🍞The Wonder Bread Save
Don't Let Failure Quiet You
Every episode of Into the Storymaze = writing ideas or writing-in-progress; something creative I’m excited by; a highlight from my comic book writing; and a quote that’s worth a think or two.
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Is it ever a good sign when a wisp of smoke curls up from an expensive piece of audio gear? Asking for a friend…
Actually, it was a bunch of them: a New York University junior-indie crew, way out of their too-cool-for-ﬁlm-school element.
We were on location far into the New Jersey 'burbs, creating movie magic for a ﬂedgling director's horror masterpiece. Not to get all old-school technical, but this will help frame the sitch. Celluloid ﬁlm ran through the movie camera at a typical 24 frames per second — a whirring mechanical process. To avoid that noise, pristine sound was captured via a standalone Nagra audio recorder. This specialized equipment had a Magic Crystal™ inside to ensure the precise timing for the separately recorded sound to stay in sync with the camera's picture.
We all knew what it meant when the Nagra belched out its twisty smoke. No power light. No reel-to-reel turning. No screams to be recorded for this fear ﬂick.
The NYU equipment room was far, far away. There were no nearby ﬁlm gear rentals. Team Suburbia had no electronics wizard. This shoot was His-Tor-Ree. The smart money was on the straight story. Shut it down. Pack it in. Make do with whatcha got.
StoryMaze to the rescue! I hadn't systemized any formal approach in those days. But the concept was my intuitive angle on story creation, on the page, the screen — or in this case, in life. The idea is that there's more to be gained by going deep into a ﬁctional concept, a business opportunity, a ﬁlmmaking challenge.
Give yourself permission and a purpose to explore its twists and turns. That's where you discover the treasure of unique narrative that stands out, that sticks with an audience, that delivers on potential.
We cracked the case on the Nagra with the deliberate care of Bond, James Bond defusing a warhead. Inside was a fabulously, frighteningly complex mechanism. A drip of sweat or whiff of bad breath seemed enough to upset the intricate innards. And at the center of this technology labyrinth: a charred, melted wire leaving a critical gap between enigmatic Very Important Components.
Crew members were sent scavenging the house for wire, and knocking on doors for a soldering iron. One neighbor loaned us a solderer the size of a toaster oven. Perhaps it was then appropriate that the only thing in the house that resembled a wire was a Wonder Bread twist tie.
Trembling over the delicate guts of the Nagra, we laid the twist tie across the chasm, and christened the bridge with an unholy burst of toaster oven heat. Our own cloud of smoke arose. The Magic Crystal™ vibrated anew. Cinema fans were assured a high volume of monster movie growls and groans.
I'm sorry to say, the Wonder Bread went stale.
How's your story sounding these days?
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Reading this excellent teen drama, I could just about hear the high pitched screech of a 14.4k modem making its techno-magical connection to the early days of the internet. Having navigated that on-ramp to digital personally, I admit to getting a nostalgic kick out of the story devices of ASCII art and text bulletin boards hosting secrets and shareware software. Incredible Doom Vol. 1 perfectly captures the vibe and appeal of the mid-nineties online scene, like a comic book "Halt and Catch Fire."
But it's the coming of age tale of four teens that propels the story — and feels very then and now. Allison is the daughter of an emotionally abusive magician; Samir, half-black and half-Iranian, lives with his divorced dad and struggles with definitions of "normal." Their growing bond through an online bulletin board system (BBS) represents hope, a chance for freedom — but also introduces the threat of serious conflict.
At the same time, Richard tries to navigate a displaced life, trading in his old crew of computer enthusiasts for a new high school of bullies. He finds an unexpected connection with proto-punk Tina and her rebel underground BBS EVOL, and it's up to the two of them to help each other out of different types of trouble.
Don't let the fact this is marketed as Young Adult fiction fool you into thinking this is a Lifetime Channel sugar-coated special. There are some especially hard scenes that drive home the loneliness and need of these characters that are very affecting. Their personalities, relationships and struggles strike the right balance of bad situation and soulful connection, with solid character arcs that deliver because they feel lived and earned.
For these four misfits, it's a coming together of all the right moments in time: a combination of geek culture and early technology that suggests new possibilities — of discovery and escape and re-definition. (I remember feeling much the same logging in late at night to avoid high connection charges, wondering who and what was out there to message, share and download.) I am eagerly hitting refresh for word of Volume 2. (At somewhat higher connection speeds.)
What kind of dial up speeds you get there in your Storymaze?
Just putting this out there, as a point of pride and no small part wonder: Dwayne McDuffie called me to write his character. Considering his influence, his position, his creative standing — talk about an an unexpected pleasure and privilege. Sure, I knew him since college, and we'd worked together at Marvel — that took nothing away from the fact he could have brought anyone in to add to Curtis Metcalf's armored adventures.
Why me? I guess I should have asked directly then, or I'd get around to it someday. But with some people — you never get the someday. Maybe it was that I was a bit down on my luck in terms of regular writing gigs — and at an earlier time when I was in a position to make assignments I'd made a point to back Dwayne. But even if that mutual support was there — I like to think it really came down to respecting and appreciating each other as storytellers. I know I sure as hell respected and appreciated him.
One of the most exciting creative things about Hardware was investing myself in a wholly new character. It's one thing to read the comics as a fan. It's another to then have to go through, issue by issue, and understand the relationships and motivations, technology and tactics as a guideline — not to mention the considerable backstory and bible that made up the fabric of the city of Dakota. Milestone was — and is — worldbuilding in the best of ways.
It's a grand reset in terms of comics history that Hardware and the rest of the Milestone characters are once more getting the spotlight and their due. More than that — it is long overdue.
“An emotion is right and wrong relative to a desire. If you feel uneasy as you commit yourself to your desire, you are walking in the wrong direction and will never reach it.” — Neville Goddard
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’s too much, feel free to just call me “Dan.”
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 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 emails…
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