The Super-Mermaid" Action #284
Chapter 6: "The World's Greatest Heroine!" Action #285

Chapter 7: "The Infinite Monster!" Action #285

CONTEST! Enter my contest at Goodreads for a chance to win a print copy of the wacky soft sci fi book, Applesauce and Moonbeams!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Editurz R Grate!

The other day someone asked a group I'm in if we could check out their new book, maybe review it. (Reviews are gold, remember that! If you have 10 reviews computer systems suddenly begin to recognize your book. PR opportunities might allow you to participate.) I went over to Amazon and though the price was low enough that I could see myself ordering the novel, I decided to check out the "Look Inside!" feature before I did so.

Good thing. From the very first sentence, the book was riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. I checked out the blurb: same deal.

That simplifies that. I don't read poorly-edited books.*

Editing is an unsung science. Let me sing about Anselm Audley, who has edited a few of my books this year and, if he can, please please, will continue to edit them. He's reasonably priced and isn't afraid to point out difficult problems. On occasion he'll even throw in a bit of line editing, like when he mentioned that jello is spelled Jell-O. Okay, so in the current wip I'm spelling it jello, but I'm using it in a non-branded form, as opposed to the volume he was editing.

An author will write a book and then rewrite and rewrite and edit and edit and edit. We get caught up in minutiae. Does a character get up from where he was sitting? Was he sitting? Is someone in his way, or does he have a clear path to go where we want him to go? Should we describe the rug he walks on? Is the need to establish the temperature of the room a true one or can we skip that? We know that he's getting up because as a child his teacher made him sit in his desk every day one hour more than all the other students had to. Have we brought that up? Does the reader need to know? Wait—he's suddenly in the other room. Did we forget to show him rising from his seat and walking there? Did we need that scene at all?

An author's creation does not exist entirely in their brain cells. Many times I've read commentary from comic book writers to counter criticism, talking about what they had in mind for a story and why the characters did what they did, etc. But what they had in their heads never made it to the page.

And if it's not on the page, it doesn't exist.

So a good editor will make sure that what's on the page is what belongs there. They'll  correct language usage so as to make things clear to the reader. It all boils down to enabling reader immersion in the story. Our reader cannot be allowed to come out until the final page of the book. All impediments to that must be dealt with.

So it's crazy important to find a good editor.

What kinds of editors are there? For our purposes there are five types: Developmental editor, line editor, copy editor, and proofreader. Whoops, that's four types. The duties range from seeing the book as a big picture with unfolding plot and character arcs, to figuring out just how one spells "minutiae."

This year I've been chasing after a goal: to reprint my existing books, to get my "Three Worlds" superhero fantasy series out up to volume 4, and to use professional editors, etc. in accomplishing all that.

Okay, Volume 4 will come out sometime around March, but that's not for lack of trying.

During too much of this year I had two books going at once: Applesauce and Moonbeams (previously published) and Stalemate, volume 3 of "Three Worlds."

I don't recommend anyone doing two books at once.

Anselm was busy with Stalemate (and getting in a minor accident in France, which left him woozy for some time) (he's much better now, thank you), so I went in search for a good editor for Applesauce. Another writer recommended her editor, who liked dealing with sf. I tried her out on one scene and she did a pretty good job (considering that it was one scene). We agreed on a price and I sent her the manuscript—in chapter chunks, which is what she requested. She did admit that this was an unusual way to operate, but it was how she worked.

Okay then. I was really busy by the time she began to send back chapters, and couldn't get to them immediately. But I wondered: how does an editor send back a manuscript one chapter at a time? I wasn't hiring her to line edit.

A couple days later I forced myself to take the time to read through what she had sent back, which she was doing with increasing quantity. She was already three-quarters of the way through the book.

I let out a squawk when I saw what she was doing. She didn't want a guy to call his girlfriend "baby," because that was demeaning. She didn't want the computers referred to as "puters" because that was tech-talk and readers wouldn't understand it even well within context.

I asked her why she was eliminating all my punch lines, especially the big one at the midpoint. "There are funny moments, but this is a serious, dystopian story," she replied.

Right. With pampered, telepathic cats, the terrifying fashion police... She said I couldn't come out to state that guns are bad because I'd insult many readers. Why didn't she stick around and put this statement together with that same character starting to buy guns, train with them, and rely on them for safety? She couldn't get that because she was taking this chapter by chapter, and not reading the whole thing through first to see where the plot and various characters' arcs were going.

At this point I fired her and only had to pay her for what she'd done, which really was quite unusable. Sigh. If I'd just read her stuff when it first came through I could have stopped her before she hit $100...

So I tried a service that had a staff of freelance editors. They were much more expensive, but by now I was desperate. I wanted this book out SOON. So I auditioned an enthusiastic editor, this one using an entire chapter to work on, and was pleased with what I got. He even had a very professional contract for me to sign.


Once again I didn't have time to look over his work when it first came through, but I did see that he'd sent the entire manuscript back in one piece. Yay.

But after I read through it all, there was only one thing I could change in the book: he corrected the spelling (I had not hired him as a line editor) on one word, and after I did some research, I discovered he was correct about it. In eight years the spelling will have changed to what I used, but at this particular moment in time, the old-fashioned spelling is the preferred one.

Other than that, his editing seemed the work of a high school student or perhaps college freshman majoring in English. He stated what he liked about the book, didn't have ANYTHING bad or constructive to say, and quoted a lot from Steven King's On Writing, which I have indeed read. (Along with a ton of other writing books.)

At the end he gave me a summary letter that said that now that he'd done his job, I should begin thinking about constructing a theme for the book. Also, I might be interested in line edits and other things his service offered. This did not seem like a summary to me; instead, it seemed like an ad.

I wrote him (and his service) back, demanding a refund. I referred to two big questions that I had posed concerning my books, clearly stated in our correspondence before he began. He had not addressed either issue in any fashion.

"That's because I had no problem with them," he replied.

I pointed out that my book's theme was blatant enough to hit over the readers' heads and leave a mark. Why did he think the book didn't have a theme?

"Well, I put in that point for other writers."

So it was some form response he'd sent me, disguised as a "summary." Again I demanded my money back. He counter-offered with free services, but I assured him that those services would likely be on the same elementary level as his editing, so I wanted nothing to do with them.

Eventually he gave me 3/8 of his fee back. Still I feel entirely ripped off.

Certainly I won't be returning to either of these two so-called editors/services. I can't figure why my acquaintance would be so satisfied with the first editor, since she was so awful.

The conclusion (dare I say "summary?") of all this is: If you find a good or even great editor, cherish them! And keep them to yourself, lest others steal their editing time!

Yes, despite these editing problems, the book has come out! As of yesterday, ALL versions are available, although some sites may take a while to post the print version. It's up on Amazon. Check out the different places you can find it. It's $3.99 for ebook, $11.99 for print. On Smashwords you can download a significant percentage of the book to make sure it's what you'd like to buy. I think you'd enjoy it, but I may be predjudiced. Prejudiced.

*I've read too many manuscripts from wanna-be authors (and even published authors) that make it clear that they don't have a handle on basic English. An author (1) must have an entertaining story to tell and (2) must have the tools to tell it clearly. Today there are community colleges everywhere—even online—in which a wannabe can enroll for a few semesters and reacquaint themselves with proper English usage. If they have someone who will translate their story to proper written English, they can skip this step. But if not, they shouldn't rely on putting their words in the hands of an editor, even a good one, to make things right. Writers have a responsibility to get the basics (mostly) right in the first place.