• Wizard World Austin Comic Con

    Editor's note: Betsy (who draws Extra Elbows for the comics page) wrote this up for 2011's Wizard World Con back in October. Somehow this got edited, but never got posted on the blog. Here it finally is as the first post of the year, better late than never.

    Comic book writers, illustrators, Celebrities from the distant past (or future?), wrestlers, superheroes and fans all mingled together in epic nerdiness over the weekend at the Austin Convention Center. I donned my Vulcan ears to join the revelry.

    Once I figured out the adjacent fencing tournament was not cosplay, I wandered into an indoor flea market of superhero paraphernalia. Buying, selling and trading comic books is just a small portion of the business Comic Con. You could get your portrait zombified for fifteen dollars, take a photo with a storm trooper for charity, or purchase steampunked versions of superhero garb. I mainly wandered around asking people how they got started and how they make what they make.

    Hayden Panettiere (The Cheerleader in "Heroes," Beth Cooper in "I Love You Beth Cooper") was probably the most well known name there. But, I met a lot of really cool artists. Rob Guillory was incredibly friendly for being so successful. He is a multiple Eisner award and Harvey award-winning artist. Notorious freelance comics editor Carolynn Calabrese was also sighted. I talked to Chad Thomas quite a bit about his experience with comics colleges. Overall everyone was very friendly, even to someone like me who is just getting into comics and probably asked plenty of stupid questions. I didn’t get to question actor Adam Baldwin ("Firefly," "Chuck") but that was only because I could not speak in his presence. Talking to famous peeps is hard, y'all.

    After this weekend, I feel incredibly inspired, and hopefully that will start showing up in Extra Elbows. It's amazing to me how many artists create comics in ways I could never have imagined. I met an artist who was using wooden sculpting tools to move ink around a page, and another who created his entire comic in Flash and then delivered it in Pizza boxes. Comics have so much more potential than people realize. I gotta go draw.

  • Be Your Own Hero... Or Villain.

    DC Universe Online allows players to interact with such heroes as Batman, Robin and Nightwing. (Photo courtesy of GamePro.com)
    DC Universe Online allows players to interact with such heroes as Batman, Robin and Nightwing. (Photo courtesy of GamePro.com)

    The internet is so much fun.

    Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (mmorpg) have been substantially growing in popularity for the last two or three years, owning partly to how much hilarious entertainment they are. Homage should be paid to a particularly mind blowing game out on the interwebz right now called DC Universe Online. The server has recently opened for FREE download, making it easily available to any die hard DC fan looking to kick some NPC ass. The game itself boasts beautiful graphics and a plethora of your favorite heroes to fight alongside with. For good, or evil.

    The story behind the game is a typical DC tale which includes all kinds of famous names and a common alien enemy. In the near future, the DC heroes and villains are caught up in a terrible war among themselves. They have managed to pretty much destroy everything while in combat, and (spoiler alert) evil actually wins! Lex Luthor and other villains have managed to wipe out our planet's strongest protectors. This is when Braniac decides to make an entrance. With no heroes, and just a bunch of battle worn bad guys left, Braniac makes conquering the planet look like child's play. Lex sees the terror in this unfortunate change of events and steals some of Braniac's technology before hurling himself into present day where all the heroes and villains are still alive. He confronts the Justice League, and tells them his story. He also gives them a heads up that he has spread Brainiac's technology across the globe as alien spores, effecting everyday citizens and giving them amazing powers. This is where the user comes in. Your character is basically one of these humans infected with Braniac's spores to give you superpowers. Lex's plan was that he would create an army of supervillains and heroes alike to battle the aliens together as they reach the Earth. That doesn't mean you can't fight each other along the way, however.

    In DC Universe you are allowed to choose whether you wish to serve and protect as a hero, or ravage and destroy as a villain. When you enter character creation mode this is your first option, and depending on what you choose effects the experience of the world your character undergoes during missions. You also choose various other traits which affect your character's stance, fighting style, and mode of transportation. Flight, acrobatics, and speed are your three choices of how your characters will move around throughout the game. The flight option lets you soar through the sky like Superman, and swoop down for surprise attacks. Acrobats make you agile like Catwoman, where you do flips and turns around enemies, and can even scale up walls and leap rooftops like a ninja. Finally, speed is kinda self explanatory. You move with the swiftness of the Flash, and can run across water, up buildings, and even create a whirlwind attack around your enemies by running circles around them. When it comes to your character's appearance; colors, skin texture, costume, and hairstyle are all at your control as you create the perfect superhuman.

    Along with character creation you must also choose a mentor. If you are a hero, you may choose from Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman. If you are a villain your choices of mentors are Lex Luthor, Joker, or Circe. Who you pick as your mentor will effect your experience of the world and what missions you go on.Each mentor has a specific strength they help you build on and master, so I would recommend doing some research before jumping into this decision. During your missions you will come in contact with various other heroes you may remember. Zatana, Catwoman, Aquaman, and even the Teen Titans play roles throughout the story.

    DC Universe is not all gumdrops and rainbows, sadly. Due to such a massive influx of players after the game was opened to free play, the servers simply cannot handle such large numbers. The consequences? Glitches, lagging, some instances of booting, and even a waiting line to log in during the particularly busy hours. The quirks are becoming fewer and far between as the staff works out the kinks, and waiting time to login is usually no longer than 5 minutes. These drawbacks can be considered a deal breaker, but the effects and gameplay itself make DC Universe worth the risk. Explore the two HUGE cities of either Gotham or Metropolis. Enjoy professional voice acting as DC brings back a number of original voices to their characters. And if you chose to create a character in one of the two servers available called PVP (player vs. player), beat up other users on the street of opposite alliance as you work your way through the same story and missions as the first server called PVE (player vs. Environment). It's all pretty badass, to say the least.

  • The Switcheroo!

    Incoherent Jargon by Gabe Alvarez & Ben the Box Pigeon by Claudine Lucena

    Hey Chikita Hey! by Victoria Elliott & Goog Comix by Caitlin Zellers

    The Rogues by Katie Carrell & Starpony Comics by Emery Ferguson

    Space/Time by Gillian Rhodes & Gary Busey's Teeth by Tyler Suder

    Extra Elbows by Rory Harmon & Big Black Nothing by Betsy Cooper

    Dreamsicles by Trish Do & O RLY by Liz Moore

  • The Basics of Storytelling

    I’ll be the first to admit I’m a tad late in posting this. Heh heh, whoops. I’m usually so good about being on time when it comes to comics stuff. But I’d like to take this moment to talk about something that extends well beyond just comics, and if you’re here reading this I can only assume you’ve taken an interest in us that extends beyond our printed page. So let’s talk about the basics of storytelling.

    There are three things that any story needs in order to be able to function: A Beginning, a Middle, and an End.

    The Beginning is the part where we are introduced to the characters, particularly the main character and his or her problem.

    The Middle is where the action and the plot of the story take shape. This is where the main character(s) are confronted with some kind of opposition. Could be from other people or enemies, could be a challenge from the environment.

    The End is the part of the story where the main character(s) face and overcome their greatest challenge (or fails, if you’re writing a tragedy). The resolution should be satisfying and, most of all, conclusive for the audience.

    I know spelling out something so basic as that may come off as asinine and maybe even condescending, but the truth is that including all three really isn’t as easy as it looks. If you’ve ever tried writing a story, you might know that it is easy to have an idea what characters need to do, but hard to figure out how they all meet or what investment they have in the overarching plot. Sometimes you just can’t end the story right. Other times, you might come up with a set of characters and develop them or the world they live in until the end of time, but never actually figure out how to make them interact in a compelling way that others will buy into.

    Don’t even get me started on writing comics. Setting up a comic that makes other people laugh can be the hardest thing in the world. But employing the basic beginning, middle, and end usually helps set up an effective joke. Not all jokes need this of course, but if you’re using it then you’re probably on the right track. You (hopefully) see this on the page all the time in any typical strip, but in this case the satisfying resolution is a solid laugh from the audience.

    Let’s take a look at this widely beloved 6 Dollars, Please strip:

    The story of this comic is told in three panels. One for each phase of the story. The first panel, our beginning, introduces us to our main character and her problem: As a kid, praying for stuff was confusing business. The middle escalates the problem and the plot when her quest to better understand praying reveals that it as daunting a task as hoping for something that benefits the entire world. What can a child do to better the world? Well, the end gives us the satisfying resolution. A little help beating that goddamn water temple could really go a long way, and anyone that’s ever played that level would certainly know it. That shit is impossible. Of course this strip also requires a dash of knowing your audience to be effective, and it’s always important to know whom your story is for. Most Daily Texan readers are college kids, and would have been about the age Rachel is in this strip when Ocarina of Time came out, so they’d get it. But that doesn’t change the fact this comic employs basic storytelling elements to setup an effective punchline.

    Maybe you’re looking to tell stories on a larger scale than comics. Well, thankfully there is a formula for that, and it’s used for everything from writing novels film screenplays. It’s known as the three act structure, and if you can get the gist of it, writing your story essentially becomes a matter of filling in the blanks between your own plot points.

    At the simplest level, the Three Act Structure paradigm works something like this:

    Separated by Plot Points, its Act 1 (Beginning), Act 2 (Middle), and Act 3 (End) refer not so much the where they actually fall in the timeframe of the story, but rather to the fundamental stages in the story’s development.

    In the Beginning, you introduce the reader to the setting, the characters and the situation (conflict) they find themselves in, as well as their goal. Plot Point 1 is a situation that drives the main character from their "normal" life toward some different conflicting situation that the story is about.

    -Some great stories will actually begin at Plot Point 1, thrusting the main character right into the thick of things, but they never really leave out Act 1. Rather they fill in the back story along the way.

    In the Middle the story develops through a series of complications and obstacles, each leading to a mini crisis. Though each of these crises is temporarily resolved, the story leads inevitably to an ultimate crisis—the Climax. As the story progresses, there is a rising and falling of tension with each crisis, but an overall rising tension as we approach the Climax. The resolution of the Climax is Plot Point 2.

    In the End, the Climax and the loose ends of the story are resolved during the Denouement. Tension rapidly dissipates because it's nearly impossible to sustain a reader's interest very long after the climax. Don’t drag on the ending. Finish your story and get out.

    I like to cite romantic comedy films as a pretty good example of the Three Act Structure, because they tend to be so cookie cutter. Here’s an example:

    In Act I, we meet our main character, a rich playboy who will never commit. He meets a sweet small-town lady that is too good for him (due to his nature) and falls for her. This is our first Plot Point/Inciting Incident. He needs her in his life, but she is only in it briefly for some generic lifestyle circumstance.

    In Act II, he tries to find her, maybe by going to her small town and inserting himself into her way of life. Through a series of wacky incidents, maybe impressing her family, her friends, dealing with animals, etc., he starts to win her over. This is our rising and falling action. Just when he’s got her, he does something true to his old ways and major flaws. Maybe she catches him with an ex, but it’s not what it looks like. So we build toward our Climax.

    In Act III, he does what he has to win her back. Maybe with the zaniest antic yet, maybe by professing his love, and it works. Bingo, Plot Point 2. They fall in love, we wind down, and everyone live happily ever after.

    If you can adhere to these basic guidelines, and answer the questions of what happens at these points in your story, then you’re well on your way to spinning a well-rounded tale. And if you can get the hang of these rules, then you can even break them to write more unconventional stories.

    Here’s a pretty good resource if you want to get a better look at how the Three Act Structure works. It caters to writing screenplays, but it works just the same.

    Hope this was relevant to some of you out there. Get writing, readers!

  • Slingshots Aren’t Just for Girls

    They’re also for taxi drivers, drag queens, roller derby gals, special kitties and talking cactuses.

    "Girls with Slingshots" is a web comic written and drawn by Danielle Corsetto and updated five times a week. The comic follows the everyday life of Hazel Tellington and her cast of ridiculous yet totally-someone-you-know friends as they try to figure out life, money, sex, dating, how drunk you can be yet get to work the next morning and where the hell the Ghost Cat that haunts Hazel’s apartment came from. I dare you to read this comic and not find at least one situation that you haven’t been in, and wish your reaction had been this funny.

    The art style is simplistic but sleek and the characters are memorable, unique and very relatable — even my comics impaired boyfriend reads it over my shoulder once and while.

    Hazel is snarky but secretly loveable as a main character — her best friend Jamie can not only say the exact right thing when you need it, she can also hide kittens in her cleavage — and if that isn’t a marketable skill I don’t know what is. And, can you really not tell me you’re not interested in a character that works in a porn store by day, an S&M club by night and secretly longs to be a librarian. These girls range from quite blogger to bondage expert, and somehow they all manage to tolerate each other, even sticking around long enough for a game of drunken Strip Scrabble.

    And don’t worry all you male comic fans out there! Not only are there fluffy kitties and girl talk in this comic, there are also man things! Like Pirates! And dominatrixes! And a talking Scottish cactus named McPedro with a mustache that most men could only dream of! The guys of GWS are just as well written as the girls. And no, they still haven’t figured out how women work, yet; the closest they’ve gotten is advice from Darren, the resident drag queen.

    Something I believe to be a mark of a great comic about everyday life is that it isn’t geared simply towards girls or boys, or men or women. It’s just about people hanging out and laughing at themselves, and GWS has it in spades. Danielle Corsetto got her start drawing comics for (achem) her college newspaper, and has been writing Girls With Slingshots since 2004. She also wrote and drew The New Adventures of Bat Boy for the Weekly World News. She sells her comics in book form, appears at cons all over the country and gets to do what she loves everyday, and she started out in the exact same situation we find ourselves in.

    So, next time you’re bored and you need a good laugh, grab a beer, pull up the closest talking house plant, and give Girls With Slingshots a try.