Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A to Z Challenge

So here's the deal:

There's a challenge that comes out of a juggling blog (yeah, a juggling blog. Deal with it). Participants of supposed to post daily for the month of April, Sundays off, different letter every day. And a lot of the RPG blogs that I pay attention to are getting into the act. So I sat down last night and quickly made a list of 26 alphabetical entries, and figured, yeah, I can do this.

So here is what I am doing:
  1. Blog Monday-to-Saturday. Yeah, its not that different than normal.
  2. The subject of these posts is going to be role-playing games. A different one each day that has some meaning for me.
  3. They will be SHORT. No major or deep analysis here. Just why they have been part of my world.
  4. They will not replace other blogging, as need be (though I'm hoping for a break).
  5. Oh, and this is more of a memoir than a historical report. The difference? As a friend in publishing once explained it to me, you do less fact-checking with a memoir.
Let's see how this pans out.

More later,

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Genre is Marketing!

Let me get all ranty on something. This happened a little while back, but I've been busy.

Here is an article that has been making the rounds. Go read it (or not), and the come back.

So what do we have here?

Well, the summary is that the BBC is running a show where a fan of literary fiction (supposedly the high-brow, top of the shelf stuff) reads genre and best-sellers (what the rest of us apparently read - the literary version of junk food, empty calories for the mind). And an SF writer (one Stephen Hunt) is upset that when they talk about genre on this program (sorry, programme), they talk about adventure, romance, and thriller genres, and give the short shrift to SF, fantasy, and horror.

There is so much wrong here on both sides that I don't even know where to start.

Author Stephen Hunt, just to even things up.
First off, the article talks about an author with a problem about a BBC show, and then runs a picture of the star of that show. What, no author photos available? The article does this without running any quote or comment from the host of the show in this matter. So it is pretty much free advertising for the show and host, where the base complaint is that the show and host don't provide free advertising for some forms of genre. Irony abounds.

Then let's look at Sue Perkins, the host who is supposedly dissing SF, shown in said photo, looking hot and intellectual and all with her glasses and battered copy of a Penguins Classic. The first time she's mentioned in the article she is listed as a comic who prefers literary fiction. OK. A comic. Nothing wrong with that. I don't think that Ms. Perkins insights should be invalidated by her profession, but her main job is to entertain, make people laugh, and maybe think (but that's an option - they aren't all George Carlin, you know). I could get a quote from Gilbert Gottfried about nuclear safety, and while it may be entertaining, it is hardly the final word on the subject.

And what is the problem here? Literary fiction, which is the snotty girl with rich parents (that would be the genre, not the host), deigns to invite some of the lower-class kids to her party (where the girl with wealthy forebears will compare her life with theirs and make fun of their clothes). And this author is steamed that HE DIDN'T GET INVITED.

Harrumph, I say. Harrumph!

And what grinds my gears is that this tiff is all about genre, and genre is a product of marketing. Heck, let me be direct. Genre IS marketing. It is more about where you go into the bookstore than value of the work. Separate animals.

Genre is the ultimate form of "If you liked THAT then you'll like THIS!" It is the ultimate form because it references beyond the mere borders of author and publisher, which can be used for these references, but are more finite. The author only produces so many works. The publisher only publishes and keeps in print so many titles.

Genre casts its net wide. Genre gets a section in the bookstore. Genre has wide skirts that a horde of titles can hide under. Genre greases the wheels, eases the load, and makes for an easier sale from the author to the publisher, from the publisher to retailer, and from the retailer to you.

And genre evolves over time. Let me go back to Kaufmann's department store, which I visited in this post mortem for Borders. It is 1969 or so, and I am standing in front of the science fiction section, which consists of a low bookcase of four or five shelves. Here were find Asimov's Foundation series, Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, and Clarke's 2001, new in paperback, along with some Ace doubles and the Perry Rhodan ghetto and some James Blish Star Trek novelizations. Tolkien is here, and a couple books "In the tradition of Lord of the Rings". Fantasy doesn't really exist yet on the retail level. Conan is here, but he isn't defined as fantasy. Fahfrd and the Grey Mouser won't show up for a couple years yet in paperback,nor will Steve King. Here's some of Del Rey's Lovecraft collections. And there is Tarzan, which doesn't feel too SFie, but is next to John Carter of Mars and the Pellucidar books so it makes sense.

In short, it is a grab-bag of popular fiction. Hardly an official literary work in the lot (there were and are arguments about Tolkien's literary merit over the years). These are children of the lesser god, forged in a different foundry for mere payment, as opposed to more lofty literature. Horror was not strong enough to stand on its own at this time, nor was Fantasy (which in those days was still searching for its definition). Yet out of this literary Burgess Shale came, twenty some years later, a couple aisles of books, including RPGs, shared world fiction, art books, comics and manga. SF never gave way entirely to Fantasy, though Horror jumped over to its division in the bookstores, and kept SF/Fantasy/Horror from being a Cerberus, a three-headed beast of "If you liked anything on this bookshelf, you'd like SOMETHING ELSE on this bookshelf.

Genre is marketing. This is not an accusation, but a fact. When I go into a bookstore, I don't go to the Horror or Thriller or Romance or Literary Genres - I seek out my comfort food in the SF/Fantasy section. And because of ALL the books available are here, I may find something I wasn't looking for, without the narrow focus "recommendations" of the Web sites. Example: from the Borders (still open) at SeaTac airport, I found a copy of Nightshade Book's collection of the short stories of Paul Bacigalupi of Windup Girl fame. No website would get me to this book, since I wasn't looking for anything dark, dystopian, and well-written at the moment. I didn't even know it existed. I found it because the store is defined by genre.

If you like THAT, you'll like THIS.

But even that was not enough to get my bee in a bonnet. Nope, it was a comment form Mr. Hunt (who sounds like an otherwise rational human being who has made his mark in Genre: SF, Subgenre: Steampunk, Personal Genre: "Flintlock Fantasy"). Here is the quote that sent me screaming to the keyboard:
The vast majority of novels that are read in this country fall far outside of the contemporary fiction genre – they very much include the three genres of science fiction, fantasy and horror, which has produced everything from classics by HG Wells, Bram Stoker, Roald Dahl, Mary Shelley, George Orwell and JRR Tolkien, to modern best sellers by such authors as Iain M Banks, Sir Terry Pratchett and JK Rowling – these three genres being totally excluded from the BBC’s World Book Night coverage.
HG Wells never wrote SF - there wasn't SF when he wrote. Ditto George Orwell. Bram and Mary defined modern horror, and Tolkien defined what we call traditional fantasy today. Dahl was always over in the children's section (Thank you Gene Wilder) and Rowling first appeared over in YA areas, and moved into SF when it got bigger, heavier, and more popular.  Genre has the ability to determine its own ancestors as well, installed like famous people retconned into your family tree. Ian Banks and Terry Prachett are definitely in the SF Genre, their works written with the intention of reaching their main audience by this SF genre vector, and so the circle is complete with them.

But genre did not produce most of these authors or their works. Genre is the mechanism by which these works are later presented. It showed up late on the seventh day creation, when Adam walked through the back stacks and declared some work to be literary and some to be genre, and never would the two meet.

There is genre work that has literary merit. There is literary work that would be separated from the rest of the herd and condemned to the purgatorial domain of genre. In general, "literary genre" pretty much boils down to "tough to read, but I like it" for a lot of cognoscenti - books that are supposed to be a challenge to get through, to be conquered. In short, books that encourage people to do other things than to read books. And yes, you can make the case that "literary" is a genre with just as many limitations and opportunities as any other.

Now I'd interested is seeing this BBC programme (which probably is not going to happen), and I'd be interested in reading some of Mr. Hunt's works (which is much more likely). But I cannot join in being offended that the former has chosen to snub the latter. I can endure such grousing, but you have buy me a beer first. 

OK, rant over. More later,

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Play: Telling You About the Rabbits

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, directed by Jerry Manning

If you think I'm going to diss John Steinbeck, you're crazy.

OK, everyone bounced off this in High School, and if you didn't, it is one more sad testament regarding the cultural  state of affairs of these later days. But even if you didn't, you've watching a bajillion Warner Brothers cartoons where Mel Blanc was riffing on Lon Chaney Jr.'s performance in the 1939 Movie. (Say it with me now and get it all out of your system "I will hug him and I will pet him and I will call him George"). The original novella was written with a play in mind, and its first theatrical performance was written by Steinbeck. Here's the bare-bones plot you should have been paying attention to earlier:

George and Lennie are itinerant ranch-hands looking for work in 30's California. George is the smart one with large dreams. Lennie is mentally disabled, with more strength than mind, and loves to hear about the dreams, demanding George tell about their plans to get a farm with 10 acres and crops and rabbits, again and again. They arrive at a farm in Soledad owned by the bank but run by the Boss. They try to fit in, they try to leave and get their lives together, but in the end Lennie's mindless strength and unchecked emotions undoes them both and George has to take matters into his own hands.

Its a tragedy of the classical sort, where men carry with them the seeds of their own destruction. I talk about a lot of plays that have a positive or redemptive note, that leaves the audience feeling better about their world. This isn't one of them. It is one of those scary plays - theatre with sharp teeth.

What it does have is powerful emotion, even as you know what's coming (we spoke with a woman at the intermission who remembered seeing the movie as a young girl but could not remember the ending - I didn't want to break the news to her). And you do know what's coming. Chekov may have had his gun, but Steinbeck brings an entire arsenal, and everything in the front half of the play echoes developments in the second. Foreshadowing is the order of the day.

The director in his notes puts forth that this is an ensemble, that all the characters have import. I disagree Most of them exist to chorus, contrast, or challenge George and Lennie. The ranch at Soledad is a wounded land of broken men, where everyone is shattered physically (the broke-backed stabler, the one-handed old swamper) or emotionally (the isolated wife, the paranoid husband). They are ruined people with nowhere to go, no real exit.

The Rep presentation is deeply traditional, a straightforward unspooling of the facts of the matter, and as a result it feels like an old play. The audience is not addressed, no stage directions are read out loud, and in the single scene change (shifting from the prologue introing Lennie and George to the ranch itself), the cast brings on the rest of the props to create the illusion of industry. The set captures the merciless openness of agricultural California - it overwhelms the people playing out their lives beneath its blue dome. If you want to offer exhibit A for traditional theatre, this would be a good one.

The performances feel similarly contained. Rep regular Charles Leggett is brilliant as Lennie, but you can hear Lon Chaney Jr rolling through his presentation of the ungentle giant,a thunderstorm waiting to happen.Troy Fishnaller is quickwitted and dexterous as George, a character deeply aware that his affect on the rest of the world extends only as far as the sound of his voice. He is with Lennie because he would be alone otherwise.

And that for me is the heart of the story. It is all about a loneliness that dogs your steps and haunts your dreams. You don't see George's dream existing without Lennie there. And that theme is present everywhere, but does not call itself out. Its issues are both deeply personal and universal. It is not a feel-good presentation, and does not sugar-coat what it thinks theatre should be. It is worth seeing.

More later,

Saturday, March 19, 2011


NCSoft, the parent company of ArenaNet, has donated $6.3 million dollars to help with the catastrophe in Japan:
(Image pulled from Andrew Sullivan)
NCsoft senior executive Sung Joon Park stated, "In order to support those who have suffered from the earthquake and to help restoration, we decided to donate 500 million Yen, which corresponds to one month of sales." He also added that, "We'll maintain the service with the minimal electricity and personnel. Maintaining daily life is also important; therefore, we plan to uphold the service." NCsoft's Vice-President, Corporate Communications Jaesung Lee added from headquarters in Seoul, South Korea that, "We sincerely hope Japan can overcome the current difficulties as soon as possible."
The full press release, and other charities taking donations, may be found here.

More later,

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mad City

A shining city on the hill. But, with more snow this time of year.
I'd like to talk briefly about the geography of protest.

I've been seeing a lot more press about the Wisconsin protests, as the behemoth of the media realizes that there is something going on here, and the numbers have kept growing, giving them a chance to catch up.

But I haven't seen anything on how Madison itself is the perfect place for such a protest as you've been seeing.

Downtown Madison Wisconsin is squished between two lakes (Mendota and Menona). Drawn a line from the SW to the NE. That is the isthmus, which also name of the student newspaper at the UW. It is also probably the only place you're going to use the word "isthmus" north of Panama.

Now at the SW end of the line is the University of Wisconsin. That's a great place to gather a protest group - large amount of open space, good parking, lot of students. Then we move Northeast, up State Street. State Street itself is closed to street traffic (they have buses), but it a general path that leads uphill gently and directly from the UW in a straight line. So we can LFG in the UW and proceed directly to the capitol building, which is perched on the highest point of land on the Isthmus. And they can see us coming. Oh, and its a short walk as well.

State Street's nature changes as we move uphill to the the shining citadel on the hill. Close to the university, we have a lot of college-supporting stores (bookstores, souvenirs, bars), which give way to more boutiques and specialized shops, such as The Sacred Feather (a hat store) and the legendary Pegasus Games. Then things fall away dramatically when we reach the square the capital in on itself.  By time we get here (and I'm reporting from the 80s and 90s), there are a lot of empty storefronts and former stores repurposed to other activities. How depressed is the real estate around the capital? Capital City Comics great comic book shop was situated for many years a block NW of the capitol. And as we know, comic book shops don't necessarily thrive in high-rent districts (but that is a rant for another day).

I was surprised to hear about Ian's Pizza feeding the protesters, not because a place was supporting the Unions (most of the businesses along State are festooned with signs supporting the protesters, who as stopping in and BUYING stuff) but because we had a functioning pizza place so close to the capital. So things may be perking up in the area. 

A view of the dome you aren't getting.
Then there's the building itself. It is beautiful structure, and it is clear that the protesters, despite their passion and numbers, love it as well (That 7.5 million in damage from occupation? Yet one more lie. Pile it on the others over there). Its central cupola is brilliant, and its cross galleries (perfect places to show signs) ring the central well. It is probably the best state capital building in the US, and one of the most beautiful public spaces in the country outside of Washington DC.

I should mention the cops. Despite often comical attempts to portray the protesters as violent union goons, the local cops have been both present and supportive of the protests. These are guys, though, that are used to students burning couches in the street after the big game. When UW wins. So in comparison, 100K average Joes is not such a problem.

So to recap: I can form a march at UW, go uphill to the Capitol Building without screwing up too much traffic, catch a bite on the way up and protest in a wide square surrounding the building (which normally on weekends is used for a Farmer's Market). And the building itself is very conducive to holding the people (Protip: also has nice public bathrooms). Short of National Mall, it is the ideal place to protest the actions of a government out of touch with its constituents.

Wonder if they though about that before they started this whole mess? Me, I would have authorized massive repairs on State Street and throw up some barricades.

More later,

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Labor Matters

I stand with the workers of Wisconsin. Just to get that out of the way right off (and a big hat-tip to Bob Salvatore who said this sooner).

And it should be no surprise to long term readers, given my support during the writer’s strike (remember that? The big issue was that the management couldn’t tell how successful all this streaming technology was, so how could they offer to pay the writers anything? Of course, immediately since, the firehose of streaming tech has been unleashed).  And my folks were both public school teachers, and collective bargaining made it possible for me to go to school in the district that they taught (and mind you, when I was young, my father spent his “summers off” painting the very schools he taught in).

But I’ve never been part of a union. My training is as a civil engineer, and while we have professional societies, we don’t “do” unions. And my work as a corporate creative is very white-collar and not typically union, either. Plus almost all the gaming industry might be put in one room and still qualify for a small business loan. And as a freelance author, organizing writers for lunch is hard enough, to say nothing about collective bargaining.

But I support unions because they protect the rest of us as well. And here’s the tale:

When I started working for TSR, I punched a clock. We had time cards and checked in, checked out for lunch, checked back in, and checked out at the end of the day. Hitting a time clock is a bit weird for a creative operation, in that creativity is hard to measure by time-motion studies (though that did not stop us from trying). Plus, deadlines and schedules seem to be created without thinking that someone in only putting 8 hours a day in (something that continues to this day).

Anyway, we working, and punched in and out. And when it became clear the writers were working much more than forty hours a week, we got a memo telling us to knock it off. Of course, the deadlines didn’t move, and we were told that those had to be made regardless. So the end result was that we would work eight hours a day, punch out at the 8 hour mark, then go back upstairs and work into the evening to finish the project.

And that went on for a couple months, until there was a layoff and someone dropped a dime on this particular arrangement to the Wisconsin State Labor Relations Board, and they came around asking questions. And management informed me  I was supposed to write up a letter detailing how many hours unpaid overtime I worked and I did and explained that THIS WAS OK because, after all, I needed to get the work done.

What can I say? I was young and stupid. OK, MORE stupid.

The end result was a fine on TSR and a small chunk of cash to make up unpaid work and all of a sudden the game designers and editors were no long hourly employees. Now we were SALARIED and had salaried benefits as a result didn’t have to worry about putting only 40 hours a week in (and now could work weekends).

So I became a full-time salaried employee. And I owe that to unions. Without a strong union presence (and state support of that presence), the natural tendencies of all corporate organizations are unchecked. And mind you, that would often be with the support of their own workers, who “don’t mind” putting in the extra time to make sure everything works, which soon turns into standard operating procedures.

So yeah, I support the right to form unions and to collectively bargain, even if I don’t always agree with the results of that bargaining. Because it is there, it helps the rest of us.

More later,

Friday, March 04, 2011

FR Comics (Part II)

So last time I gave some history about the late, lamented TSR/DC comics line, which produced some good stories, some of which have been collected by IDW this week. And when I first found out about this, my first reaction was:

“Hey, That’s real cool!”

And my second reaction was:

“Hey, I wonder if I’m getting paid for this?”

And I had good reason to wonder. Back in the day, I signed a bunch of Work-For-Hire contracts for DC, and this line was in the contracts (yeah, I removed the monetary amounts):

8. DC agrees to pay Writer a sum of not less than $xx.xx if Full Script; $xx.xx if Plot; $xx.xx if Dialogue; per page for any Page of Work reprinted in any book or magazine published in the United States, after initial publication in a DC magazine, providing such reprinting has been authorized by DC, and that DC has received payment therefore.

Seems pretty clear.  Though to be honest, I didn’t really expect the books to ever see the light of day again, since they were a teamup between DC and TSR, and the two did not part on good terms. TSR has the rights, DC has the art. Never the twain would meet. I got paid for the original work, so I didn't lose any sleep about it never being reprinted.


TSR was purchased by WotC was purchased by Hasbro. Upon termination of the license, the ownership of the pages (known in contracts as THE WORK) apparently reverted back to TSR and its successor states. DC continued on and stored those pages.The D&D license went through a couple more licensees, and finally landed at IDW, who wanted to know if they could reprint the original stories. Hasbro (owner of the Work) directed DC (who has the files) to send stuff on to IDW (who would publish them).

But the question is: Who pays the creatives in all this?

IDW is the new  publisher, but never signed the original agreement. Hasbro approved the reprint but also was not party to the Work-For-Hire terms (Still checking this one to see if contractual obligations survive dissolving of a license). DC sent the art to IDW (so there may be tacit authorization here), but did not publish it and will receive (so far as I know) no moneys for its contribution to the new edition.

So far, I’ve been talking to people in all these companies, and everyone has been polite and professional (not a whiff of anyone dancing around in a money shower cackling about screwing over the writers and artists). But I’ve pretty much hit a wall – each in turn has an argument that, if the writer and artists must be paid at all, someone ELSE would have to do the paying.

So, lawyers, then. Strongly considered. This is non-trivial amount of money, but is it small enough to make engaging a lawyer a likely net loss. And if you go to the mattresses with lawyers, it is not about the principle. It’s really about the money.

So now what?  Call my horde of fans to block this horrible trammeling of a contract? Protest in the streets? Fight for creative rights? Camp out in the state capital? Call for a boycott?

Nope. Instead I’m going to recommend you BUY a copy. Though if you dig through the dollar bin at the Emerald City comic con, it is likely you’re going to get the originals for less than the twenty bucks the collection is going for. (Hey, and if you buy the collection at Spy Comics and ask Rick and Paula nicely, they can get me to sign it, since I see them every Wednesday or so).

THEN, of course, I want you to write to IDW (and Hasbro) and tell them how WONDERFUL the story and art is. And how they should (sparing no expense on their part) HIRE the talented team of Grubb and Morales, who obviously understand how the D&D universe works and are fine examples of writer and artist and a shining addition to ANY comic book line.

Right now IDW is publishing a twenty dollar calling card of my work, and while I’m not getting bupkus for it (well, they mentioned sending me a few copies – as I said, there’s this real lack of evil on everyone’s part).  So go out and check it out and remember me for you comic book needs (though I will warn you, I’m going to want to paid for this, and if you're going to put a reprint clause in the contract, I'm going to want you to honor it).

Operators are standing by,

More later

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Forgotten Realms Comics (Part I)

The crew of the Realms Master

So this week sees the publication of a collected edition of the Forgotten Realms comics from back in ’89, where the first eight issues of the book (written by yours truly and penciled by the extremely talented Rags Morales) are rescued from the dollar bins and put together in a softbound format under the Dungeons & Dragons logo.  The books were originally published by DC through a license with TSR. So it is a good time to peek behind the scenes on how we ended up doing these books and what happened next:

1) I was not present for the original creation of this deal – I can’t tell you if DC came to us with the idea or TSR approached DC. I can say that games like Marvel Super Heroes expanded our presence in the direct sale comic shops, making a comics line a good fit. PLUS we had already done graphics novels for Dragonlance and Agent 13 and marketed them through our regular distribution channels.

2) In any event, Mike Gold was the guy that was behind the arrangements with DC, and they came out to TSR in Lake Geneva. It was “Hat Day” – where we were all wearing hats (Don’t ask).  It was about the time that the Todd McFarlane Spider-man #1 came out, since that was a subject for discussion (The DC guys were unsurprisingly unimpressed).

3) Despite meeting everyone on “Hat Day”, they decided to proceed. The first set of comics was an AD&D book, a Dragonlance book, and a Gammarauders book.

4) Gammarauders? That was a very weird little game set in a Gamma Worldish post-apocalypse, where you had massive kaiju (giant monsters) who duked it out. Sort of Pokemon overdosing on Charlie Sheen.

5) The AD&D comic was set in the Forgotten Realms, so as traffic cop of the Realms, I got involved with the approval process. The original team was creative team Michael Fleisher and Jan Duursema, with Barb Kesel editing. They put together a cast of characters set in Waterdeep – dwarf, paladin, fighter, half-elf wizard, and … centaur. OK, a centaur is part of D&D lore, but never really a PC race. Sounded like a cool idea, and heck, I wouldn’t have to write it, so, OK.

6) Michael Fleisher left after the first four issues. Dan Mishkin steps in as the writer for the next four. By that time we’re up and operating with the line, and they ask me if I would like to write a four-issue stint myself (we were doing in the four-issue bunches with an eye to later reprints). Issues 9-12 were mine. Jan Duursema did the pencils.

7) I wrote a story primarily for Onyx the dwarf and Timoth the Centaur, guest starring Mirt the Moneylender (Ed’s favorite persona in Waterdeep) and Khelbun Arunsun (later expanded by Steven Schend) and Tertius Wands (who was real similar to another character, Giogi Wyvernspur, and both were hewn of the same cloth as Bertie Wooster (and if you haven’t read any PG Wodehouse, go do so now. One or two stories will do)). And mind flayers, drow and beholders (oh my).

8) On the strength of that audition, I got the nod to launch a new book – the Forgotten Realms. DC thought it was a great idea for me to work on the books – mainly because the scripts would already be “pre-approved” by TSR when they got them (No, I did not approve my own scripts – Jim Ward and others took over for that). We got the deal approved up at our end to the Vice Presidential level (that part of the story comes back to haunt us later).

9) I was teamed up with a young, enthusiastic artist named Ralph Anthony (Rags) Morales, who was a graduate of the Kubert school. First time writer, first time artist, what could go wrong?  Actually, surprisingly little. Rags’ style of art meshed well with the big tent style of the Realms, and his ability to draw emotion out of his characters was fantastic.  I always considered my panel directions (“Six Panels on this page – 2-3-1”) default suggestions, and if he had a better way to tell the story, have at! Needless to say, he did a great job.

10) My bunch of adventurers were Agrivar (human paladin from the AD&D book), Ishi (OA-style Bushi warrior), Vartan (elven cleric), Omen (human wizard), Foxy (halfling thief) and Minder (iron golem). Iron golem? Hey, if you can do centaurs, you can do golems. Actually, Minder was a living spirit put into the golem body, thought we did not reveal it fully until later.

11) I also got to cover a lot of ground over the course of the book  – Waterdeep, Shadowdale, Elminster, Lheao, Alias, Dragonbait, Mourngrym, Anauroch, Halruuan flying ships, liches, ogre mages, cliff-diving bears, elven gods and the Time of Troubles.  A lot packed into a mere 25 issues.

12) I saw the group as two intersecting triangles – the Realms Master crew (Omen, Foxy, and Minder) and the Agrivar-Ishi-Vartan relationship.   Everybody had their own problems – Minder was a living spirit in an iron body, Omen was affected by his own mortality, Agrivar and Foxy both had to deal with addiction, and Vartan was a jerk (most of the time).  

13) My favorite issue, by the way, was #10 – Head Cheeeese. The concept for addictive halfling cheese came out of my home campaign. Jim Ward liked the story so much that when the lettered pencils came in, he posted it on the wall outside his office.

14) My second favorite was #24 – Everybody Wants to Run the Realms (sing it to Tears for Fears). This was a fill-in done with Rags late in the run and was filled with in-jokes and cameos from most of the team. It actually deserves its own blog entry to explain all the references.

15) A great bonus from that age – being able to collect my artists. I have this framed art hanging in my house from this era –
  • Forgotten Realms, Page 1, Issue 1 (Agrivar cliffdiving, by Rags)
  • Forgotten Realms, Pages 6 and 7, Issue 9 (Agrivar and Ishi swordfighting, by Rags)
  • Forgotten Realms, Page 13, Issue 17 (Pencils, by Tom Raney,  Agrivar and Foxy fight plant-men)
  • Forgotten Realms, Page 21, Issue22, (Minder, in her new body cutting loose; by Chas Truog)
  • Plus a full page ink sketch of Minder in new armor,
  • Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Page 24, Issue 10 (Beholder, mindflayer, drow, by Jan Duursema)
  • Forgotten Realms, Partially inked cover sketch,  Issue 24 (Vartan in a straw boater, by Rags).

16) While working for DC, I got on the mailing list for their comics, which fed my comic book addiction nicely. Also, the first year for Christmas we got Batmobile phones. The next year we got DC Clocks. The last year we all got personal calendars. Think they were telling us something?

17) I got to work with some really good editors while I was there – Barbara Kesel, Eliot S! Maggin, and the late Kim Yale. They were good teachers on the craft, and supportive throughout.  Rags went on to other things (the Black Condor, among other things), and Tom Raney and Chas Truog stepped up to carry the art forward.

18) The books sold well – according to the Cap City lists, at the same level as Wonder Woman, Captain America, Aquaman and other stalwarts of that age. This was a time when the top ten slots consisted of X-men books and then Teen Titans. We did one more series on a D&D line, Spelljammer, with a character we spun off out of the FR book, then the license was up and we were done.

19) So what happened? Here’s the short form: TSR chose to launch their OWN comic line, determining that if they put game material in it, they could call them “comic modules” and it would not violate the license. DC disagreed with this definition, and chose not to renew the license.  That simple.

19A) And before everyone rushes to their keyboards to say that this is proof that that particular management group were truly evil (what, too late?), I have to point out that going into competition with our own licensees was a bit of a tradition at TSR. At one point (different guys in charge), we had a license with LJN for action figures, then decided to launch our OWN line, but not break the license because we didn’t put any movable joints in them. Yeah, 0-points of articulation. We called them inaction figures.  But I digress.

20) About this time, the highest level of the company found out that I had been writing comics for DC, and went to my Vice President and asked why an employee was doing outside work for another company that they didn’t like anymore. Said VP (who approved me doing this back up in point #8) said this was the first time he had heard about any of this and would make sure it would be stopped at once. And by “stopped at once” he meant he would take enough time that I managed to contract the rest of the run, and letting the comic come to a final issue.

21) Big thing about the AD&D and FR comics – these were fantasy books about characters that knew they lived in a fantastic universe. They were aware and capable of handling their situation. This wasn’t part of a “points of light” where sinister stuff lurked over the next hill. It wasn't a dark fantasy world. Those are cool, but the Realms ran off the assumption that its heroes were smart enough to know about their world.

Anyway, if you get a chance, the collection of the first eight issues came out this week, and if you don’t feel like pawing through the dollar bins, this is a good chance to track it down. Even if I don’t get any payment for this reprint of my work.

What’s that? You’re not getting paid for any of this? 

Ah, that’s the tale for part II.

More later,