Tips for professional writing majors

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Comics on the Brain had a friend ask us for some tips for a college student majoring in Professional Writing. This student is working a typical student-level job — at a convenience store and gas station.

For a writer, that’s terribly boring work. There’s no creativity involved. There’s not even a chance to use the skills she’s learning in college.

What’s she to do? Basically, CotB says “Never give up!”

What, that’s not specific enough?

Well, we do have some ideas, and here they are.

 Step One — The Job Search

Know where to look for work and know how to look for work. Almost all job searches begin on a job-hunting websites. When you’re there, you need to know the key words to search. For a person interested in professional writing they are:

  • Writing
  • Corporate Communications
  • Public Relations
  • Publication
  • Graphic Design
  • Editing
  • Editor
  • Social Media
  • Journalist
  • Journalism

You also need to look beyond the area where you live or go to school. Search in any geographic area where you have relatives. Search in any area where you have friends. Don’t just stick to your hometown.

 Step Two — Practice Writing

Do anything you can to write. Practice writing every day. And do it with the idea that someone important is watching you.

Some ideas:

  • Start a WordPress blog on a very specific topic and write the hell out of that topic. For example, the student could write about her experiences working at this “Kwiki Mart.” And she shouldn’t just write about “I went to work today.” Instead, she should look at the ins and outs of her shift, the good and bad customers, what can be improved, what’s great and so on. Every thought can be a new blog post. Doing a blog like this requires a lot of observational skills on the writer’s part. It also should be a test of her ability to “write something out of nothing.”
  • Write an ebook and self publish it through any one of the ebook outlets, including Amazon, Lulu or Smashwords. Then work hard at promoting it through social media, a website and at local book-friendly businesses. This may sound like a silly idea, but it gives a student some active experience on all the things a professional writer needs to know. What should she write about? Well, that’s certainly important. Be active and find a topic that interests you. If you’re writing a non-fiction ebook, then don’t be afraid to call people up and interview them about the topic. If they ask for your credentials, you can just say its a school project.

Step Three — Look for opportunities

  • Contact your current job’s corporate office and ask them if there’s any opportunities available. Even if your company isn’t locally based, contact the corporate public relations or marketing team and see if they would consider offering some telecommuting work. They might offer to place a young writer on a local PR team. Likewise, volunteer for anything that comes down the pipe through corporate. This might involve non-writing assignments, but it gets you noticed so you can exploit future opportunities.
  • Local nonprofit agencies in your immediate area are always looking for help. Whether it’s the SPCA, the library or the some other agency, chances are young writers will have an opportunity to prove themselves. Contact their president or public relations person and see if there’s a project they need help on. Maybe she can write some profiles for their website or create some flyers for them.

Step Four — Expand Your Knowledge

Nearly all professional writing jobs require you to do more than writing. Sometimes companies need someone to run their social media programs, maintain a website or do graphic design. This is a writer’s opportunity to make themselves stand out.

.Train yourself on any key Graphic Design and Web programs you’re not familiar with. In school, she might not be getting trained on PhotoShop, Illustrator, InkScape and all the web and app programs out there. Knowing these will be a big benefit in a job search. There’s plenty of video and web tutorials on these programs, so an opportunistic writer doesn’t need in-class instruction. Also as a student, many of these programs for free or at a very low cost.

Conclusion

Getting work as a professional writer takes plenty of patience. You need to develop your writing skills so that you can write about whatever’s put in front of you. A writer also has to understand that they need to be able to do other things beyond writing — at least at first. Finally, and most importantly, they need to look for opportunities to write. They need to actively seek them out. Sometimes, a person will have to jump through multiple hoops before getting that opportunity, but its out there.

Batman & Superman Doodles: Stress-relieving doodle books done right

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You can get your own copy of Batman & Superman Doodles for $12.95. ISBN 978-0-7624-4847-0

You can get your own copy of Batman & Superman Doodles for $12.95. ISBN 978-0-7624-4847-0

One of my Father’s Day gifts this year was the “Batman & Superman Doodles” book. This book, drawn in “The Animated Series” style, prompts its users to complete the drawings inside.

Like many doodle books, it simply takes old art and wipes out spots on the page. And since this one uses art from various coloring books from the “TAS” era, the figures are spot on and easy to emulate.

In fact, there are lots of books that teach you to draw in that style — though they are often pricey in places like eBay and Amazon because someone out there believes they have some collector value.

My first completed drawing allowed me to design new puppets for the Batman enemy called The Ventriloquist. I really like the cyclops.

Can you spot the hidden hero I added to the drawing?

Can you spot the hidden hero I added to the drawing?

Next up, we find out that Brainiac has more than one miniaturized city in his evil, robotic clutches! I added the two cities in the foreground.

Hey, how did Mr. Mxyzptlk get in on this?

Hey, how did Mr. Mxyzptlk get in on this?

These two were a load of fun to do, and there’s literally dozens more to try. Playing with these is a great stress reliever for an adult — really who wants to waste a cool book like this on the scribbles of a kid. As a guy who fancies himself an artist, there’s no commitment to create something great or something worthy of selling. It’s just about having fun and relaxing. And as you fill up the book, you create a pretty neat no-pressure keepsake, too.

As for the quality of the book, it’s top-notch. The paper is thick and opaque. The binding is strong. The cover is even thicker. My only complaint is that its tough to scan the pages since the drawings disappear right into the gutter of the book. Likewise, it’s difficult to draw deep into those gutters too — you can blame the tight binding on that.

I hope to post more of these “completed drawings” every once in a while, so check back.

And what about you? Let’s see some of your completed doodle pages!

Batman & Superman Doodles: Fearless Pictures to Complete and Create
Publisher: Running Press Kids
ISBN: 978-0-7624-4847-0
Price: $12.95
Website: www.mydoodlemasterpiece.com

How Roddy Doyle’s “The Deportees” can help New Pulp

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Roddy Doyle's "The Deportees and other stories" (2007) is a collection of tales focusing on immigrants in Ireland.

Roddy Doyle’s “The Deportees and other stories” (2007) is a collection of tales focusing on immigrants in Ireland.

This was supposed to be a review of Roddy Doyle’s “The Deportees and Other Stories.” When I picked the book up off my “Need to Read This” shelf, my intention was to just read it and review it.

I’ll give you my review right now and get on with how it inspired me after that.

It’s great. As usual, the Irish writer just amazes me with his ability to use dialogue to tell us the story. He offers a variety of truly distinct voices. The themed collection of short stories, about immigrants to Ireland, hits on so many angles that it seems like a complete picture of all the issues newcomers to the Emerald Island face.

OK, so there you go. It’s been reviewed. Go buy it. You’ll find it quite inexpensive on Amazon and elsewhere since it was first published in 2007.

In fact, do yourself a favor. Go buy all his books — “The Commitments,” “The Snapper,” “The Van,” “Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha” are all great examples — you won’t be disappointed. Doyle has an amazing gift for dialogue. You’ll fly through his books in no time.

You can also watch movies of “The Commitments,” “The Snapper” and “The Van.” You can even watch a short, “New Boy,” based on one of his stories in “The Deportees.”

With all that praise behind us now, let’s look at the way “The Deportees” was put together, and what it means to the burgeoning genre of New Pulp.

What’s New Pulp? It’s a growing movement by writers and publishers to embrace the ideals of adventure, crime, fantasy and sci-fi stories of the past and use them as an inspiration for new work. These new stories, fueled by the open-ended digital publishing marketplace, aren’t meant to be “great literature.” Instead, these stories are meant to be fun, easy-to-digest and packed with action and excitement.

Considered the first "summer blockbuster," the movie "Jaws" shares a lot of similarities with adventure pulp stories of the past -- in that it focuses more on telling an exciting story over other elements.

Considered the first “summer blockbuster,” the movie “Jaws” shares a lot of similarities with adventure pulp stories of the past — in that it focuses more on telling an exciting story over other elements.

“New Pulp” has actually been with us a long time and in a variety of forms. Look at the movie “Jaws” or video games like “Tomb Raider.” Then there’s comic books like “The Rocketeer” and TV shows like “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.” They all are essentially New Pulp — they’re popcorn entertainment meant to excite us. Nothing more than that.

Blockbusters like those and the pulp magazines of the past are what fueled the soldification of  New Pulp as a genre — through eBooks and small publishing houses who have been trying to explain just what it is they are offering: A literary home for those sorts of stories.

These are the true pulp magazines of the present. There’s a million players all trying to get noticed in this digital flood. Some are good. Some are bad. Some deserve much wider recognition.

This brings us back to Roddy Doyle’s “The Deportees” and how it can help the movement. In the forward of the book, Doyle explains that he had an opportunity to meet with the publishers of a small newspaper in Ireland, Metro Eireann. This newspaper was primarily meant for consumption by the immigrant population and had limited resources and space. Roddy Doyle, considered one of Ireland’s greatest living writers, asked to meet with them and talk about this “New Ireland” that was blooming. At the time, the Irish economy was unstoppable and immigrants were flooding into the country to find work. Doyle wanted to explore this new face of Ireland, and he wanted the newspaper’s help

With that, the editors of Metro Eireann and Doyle reached an agreement. Doyle would write for the monthly newspaper, but his space would be limited. He only had 800 words to work with for each installment.

And Doyle started working on the stories that eventually became what was to populate the pages of “The Deportees.”

But, thanks to the mandate from the newspaper editors, it was a book filled with 800-word chapters. And there’s the key to the greatness of “The Deportees.” These chapters never get dull. They’re never a slog to read through. They deliver just what’s needed to move the story along, and almost always end with a tantalizing cliffhanger.

Sometimes these cliffhangers are merely that a decision has been made or that a key fact has been revealed, but they keep you wanting more.

And this format? This is just perfect for use in New Pulp. Short chapters. Intriguing (but not necessarily action-packed) cliffhangers.

There’s also the whip-smart dialogue, too. It’s impossible to express just how good Doyle is with putting words in peoples’ mouths.

But the short chapters. They are wonderful. Perfect in length, and certainly something New Pulp writers can imitate.

So, New Pulp writers, read this simple piece of advice:

Keep your chapters short, between 800 and 1,000 words. Call them “bathroom-break short” if you will. Your readers aren’t the type who spend hours at a time reading. They can, however, give you 5 to 20 minutes. Write for that length. Consider your chapters to be scenes rather than character studies. When they move to a different locale, it’s time to end the chapter. When a little problem is solved, it’s time to end the chapter. When the dialogue of that conversation is done, it’s time to end the chapter. All these are your opportunity to (a) give your readers a breather and (b) use your words to make them want to read more.

If you can do that, along with the plot-driving dialogue (internal or external) and the tantalizing cliffhanger endings then you’ll really have something to offer New Pulp.

Dave Stevens' "Rocketeer" comics were some of the early examples of the pulp fiction revival. A tribute to movie serials of the past, "The Rocketeer" also included a mixture of ideas from adventure pulps.

Dave Stevens’ “Rocketeer” comics were some of the early examples of the pulp fiction revival. A tribute to movie serials of the past, “The Rocketeer” also included a mixture of ideas from adventure pulps.

 

It’s in the cards: My ATC creations from zombies to superheroes

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Most craft and art stores carry blank packets of Artist Trading Cards. It's your job to fill these tiny canvases with something amazing.

Most craft and art stores carry blank packets of Artist Trading Cards. It’s your job to fill these tiny canvases with something amazing.

Comics on the Brain has written before about its enjoyment of the whole ATC art movement — where artists create little masterpieces on paper the size of a baseball card and then either trade or sell them with other artists and fans.

Well, we still love making them and later today the CotB staff is heading out to an ATC workshop where we’re hoping a bunch of other artists will be creating their own.

We can’t wait to see what’s in store.

As for us? Well, we’ll be sticking to cartoon-style versions of fiction’s finest! From the Lone Ranger to a zombie bookmark, we’re having a lot of fun with our ATCs.

We hope to see some of yours!

Can “Square Pegs” ever fit in? A DVD review

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Amy Linker, Merrick Butler and Sarah Jessica Parker in a scene from "Square Pegs," a 1982 series focused on the New Wave generation.

Amy Linker, Merrick Butler and Sarah Jessica Parker in a scene from “Square Pegs,” a 1982 series focused on the New Wave generation.

It behooves us to take a few moments to talk about the much-loved TV series from the 1980s, “Square Pegs.” After all, we have a Guatemalan child to consider.

The "Square Pegs"  DVD set includes all 19 episodes plus cast interviews.

The “Square Pegs” DVD set includes all 19 episodes plus cast interviews.

We snagged the complete series set, titled “The Like, Totally Complete Series … Totally” at Dollar General for $8. It includes some cast interviews, an interview with series creator Anne Beatts and two add-ons from the Minisode Network. It all totals up to about 500 minutes of 1980s flashbacks for eager viewers.

Comics on the Brain fondly remembered the series from its original run — as well as occasionally finding it bouncing around on cable TV later in the decade. We loved that they had some cool musical guest stars, wore sunglasses in class and had that one guy who talked like a Valley Girl. With those memories, we were ready to travel back to the New Wave era.

And that’s when we realized that some things are best left in the past — and this comes from a blogging staff obsessed with 1980s music, our childhood toys and thinks that “McHale’s Navy” is rib tickler.

Beyond our interest in the 1982 series as a time capsule of the era, we also were curious how the show served as a prequel to Sarah Jessica Parker‘s “Sex and the City.” Things certainly matched up quite well — a girl obsessed with being popular and finding love, shamefully nerdy and works at the newspaper. In that sense, it generally works, and is far more believable than “The Carrie Diaries.”

But is it funny? Is it a commentary on the era? The answers to both those questions are a definite “No.” Yes, the show has a few funny moments, mostly thanks to its dialogue, but not enough to make it enjoyable. Is it a good time capsule? Not really. The fashions maybe. The story topics? Not a bit — there were episodes about unmarried couples living together and slumber parties, after all. Sure, they also hit on video game fads and girls playing sports — but those just aren’t enough to make compelling TV.

Further, we had some issues with one of the most persistent bits in the show — fat jokes. Not only are these just awful in general, but they were also exclusively directed at Amy Linker’s character, Lauren. The problem? She’s not a bit overweight in the show. Just look at her jawline — you have guys who wish they could have her chiseled look.

And it was also quickly apparent to us that Linker was the most energetic on the show. She should have had the lead role, not Parker. Switching the story lines around to make Linker the primary and Parker the sidekick would have helped the series tremendously.

Parker, meanwhile, was clearly saddled by her role too. She was given a few opportunities to shine, but never enough. Let this girl dance. Let her sing. Her classmates can treat her like dirt, but let her floor the viewers with her talents.

Beyond the two leads, the supporting cast is actually really great and they were used well. Merrick Butler as Johnny Slash is probably the most memorable as the New Wave slacker — and another character the show should have been built around. After that, the Jennifer character played by Tracy Nelson, with her Valley Girl attitude was emulated by a generation. And Jamie Gertz seems to have played Muffy Tepperman in a dozen roles after that. Our only complaints are with Claudette Wells (saddled with awful dialogue), John Femia (never given an opportunity to stand out) and Jon Caliri (made to act like John Travolta).

The best episode, “No Substitutions,” and really the only one worth watching, guest stars Bill Murray. His charisma is amazing and he livens up the entire cast as well. If the producers had managed to bring this much energy to every episode, the show would have been huge — the “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” of TV. (And yes, we remember that too.)

But it wasn’t going to happen. The show was cancelled after 19 episodes.

Don’t blame the cast, though, the writing was what doomed this show. It was uninspired and unfunny, even some great guest stars couldn’t save “Square Pegs.”

The Ting Tings have definitely started something

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Comics on the Brain is, most assuredly, NOT the right type of people to write about music.

We can’t even fathom how it’s put together and what makes it good or bad, but we do know what we like, and today we like The Ting Tings.

The British duo’s 2008 debut album, “We Started Nothing,” features a couple of great songs that are still in heavy rotation on Sirius satellite radio, and every one of those songs gets your feet tapping.

“Shut Up and Let Me Go,” in particular, features a great throbbing beat and particularly hypnotic video. And since both members of the group are credited as drummers, it’s not hard to understand their ode to “the drums, the drums, the drums” in their first big song “Great DJ.”

The best of the whole album is “That’s Not My Name.” It’s here were they perfect their mix of an early punk/new wave sound dressed in modern stylings.

Even beyond those great songs, there’s plenty to enjoy with in the album. Sure it’s not perfect, but who can’t resist the Bjork-like “Traffic Light,” or their off-the-wall lyrics: “You keep playing me like a fruit machine/Feeding in change systematically”?

While some detractors complain that the group is overhyped and their sound isn’t all that diverse, the albums hit songs, plus the extra tracks, have just enough oomph to make it a worthy purchase.

I say if it gets you singing and moving, it’s good, and The Ting Tings certainly do that.

This article was originally posted on a whole other blog in 2008. That blog has now gave up its ghost. We present this to you, now, for posterity’s sake.

World Cup Comics: Hot Shot Hamish hits the pitch

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A while back, in one of our Twitter review collections, we mentioned that we read “The Hot Shot Hamish Annual 2009,” with the World Cup soon to arrive in Brazil, we thought we’d give the massive collection a more thorough look. Enjoy!

The realm of sports comics is relatively small. In fact, as far as an American comic book readers, its hard to think of any that aren’t directly tied to a particular person or athletic league.

There was NFL Superpro from Marvel and there’s also been a smattering of NBA comics here and there. But what about a comic that simply tells the story of a team or person as they play their favored game? That’s where Comics on the Brain came up stumped.

Sure, maybe back in the golden age of comics there were some sports themed comics, but none that achieved legendary status or anything. The same goes for comic strips. Yes, there are sports themed comics published even today, but the one I’m thinking of — In the Bleachers — doesn’t focus on its characters. It’s a “joke-a-day” comic that switches from sport to sport.

With all that in mind, “Hot Shot Hamish Annual 2009″ turned out to be quite an interesting read. Published by Scotland’s Sunday Mail newspaper, the hefty hardcover takes us from Hamish’s rough-and-tumble backwoods life in the Scottish Hebrides to life in the big city where he plays professional football (that’s soccer to us Americans). Hamish is so good that he propells his team through the divisions and is ultimately snapped up by bigger and bigger clubs. Did he ever make it to the World Cup? In this book he doesn’t but football fans aren’t likely to care — a game is a game!

The book itself offers no credit as to Hamish’s writer, artist or creator. A search on the Internet reveals the character is “The creation of Fred Baker and normally drawn by Julian Schiaffino.”

Wikipedia explains that the Hamish strip ran from the 1970s to the early 1990s and the artwork certainly has that 1970s feel. The inks are a little thick if you ask me. Still, the art is funny, varied and appealing, especially when the giant-sized Hamish is towering over the other characters. There’s something to be said for Hamish’s design too — he smacks of being a superhero. He has a barrel chest, a jawline you could use as a straightedge, wears a bright blue uniform and a thick mane of blond hair that must drive the ladies wild.

The story, revealed in one-page sequences that end with a cliffhanger, takes on the typical Scottish stereotypes as the country-bumpkin learns what life is like in the Big City. In this case, the Big City is Glasgow.

One might best compare Hamish to Popeye. He’s fearsomely strong, skilled at his trade but never seems to pull it all together. The humor of the strip is much the same too — gentle and reliant on misunderstandings and exaggerated action. In this case, the exaggerated action is almost always on the football pitch, where Hamish relies on his patented “Fireball” kick, his Hulk-like size and strength allow him to plow through defenders and his never-ending stamina means he’s never benched. When the story turns more adventurous, readers know to rely on Hamish’s sense or right and wrong and his sense of justice.

But what would American readers think of Hot Shot Hamish? First its important to remember when “Hot Shot Hamish” first appeared on the scene and where — 1970s Great Britain. Back in those days, kids were still reading comics and hadn’t even imagined there would be such a thing as video games or cable TV.  For modern American audiences — maybe even British and Scottish ones too — this won’t be some must have. Sure, it’s quaint and interesting to a person who avidly collects comics, but it’s not going to stop some regular kid from playing their FIFA PS3 game.

The Hot Shot Hamish Annual 2009

Written and illustrated by Fred Baker and Julian Schiaffino

ISBN: 978-184502211-2

9.99 British Pounds

120 pages

Color throughout (The middle image isn’t from the book)

Sunday Mail, Black & White Publishing