Your work can speak for itself. (It better!)
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.
From the good karma corner of the Storymaze…the ever-intriguing David Quinn is finally having a big chunk of his highly original Dr. Strange stories reprinted by Marvel. As a fan of both the good Doctor and the good David, I’m happy to help get the word out on pre-ordering this massive collection of supreme sorcery.
Twisty Little Passages
Filmmaker and all around creative-guy Mark Bellusci and I ran a podcast called Street Writers, taking on writing in the back alleys of every day assignments. In the “Take A Swing At This” segment of each show we knocked around tips for making the writing better. I’d get behind it more, but as this transcript explains…Never Defend.
Dan: Never defend your work.
I think it's our natural inclination as creators to put something out there, and when somebody doesn't like something or somebody doesn't get something, we dive right into saying, “What I was trying to get to was…” If it didn't work, it didn't work.
It's like telling a joke and nobody laughs and then you say, “No, no, you don't get it. The cat was wearing a marmalade sandwich on its head.” So instead explain what you are trying to achieve.
Because then the person can become your consultant, your conversation partner. Instead of it becoming a debate and you going, “No, I'm going for this…” And they're saying, “I’m sorry I didn't get that…” — they can lean more into being your ally.
“What didn't you get?” Let me understand it better, and I'm going to make it better the next time.
Mark: It reinforces some of the things we've talked about, and the first is: listen. It's very hard to listen to somebody when you're already preparing the defense in your head and you're instantly picking up on somebody saying that, “This pace seems slow…”
And you're already starting to think of justifications, so you're not really getting the full experience of listening to exactly what they say. Sometimes the gems of what somebody gives you aren't the direct things they say.
It's their emotional reaction in between those where you can know, “Ooh, that wasn't the emotion I wanted to evoke.” So the listening part is crucial. This doesn't mean you don't defend your work, in my mind, in the sense that you still have to be the captain of the ship. You may give this to five people, and five people may have different opinions and you may have to choose a consensus on a certain thing based on your inner writer's group.
Dan: You are still the author of whatever you're creating. That authorship is important. Even you saying, you're looking to build consensus… I don't think either one of us would necessarily want to say, “Okay, I'm going to try and take five feedback loops and create tasteless gruel from all that.”
Find out why. “What took you down that path of either laughing at something when I didn't want you to laugh? Or thinking very deep thoughts about that when I thought this was the thinnest, superficial thing I was just doing just for fun?”
You will learn something from having not a debate, but a conversation around it.
Mark: You can't go too far in either direction. You can't be defending, and, even if you're civil about it, confronting. “No, you didn't get it! Here's why…” But on the other side of the coin, you're not pulling out your pen saying, “Okay, wait, change this word to that.”
You're looking to absorb everything and go back on your own and be the author.
Jealousy is always made out to be a bad thing. Because as civilized primates, we’re supposed to be above it all. Naturally, that’s how I comport myself whenever I’m confronted with a work of superior surprise and style…anyone buying this BS?
Truth is, I know that petty, cringy, ragey, gremlin working over my ego and leeching off my spirit. There’s plenty of long, dark nights (and bright days) of the creative soul where it's all about the dual withers of, “Why is *that* so wonderful?” and “I’ll never hit *that* note!” But in my wiser — or at least mo’ chill — years behind the keyboard, I find the right kind of jealousy to be a motivator. As in, "That’s so damn fine! I want to have that kind of fun!" And so it it is with The Department of Truth: an absolute banger of a comic book series.
James Tynion has crafted a savvy tale of intrigue, of conspiracies wrapped in intrigues inside schemes. One side wants to unleash a world of flat earths and faked moon landings and microchipped vaccines. The other side is charged with holding these whispered tales and YouTube truths at bay. Which side is right or worth rooting for isn’t clear — but hell if they ain’t both got my attention.
As a child raised on keeping my eyes peeled for Philadelphia Experiments and Chariots of the Gods, I especially appreciate how the conspiracies are played out with just the right amount of deets. Serious research went into giving each “true lie” authenticity, but the author knew exactly where to hold the line to prevent a spiral into the kind of in-depth minutiae that can come from too much book (or Google) learning.
I ripped through it, telling myself, “Damn — I wish I wrote this!” There can be no higher narcissistic compliment. Mr. Tynion just scored an Eisner for Best Writer — spot on, as far as I’m concerned. He's also pioneering a new form of comics here in substack-land — an experiment in publishing I'm excited to see play out.
Are there conspiracies about jealousy? There should be. Maybe I’ll start one…
The Comics Labyrinth
Let’s talk about Alan.
I didn’t intend to bring him up. But his authorship of the comic above — Daredevil #341 — became a point of discussion at my recent Terrificon appearance, my first comic convention as a guest in 20+years. (Yikes!) Ryan Welch (photo credit) asked me directly who the heck was Alan Smithee, and why did he write this “Wages of Sin” storyline?
As I’ve often said when asked about Al: “We don’t talk much anymore, but he’s a decent enough guy…”
Which is another way of describing my relationship with myself. Because, of course, Alan was me.
I always assumed this to be either totally obvious, or an open secret of the first order. But the question of identity has come up enough that it seems it’s quite earnest for many.
My reasons for putting an alias in the credit box — and that one in particular — stems from the circumstances of my rather inglorious dismissal from Daredevil as its longtime writer.
When I began that set of stories they were originally titled “Mark of Cain," continuing our biblical naming convention for hornhead’s adventures. The Spider offices wanted to intro a character named “Cain”, so although they were tracking behind our plans — I agreed to Spidey editor Danny Fingeroth’s request. (Or maybe it was a demand? Spidey Sense trumped Hypersense in the Marvel hierarchy. But Danny was a pretty chill guy, so I’m going with “request!”)
Soon after outlining the storyline and the first plot or two, there was a seismic change in editorial leadership. Daredevil was removed from the office of longtime steward Ralph Macchio and handed to one of five newly knighted and separate Editors in Chief. (Don’t. The logic, it burns.) The EinC-X now holding sway for Matt Murdock and friends assigned the month-to-month duties of the title to Editor-A — who promptly told me that said EinC-X wanted me off the book.
*BUT* — Editor-A was not to inform me of this news!
Give that a moment. I know I did.
This was by all counts a “legit” strategy of some editors at that time. Just don’t tell someone a job is over! Then when a creator submits work and a voucher, they find out their grim fate when finance rejected payment. 100% confrontation free. (Not to mention 100% free of professional courtesy.)
If my neurons ever connected, they certainly weren’t in that moment. After I finished flabbergasting, teeth-gnashing, and woe-is-me-ing — the mortified Editor-A and I agreed that I'd finish the set of issues that were set to constitute the story. But I demanded the credit would go to Alan Smithee, a fit of pique that felt like it was making a statement but was largely toothless. (That was some fierce gnashing!)
Smithee was the traditional fake credit that film directors used when a movie was taken away from them and the creative intent was ruined by "the suits." I'd do my job, but I could already feel off my game…realizing the hooks and future plot lines I was setting up would go nowhere…worried my writing wouldn't rise above the downright shitty situation…and held out little hope that the story would add up to anything more than what the Wages of Sin traditionally paid out: death. (That was some woe-is-me!)
We'll come back to the merits of the tale itself 'round another turn in the Storymaze. For now, I'll enjoy the fact that my Smithee stand rated a mention in Wikipedia as the only time the credit was used in comics. And I should give Alan a call. It's been a while since we caught up, and he is a decent enough guy…
Web of Intrigue
“There is nothing wrong with spending a night in jail if it means getting the shot you need.” — Werner Herzog
How’d we end up here together? Maybe a detour off the dark web! But I’m hoping it’s because you subscribed to this share-out of projects I’m working on plus things that have me jazzed. I’m D.G. Chichester. Which sounds very pretentious, and tweed jacket and pipe — so feel free to just call me “Dan”, and have a go at the last name as Chai (like the tea) Chester (just 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 and websites in the world wide web of advertising. I keep my storytelling cred by trying new things — this is one of ‘em, with more on the way. I like weird and sometimes creepy 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.
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