Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Issue 2 Cover Preview

In issue one, we referenced Collection Agents.  In issue two, we meet some.  And they're not the type of dudes you want to meet...

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Proving Grounds! Script Review of Theodicy #2 at Comixtribe!

What up, true believers?

I recently had a unique opportunity to get some official comic book editor input on the scripts for Theodicy.

Writer/editor extraordinaire Steven Forbes (Fallen Justice, The Standard, many others) runs a weekly column over at Comixtribe entitled The Proving Grounds, where he reviews, with brutal honesty, scripts from comic book scribe hopefuls.

This week, the hopeful is none other than yours truly! Check the review of the script  for Theodicy #2!

I was a bit nervous about this, because in his quest to bring wannabe comics writers up to snuff, Mr. Forbes pulls no punches.  So, I was pleasantly surprised at his almost entirely favorable review of the script:

"The really great part about this dialogue, though, is that it is both crisp and clear. Chad is setting up his world, and I’m having no trouble at all in following along." - Steven Forbes, re: Theodicy Issue 2.

It's one thing when your mom likes what you do, and another when a very tough (but fair) critic likes it.

Blogger/editor par excellence Samantha Lebas contributed to the review, and gave some great advice.

Take a gander over at comixtribe.com.  And if you're at all interested in creating comics, I recommend you read through all the material there.  Mr. Forbes' Bolts and Nuts column about the business of comics has become something of a Bible to me in putting together and marketing Theodicy.

(Fair warning: the column reviews the script for the opening scene of Theodicy #2.  So, if you haven't read Theodicy #1, then A. you're not one of the cool kids, and B. there will be some mild spoilers.)

First Review In!

The first official review of Theodicy is in, and it's pretty positive!

Reviewer Evan Henry was very complimentary:

" Theodicy shows no signs of evangelizing for or against religion, but rather presents the issue in a narrative form that, so far, is as thoughtful and as neutral as one can expect. While it may be somewhat heavy subject matter for a comic, the creators of the book have handled it well. If you have an interest in theological issues already, or if you just like well-made comics, I recommend you take a look at Theodicy."

Head over to ingenre.com to check out the full review!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

There Are Atheists in Plot Holes Pt 2: The Impossibility of Faith in a Superhero Universe

You're not getting off easy either, Slick... (art by Tom Fleming)

The gentleman pictured above is Dr. Pieter Cross, better known in the DC Universe as Dr. Mid-Nite.  Dr. Mid-Nite lost his ability to see in normal light conditions in a car accident, but this same accident somehow also gave him perfect night vision because comic books. Using "black-out bombs" that blind his opponents while simultaneously allowing him to see, Dr. Mid-Nite became a costumed crime fighter.

All of that is cool, but that's not really why we're here.  The real reason why we're here is that Dr. Mid-Nite is one of the only "out of the closet" religious believers in comics.  As the name "Pieter Cross" might indicate, Dr. Mid-Nite is a devout Catholic. (If  that seems unsubtle, keep in mind the original Dr. Midnight's real name was Dr. Charles McNider. So, we're making progress.)  Dr. Mid-Nite participates in one of the most fascinating friendships in all of comics with Mr. Terrific, aka Micheal Holt, the ardent atheist discussed in our previous installment.  A brilliant mind in his own right, Dr. Mid-Nite often engages in friendly intellectual sparring sessions with Mr. Terrific on matters scientific and religious.

Like most of the comic-book-reading world, Pieter often questions his buddy Micheal on how he can be an atheist given what he's seen.  Micheal generally offers only a single brilliant, insightful retort, which will form the basis of today's discussion: "How can you tell the difference between someone with a lot of power, and divinity?"  How indeed?  What enables one to know a god when one sees one?

Historically, that question has only had one answer: miracles. Miracles are the signatures of the gods.  It's how they establish their existence, and how they authenticate their messages.  When God first introduced Himself to Moses, he spoke through a miraculous burning bush.  When He wanted to introduce Himself to the unnamed Pharaoh holding the Jews in captivity, He sent the Pharaoh Ten Plagues. He showered the Egyptians with blood and frogs that rained from the sky, sent them swarms of locusts, and even blotted out the sun for three straight days (Exodus, Chapters 5-12). And when the Pharaoh and the ancient Hebrews still doubted Him, he parted the Red Sea.  With every successive miracle, Moses and his followers were more and more sure that the force leading them out of activity was the true and living God.

A similar trail of miracles followed all of God's important messengers, culminating in the life of Jesus.  Jesus' birth was heralded by angels, he was born of a virgin, he healed the sick, multiplied loaves and fishes, resurrected Lazarus, and finally rose from the dead himself and ascended into heaven.  By all accounts Jesus was a powerful, authoritative preacher, but what ultimately convinced his followers that he was the Son of God was his miracles.

The centrality of the miraculous is not restricted to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Miracle claims also served to authenticate the claims of Muhammad and the life of Buddha.

Miracles not only serve to announce the presence of deities, they are also used to adjudicate between competing religious claims.  When it comes time to decide who's god is the real God, it usually comes down to who can produce the most impressive miracle. Moses famously out-dueled the Pharaoh's sorcerers, and in one of the funniest moments in the Bible, Judaism's premier trash-talker, the prophet Elijah, single-handedly out-miracled 400 prophets of Ba'al. (In some translations, when the Ba'al prophets were unable to produce a miracle, Elijah questions whether this was because their god was busy taking a dump.)

Critics of religion often question whether miracles occur.  They claim that miracles occurred frequently in Biblical times (they most certainly did not, by the way) so why don't we see them anymore?  But the whole point of miracles is that they're rare.  If they happened often, if they were routine, they wouldn't be seen as miraculous anymore.  They would lose their power to inspire awe, and to convey reliably the presence and will of God.

See where I'm going with this? If my arguments in the previous installment were accurate (and it's me, so... you know... of course they were) then the residents of the Marvel and DC universes regularly witness events that are indistinguishable from miracles.

Moses was impressed by a bush that was on fire but wasn't consumed?  The Human Torch can do that, and he can fly.   God sent Plagues of insects? The Swarm is a plague of insects. Sure, Moses can part water, but can he turn water into a dope-ass dragon like the homie Aqualad?

You can pick any Biblical miracle, any miracle in any religion, and I can find you a superhero in one of the Big Two universes who can perform it.  And not just once, thousands of years ago, but in the present.  Live.  On demand.

Even the ultimate miracle, resurrection, is commonplace in comics. In the DC Universe alone, Green Arrow, Barry Allen, Jason Todd, Donna Troy, Elongated Man, Hal Jordan, Metamorpho, Superman,  and Batman have all publicly died and returned from the dead.  In the Marvel Universe, Jean Grey, Captain America, The Red Skull, and The Thing have all experienced resurrections.  To be fair, in some instances the deaths are explained away via alternate universes, time travel, and other such ret-connery. But it is not uncommon for characters to really and truly and actually come back from the dead.  For example, Green Arrow and The Thing both spent time in an actual, literal Heaven before returning to life on Earth.

So, say, like Dr. Mid-Nite, you're a Christian in the DC universe.  Why do you worship Jesus, and not Superman?  They both returned from the dead.  They're both moral exemplars.  And while Jesus did some impressive miracles in his time, did he ever move a giant frickin' star with his breath?  If you insist that Superman is not a god, but just a really powerful humanoid, then why not conclude the same about Jesus? Maybe he wasn't the Son of God, just the world's first superhero.

The other problem is the sheer variety of sources of supernatural power.  In our world, miracles tend to be attributed to the God of one of the three monotheistic religions.  But in the Marvel and DC universes, people have actually seen Greek gods, Roman gods, Japanese gods, Chinese gods, Norse gods, Celestials, Elementals, Lords of Chaos, Lords of Order, humanoid embodiments of abstract concepts like Fate, Destiny, Karma, Death, and Vengeance.  So, with all those sources of supernatural power which are confirmed to exist, how do we know who to credit for any given miracle?

Of course, our situation in the real world isn't much better.  Even if we aren't witness to dueling miracle battles,  rival religious groups have always had to deal with competing miracle claims.  The most efficient way to deal with a rival miracle claim is to deny the other guy's miracle happened. But certainly a Christian in the Big Two universes will have a hard time denying that any supernatural events except those spelled out in their holy book have ever occurred.  In antiquity, when the denial of a rival miracle wasn't possible, religious leaders turned to syncretism: finding a way to incorporate the miracle into their religious world view.  The Pharisees claimed that Jesus worked miracles through the power of Satan, not God, so why couldn't a Catholic say that Superman is just a fallen angel?

This would seem to be a desperate, hopeless move, something on the order of claiming that dinosaur fossils were placed in the ground by Satan.  And contrary to popular opinion, most religious believers have too much intellectual integrity to believe such a thing.  So, what's left?

 A believer could make recourse to the traditional arguments for monotheism, like the Design Arguments, the First Cause Arguments, and the Moral Arguments.  But in the Big Two universes, there are nearly omnipotent beings whose existence is known who would seem to have equal claim to being the entity identified by those arguments.  In the Marvel Universe, the Beyonder is known to have created a universe.  If he created one universe, why couldn't he have created ours? In the DC universe, the Anti-Monitor verifiably destroyed 3,000 universes the size of our own, and was thought to have the power to destroy all of the infinite parallel universes in existence. If the existence of a being of that magnitude of power is known, why think it necessary to make recourse to a being whose existence is unknown?  Just as the more mundane superheroes would seem to provide defeaters for any argument from miracles, the nigh-omnipotent beings in the Big Two universes would provide defeaters for the traditional religious arguments.  With both the miracle claims and the traditional arguments left in shambles, what could the religious believer do to recover his belief?

Maybe some religions could avoid these problems altogether, like the pantheists, the ancestor worshipers, and those belonging to purely ethical religious systems like Confucianism.  But for the believers in the three main branches of monotheism, some 3.6 billion people,  the proliferation of the superhuman would seem to herald the end of belief in any sort of supernatural personal god.

I was accused of theistic bias for concluding that belief in science is irrational in the Big Two universes.  So, allow me to confound that accusation with this statement - belief in traditional monotheistic religion would also be completely irrational in the Big Two universes.

But that's not to say religion per se would be entirely dead. Like the scientist, the believer, instead of giving up, could try to rebuild from the new evidence. He could use the actual superhuman in front of him, rather than the stories of the supernatural from the distant past, to form the evidential bedrock of his new beliefs. And I argue that that's exactly what they would do.  It makes no sense that there are so many Jews and Christians and Muslims in the Big Two universe, but it hasn't occurred to anyone to worship the gods right in front of them.

The reality is, if there were superhumans, they would be worshiped.  They're powerful. They're bigger than life. They're better looking than most movie stars and more moral than most saints.  Maybe Mr. Terrific is right, and there's no way to tell the difference between a very powerful being and a god.  But where Mr. Terrific goes wrong is in thinking that matters.  For all intents and purposes, what makes a being a god is the fact that people worship him.  So, if there were superheroes, there would be gods, because we would make them into gods.

Previously I argued that people of science, when confronted with the superhuman, should be primarily concerned with how they work.

I now contend that people of faith, when confronted with the superhuman, should be primarily concerned with why they're here.

Again, in the Big Two universes the only question about superhumans that matters is routinely ignored: should they be objects of study or should they be objects of worship?  

If we found a Man who might be a God, should we treat him as purely material, a biological machine whose body held the key to amazing scientific discoveries?  Or should we treat him as primarily spiritual, a supernatural being who could finally tell us who we are and why we're here?

And what will be lost to science or to faith if we choose incorrectly?

Theodicy #1 is the beginning of  my answer to these questions.  If you're curious come along for the ride.

Monday, June 24, 2013

There are Atheists in Plot Holes Pt. 1: The Absuridity of Science in a Superhero Universe

Inconsistent much?

The gentleman pictured above is Mr. Terrific, aka Michael Holt.  He's one of my favorite characters in comics, partially because he's a Black superhero who doesn't have the word "Black" in his codename, but mostly because his only "superpower" is his intelligence.  Having mastered the works of Einstein, Bohr, Planck, etc at the age of six before going on to earn fourteen Ph.Ds Micheal Holt is widely acknowledged as the third smartest person in the DC Universe. As the seventh smartest person in the actual universe ( and that's documented), I can relate to the loneliness and frustration Micheal must feel being stuck on a planet full of idiots (present company excluded).

The other thing that makes Mr. Terrific interesting is that he is one of the only "out of the closet" atheists in comics. 

Micheal Holt's atheism is the subject of not a small amount of ridicule in more refined (read: virginal) corners of the internet's comic book message boards, where the ridicule is usually phrased thusly:   "How can someone who has personally met the Angel of God's Vengeance, among various other deities, be an atheist?  ROFL! LOL! SNARK! DERP!"

Good question, fictional internet jerk. But in my opinion, the situation for the hypothetical comic-book-universe atheist is slightly different, but actually much worse, than that.  It's not so much that everyone in the Marvel and DC universes should believe in God full stop. It's that everyone in those universes should at least be more open to belief in God, because no one in those universes should believe in science.

Allow me to explain:

In my view there are three main impediments to atheistic belief in the Marvel and DC universes:

1) Those universes contain beings possessed of seemingly supernatural abilities.

Example: Superman, whose abilities at least seem to be scientifically unexplainable.

2) Those universes contain beings possessed of actual supernatural abilities.

Example: Dr. Fate, whose abilities are accepted as being actually scientifically unexplainable.

3) Those universes contain beings possessed of actual supernatural abilities who claim to be deities.

Example: Zeus,  a being who is an object of worship whose abilities are scientifically unexplainable.

It's easy to see how the existence of Dr. Fate and Zeus would make atheism untenable, as the former would prove that there is a realm outside of the scope of science, and the latter would prove that realm inhabited by actual, living gods.

Impediments 2) and 3) are usually seen as the typical reasons why atheism isn't nearly as rational in the Marvel and DC universes as it supposedly is in our universe.  Micheal Holt has not only seen real instances of the supernatural, some of his best friends, like The Spectre,  are living embodiments of the supernatural.

But my contention is that 1) should be enough to make any atheist in the Marvel and DC universe do some real (pardon the expression) soul-searching.  And that's because almost all superpowers in these universes, whether they are expressly mystical or not, violate one of the most fundamental principles of science.  Thus, if it's true that the progress of science is the best argument for atheism (IMO, it's not, but that's a subject for another blog post) then the profligacy of the superpowers on display in the Marvel and DC universes should make an atheist rather nervous.  Explaining why will require a brief detour into the field of physics. 

If you've ever had the misfortune of hanging out with scientists, you might have heard one of them mutter the phrase "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch."  Scientists don't just say this because they're all cheap, grammatically ignorant bastards. They say it because it's shorthand for one of the more fundamental laws of physics, the first law of thermodynamics.  This law states that energy is neither created nor destroyed, it merely changes forms.  What this means in a nutshell is that you can't get more energy out of a system than you put in it. 

For the sake of mathematical simplicity, let's say you had the misfortune of purchasing a car that only got 1 mile per gallon.  If you put 10 gallons of gasoline in such a car, you'd be able to drive that car 10 miles before it ran out of energy. The car will never go 20 miles on 10 gallons of gas, because the car cannot create energy, it can only use the energy put into it in the form of gasoline (and in fact, according the second law of thermodynamics, in the real world all systems will actually lose energy, and output less energy than was put in).

Now, this assumes that the car is what physicist refer to as a closed system. Basically, a closed system is any system that cannot access energy from anything external to itself. (As contrasted with an open system, which can access energy from external sources.) So when we say that a car that gets 1 mile per gallon cannot go more than 10 miles on 10 gallons of gas, we are assuming the car is a closed system, and not getting energy for movement from somewhere else. If the car was pushed by its driver, or blown across town by a tornado, it could go further than 10 miles despite only containing 10 gallons of gas.  But it would not go further than 10 miles on the energy internal to it.  You'd have to add energy to the system of the car in the form of the man or the tornado.  But if you were to expand your concept of the system to include both the car and the man and the tornado, the principle would remain the same.  The combination of the car and the man and the tornado cannot move the car farther than their total energy level would allow.

Now, an important point to consider is that scientists consider the universe as a whole to be a closed system.   That means there is no net energy being added to or lost by the universe.  This qualification on the first law is pretty important, since if the universe were not a closed system, it would become completely unpredictable.  If the universe were not a closed system, then there could be energetic events, like, say, an explosion, whose cause was not within the universe.  Such an explosion would then be inaccessible to scientific explanation; its cause would be outside the observable range of scientists in our universe.  If the universe were not a closed system, the scientific enterprise would be nearly impossible.

So, to recap, it is indispensable to the scientific worldview that:

1) There are no free lunches (no net gain of energy in any closed system).
2) The universe is a closed system. (there is no energy coming into the universe from outside the universe).

All of the energy we use, whether in our bodies or in our machines, comes from somewhere within the closed system of the universe and costs us something (gas, electricity, calories, etc). 

You can probably already see where I'm going with this.  Superpowered comic book universes are like elementary school in the projects - everybody's on free lunch.  At least, everybody with superpowers. Superpowered beings routinely seem to be getting way, way more energy out of their bodies than they put in them. So as not to pick on the DC Universe, let's take the example of Cyclops, from Marvel Comics X-Men. 

Cyclops' has the ability to project "optic beams" from his eyes that can impact with sufficient force to collapse a tank. In fact, Cyclops' optic beams are so powerful that he can't so much as open his eyes without unleashing a torrent of uncontrollable destructive force.  His eyes are overflowing with so much gosh darn energy, that said energy can't be held back except with the use of his specialized ruby-quartz glasses (or, you know... his eyelids... somehow...)

All of which leads us to the obvious question any scientist would ask himself on seeing Cyclops in action - where the eff-word is all that energy coming from?

It seems there are only two options.  Either A) Cyclops' body is a machine that is capable of converting normal caloric intake into limitless energy, or 2) Cyclops' body is a conduit to an alternate universe/dimension from which we can extract limitless energy.

If A), then Cyclops' body is a machine capable of creating energy, in which case the first law of thermodynamics is destroyed.  If 2), then the universe is not a closed system, in which case the first law of thermodynamics is destroyed.

And the same would apply even for heroes who are not "energy projectors."  Any system can only do as much work as it has the energy within it to do.  So, if Superman were to lift 200 quintillion tons, as this image in Superman All-Star #1 tells us he's able to do, he could only do so consistent with the laws of science if he is taking into his body enough energy to produce such a feat. Given that the planet Earth only weighs 66,000 quintillion tons, it's doubtful Superman is getting his energy from food, unless he's eating all of the food on the planet.

The canonical answer has always been that Superman's powers are fueled by the sun, but how much of the sun's energy would Superman have to absorb to be able to pull this off? I'm not a physicist, so I don't have an exact answer.  But consider how much solar energy would be needed to power a machine that could move something much smaller than 200 quintillion tons, say the state of North Carolina.  If Superman were absorbing enough of the sun's energy to power him to regularly and casually perform such feats, then either he's been storing that energy for eons, or he absorbs enough of the sun's energy on a daily basis to send the rest of the hemisphere into an ice age.

Since neither of those options appear to be the case in the DC universe, we're back to the same options A) and 2) that we had with Cyclops.  Either Superman's solar cells can output vastly more energy than they take in, or they're transmitting energy to Superman from outside the universe.  And again, either way, RIP science.

Now, it could be argued there's a way out consistent with science.  What if superheroes were just conduits of energy from another source, but what if that source was within this universe?  And what if there was a no net gain on the energy exchanged between superhumans and this source, such that the first law of thermodynamics was maintained?

Well, maybe you could save the first law, but only at the expense of other laws.  For example, wherever this source of power is, it's not anywhere close.  The biggest nearby energy source is the Sun, and in the DC universe, at least, the Sun would have a full time job just fueling Superman's powers.  So, assuming this energy source is somewhere out there further than the sun, then superhumans would be transferring this power from this place to themselves at speeds faster than the speed of light.  And special relativity says that nothing travels faster than the speed of light.  (Yes, science nerds, I know what quantum entanglement is, and I've heard of the EPR experiment.  But nonlocality does nothing to show that massive amounts of macro-level energy can be transported instantaneously across the universe at superluminal speeds, which is what would be required.) Sure, maybe they could be using wormholes to bring the energy to themselves, but even transport via wormhole isn't instantaneous, and most superhumans in the DC universe seem to have instantaneous access to their powers.

So, maybe you could save the first law at the expense of other laws, but given the number and variety of superpowers that appear to break the first law, a scientist in the DC or Marvel universe would have to consider this a desperate move.  Are we supposed to believe that Cyclops' eyes and Superman's cells and Wonder Woman's muscles all contain wormholes that allow instantaneous transportation of energy from some source inside the universe to their bodies?  I contend it would be more honest to just admit the first law doesn't apply and start over.  At any rate, whether you threw out the first law or special relativity, science as we now know it would be thrown into extreme disarray, if not completely destroyed, by the sudden appearance of superhuman machines that output vastly more energy than they take in.

Now, I'm not just saying this to make the pedantic point that the feats portrayed in comic books are impossible given the laws of physics.  I'm making the narrative point that the scientists in those universes should know such feats are impossible given the laws of physics, and so those scientists would have to conclude that the laws of physics are wrong.  No scientist in the DC universe could ever again use Einstein's theory of special relativity to explain anything when there are dozens of people in his world whose abilities prove that Einstein's theory of special relativity is flat out incorrect.  Really, no scientists in any superhero universe should use any scientific theory to explain anything until somebody figures out where the hell all of this free energy is coming from.

So, is Micheal Holt crazy for being an atheist? Maybe.  But he's way less crazy than Reed Richards is for being a scientist.

But scientists and atheists aren't the only people in comics who are failing to adequately account for what's going on around them.  Religious believers in the world of comics are just as clueless, as I'll explain in the next installment of this series.

One of my main reasons for writing Theodicy is my belief that people in superhero comics do not respond rationally to the presence of superhumans in their midst.  This irrationality starts with the scientists, who seem blissfully unaware that the mere presence of superheroes kicks out the foundations of that worldview they've been carefully building.  And, as we shall see next week, the irrationality also extends to the religious in those comic book worlds, who don't seem to notice there's not a whole lot of difference between the beings they worship and beings like Superman. (I mean, what's walking on water compared to flying faster than the speed of light?  And are people in the DC universe supposed to be impressed that Jesus rose from the dead? Who hasn't?)

However, instead of exploring the earth-shattering worldview implications of superhumans, most comic book writers instead opt to make superhumans almost mundane in their worlds.  In the world of the Marvel Universe, the existence of superhumans just means that if you live in New York City, your insurance rates will be astronomical, and you might see Spider-Man every once in a while.  But if we were surrounded by beings indistinguishable from gods, I contend that that's not how we'd react.  We'd have to make some big decisions about them and ourselves.  Nothing would ever again be the same.

My goal with Theodicy is to have characters that react rationally, both scientifically and spiritually, to the sudden appearance of superhumans in their world.  And in my view, were superhumans to appear amongst us, there would only be two rational reactions available.

Either we fall at their feet and worship them, or we cut them the eff word open to figure out how they work.

And in Theodicy, two groups representing the only reasonable options will finally be able to fight it out, both physically and philosophically, over the only argument about superhumans it makes any sense to have.  Devotion or Dissection, there's no middle ground.

In Part 2, more about how stupid comic book scientists are, and about why the religious people in those universes are probably even more stupider.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Anatomy of a Cover

Everywhere I go to talk about Theodicy, people ask me one question: "Who are you, again?"

But after that, they ask me another question: "Chad Handley, you witty, talented son of a bitch, just how in Creation did you come up with that cover?"

So, I thought I'd do this little blog post to explain how comic book covers come about.  There's a slight problem with that agenda, as in general I have no idea how comic book covers come to be.  Presumably, at the larger comic companies there's some kind of streamlined process the particulars of which I am wholly ignorant.  I do, however, know the twisted, tortured, circuitous route by which penciler extraordinaire Fernando Brazuna and I came up with the cover for Theodicy #1.  So, that's what I'm fixin' to learn you about, as we say around these parts.

After we talked via skype for about an hour swapping ideas, the first thing Fernando did was quickly sketch out several of our concepts, just so we could see them on paper:

So, pretty early on, we had the idea for what ended up being the final cover.  Though he doesn't remember this, the idea was originally Fernando's.  He suggested we show Timothy, the child on the cover, wearing a shirt that says "I love Jesus." My brilliant contribution was to suggest that the shirt instead say "Jesus Loves Me," and nuggets of narrative wisdom like that are why I pay myself the big bucks.

As you can see, most of our cover ideas involved images of Timothy, although there were a couple of more traditional "team shot" concepts we were throwing around.  In the end, we decided to go with the most attention-getting cover, which is basically sketch one.  That cover also had the advantage of being the most thematically informative cover, as for me it spells out the entire agenda of the book in one image. "If Jesus loves this kid so much, why doesn't he have any limbs?"  It's the problem of evil stated in a snap shot.

Once we had settled on sketch number one as a cover, Fernando sketched a layout.  For the uninitiated (which was me a couple of months ago) a layout is just a rough sketch a penciler makes before he puts the finishing touches on an image. Here's Fernando's layout of the cover for issue 1:

Usually, the writer never sees the layout, but Fernando, God bless him, likes to show me layouts so that I can approve compositions before he completes the art.  As you can see, at this stage the logo for the comic had not been finalized, so Fernando was sketching in a placeholder for the sake of composition.

Once I approved this basic composition, Fernando set to work. It takes Fernando about a day to draw a page of sequential art, which is the normal, expected professional rate.  Even though the cover is only one image, it is the most important image of the book, so Fernando took a whole day to produce this, a beautiful, detailed pencil drawing of the cover:

Yeah, Fernando's pretty good.  At this point we felt pretty good about Timothy, particularly his expression. But we weren't crazy about the font of the lettering on his shirt.  We wanted it to be clearly visible across the room in a comic book shop.  Fernando made a few passes at the letters, but couldn't get it right. 

If you're new to comics, you might not know that the penciler, the guy who draws the comics, does not write the balloons.  That's actually the job of this whole other guy, the letterer (in our case, the multi-talented and reproductively-fit John M. Burton).  So, although Fernando found it easy to create this beautiful image of Timothy, it took him a while to produce a suitable font for his shirt.  But, on the third try, he finally got it:

So, the next stage after one receives a final piece of penciled art is to hand things over to the inker.  The inker, as his name suggests, carefully goes over pencil drawings in ink.  This makes the image easier to color for the colorist and easier to print at the printers.  At this point, we shipped the pencils off to master inker and occasional-email-returner Ryan Boltz, who worked his magic thusly:

See how much bolder and clearer the lines are now after Ryan has had his way with them? That's a big deal because, as you might know if you've ever had to photocopy something written in pencil, pencil drawings don't print very well.  And although the work will be colored, the pencil work at the core will show better once a good inker has gone over the lines.

So, now the image gets shipped to the colorist. (By the way, I use the term "ship" metaphorically. Usually, I just send the images as an email attachment, or over dropbox.  That's how a writer in North Carolina can have a penciler in Brazil, an inker in Virginia, a colorist in Indonesia, and a letterer in New York City. This book would have been impossible before skype and before paypal.  I'm told in the old days, physical copies of the images had to be shipped around town via bike messenger. And in the REALLY old days, the ORIGINAL art had to be shipped around town via horse and buggy (or whatever people drove before there were photocopiers).  Which is why you used to have to live in New York City to do monthly comics, but no more thanks to Al Gore's wonderful invention.)

My colorist, Minan Ghibliest, and I had a brief skype conversation on the direction of the covers, with some input from Fernando. Fernando preferred a more sparse coloring style, which he showed us via this quick mock-up:

Minan thought this was too sparse, and retorted with this more bombastic image:

Which Fernando and I thought was a bit too"firmamenty." We also thought it looked a bit too much like God was rapturing the kid, or at least looking down on him, which sort of defeated the purpose of the image.

So, Hegelian that I am, I made of Fernando's thesis and Minan's antithesis a synthesis, and suggested that they split the difference. There should be something in the background, but it should be more visual noise than heavenly light.  So, from that, Minan produced this:

The final version of the cover.  I should add that the logo was designed by all-around comics genius Cary Kelley, who you might now as the writer of Dynagirl, but who also happens to be a very talented designer of logos, as you can see.

And that's how it all went down.  Interestingly enough, now that I'm sending the book out and receiving scant editorial attention, it seems that most publishers prefer the "team shot" image of all the major characters heroically posing and staring as a cover for a first issue.  It helps the reader understand whose story the book will tell better than an image like ours, which only states the thematic agenda of the story.  I've gotten a few suggestions to somehow add Paul and Father John, the main characters of the book, to the cover. So far, I've resisted this suggestion, but if I ever change my mind, I'll do another blog post and show you how that process.

So, that's how comic book covers are made.  Next week: laws and sausages.