All posts by Tim Thiessen

10Mar/20

Craft: Sidney Williams – 5 Guidelines and a Few Thoughts on Comics and Captions

Hello again, Silverline Family. I had the pleasure of being able to talk with author and comic writer Sidney Williams. In terms of comics, some of his titles include The Mantus Files, Bloodline, Sirens, Marauder, and The Scary Book. In my personal opinion, he is a master in terms of suspense and dark or unsettling themes. He is also one of the most reliable and professional individuals I know. He agreed to contribute a piece about the craft of writing comics. In the following entry, Sidney talks about Captions, how he views their place in comics and how he uses them when writing himself.
-Tim

5 Guidelines and a Few Thoughts on Comics and Captions
by Sidney Williams

I’d like to say a few words in defense of captions.

Media evolve and affect each other. Film impacted the detail and flow of the 19th Century novel as the 20th Century moved forward. Literature affected comics then film affected comics, eventually comics affected literature and so on.

Comics, of course, draw on prose fiction. Heavy use of prose narration is characteristic of some early comics. Check a reprint of one of the ‘50s EC Comics (https://www.eccomics.com/history) titles such as Tales from the Crypt, and you’ll find instances of dense text blocks and speech bubbles with characters saying a mouthful.

EC stories were inspired by, or culled from, pulp magazines, so that’s possibly one culprit. Ray Bradbury wound up adapting his own stories for them, often preserving the narrative voice of the source material in pieces like “The October Game” in Shock Suspense Stories #9. (Link: https://comicvine.gamespot.com/shock-suspenstories-9/4000-517/)

Read more about Ray Bradbury’s relationship with comics and graphic novels
https://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2019/08/ray-bradbury-comic-book-hero/

You don’t even have to look that far back,. As recently as the 1980s and Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil, the captions are almost novelistic.

Over time, narrative prose has given way to more reliance on visual storytelling in comics reflecting perhaps what many filmmakers and theorists consider the ideal, where speech and images convey the story with no intrusive narration. But in the ‘80s you’d get passages like:

“He feels the cut of the October wind hears the dull throb of New York City below him. He wonders when the city started making him sick.” — Daredevil #226, January, 1986. Story by Denny O’Neil & Frank Miller
(Link for Marvel Database on issue: https://www.marvel.com/comics/issue/8214/daredevil_1964_226)

That certainly gives us a look into a Matt Murdock’s soul.

I’m not saying comics script writers need to be Charles Dickens or Bradbury or even ‘80s Miller.

I would suggest that comics, while they’re a visual medium, aren’t film. They’re of the printed page. They afford some tools not available to filmmakers. The right use of those tools help make the comic book and graphic novel world more dynamic and enriching.

So what’s the rule of thumb for captions? In a word, judicious. In an expansion on that thought:

1. Captions should be used to expand or enrich the reader’s experience, never as a crutch for the writer.

If you just need to tell us it’s Los Angeles, “Caption: Los Angeles” will do.

Maybe a few more thoughts in black and white are in order to stimulate conversation and the creative imagination.

2. If we can see it, you don’t need to tell us what we see.
That’s the big duh of comics writing, but sometimes if you don’t print things outright in black and white text, people don’t pay attention. If we can see a hero approaching a vampire’s crypt, opening the coffin and positioning a stake over the heart, don’t tell us: He positions the stake over the vampire’s heart.

If you use a caption for a scene like that…. [Note from the editor: I will cut that caption SO FAST]

3. Make sure a caption provides insight into character, the hero’s soul, spirit or philosophy.
That’s not an excuse to go full Kierkegaard, but if it tells us something more than we can see like that Miller passage above, the reader’s invited to think, not just look on.

Caption: He hesitates as the stake’s whittled point rests against flesh.

Caption: Is this a life he is about to end?
Or something different?

Caption: What should the act of terminating the undead be called?

Gives us a little more than:

SFX: Thunk!

Vampire: Aieeeeeeee!

4. Captions should fit the world established in the comic book or graphic novel.

You might not want to get heavy-handed with captions. When can they be used artistically? In something like Image’s Fatale from 2012, the comic’s world is inspired by film noir, where voiceover narration was used to carry some of the flavor of the first-person crime novels of Raymond Chandler or James M. Cain that helped give birth to the noir style. You’ll find far more effective captions in evidence in Fatale or in something like Frank Miller’s similarly noir-inspired Sin City, which started in 1991.

5. First-person narration open a character’s thoughts.
Speaking of first-person narration, that has supplanted the old comics staple the thought balloon. Thought balloons are so passé they’re almost out of sight in the rearview mirror. First-person captions, on the other hand are still handy. The staking contemplation above could easily be rendered in first person.

When the concept was fairly new, you’d get a tiny little mug shot of the character inside the caption box, and the text would be in quotation marks. The convention’s familiar enough that that’s not needed any longer, though sometimes we get cues such as the caption being the color identified with the character. John Constantine’s first person captions match his raincoat in Justice League Dark, for example.

Just apply all of the judicious thought to first person as you do any captions. Do they help the story? Add something to character or thematic texture without getting heavy handed? Then deploy.

Those are just a few thoughts. Nothing’s set in stone nor a replacement for your own careful observation or environmental scanning as you read the comics you enjoy. Don’t just read. Take note.

Meanwhile…

Creators went on with their work.

Caption Marauder:

My way-back Silverline title, the noir-inspired Marauder, used a bit of first person narration. Note quotation marks were still the convention in those days.

25Feb/20

Craft Introduction

Hello Silverline Family, we have some exciting news for you!

First of all, allow me to introduce myself properly. My name is Tim Thiessen. I also write under the name, Tim T.K. I’m the associate editor here at Silverline and I help with the website and digital content. You may recognize my name from our Title Spotlight series where we showcase some of the titles in our lineup. I also help with editing some of the series we’re working on, but more on that at a different time.

What I’m writing about today is our new upcoming series ‘Craft!’ As the name implies, this is a series all about the Craft that we at Silverline have fallen in love with: the craft of making comics. Being an independent print, we are in the blessed position of having fewer middlemen between ourselves and the reader. We also have many unique opportunities to take on creators new to the comics industry. This series should help illuminate all the different steps, roles, collaboration, and unique challenges that are part of the comic creation process.

Silverline has had the pleasure to work with some of the most talented individuals in the industry. Writers like R.A. Jones, Sidney Williams, and Brent Larson. Pencilers like Dean Zachary, Luis Czerniawski, Jackson Renick, and Alex Gallimore. Inkers like Barb Kaalberg, Chuck Bordell, Thomas Florimonte, and Terry Pallot. Colorists like Steve Mattson and Kevin Gallegly. I’m not guaranteeing that I’ll be able to get entries from all of the above-named creators, but I have already reached out to a few of the creators we’ve worked with and will be reaching out to more as the series goes on to ask for their insight on the complicated matter of creating a comic book.

Every industry pro has had a different journey. Each person has a different entry point into working in comics. Due to the nature of the industry, many have had to fill different roles, work on a wide spectrum of projects, and have worked with other creators who have helped shape each other’s process. Each person has had to develop their skill set differently because of this.

Our hope with this series is to dig into the nuances of different creator’s process. Throughout this series, we will cover the manifold disciplines found in the industry. Each entry will focus on a specific detail of the creation process for a specific discipline. We will discuss matters like the challenges of writing for a visual art form, creating unique art that tells just as much of the story as the dialogue, and much more.

This series will be great for the beginner or hopeful comic creator, comic fan, or experienced industry pro. Whether you’re learning the skills necessary to make it in comics, a diehard wanting to see how the sausage gets made, or just interested in learning how others do their craft. We’re hopeful that you will come away from each entry of Craft having learned something exciting and new.

Please join us on this journey as we talk with some of our favorite creators and learn about what they do.

28Jan/20

Silverline Title Spotlight: Krey,1-5

Oil your sword, and throw on your leather armor for a saga of fast-paced action, forbidden romance, and brutal betrayal set in a world where barbarians rage in an epic struggle with their mutant neighbors across desert steppes. Krey is the tale of a human raised by mutants who pursued battle, glory, and family.

Krey is a unique tale on the Silverline roster. This fantastical tale tells the story of a man born of humans, raised by mutants, called to battle, and longing for a familial relationship that has repeatedly been denied to him. Krey navigates social dynamics in a world divided through the eyes of a twice-orphaned foot-soldier who is driven to greatness. The reader follows Krey as he discovers his place in the world, and finds that his ability to change the world doesn’t just come from his prowess with the blade but also the depth of his convictions.

The legend of Krey begins when he is a babe in the realm of humans. Krey’s village is raided by mutants, the beings who inhabit this world alongside humanity. Years of hate on both sides have bent both factions against each other. While some try to live together, the powerful often find it easy to use the “others” as scapegoats for their wars. The mutant who stumbles across Krey as a babe proves to be compassionate and takes the boy as his own, along with the Krey’s family sword.

Krey yearned to be a warrior from a young age, growing up in the mutant village. He would sneak out to train with his father’s sword. When Krey came of age, he joined the combat games. In these games, the mutant tribesman showed what kind of warrior they were. While he fell short as a marksman, Krey excelled as a swordsman. The games are cut short when the village is attacked by a band of human raiders. Krey watches as all his friends are cut down. Krey rushes to check on his adoptive father, who has been struck down in the attack. His last command to Krey is to run, take up his father’s sword, and never forget what he saw that day. In the surrounding melee, Krey kills his first man before escaping.

The second issue takes us to Tae Steppe in the Realm of the High Priestess. The city has allowed for humans and mutants to live in a stable if uneasy coexistence. Years have passed since Krey fled the annihilation of his human village and Tae Steppe is now celebrating the Time of Rebirth. The festival is divided into three events. Each event is a different test of martial skill. The victor of each will earn an honored posting in the High Priestess’s army. Krey has joined the festival with two other warriors of note, Etedh, and Calican. All of them hoping to use the festival as a way to accelerate their military career so that they might one day join the High Priestess’s elite force, The Red Guard.

He loses the archery competition to Etedh and the melee to Celican, but he quickly earns the adoration of the crowd. The human’s love his charisma and dominating presence. The mutants are proud of him as he was raised as a mutant. This earns him the spite of Etedh, who is revealed to have a strong prejudice against his mutant neighbors. During both of the previous events, a beautiful mutant woman catches the eye of Krey. Not only is he distracted but he is immediately driven to find out what her name is. The night before the final event, Krey accepts the hospitality of a mutant family. He shares their dinner table and sleeps in one of their guest rooms. The father of the family is also able to share the name of the woman Krey spotted, Netanya. Krey defeats Etedh in the last event, the test of swordsmanship, the Steel against Steel. As champions, Etedh, Celican, and Krey are all offered the opportunity to train to join the High Priestess’s army. Krey then offers the prize wreath he earned to Netanya.

Krey and Netanya unite in what becomes a controversial marriage. Krey’s story unfolds as he struggles with balancing his goals as a warrior and having a family after his birth and adoptive families were taking from him. He must also contend with the biases that dominate the world around him when he, himself, does not understand them. The story of this berserker and his family continues throughout the saga in a story of betrayal, rebellion, and revenge.

Krey isn’t just another fantasy sage. It weaves a tale of complex social politics and dynamics through the lens of a man who was molded by two different peoples that have spent their existence trying to put an end to the other.

Krey is a man of strong conviction in a world that challenges his beliefs at every level. Krey holds only love for mutants despite being told that, as a human, he should despise them. Instead, he lives among the mutants as one of them in hopes that they might share the world with humans. He is a skilled warrior who has spent his life seeking battle, yet takes no joy in the act of killing. This conflict gets highlighted in his relationship with the xenophobic Etedh. As these worldly matters tug at the fabric of Krey’s character, Krey finds himself struggling with the balance of family and duty. All he has known of a family is loss, so to Krey, a family is the most precious thing in life. He views his duty as a warrior also as a deep-seated part of his character. The Realm of The High Priestess espouses the idea of cohabitation between mutants and humans. To Krey, that is an ideal he will fight and die for. More than once, these dreams have come into conflict with each other. Sometimes with mortal consequences.

The conflict in Krey’s personality is smartly done and drives the story in ways other fantasy series have fallen short of. Though the action, big swords, and rippling muscles are a large aesthetic plus, the emotional conflict in Krey and the social conflicts of the world are what pulls the reader into the series.

Written by Roland Mann who, besides being my boss, is an accomplished writer and educator. He currently serves and the Editor-In-Chief and Publisher here at Silverline. Roland has also had postings at Malibu/Marvel Comics. Other titles Roland has written include Tiny, Rocket Ranger, Miss Fury, Planet of the Apes, Battletech, and Demon’s Tails.

Krey was originally published by Gauntlet Comics as issues 1-3, and Krey Special Edition.

Art for chapters 1,2, and 3 was done by Steven Butler. Steven is well known for his work on Archie Comics and Sonic the Hedgehog.

Criss Cross also provided art for chapter 3. He is known for working on titles such as Captain Marvel, Firestorm, and Blood Syndicate.

MC Wyman drew the art for Chapter 4. He is known for working on titles such as The Mighty Thor, Daredevil, Silver Surfer, and many others.

Chapter 5 was penciled by Jack Keefer. Jack also inked chapters 2,3,4 and 5. He has also worked on Marvel’s Northstar.

Chapter 1 was inked by Ken Branch who has worked for just about every major publisher including DC, Marvel, Valiant, Image, and Malibu.

Floyd Robinson also contributed ink to chapter 3. He has also worked on titles such as Thor and Batman.

Nick McCalip provided letters for chapters 1 and 3. Nick’s work can be seen in works such as Silverline’s Cat and Mouse and Malibu’s SilverStorm.

Chapter 2 received lettering from Dan Nakrosis. Who has worked on titles such as Archie, Sonic the Hedgehog, Berserk, and the X-Men Manga.
Rik Mayo also contributed letters to Chapter 3. Rik’s work can also be seen in The Mantus Files.

Debbie Woods lettered Chapter 4.

03Dec/19

Silverline Title Spotlight: Pendulum, 1-4

From a small, coastal village in New England to the sprawling metropolis of New York comes Dr. Hildy Row, also known as the Pendulum. This four-issue story titled Big Hand, Little Hand follows Dr. Row’s spiritual degradation as it runs in tandem with his ascent into being a masked hero.

Pendulum is a different take on the idea of a superhero comic. More reluctant than a hero, Dr. Hildy Row tells a lot of the story through narration and reflection a reader would find reminiscent of a hard-boiled noir tale. This narration comes directly from his journal which has been recovered and transcribed post-mortem.

From his journal, we learn a lot about Dr. Row and the many ways in which life has become both tragic and extraordinary. In his own words, he is an “Unqualified Genius,” having earned a doctorate at a young age and being the only man to come close to cracking the code for immortality, despite a history of violence and social ineptitude. His dearest friend and mentor Frederick DeLaCroix, founder of Tougher Technologies, Inc., set Row up with a grant that fully provided for an isolationist lifestyle with a simple agreement. Every year, Row turns in his notes, as disorganized as they may be, then the company turns them into marketable products. No questions asked on either side. Yet at the same time, he has developed a literal death wish.

Issue 1 brings us into Dr. Row’s story after his friend and mentor, Frederick DeLaCroix’s passing. He and his wife Lucy were expecting a child, who they, unfortunately, lost in a miscarriage. The rift this caused in their relationship was so great that Lucy had to leave. Dr. Row is left alone in his home in a small ocean side village in New England. Where he remains in bed for the following three days. His sister and brother long since estranged, Hildy Row now finds himself without friends or family. His entire world has collapsed around him.

Eventually, Row emerges from his self-imposed isolation and returns to his laboratory. There he completes his work on a serum that could offer immortality. A serum he began working on as a promise he made long ago. Yet, when he decides to test it on himself, he hopes the serum fails. The result being his death. To his disappointment, he awakens, very much alive. Row walks through the park side of an inlet that he frequents to think about his current reality and what went wrong.

Through an unfortunate chain of events, the inlet is set ablaze and a boy is trapped on a jetty by the flame. Almost unconsciously, Row runs headfirst in the flame and emerges with the youth untouched by the roaring fire. Only there is no pride or sense of dignity in the actions he took that day. He knows the real reason he attempted to save that boy was in hopes that the flame would consume him.

Row returns home to wallow in his shame and the public’s new perception of him. The adoration that he feels is misplaced reminds of the way people look up to caped superheroes. Then and there he commits himself to become one of these heroes. Daily, there are confronted with life or death situations. He hopes that one of those days, the villains will catch up to him. Granting him a death that he feels would free of shame. However, a new problem arises in the form of a PARA attack. A side effect of the serum, paroxysmal atemporally rapid aging, causes him to age and de-age several years in a matter of seconds.

With a mission ahead of him and the curse of his immortality serum handicapping him, Row begins on a mission that will bring him into direct conflict with an executive at his benefactor’s company, and a member of the scientific community that he idolizes.

More than just another superhero comic, Pendulum is the story of how one man’s tragedy brings him to do the extraordinary, even if for the wrong reasons initially. The unique style of narration allows the reader to connect with Dr. Row in a way we can’t with many comic book characters. He takes the reader on an emotional roller coaster as he, himself, works to understand why he wishes for the end. Row goes through a complicated metamorphosis as he realizes that he may not need to die, but rather that he only needs to kill part of himself so that the rest of him may continue living.

This is the kind of story that flips the superhero genre on its head. The tale is an interwoven web of family trauma, corporate intrigue and espionage, complex emotional growth, and deadly dealings with one’s idols. With a rich and deep narrative delivered both in art and prose, it feels like a reader could just as easily be reading a classic noir thriller novel as much as a “cape-comic.”

Creator, writer, and penciler John Drury also gives the reader a little peek behind the curtain of his mind with each chapter in the story of Pendulum. At the top of each issue, Drury talks about the unique aspects of that respective issue’s creative process and how that translated into bringing Dr. Row’s story to life. John also worked on Silverline’s Sirens as a penciler, and Cat & Mouse as an inker.

Pendulum was inked and lettered by Ted Slampyak who also worked on Neil Gaiman’s Mr. Hero – The Newmatic Man as a penciler and cover artist. Slampyak also worked as the writer and artist for Annie in 2013.

Pendulum also featured letters by Debbie Woods in issues 3 & 4, who has also worked on Cat & Mouse.

Covers were done by Steven Butler and Ken Branch for issue 1; Ken Branch on issue #2 and #3; John Drury and Thomas Florimonte on issue #4. Tom O’Connor provided the colors for all covers. Steven Butler has also worked as the penciler on X – Men Legion – Shadow King Rising , Sonic the Hedgehog, Silver Sable, and as a cover artist on Lady Death. Ken Branch has also worked on 28 Days Later as penciler. Ken also inked titles such as Cat & Mouse, Green Lantern: Kyle Rayner and Iron Fist: The Book of Changes. Thomas Florimonte has inked Cat & Mouse and other titles, and is the creative force behind Zomboy.

15Oct/19

Silverline Title Spotlight: The Mantus Files, 1-4

New Orleans is home to many heroes and do-gooders in the Silverline Universe. In The Mantus Files, we learn that the Crescent City is also the home of things that go bump in the night, ghoulish conspiracies, and the handful of characters that are about to get tangled up in it all.

This four-issue mini-series, originally published in 1991, is set in the familiar city but explores the dark workings in the city’s shadows. It is the job of Peter Mantus, investigator of the arcane, to dive into those shadows and thwart the evil within.

The story of Peter Mantus has a standout role in Silverline, not only bringing a unique view on the arcane and magic but also being one of the press’s few titles to deal with horror themes. Silverline’s dedicated readers will notice that like many of Silverline’s titles, the series is rooted in crime. It takes the crime-thriller structure to play on and bend some tropes and concepts commonly found in horror.

Peter Mantus himself is a play on a type of character seen throughout literature. Mantus has been haunted by demons ever since he was a young boy. After his family’s dark dealings were put to an end, and he was rescued, Mantus raised himself to fight the darkness that nearly consumed him. He has spent so long investigating supernatural evil that he has become an expert in the subject. To better his fellow man, he has written down his knowledge on all things evil in hopes that the lay-man could equip himself to fight off the darkness. The pure sensationalism of it all, however, seems to be what grabs most people’s attention. Through publication and publicizing Mantus has earned himself a reputation as a celebrity “ghost hunter.” Mantus finds himself in situations where to get others to take him seriously, he’ll have to show them just how malevolent the forces of darkness can be.

The series starts with little attention paid to Peter Mantus, instead focusing on the evil he is sworn to destroy. Jennifer Morris, a lady of the night, suddenly finds her life is at its end as a madman raving about “closing the gate” sets her and himself ablaze in a dingy hotel room. From there we transition to Sgt. Ferris Jackson, a detective for New Orleans homicide. After establishing the current state of New Orleans, we are introduced to Peter Mantus as he returns home to search for his friend Raymond Evers. Raymond is a social worker with a long and deep relationship with Peter. He is also one of many individuals tied to the city’s homeless population to go missing.

This brings Peter into contact with Sgt. Jackson as he thinks one of the bodies in the fire might have been Raymond. Sgt. Jackson takes away two things from their interactions. The first being that now he has the name of Raymond Evers as a suspect in a murder-suicide. Second, Mantus is a talking head on television, espousing mystical nonsense. Mantus’ search then leads him to find Tammara, a mother whose daughter went missing. As they investigate, they draw the attention of a group of vampires who would prefer they stop asking questions.

Issue 2 picks up with the duo of Mantus and Tammara cornered by the pack of vampires. Mantus launches into action with a big boot to the chest of one of the vampires. Mantus discovers the vampires to be surprisingly fragile. The attackers themselves seem surprised to have a victim that’s putting up a fight. It’s not long before Mantus creates an opening for their escape. As Mantus and Tammara break for it, a photographer by the name of Quaid assists in their retreat, blinding the vampires with the flash on his camera. After they regroup, Quaid leads Mantus to the cemetery where the disappearances and vampire sightings seem to be dense. There Mantus begins to unravel the mystery of the dark power orchestrating the recent events in New Orleans.

The series continues as Mantus draws connections from his past to the cult conspiracy, bringing him closer to learning the truth of what happened to his friend Raymond Evers. Quaid enlists the help of a special local magic practitioner to ascertain the motives of the dark forces in the city. Sgt. Jackson Ferris and Peter Mantus attempt to break through the distrust to develop a professional relationship for the sake of the city. As each investigator moves closer to the truth, we learn that much more than the Crescent City is at stake.

The Mantus Files doesn’t truly fit in just one particular category. It’s more like Demon-Noir, with the tone and trappings of a hard-boiled detective novel. The Mantus Files feature strong narration from the characters, a slow burn as the layers of the mystery are peeled back by the team of investigators, and an explosive finish when it all comes to ahead. This unique voice delivers the story of a dark thriller. The clock is ticking for the heroes to make it out alive. Around every corner is a beast looking to turn an investigator into prey. The dead rise, and mortal men are used as fuel for dark and ancient plots set in motion long ago. Bookended with a splash of body horror for the connoisseur. The Mantus Files sets itself apart as both a crime-procedural and horror-thriller.

Written by the incomparable Sidney Williams, this is one of Sid’s four entries with Silverline Comics. A novelist by trade and madman by heart. Sid has also written several novels and pieces of short fiction as he has honed his craft over the years.

Penciled by Thomas Giles. The Mantus Files showcases his ability to illustrate anything and everything from a crime scene investigation to ancient unspeakable horrors.

Inked by the prolific Dan Vincent Schaefer. Dan has done just about everything from writing, to illustrating, editing, and inking on too many titles to count since 1986. Some notable credits of his include writing Mickey Mouse Adventures and inking Spider-Man: The Next Chapter.