Saturday, April 29, 2006

Old friends...

The script for BLACK HOLE is starting to feel like a real movie script, I think. Roger and I bought a bunch of CDs with names like "CHARTBUSTERS From 1974!" and have them playing in the background a lot of the time. Oddly enough, the intervening 32 years hadn't erased how much I didn't ever want to hear "Billy Don't Be A Hero" again. One verse in and it all came crashing back...


There hasn't been a lot of time to read recently, but I found myself on a plane last week with a proof of Rick Veitch's new book CAN'T GET NO. I've been a friend of Rick's for the best part of 20 years, and fan before that, so I've read a lot of his work, but this book still surprised me. CAN'T GET NO was odd, which is mostly why I'm writing about it here, to try and figure out what I think about it, and it's not just slightly odd – it's supremely, magnificently strange, and like nothing else I've read. It's a (physically roughly the shape and size of a pocket paperback on its side) graphic novel that's a direct descendent of the wordless "novels in pictures" of the early 20th century, books by Masareel, by Ward, by Milt Gross. The story itself, the dark Odyssey of a young executive whose life falls apart in the days before September the 11th, is told clearly in sequential panels, without word balloons. The captions are a sort of abstract soundtrack – a surrealist prose poem that counterpoints the story, intersecting with it, reflecting it, deepening it. The combination of image and text has a weird, cumulative effect, a sort of literary synesthesia that gave me the same kind of oneiric reading sensation I normally only associate with novels by, say, Thomas Pynchon or Steve Erickson. I don't think that CAN'T GET NO reinvents the graphic novel – it feels more like Rick is rediscovering the power of the "story in pictures" as he goes, taking everything he knows about comics, everything he learned about dreams doing the Rarebit Fiend comics, and making something new and moving and, as I said, utterly strange.


Hi Neil, not a\ question, but just though you (and maybe your blog readers) would like to know that Dark Horse comics and Adidas have teamed up to produce a limited edition of shoes and track jackets to raise funds for the CBLDF. The link to the article is:

Thanks for your time,


I feel very out of the loop -- I'd not heard about this at all. Looks really cool, too. Good for Dark Horse.

Hi Neil,

Have you announced yet if you plan to attend the 2006 Comic-Con in San Diego? I searched the archives and checked Where's Neil and didn't see it mentioned one way or the other.

I'll be going for the first time, having been invited by my new publisher. After writing screenplays for several years (including working with Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, who wrote one of the better adaptations of Sandman), I've been hired to write my very first comic.

I'm enjoying the new medium immensely, but it leads me to my second question...

After writing screenplays for so long, I'm having some difficulty transitioning into writing for comics. I tend to think in terms of shots rather than panels, so I find that I regularly try to cram 8 or 9 panels on to every page.

It's driving my artist batty. Usually he can come up with good ideas for conveying the necessary information and emotional context in fewer panels per page, but it's forcing him to do work that should be my responsibility.

Do you have any tricks or techniques that allow you to easily switch from one medium to the other? I know I'll develop my own analytical tools and "gut feeling" after a certain amount of time, but I'd like to make my learning curve as steep as possible.

Many thanks,

Steve Barr
Los Angeles

I find that drawing it yourself -- doodling it out as thumbnails -- always helps. And -- to take an analogy from movies -- remember that you're the director and editor as well. It's easy in a film script to say "Jack is watching TV when the doorbell rings. He sighs and throws down his copy of TV guide, gets up and answers the door, where Admiral Nelson and a small furry alien named RODNEY are waiting, sipping Pepsis." And the director and the cameraman are going to block that out, and then shoot it in several set-ups, and then the editor will assemble it into a couple of shots from the choices s/he has. In comics, you've got one panel, maybe two to do that, so you just have to grit your teeth and pick two panels tell it in...

It's also useful to set yourself formal problems. Tell an entire story wherever possible with three panels on the top tier, three on the bottom and one thinner one across the middle, say, or (something I want to try in an issue of Eternals) use the classic Jack Kirby four equal panels to a page thing.

When I was writing THE KINDLY ONES I decided that I wanted it, wherever possible, to be six equal-sized panels to a page, arranged 2/2/2, because that's an arrangement that the eye loses -- you see it and then you forget it.

The other thing that you might want to try is writing a looser script and let the artist break it down into panels. You can learn a lot from that, too.

Mostly, experience and experimentation will sort this stuff out for you. Have a great time at San Diego. I don't currently have any plans to be there, but you never know.


Those nice people at LOCUS have a special offer for readers of this blog.

If you want a copy of their February 2006 edition, with interviews with me and Terry Pratchett fifteen years after their first Neil and Terry Good Omens interview, postpaid (so it's $2 cheaper than it would otherwise be) or as a free gift with a 12 month subscription to the newspaper of the SF field, go to

This is also the issue with their Year in Review stuff, and recommended reading list for 2005, and such (Here's the contents list). It's a good deal.


Hello Neil,

Perhaps you're already aware of this fact, but has an advanced track (Lunascape - Raven Star) from "Where's Neil When You Need Him?" available for preview.


I was, but I'd forgotten to mention it.

Another thing I'd forgotten to mention is that the web elves have been having far too much fun with the photos on the new ever-changing front page and innards of (and when I groused about having a photo up there of me with Chthulhu on my head I was told that I was lucky they hadn't put up the supremely odd Matrix-baddie-style Entertainment Weekly photo from 2003). If you have any pictures you think ought to be on the front page of, you could try sending them to As long as they don't have me with any kind of stuffed elder god on my head.

(Just load in in the front page and refresh to see what other images they have up there.)



Will Tori be doing the voice of the tree in the Stardust movie?


I don't know. I very much hope they'll ask her, and I hope she'd do it if she was asked, but neither of these things are under my control. Still, it's not something that anyone making the movie has to worry about or think about until the point in the production where off-screen voices would need to be recorded, so I doubt we'll know until very late summer, or later.

But you DO have a stalker! You gave me permission (via a friend who asked on my behalf, at a signing in Pittsburgh) to stalk you! Should I be offended now?By the way, I'm likely to be in the Twin Cities anyway in early August, so I figure that's a promising time for the actual stalking to take place. Is this convenient for you?

Not a problem.

Hi Neil A new comics/censorship issue with a new twist has emerged, this time featuring your old publisher Paul Gravett and his recent book "Manga! 60 years of Japanese Comics", being removed from libraries in the US after a 16 year-old boy's mother complained about it containing pornographic content. You can read up on it at Paul's website, as it's kicking up something of a stink in some areas, and is straying into debates about what is appropriate to put in a library, etc. What are your thoughts?

I think that removing reference books from libraries is a very silly thing to do. I've not read it, but I've read a lot of Paul Gravett's writing over the last 25 years and it's always been well-reasoned, well-researched, inclusive, and never sensationalistic.

There's a good summary of the articles currently up at

"To remove a book about the history of the genre of Japanese comics just because it contains a section on erotic comics is comparable to removing an encyclopedia because of an entry on erotic practices," NCAC Director of Arts Svetlana Mintcheva said.

The American Civil Liberties Union is one of the lead members of this coalition. The book Manga: Sixty years of Japanese Comics, became the subject of controversy after 16-year-old Matt Jones of Victorville told his mother the book contained illustrations of graphic sexual acts and sex with animals. The book was found to also be available in branches located in Hesperia, Apple Valley and Barstow.

Along with the order for removal of the book, Postmus also called for officials with the county library to draft a plan to protect children from similar books.

Monday, the supervisor said the book will remain off the shelves of the county library. "A cartoon depicting a person engaged in a sex act with a giant hamster doesn't belong in a San Bernardino County library. And our tax dollars shouldn't be used to pay for it either," he said. "That's simply what this is about," Postmus said.

(I find myself imagining a short checklist for books that they want to put on the shelves of San Bernadino County Library, saying only "Does this book contain a cartoon depicting someone having sex with a giant hamster?" and "Was it paid for by our tax dollars?" and if the answer to both is yes, it gets thrown away.)

If you live in San Bernadino county, and you want to be able to read MANGA! in your library, you might, as Paul points out on, want to write a polite letter of protest to
Mr. Bill Postmus
Chairman, Board of Supervisors, San Bernardino County
385 North Arrowhead Avenue, Fifth Floor
San Bernardino, California 92415, USA
fax: (001) 909-387-3029

The most effective form of protest is a clear and well-reasoned argument. Please refrain from using threatening, insulting or otherwise legally actionable language when writing to elected officials.