Research Wonk: How Do You Say That?

I’ve been in a couple of different shows where I’ve tried a British accent of one kind or another, but because I’m me, I always find myself neck deep in accent research. Most of the time, it’s not really essential to what I’m doing (I have something workable already), but any excuse to try to take apart accents is one I’m likely to take.

In any case, I’m back at it again. For both sharing and link-parking reasons, here are a few of the resources I’ve enjoyed in the past, and have been using to various degrees this time, too:

For accents of English in general, the International Dialects of English Archive (IDEA) is a nice starting point. Each person, identified by age, is reading one of only a couple of different passages, which is especially helpful when trying to differentiate between two similar regional accents. It’s global, too, so there’s a lot of different nations’ takes on English to uncover.

For UK accents in particular, I also quite love the British Library’s accents and dialects section. Where IDEA has a wider spread, the British Library collection has a much deeper store on UK accents. It collects several different language and accent projects. While they don’t use the leveling device of having folks read the same passage, it’s hard to mind all the different stories folks tell in the interviews, which give a look not just at the sound of the language, but of the culture and local traditions in which they exist. A fair number of older folk are the specific focus of some of the cultural preservation projects collected there, as well, which helps to give a slightly less contemporary take on a given accent.

This go around, too, I’ve found that memes are useful for more than just LOLcats. Apparently there was a meme a while back going by either “accent challenge” or “accent tag.” And there seems to be a pretty wide spread of UK residents who took up the banner and posted their videos to YouTube. So, “accent tag Welsh” or “accent tag Norfolk,” for example, bring up a fair sampling of natives of the given region. It’s clear the meme was of US origin, as one of the questions (“what do you call it when you throw toilet paper on a house?”) seems to stump just about everyone from the UK, but otherwise, it’s also a fairly compact glance at differences between regional accents.

As you might imagine, the YouTube tag has a lot more younger people participating, so it’s a more contemporary look at the dialects. And, since it requires a web-enabled camera and Internet access, it likely self-selects out some measure of lower class samples (indeed, there were a reasonable handful of folks who felt they should mention that they speak a bit more “posh” than others in their area), but it’s still useful, I think, especially, again, for regional comparisons.

Powerblog: On Recommending Good Novels

This one is probably less comics-related than a lot of other bits, but it continues to speak to the many influences Power Pack had on impressionable, younger me. 1

I mentioned previously that Julie Power was one of the characters I related to almost instantly, largely due to her thorough love of fantasy and science fiction books. It wasn’t something that just sort of cropped up in the first issue and disappeared, either. Julie was quite often found reading long into the night, or into the day. She found literature of the fantastic just as engrossing once her life had become a fantastic narrative of its own as she did when she thought it was all pretend.

Mind you, Julie’s choices had a tendency to reflect those real life fantastic elements. So, shortly after her encounter with Dragon-Man, she was found in her next adventure reading–and name-checking–Anne McCaffrey’s dragon books.2

When I found out that McCaffrey was an actual author who had written actual books about dragons, that I could be reading the same book Julie was raving about, there wasn’t really a question about tracking them down.

Mind you, I read them a bit backwards. The dragonrider books proper were for quite some time always checked out when I was in the library, but the Harper Hall Trilogy was available, so I started there. So while most folks saw the Harper stuff as a side narrative, in my head the dragonriders were always a background element for the story of Menolly and the Harpers, whose lives were eventually fleshed out in Dragonsdawn. That’s probably why I feel the series sort of ties together into a poetic conclusion when the original Master Harper from those books passes away.

In any case, never let it be said that comics can’t lead to outside interests, I suppose. Also: dragons are cool, but fire lizards are more fun.

1. Older me is still pretty impressionable when it comes to those damn kids, but at the time, I had the excuse of youth, so I’m taking it while I can. ;) [back]

2. Incidentally, this was also my first exposure to Brent Anderson, who always brings the awesome to Astro City.[back]

I See What You Did There

Another post I missed the first time around, but which I found while I was being absorbed into Tumblr (this time Gail Simone’s). She starts talking about her number one suggestion for writers:

I believe that a shelf full of history books is the greatest possible idea machine someone can have. The internet is not the same, exactly, holding a history book and reading the close details of our past in particular serves as inspiration every single time. Many, many stories you guys might have read of mine had their roots in these books I bought on clearance at sidewalk sales and in remainder aisles.

That in and of itself, of course, is wonderful advice. I find research addictive on its own, really, though usually I’m after something specific. I’ll admit to short-cutting it with the internet a bit more often than I should. Books take a longer time (and money) commitment, but in most cases, if someone went to the trouble of writing an entire book on something, you know the person’s passionate about it. These days, you can throw up a website in an hour (Hi WordPress! Don’t boot me, please!).

The commitment, though, often leads in a lot of exciting new directions. That source you’re after for one thing sparks you with a detail of something else, and following that along bleeds into an entirely new animal you weren’t even aware you were birthing.

In any case: yes. Hooray for libraries personal and public. What’s even better about Simone’s post is the way that it’s kind of constructed to be just that sort of experience for the reader. It starts as a straightforward-seeming bit of advice for writers. And, since examples are always good, Simone gives some very specific ones. And those specific examples in turn open up into a wider consideration of a not-just-historical cultural dilemma:

This is why I believe we can’t listen to the family friendly rebranding of torture as ‘enhanced interrogation.’ It is still torture. It is still applied to force confessions from the innocent. It is applied for political gain. It is applied to silence opposing viewpoints. It is applied against the poor, the disadvantaged, and in greatly distorted numbers against the ethnic and religious minorities.

The subject matter is, all on its own, worth the time. The craft in building the essay is really some great icing to me, though. Lead by example, that.

So stop letting me internet-shortcut it, and go read the whole thing. It’s worth the time, and it has colorful comic book panels if you need something shiny to help entice you.

Coloring Masks (Not That Kind of Mask)

Amy Reeder’s posted a great look at her personal coloring process:

I’m not an uber-experienced colorist and I have no idea what the standard technique for coloring is—so maybe this is common knowledge—but there’s something new I’ve been trying occasionally when I really want to play with opposing hues as light sources. And I thought I’d share.

The short of it: I create three hue versions of the base color and give each a layer. Then I use layer masks to choose which layer comes through.

I’ve watched a fair number of tutorials, and definitely binge-watched a lot of the videos over at Ctrl+Paint, which is an excellent resource. I vaguely recall mention of the Channel Mixer over there as a tool for helping pull together color schemes. And I knew layer masks were a good way to edit less destructively. But most of the stuff I’ve seen previous to this is about adding colors to a base layer.

This is the first I’m seeing of this very cool, full-colored multi-layers technique, though. I remember reading something about stone carving being about revealing the shape already in stone. This feels a bit like a similar philosophy, as all the potential palettes are there, and the colorist sort of brushes away the layers to find the right mix of them all. Well worth a look and a read for anyone interested in coloring techniques. Or just a kick ass Red Sonja picture.

(via Gail Simone)

Deliberate Diversity for the Win

I just finished listening to Kieron Gillen’s recording of the “Comics Are for Everyone” Panel from the Dublin International Comics Expo. As Gillen points out in his intro, it’s a panel on diversity. Appropriately enough, the discussion ranges in a lot of different directions, all of which are worth hearing. Go. Listen.

Me, I’m going to try to focus for now. There were a couple of specific points made which dug into my brain and seemed to fit really nicely. I’m not entirely sure I can differentiate all the voices adequately, especially since it’s the first time I’ve heard most of them speak, so I’ll apologize profusely if I’ve got it wrong.

In any case, I think it’s Paul Cornell who comes out with the notion that being deliberate in one’s diversity choices isn’t something to hide. That, in fact, it’s a necessary component at present to working against one’s innate instincts against same.

And when one of the female creators on the panel (I believe it’s Emma Vieceli, but above-mentioned caveat in place) mentions that, for example, a lot of her fantasy writing when she was young had male protagonists–largely because that’s what the fantasy stories available looked like–I find it hard not to give a hale and hearty hell yes to the notion.

There’s another telling anecdote in the panel pointing out that those folks saying “character X just happens to be gay” in interviews are, in a sense, shutting down discussions of the very diversity they’re putting in their work. It’s there. Not being able to talk about it threatens to make it just as invisible as not having it in the first place.

We aren’t at a point where I can say “The doctor walked into the room” and just as many people reading that picture a black, gay woman (for example) as picture a white, straight man. And we won’t be until there are so many different kinds of folks in stories and images that our brains are as likely to select one of the former as one of the latter.

Let’s be clear: I don’t think your story has to scream and shout “Over here! Diversity!” Honestly, I’d rather it were more subtle than that, because it’s that kind of nuance that helps dig its way under the skin of our preconceived notions. Also: craft. But in order to do that, we have to think about diversity earlier rather than later. We have to consider it actively in order to implement it skillfully. And it was really exciting to hear from creators who are doing just that.

Okay, that’s only the barest scratching at the surface of the full panel, and not nearly as focused as I probably wish it were. I may come back and natter about more, depending on my ambition, but for now, do yourself a favor and listen to the whole thing. It’s absolutely worth it.

This. A Hundred Times This.

I’m having the hardest time even picking what to quote from Mark Waid’s An Open Letter To Young Freelancers over on Thrillbent, and I could probably spend days trying to pick the best one, so we’ll just throw a pin at the board and start here:

Know that, five years from now, as fans or prospective publishers are looking over your published pages, no one will care that the comic they’re reading sucks because the publisher moved the deadline up or because the editor demanded you work an android cow into the story. All anyone will care about is the pages they see in front of them, and they will hold you responsible for them, no one else. Mediocre work will follow you around forever.

Trust me, there’s so very much yes: this at the link that you should click it and read the whole damn thing. Now. Seriously. I promise what follows will still be here when you get back.

I’m generally a cynic, truth to tell. I’ve strained my eyes more than once rolling them at someone’s inspirational speechifying, especially when delivered by people who have “made it.” But even my cold heart dripped a bit reading this one.

It’s still hard to read, of course. For all that there are other avenues for art, the fact is there’s still a pretty good stranglehold to be had by the bigger publishers. And when the firing of an industry veteran just results in casting aspersions on that veteran’s ability to tell when he’s fired, when critically lauded creators leave over poor treatment and there are so many eager replacements lined up that their final issues are scrapped to make room for the new shiny, it’s difficult to imagine hard choices leading to great outcomes.

What I think makes this work, though, is that it’s not just a bunch of high-minded rigmarole. Waid starts with–and follows through on–the premise that work-for-hire is just that. You’re producing your work for a client. That gives your client certain rights. You have agreed-to obligations in this scenario, and Waid isn’t suggesting that you don’t. This isn’t about saying that writers and other artists are beyond reproach and How Dare Editors Edit. No. It’s about saying that being contracted to produce artistic work isn’t the same thing as indentured servitude. Paying clients are only paying for so much, and expecting you to do triple backflips with complete, from-scratch rewrites at the last second for ill-formed or spurious reasons: not okay.

I think that’s where it all falls into place for me, why it goes beyond being a piece of cheerleading to a mass of good sense. Collaboration is about push-and-pull, and pretending it’s not– because you’re an Artist and above such concerns–isn’t worth the effort it takes to bring you back from the land of talking unicorns. It is important, however, that there is both push and pull going on there.

For the hay-penny it’s worth, my own little When To Walk Away story:

Back in the day, there was an artist online who wanted some scripts to practice on. He held a little contest, asking for short scripts (five pages) that involved Batman and Blade, because he thought they were both cool. Surprisingly enough, he picked my script. Even sent me two pages of pencils.

Then he did a pinup of The Hulk, and decided he liked him more, so could I write him a little Hulk script, instead? He’d still do the pages. He just wanted to change the character. No big. I wrote a little bit of that for him. And he was really excited, and he’d be sending me pages soon.

Then he wrote that he wasn’t too into the Hulk pages, but did I have anything else that might be fun to draw? I sent him my pitch and overview for Spotlight, and I believe one or two other ideas, though it’s been long enough that I only recall that one. He sent me some feedback on that, and I intimated that I’d like to make sure there wouldn’t be rights issues if things fell through, since, well, this was our third go-round for five pages.

Before he’d even finished any back and forth on that, he had some other projects he was trying to work up, and would I like to take a look and think about treatments / writing them? Okay. Sure. I’d never had luck attaching an artist to anything, and if it was his idea, that seemed like something that might keep him interested enough to fini–

Oh, actually, nevermind on that. He wanted to do Spotlight after all.

By this time, however, I was justifiably gun shy and a touch dizzy. So, I asked if maybe we could just start with the five pages I had “won,” so I could see that he was actually interested in sticking to an independent project and finishing. I’d even write yet another five page script if he wanted different subject matter.

There followed a fairly terse exchange by which he proved he was a professional because he was getting paid work. And he was. He didn’t have time for “games,” so was I in or out?

I passed, obviously. It’s not like I’m making money of any kind off Spotlight, so the wisdom of that decision is up for debate. Hell, it turned into a prose piece, which is arguably against its best interests, but, hey, it’s only lost in limbo now if I don’t finish it. Which is kind of satisfying in its own way, at least.

I never did get those five pages I’d “won.”

Now Hear This

I’ve been wanting to watch this TED talk since I saw the link on Upworthy, but only recently had the time to spare. I’ve been fascinated by hearing voices and schizophrenia for a while (part of the metaphor of Crowd over in Spotlight is a more literal conglomeration of voices, to use the most recent example). Research is always good, and even better when it takes a look at things from a different angle. This definitely seems to be a very different kind of interpretation of the phenomenon than the standard narrative:

From there, I found Intervoice: The International Community for Hearing Voices. I’ve only read a little so far, but I suspect I’ll be digging in as time goes on. It seems like, certainly, a supportive resource for those living with a ‘nonstandard’ mental process.

I’m not really qualified to speak to the medical / psychological elements, but I don’t imagine it’s ever a bad idea to find out you aren’t alone in the world, even and especially if you find you aren’t alone inside your own head. And removing the stigma of mental illness needs these kinds of resources to help those who aren’t living with such conditions understand the factors involved.