A Situation Up There
Avoid or Engage, You Gotta Choose
Here’s what you get in every issue of Into the Storymaze: writing insights or a work-in-progress; something creative I’m digging; a highlight from my comics-writing credits; plus a quote that’s got me thinking — both about right now and what’s next.
"I think there's some kind of situation going on…"
The woman who informed us of that vague fact did so in an utterly nonchalant way, gesturing with her stuck-out thumb to indicate "back there." Her nose was crinkled, her smile weak, making it clear to us that whatever was "going on" was not to her delicate taste.
We were hiking the South Rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, an epic declaration of natural beauty. Miles of dazzling and colorful rock formations carved into the earth, mythic waterfalls, it is truly spectacular — and should be on your "must see" list. Seriously — get out there and have the experience. I'll wait…
Amazing, right? OK… back to Miss Situation. She was coming down from a slight rise in the trail, so we couldn't immediately see what had her so, "Whatever…" We had to crest that hill to clue into what was up along the relatively flat stretch that followed.
More than a few tourists seem to miss the fact that national parks are not Disneyworld. Even in popular spots, you are most definitely out there. There are few physical guardrails. While your travels are generally common-sense safe, if something looks dangerous — it probably is.
The South Rim trail was relatively well-maintained, even oddly (and uncomfortably) paved in some spots. Even so, it extended right to the open Canyon. This was not a straight run of sheer precipice. Some of it was a gradual incline. And there were many outcroppings of rock and soil that stepped down and jutted out from the edge. But no matter how you went over, it was 1,200 feet down, down, down.
Here then was the "some kind of situation" we came upon: a heavyset older woman — let's call her Big Louise — had somehow, for some reason, lowered herself onto a particularly small outcropping. Now she was trapped on the ledge and was desperately trying to get back to safe ground. Her Significant Other — Big Lou, natch — was kneeling down, leaning way out over the canyon. He had a fierce grip on both her hands, doing his best to lean back to pull her up.
For her part, Big Louise was squeezing her SO's hands like her continued existence depended on it. Her feet scrambled to find passage on the several feet of loose soil and rock that was the crumbling wall from the trail to the ledge. Without meaning to, her panicked motion and weight was a lurching pendulum that threatened to drag Big Lou down in a tumble. I knew enough Wile E. Coyote physics to see where that collision would land both of them: Eek!
As me, my wife and son rushed to Big Lou's side, a dad and his boy came upon the scene from the opposite end of the trail. The young'un was wide-eyed at the potential life-and-death events unfolding. Dad used his parenting skills to establish a great teaching moment. He pulled junior closer, declared, "None of our business!" — and hustled the two of them down trail, out of sight, out of mind. Because: every man for himself. There's a shit story for you.
Full stop: this would be where I'd normally bridge into a Storymaze metaphor. How a straight-on story can only deliver so much. And that you should instead dive deep into a creative or even personal challenge. Because exploring its twists and turns for the unexpected treasures of character and detail are what can really impress an audience.
Full disclosure: given the time-sensitive nature of the events in motion, we didn't exactly make that full-on Storymaze consideration. But something made us step up, while Miss Situation and Daddy Do-Nothing slunk away. To me, it’s that purposeful commitment to travel inward, to discover richer connections to yourself — and to others. Works for the keyboard, works for life.
My wife leaned down and back on Big Lou's shoulders to stabilize him — physically and mentally. My son and I stretched out our walking sticks and the straps from our backpacks, to extend those to Big Louise for additional grips and grabs. We used calm voices and outlined simple steps to bring down the anxiety level and start Louise on her way up. Desperate scrabble became deliberate footholds. Ruin transformed into reunion.
We got back on the trail. A last look back at the Bigs had them sitting well back from the Canyon's edge, chilling out, together — and safe. Like I said about the view… truly spectacular.
Whatever situation you find on the trail up ahead — be the person ready to insert yourself in the story.
Know someone who’d enjoy time in the Storymaze? Ask them to join us…
“Story is not only our most prolific art form but rivals all activities–work, play, eating, exercise–for our waking hours. We tell and take stories as much as we sleep–and even then we dream. Why? Why is so much of our life spent inside stories? Because as Kenneth Burke tells us, stories are equipment for living.” — Robert McKee
Whenever you think you know, in whatever self-assured way: best to dive into an experience before you judge so harshly.
Maybe that's obvious. But maybe also it's one of those things that are so obvious you need a good hard smack to remind you now and again. And I had the pleasure of that crack to the skull in the form of Robert McKee's Story.
McKee was a legendary figure in Hollywood circles. Not so much for his output as a screenwriter, perhaps, but certainly for his status as a teacher of the art of screenwriting. His seminars ran two or three entire days, commanded top dollar, and he held court as he dispensed techniques and examples that were meant to raise your game from FADE IN to FADE OUT.
Back in the day, a lot of my Marvel Comics compadres signed up to take McKee's Story class. And while they came out the other side positive and impressed with the lessons, I was put off by their descriptions that suggested a certain arrogance on McKee's part — and some of the conditions imposed on students by the Master. The one that stood out most and remains with me was his insistence that no one could take notes. Full days and big $ and you're going to tell me I can't write down a single word of this lauded writing wisdom? I'll find my own way, thanks.
Years later and McKee put his own notes down into book form, and having now read it I am struck by not only his many sharp principles on how to apply the craft. Arrogance? To me, now, it reads like the confidence of an experienced practitioner. Of even greater impact is his passion — and humanness. Here's a short excerpt from a long passage about the many loves a writer must have:
"The love of uniqueness-the thrill of audacity and a stone-faced calm when it is met by ridicule. The love of beauty-an innate sense that treasures good writing, hates bad writing, and knows the difference. The love of self-a strength that doesn't need to be constantly reassured, that never doubts that you are indeed a writer. You must love to write and bear the loneliness.
But the love of a good story, of terrific characters and a world driven by your passion, courage, and creative gifts is still not enough. Your goal must be a good story well told."
There's a lot to love in this book, wherever you are or want to be on the writer's road. Would I be a better writer now if I'd put my own ego in check, left my pen at home and spent a couple of days in McKee's class all those years back? I've got better "What If?" tales to tell. But I'm a better writer by reading, and knowing that there's always more to learn.
That's my Story, and I'm sticking with it.
I know I’m not the only one with something to say or share. Jump in…
Couple years back, Boom Studios brought together a bunch of my Nightbreed comics into an absolutely cracking collection. Amping up the awesome a bit more, they asked me to write a foreword and an afterword. (A little less awesome was that they had no budget for this, but would pay me in comp copies — which they did, and they are fine, fine editions, so all balanced out there.)
I really enjoyed the trip down this after-midnight memory lane, and think it still captures a lot of how I feel about working on these comics with some amazing collaborators, and playing in Clive Barker's wondrous world. I'm pretty sure I'm cool with representing my words here as well as there. But if there's an issue, Ross Richie always knows where to say hi. 😃
When sleep drags you down into dark, what do you dream?
A hookup with someone you never thought of “that way”? A rush of bright adventure? Maybe it's daily routine, played out against the pillow so clear you're fooled into thinking you’re awake before you actually do open your eyes again. All very expected. All very…Natural.
Or are your dreams frenetic things? Shadows glide across a cave wall. Unreal forms collide and curve into each other. A hiss at your ear, a howl, laughing-leering-screeching. This is the way time works when you spend it with the Tribes of the Moon. The Nightbreed.
Maybe its failing neurons, but that's how I remember my season with these fantastic creatures. A fever dream. Fierce, fragmented jump cuts. Raw energy impression.
The smell of cemetery earth. Reading in Fangoria about a new Clive Barker movie he promises will be the “’Raiders of the Lost Ark' of monster movies."
Whispers building. Greeting the man himself in the Marvel Comics’ lobby.
Taste of metal and salt. Collaborating with Clive and comics’ legend Archie Goodwin on the bible for the Hellraiser series.
Skin creeps. Hellraiser’s success prompts Clive to suggest we take on Nightbreed.
A caress ignites. Championing a way-more-than-usual movie adaptation by securing 2000 AD heavy hitters Grant, Wagner and Baike.
Something delicate rustles, rotting. A boa constrictor wraps around my neck on the film set at Pinewood Studios.
Sharp, slow raking down the vertebrae. A film scoring session with Danny Elfman and his bullwhip.
A tombstone shudders. Aggressively, willfully, greedily pushing the new editor to choose me-me-me to take over as writer on the extended run of the title.
Fire flickers on a mausoleum wall. Plotting most every issue of that first storyline in a single night white heat.
Is that the way it really happened? Well, it's all I've got left, so yeah. Just like that. So help me god. Or in the case of the ‘Breed’s lord almighty — so help me Baphomet.
As divinities go, Baphomet seems a pretty chill fellow. With the exception of the living god’s one immutable law: Nightbreed shall not eat meat — human flesh. Why should that be? Is it selfishness, the imperious right of a deity daring its subjects to defy it? Is it self-protection, because that feast will draw attention of the natural world and trigger its revenge? Or is it self-awareness, knowing to give in to such hunger will only fuel the craving for more?
But what of the humans? The Naturals. Do their gods decree the same restrictions on appetite when it comes to Nightbreed? Not so far as I know. So here’s your chance.
Bite down on what scampers and roars and delights in the night across the pages that follow.
Be my guest. Have a taste.
“Nothing is casual. Everything requires work, research and thought. Don’t leave it up to someone else. There’s no such thing as a shortcut if you are going to turn in good work.” ― Howard Stern
Thanks for taking a break from the dark web to check out this share-out of projects I’m working on, plus things that have me jazzed. I’m D.G. Chichester. If that looks pretentious, and too tweed jacket and pipe — feel free to just call me “Dan”, and have a go at the last name as Chai (like the tea) Chester (like it looks).
I earned my word-cred writing comic book titles like Daredevil, Terror Inc., Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD and Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, along with all manner of digital widgets in the world wide web of advertising. I keep my storytelling cred by trying new things — this is one, with more on the way. I like weird tales, so if things here bend that way — now you know why!
Folks seem to like the comic book adventures I’ve written, so if you haven’t checked one out — please do. Many are now available in fab collected editions.
For the lonely moments between these newsletters…
@dgchichester — 280 characters from the Twitterverse
@dgchichester — images + context via Instagramland