Life, Scifi, Writing Process

Failed — A Webcomic called Mudball

As a summer cleanse, I’m detailing some of my failed projects over the years. (Believe me, there are a lot of them.) One of these failures was GLADiatorsa webcomic about goofballs locked in deadly combat. This week, I will focus on a spin-off.

Having dropped Gladiators, Phil and I decided to create a shorter, more focused fairy tale that took cues from sci-fi and Peter Pan. We cut the Cloudiseum, dropped Roland and Coolio and our wacky cast of sword-whackers and whack-jobs, and tossed out the Battle Royale for something simpler but no less sinister.

Instead, the focus would be the conflict between two planets, and really, two ideologies.

We called the series Mudball.

In this cosmos, there was a planet called The City made up of freeways and skyscrapers. Only grown-ups lived in The City, where suits and ties were mandatory, and everyone possessed a white-collar, corporate job. The form of government was Bureaucratic Monarchy. Due to a string of filing mishaps, there was no king, just a council paralyzed by paperwork and parliamentary procedures no one could recall.

The City had a counter-planet (really a moon) called Mudball, a marsh world full of children. This is where the adults of The City grew up (literally from pea pods). On Mudball, the children grew wild and free, playing imaginative games and exploring. All of this was secretly (and actively) monitored by machines disguised as animals and plants.

Every winter, harvesting machines picked the oldest kids to become adults. The children were brought to The City, given suits, given jobs, and spent the rest of their lives in the unhappy humdrum of cubicles and cafeterias.

In-story, Maebee, our protagonist, has just turned 12 (the proper age for collection) but doesn’t want to leave her friends or freedom.

Maebee decides to trek across Mudball in search of some place to hide. This is her ‘Call to Adventure’—to seek an alternative to adulthood.

Her adventures lead to an adult living in the swamp, a stubbled, dirty-suit-wearing man named Patricks, who has never grown up, but lives a slouchy, unhappy life in a stolen reaper. Think Peter B. Parker from Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.

The story would continue to The City, where Maebs joins a resistance group called The Jobless (blame this on the writer’s anti-establishment attitude), and seeks independence for Mudball.

The webcomic would have explored the conflict between our biological compulsion to grow up versus the unnatural but hegemonic cultural expectations of what that actually means.

However, like GLADiators, the project didn’t make it past a few pages, partially due to the influence of a mutual friend who advocated against our project without really understanding it, calling our scripts amateur and pointless.

Later I would discover that he was trying to convince Phil to work on his project—a Dune-like comic where one’s reputation is both a physical and psychic currency. Phil would go on to assist this friend for a while, but quit when the man turned out to be a frustrating micro-manager.

It didn’t help that I was seriously depressed at the time, living in a small town without nearby friends, working as a tutor and substitute while pursuing my teaching certification. Even my girlfriend (now wife) was three hours away. I put up little resistance when the project ended, taking my friend’s criticisms for truth. It wouldn’t be until 2016, two years later, that I would shake off self-pity, smack my inner demons, and begin writing again.

Today, I keep a wary vigilance of friends with ill intentions, although I’ve forgiven this particular intruder for his self-concern. There is a lust for celebrity that consumes people and hurts their ability to rationalize or promote the dignity of others. I understand that, and try not to fall prey to it myself.

And when it comes to Mudball, I hope to revisit this project someday as a short story or novel.

I guess what I’ve learned is this. Don’t fall with your failure. Just steal from the ruins.

All of this post’s art (except for my crayon drawing of Patricks) was created by Phil Kiner.

Life, Scifi, Writing Process

Failed — GLADiators Webcomic

Long before PUBG, Fortnite, H1Z1, Apex Legends, and the resurgence of standalone survival games, Phil Kiner and I were planning a webcomic called GLADiators.

Inspired by Harvey Birdman, the series would be a cartoon pastiche, using intensely different art styles in juxtaposition. Inspired by Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale, the series would depict involuntary warfare between strangers on a coliseum-like island.

Our premise was this:

An extra-dimensional race called the Administrators has picked champions from every dimension in the Multiverse and placed them on a floating island called the Cloudiseum.

Only one champion would be allowed to leave—the final survivor of a long, bloody war of all against all.

Our protagonist would be a rough-and-tumble girl named Maebee (pronounced “Maybe”) from a kids-only dimension (think Neverland).

Maebee would be Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn incarnate—reckless, deceptive, fun, not taking things seriously until forced by circumstance or conscience. She would also be an anomaly—the only child, and therefore (seemingly) easy-pickings.

One of her companions was Roland, a talking frog with a rapier, a courtly mustacheteer with pomp, decorum, and bravado.

We envisioned Roland as a cross between C-3PO (in his anxious concern for Maebs) and Inigo Montoya. Roland, a toad of honor, could not bring himself to kill a child, even in raw combat, and even saw her as his ward to protect.

Her other ally would be Coolio, a refrigerator with ice magic.

Coolio hailed from a dimension of talking appliances, a world where Game of Thrones meets Ikea, what you might call swords-and-smoke-detectors.

Coolio made his peace with fate, choosing to live harmoniously in the Cloudiseum instead of as a brutal pawn. He’d only kill reluctantly and in self-defense. In other words, Coolio was a chill dude.

We also created a ridiculous cast of GLADiators, including a Mormon with Eagle Powers, a sleazy Jiminy Cricket running a criminal empire, a hare who rides a tortoise and wields a carrot spear, a prison wasp with black and white stripes, the Segturion (a Roman Centurion on a segway), an expy of He-Man in a wheelchair, and Mecha Kurt Cobain. There was a guy in a speedo who kept rubbing his nips. A Veigar-sized Boba Fett. And the Butt Punisher, a Frank Castle type who forcibly spanks the Mafia.

The series would have followed Maebee, Roland, and Coolio as they survived harrowing attacks, became minor celebrities in the Multiverse, and led the resistance against the very regime trying to pit them against each other.

As a writer, I had a lot of fun developing the Behind-the-Scenes, a sequence of utility corridors and panopticons where the Admins control the island. And crafting the ending, where Maebee, secretly afraid of becoming a boring adult, grows into a clever, exciting, and wonderful woman (who wears a suit and tie and carries an enormous axe).

But the series was not meant to be.

Phil was pursuing a career in graphic design; he became bogged down in projects. I was pursuing my own profession in education—a turbulent project in itself, and very time-consuming.

We decided to abandon what was appearing to be a long, long enterprise, but we still retain those happy memories of collaboration and creativity.

All of this post’s art was created by Phil Kiner.

Scifi

Fiction — “Elegy of Entrails”

The gray ape scurried across circles, spins, and spirals, the feral geometry of a temple that once gave her the shakes, once reminded her of mournful teeth.

Now the architecture was as familiar as her mate, although there was no time to admire the fractals, to run her hands over the pillars. She was in a hurry.

She was expected.

Before the statue of Ezum, the ape kneeled, said a well-practiced prayer, and unsheathed fifteen arms, revealing parchment and bottles and green-yellow feathers from her sleeves. Every circle priest wore the robe. It was useful for implements and unflattering bodies.

Ezum would arrive. Somehow, someway, through its temple effigy, Ezum spoke, and the priests listened, and replied, and scratched the words into the Elegy of Entrails.

Continue reading

Scifi

Fiction — “A Zelzer Stiff”

The android was making them all uncomfortable with its Zelzer Stiff eyeing them from its hip. It’d only been forty point three seconds since the landmark decision to include artificial humans in the Second Amendment and this son of a manufacturing plant had just walked into the Rig & Rattle with a laspistol holstered, twinkling. Kghoshi—a real bastard on a good day—splashed his drink on silver chestmetal and said, “You packing, tin can?” The bartender—a saint on a bad day—put an arm on the droid: “C’mon, now, let’s not do this.” The move was registered as an offensive action and the android shot the bartender between his eyebrows. Kghoshi’s finger moved a centimeter toward his gun when a second shot put a red dot on his forehead as uniform as urna. The men in the bar leaped to their feet. Offensive actions. The men in the bar toppled over chairs and tables. By the time the android reached the counter, empty now of breathing souls, a feed of reaction times, facial registers, psycho-prints—all pointing to self-defense—had been submitted to local authorities.

Published at Rune Bear Weekly on December 6th, 2018. 

Fantasy, Life, Scifi, Writing (Published)

Nominated — “And We Who Never Died”

The Tishman Review nominated my story “And We Who Never Died” for Best Small Fictions.

BSF is an anthology that honors the “best short hybrid fiction published in a calendar year.” The Harvard Review wrote that the pieces in BSF are like a “splash of ice water in the face,” a wake-up call to “your life… unspooling.”

When I heard I’d been nominated, I was like cool beans and moved on to lesson planning and grading.

Then Coffin Bell posted this:

nomination

And I discovered that MY WIFE HAS BEEN NOMINATED.

As of this day, she and I are no longer friends. No longer best friends. No longer lovers.

But bitter enemies locked in literary combat.

THIS. MEANS. WAR.

Life, Scifi, Writing (Published)

Published — “Two Wings Flightless”

Kasma Magazine published my science-fiction short, “Two Wings, Flightless,” about a man who has to destroy a hovership that’s been solar-beaming the countryside. Kasma is a speculative magazine that publishes a story every first day of the month. Each piece is accompanied by a beautiful bit of art by Jose Baetas. You can see his treatment for my story above.

In “Two Wings,” I wanted to replicate the hero goes to a cave to slay a dragon story in a post-apocalyptic setting, switching the fire-breather for a flying war machine. The result was really fun to write, especially since the narrator was so dour and grit-happy. I’m already planning a sequel.

Life, Scifi, Writing (Published)

Published — “Good Fulch”

Good Fulch” is a story I’ve had in my head since high school. The premise is this. A society of robots have to decide if they should let a human live. The original draft was more human-focused; Charlton Heston shaking his fist at those “damn dirty CPUs.” But on a whim I switched the POV to the metal-heads themselves: glorious, dirty, regal, logical minds falling back on the xenophobia that once infected their creators.

The piece’s publication is Ripples in Space, a seasonal magazine devoted to “all things Sci-Fi, Dystopian, AI, [and] Space Marine.” It was the Space Marine mention that intrigued me, being an advocate for both Warhammer 40,000 and the works of Robert Heinlein.

“Good Fulch” features in this year’s Fall Selection.

Life, Scifi, Writing (Published)

Published in Texas’s Emerging Writers

Half-a-year ago, I was contacted by Z Publishing about contributing to their “Emerging Writers” series. Having launched a successful run of “Emerging Poets,” the publishing house was seeking to publish new writers from every state in what they called a “sampler platter.”

I was ecstatic. I penned a flurry of fiction and plagued critique groups for several months. There were no specifications on genre, so my pieces were strange and speculative. One was about monks hunting a bear in an underworld library and another was about a man buying terraforming equipment.

Z selected “House Divided” from my slush of submissions. The story is about a recent divorcee ruminating on her home, which, instead of being given to her or her ex-husband, has been split interdimensionally between them. In essence, her husband has become her ghost, a reminder of a life lost to the vibrations and footsteps emitting from her walls.

texas emerging authorsSo here we are—with my plug. There are two anthologies from Texas. Mine’s the tree behind bluebonnet, a hazy sun on the horizon, pink-gray clouds smearing the sky. I’d be honored if you purchased a copy.

Scifi

Short Prose (Science Fiction Friction)

“The android was making them all uncomfortable with its Zelzer Stiff eyeing them from its hip.”

Read more of “A Zelzer Stiff.”

 

“Between two trees exploded into boulder stumps, Elemmírë raised a fist. Behind him, ten figures, barely visible above the gloom and bloom, dropped to their knees and scanned the street.”

Read more of “Garden War.”

 

“There’s always that one friend who sticks to the group like a discount sticker on a used book…”

Read more of “The Immortality Cube”