INTERVIEW WITH WHITNEY GARDNER, GRAPHIC NOVELIST & AUTHOR OF YOU’RE WELCOME, UNIVERSE

Can you tell us about your comic book or graphic novel?

Right now I’m elbow deep in revisions for my upcoming illustrated YA novel, YOU’RE WELCOME, UNIVERSE (Knopf ’17) . But I do have a comic project I work on every now and then. It’s a middle grade comic called FAKE BLOOD. It’s about a boy who pretends to be a vampire to win the heart of a vampire obsessed classmate.
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What made you want to create comics or graphic novels?
 
Art is in my blood. I picked up some crayons when I was a kid and I don’t remember ever putting them down. I went to art school and shortly after graduating I became a children’s librarian. I fell deeply in love with story telling. I used to think that I couldn’t write stories, so writing with pictures really helped me come into my own as an author.
Who are some of your idols in the comic book industry?
 
Jillian Tamaki’s artwork is so beautiful I think my eyes start to melt every time I open one of her books.
I also admire:
  • Madeleine Flores
  • Jake Lawrence
  • Noelle Stevenson
  • Sam Bosma
  • Megan Rose Gedris
Are you working on anything new? Can you tell us a little about it?
YOU’RE WELCOME, UNIVERSE is my current sweet baby project. I’m really proud of how it’s coming together. It’s about a Deaf teen artist named Julia who finds herself in a graffiti war with an unknown opponent. It’s full of all sorts of drawings, from still life to street-art. (photo2)photo2.jpg
Do you do the illustrations as well as writing the dialogue?
 
Yes! I feel so lucky that I am able to do both, but even on my best day this means there’s at least twice as much work to do. And twice the amount of critique I have to endure. It’s not for the faint-of-heart.
Bio:
Whitney Gardner is an author/illustrator living in Portlandia with her husband, Roger and pug, Gouda. She is represented by Brent Taylor at TriadaUS Literary Agency. She’s woefully/giddily addicted to coffee and office supplies and probably has more pens than any one human could ever need. She loves telling stories, the color yellow, and you.
Links:
@heywhitney on twitter
YOU’RE WELCOME, UNIVERSE on Goodreads:

Blacklist Ratings Drop?

Why is The Blacklist losing ratings? There are two reasons.

1. Lizzie Keene

Lizzie Keene started out with light and shade, and did some things in the beginning we could relate to or commend her for. Her fascination with Red and growing relationship with him was touching and much preferred to her teenager-style attitude, which only served to annoy especially when he’d proved himself to her again and again. Still, in the first series she seemed to have an overriding knack for common sense and Red’s influence was rubbing off on her. She was our eyes into the Tom Keene mystery and whilst for the most part she was growing into a rounded individual character, she was a hair’s breadth in danger of falling into the stereotypical female as written by a lot of TV writers.

Then in the final episodes, she fell.

The whiny, bratty, headstrong, annoying, practically blind-to-reason behaviour- which apparently a lot of writers in TV seem to believe women in a powerful job naturally display- came in full force and her relationship with Red suffered. So did the audience’s relationship with her. If writers wanted to be different and interesting they could have played on Liz and Red getting closer despite her prejudice. They should have invested more time and emotion into developing them as a duo, so when “revelations” came to pass it would have SO MUCH more of an impact. If she hates him, and what she’ll find out will make her hate him more, what’s the impact in regards to the audience reaction? That’s not interesting. That’s not going to leave you edge on your seat, nor is it going to really develop into anything as meaty as the show promised early on.

Considering she’s always pushed to the front as the main character in the TV show it’s doing a piss poor job at making her interesting. There’s a baseline of “miserable” for her moods and she doesn’t deviate from it. She’s always irritable, against Red, against the strong new woman recruited to the team – there’s no more light and shade, no more somewhat endearing qualities. I get Liz wants revenge against Tom, and she’s at least consistent in that she’s bland and always on Red’s case. But considering everything they’ve gone through I can’t see their relationship has evolved. Despite the many times he’s saved her arse she lashes out like a spoilt brat insisting she can handle herself.

Considering a man infiltrated her life, made her fall in love with him, only to exploit her and almost kill her, you could forgive her for being tetchy – but to completely ignore Red’s intentions and lash out saying he’s suffocating her is just – well it’s frustrating to watch.

We’re getting a sense, in the last episode or two, that the reason she doesn’t want him to protect her by putting a goon on her case is because she’s got some shady dealings going on. But as many people know Red is not going to give up that easily so why even bother telling Red NOT to put someone there protecting her? Wouldn’t it be more interesting for the audience to see her manipulate the situation by hiring that body double which would cause them to wonder what her purpose is, instead of her constant “I don’t need protecting!”

Not being funny love, but you kind of do.

And then we have the fact Red apparently read her jealousy about his recent quest to find a girl he could possibly be more interested in than her. I didn’t see any jealousy in Lizzie. In fact she’s either been written so bland or directed/acted without enough inflection towards that emotion, that her behaviour towards him seemed pretty standard. “I hate you, you ruined my life, I have to be independent, I have to find this, I don’t need your help, but when I’m in a sticky situation Red – help me!”

Red, to me, has always been the star of the show seeing as so much revolves around this man. They were on to a winner casting James Spader from the start but it’s evident by the promotions in relation to the show that he is their star. James Spader is a big draw for many people and the quality of the writing he was giving set Red up to be one of the most enigmatic and interesting characters on screen. Putting him on the back burner to focus on a teenage version of a woman is a big mistake.

Writers – make Lizzie interesting, if that’s in your repertoire.

2. Not as interesting story arc

Who is Berlin? Some dodgy guy Reddington betrayed in the past or something to do with his daughter. We don’t know. I certainly don’t know. It’s this suddenly murky water we’re going into which threatens the comprehension of the show as a whole. I completely blanked out in one episode because so much was going on and not all of it made sense. Where did the new woman come from? Why did Raymond let her find him? Why was she looking for him? Did I become temporarily deaf during the episode where this was explained or even alluded to?

With the first series it was clear there were 3 lines moving the series.

1 – What does Red want with Lizzie and who is she to him?
2 – Is Tom a double agent and if so who does he work for?
3 – Who’s Berlin?

It was simple but DAMN it was compelling television and Red with his army was a force to be reckoned with.

In this series we have these lines in this order:

1 – What’s Red’s endgame now, what’s he doing?
2 Berlin… is he still a thing? Does he still want Red dead or what’s going on with that?
3 – What does Red want with Lizzie and who is she to him?
4 – Is Tom Keene the only thing that makes Lizzie interesting?
5 – Can Lizzie trust Red?
6 What is Red doing now, what’s the state of his business? –
7 – Why is Lizzie eluding her protection?
8 – Who’s this new girl? Is she just a romance thing for Aram?
9 – IS THAT PEEWEE HERMAN?!
10- Now come on, seriously, where is Red?!

Less is definitely more when it comes to gripping the audience. While The Blacklist could be likened to a “killer of the week” series it still had a unique 24-esque thread running through it, where one core storyline had everyone hooked despite the branches of questions popping up along the way. Now, The Blacklist seems to have thrown away that effective formula allowing itself to fall into the trap a lot of series have in the past.

A lot of people recognise that Lost actually lost itself by presenting questions all at once and only answering a few of them at a time down the line. Grey’s Anatomy was great at spinning webs with the threads of its core characters until they added more characters and more threads and the web became more like a tangle. The more characters there are, the less investment the audience can dedicate to one nor two major characters. The Blacklist is now following this vein, with the core storyline splitting off into branches of itself and expanding on characters who contribute little towards the main thread. As a result the story doesn’t have a clear direction, nor does it seem it knows what it’s meant to be doing or how it’s meant to draw us in.

Berlin was hyped up to be a master criminal, a giant thorn in Red’s side. He even had a plane explode to get him free! But when we were introduced to him in a more detailed way, he came across as a petty mob criminal with just a bit of beef against Red and once again an entire line was left deflated.

Back in the good old days Red was almost Godfather-esque with his no-nonsense delivery and ruthless manner in which he carried out his business. I see a glimmer of that, but a glimmer is not enough to satisfy the expectation for the continuation of Red’s badassery which was set up in series one. The mystery of his past is now becoming plain confusing with the introduction of his ex-wife who seems to have been an addition solely introduced to be a pawn in Berlin’s game and to further bewilder the audience as to her long-term purpose. According to signs so far – there is none. And so she seems to have been written out as quickly as she was introduced. The daughter, Jennifer, is now being brought into the fold and I suppose that’s another question to add to the mix.

Despite this, Red is still the most compelling presence on screen both due to the God James Spader and because more effort seems to have been made to maintain his character. However the rest of the cast (whom the audience are expected to root for) cannot stretch their legs in the quicksand of confusing plot points.

Audiences are much more demanding than they used to be mainly because a lot of Television show storylines and premises have been done before. They want something new and different which The Blacklist series 1 used to be. With its popularity of the first series, The Blacklist now seems to be attempting to either compensate for the larger audiences by becoming more like the long-running series and repeat mistakes of other shows they should in fact learn by, or live up to its own hype by becoming self- aware and trying ‘new’ things in a very odd and unsatisfactory way.

Perhaps it should take a look at other series 2s that are on the same network – Sleepy Hollow perhaps. That has advanced its storyline but kept the things fans adored at its core without changing the dynamics to make it unrecognisable.

In short I say this to the writers –

I don’t like Lizzie any more, and because you’re distracting me by spending so much time on things that aren’t relevant / I don’t care about, I am becoming bored. Stick to what you’re good at.

Formidable Red, however shaken Berlin makes him, and a mystery so juicy and shocking I can’t help but salivate over it.

Soldier Vs Iron

Captain-America-and-Iron-Man-the-avengers-30740908-417-500

In a world where Marvel dominates the movies, one piece of news caused fan-girls and boys to go crazy…

(If you didn’t read that in the trailer dude voice I’m very disappointed)

A rumour coming from Marvel studio hinting we might have an Iron Man vs Captain America film with the Civil War vein on our hands was met with a strong reaction. Some rare folks who enjoyed the Civil War storyline when in comic form, were in favour of the same storyline potentially being brought to the screen, while others felt this was an addition the Universe really didn’t need.

I, like a lot of the general public, was only introduced to the idea of the Avengers after the massive hit of Iron Man generated the cash cow cogs turning in Marvel’s head. Iron Man was an explosion of personality, a literal comic-to-film morph which – I’m told – captured Tony Stark’s snark impeccably in the form of King Robert Downey Jr.

Captain America followed, a film of which I’m happy to say I worked on in Manchester. There was a real buzz about bringing the patriotic superhero to the silver screen and I understood why when I was on set. It definitely brought a Hollywood dazzle to the normally miserable October. Everyone was getting involved and the people of Manchester (which doubled up for Boston in a few scenes) all wanted a piece.

Now we are being threatened – and I say that as my opinion – with a “dark, gritty” storyline pitting Captain America against Iron Man on opposite sides. Two of the standout superheroes of the Marvel Empire will be at loggerheads as Iron Man takes the side of “The Man” and Captain America continues to support freedom and civil liberties. Their friendship begins to unfold around them and Tony Stark’s personality is turned up to 11 as a Grade-A Dick. Maybe it’s to generate their world more in reality. Maybe it’s to address current issues in the world. Maybe it’s simply to borrow an angle from the Superman vs Batman reboot/sequel/franchise/whatever the hell that’s meant to be.

From what I can gather so far, though, it’ll be for bucks but if Tony Stark is painted as the aggressor I can’t imagine that’ll go down well. Both the Marvel and general audience do not really want to see Iron Man as the villain.
We don’t want to witness a prolonged or damaging domestic with our favourite heroes. Tony battles his own demons, sure, but he’s meant to be the funny, sarcastic, playboy millionaire everyone enjoys and not a villain. Bosses shouldn’t risk our vision of him being soured by any stretch of a storyline. Captain America is there to be the good soldier and while he’s still the people’s champion would it really be wise to pit him against a friend?

They learnt from each other in Avengers, and while I’m not sure how their friendship will evolve in Avengers 2, I know I’m not alone in hoping that there is still a connection between them which can capture our hearts as well as our imaginations, carrying us along in mirth and excitement as they apply their very different styles and work together to defeat a common enemy.

No matter how much you can argue that it’s for character development or more interesting ‘twists’, arguments between friends do not equal enjoyment nor escapism. The world we live in is getting desperate. Having studied Film theory on the periods of history where superhero stories rose in popularity, it always stems from social unrest. And everyone knows there’s a hell of a lot of that lately.

People want to believe in the fantasy of superheroes coming to the rescue the world because we can’t see a way to rescue the world ourselves. People will not exit the theatre feeling uplifted like they should do after a Marvel movie, bopping to the post-hidden-credits scene’s music with the mood of the movie still bubbling in their veins. At least, that is after every Marvel movie bar Captain America 2 and Iron Man 2. Leaving Cap’n on a moody, TV-series cliff-hanger doesn’t appeal much to my cinema-going appetite.

Mind you the bosses won’t take any notice of me, writing articles under a pen name “shootingdaggers” and generally expressing distaste on their long term goals. I don’t think I’m on my own but then again a lot of people lap the dark and moody stuff up. They want things to be real and angsty, just like a computer game.

But Marvel didn’t introduce itself as a computer game, they introduced themselves as an entertainment juggernaught miles ahead of their comic competitors in everything from storyline to execution to character. And to lose that sense of ‘epic’, to lose the entertainment that has kids hanging on Hawkeye’s every word or buying Iron Man masks like it’s their life purpose, I believe would be losing the fantasy of it all.

I hope they go with less Eastenders-on-steroids and more Marvel Comic Book Universe we have come to know and love. It’s what they’re good at.

What about other Marvel fans, though? Anyone think this is a GOOD idea? Answers on a postcard please.

Dracula: Untold – Giving Vampires Back Their Bite

As a traditional-vampire lover in a world of faux brooding, wet and sparkly blood suckers I have despaired. Gone were the days of the romantic yet deeply horrific vampire, or even the days of Buffy where bad attitude and traditional tropes – allergic to sunlight, holiness and everything good in the world – rang true of the original story.

Vampires were replaced in the last few years by glittering fashionistas with the personality of a limp duck, passing themselves off as the legend but coming nowhere near the enigma of the founding father Dracula.

Rejoice, then, that while it’s not a perfect film Dracula: Untold attempts to restore vampires’ reputation as being scary monsters and not thousand-year-old high school sweethearts.

While a reboot or even another origin film had a big massive question mark all over it, and while a lot of critics are destroying this film quite unfairly, I believe they’re missing the fun of it. They’re perhaps jaded with the stream of mediocre films that want to revolutionise or refresh an iconic story. They want both spectacle and intricate, meaningful storytelling and Oscar-winning performances which is not what a campy superhero action origin film can ever really deliver.

For example Batman got so depressing for me near the end I couldn’t cope. If it wasn’t for Heath Ledger’s electric performance in the Dark Knight I would have been bored with the dreary woe-is-me, self-loathing gravel-voiced ‘hero’. I wanted to be entertained, not join in with his no-hope view of Gotham and the depressing centrepiece of its legend.

For those not in the know, impressively violent Vlad the Impaler was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula and to my knowledge this origin had not been touched upon in the past. For his many incarnations Vlad has never been explored and it was refreshing to see the man who made the legend.

Dracula: Untold aims to show that the man who made the myth was not always a monster. He was a product of war and attempted to redeem himself by having a loving family. Coming off playing family man and total DILF Bard the Bowman in The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, Luke Evans is a nice choice to take the centre role as Vlad Tepes and show his softer side. Evans actually carries the responsibility of the hero very well for his first feature in a leading role. Sometimes he carries it literally.

At some points the dialogue is not the best though the cast do their best to keep it believable. I’d have liked some more psychological pacing to balance the action sequences. The filmmakers appear to be in such a rush with some scenes that you want to tell them to take their time and allow the audience to be enveloped in the story, not just the plot-points which shoot Vlad to becoming the infamous Vampire. When the film works, though, it works incredibly well. The action is different and blood pumping. Dracula’s powers actually benefit from the newest tricks in technology and you get a much larger thrill when watching the infamous vampire lay waste to his enemies.

While the doe-eyed, bordering-on-hammy close ups of Drac’s wife Maria threaten to become annoying (they were, no doubt, intended to show how angelic and true she is) the film’s action sequences and astounding lead in the form of the Luke Evans save it from the brink of mediocrity. Charles Dance also makes a very welcome addition as the monster before him. I’m told that a few more Game of Thrones faces can be seen in the cast, but this is a film for Evans and Dance – they are both engaging and enthralling and the rest of the cast struggle to keep up with them.

More of them, please!

It ends on an intriguing note, a sliver of excitement to whet the appetite of its audience. And to be honest I’m looking forward to see what this new-age Dracula franchise can deliver.

As it’s reportedly becoming part of a planned Monster Universe by studio execs, some things in this new Dracula universe will definitely have to be improved to give it as much impact as that tiny, teeny independent studio Marvel and the giant Superhero stamp which is currently dominating cinemas. Given the right tweaks, though, I believe Dracula could be one the better films to lead the way into the horror-monster genre of films.

I am grateful for Dracula: Untold. Not only because it gave me half-naked Luke Evans (more of that please) but because it finally gave Vampires their bite back.

I give this film four stars out of five.

****

Why I Write

I recently got asked the question that many authors and aspiring writers are posed:

“Why do you write?”

That’s possibly the most difficult question I’ve ever been asked as I feel the answer is too simple:

“Because that’s all I’ve ever done.”

To me that sounds like I have no joy from it, no meaning which isn’t the case at all. From a very young age I’ve been writing stories and I doubt if there’s a day gone by that I’ve not thought of ideas or scenes or scribbled something down. I was told by my teacher just before I left her class, to promise her that whatever happens, continue writing my stories. I was then told by a college tutor that I wrote with originality and flair, my first feedback to which I was overjoyed! I was told by a University teacher that he liked the way I wrote characters and the speech flowed freely. From strangers, I’ve received compliments on my style.

But that’s not why I write, it’s just a perk of it. A little “Well done you!” for my efforts goes a long way towards my writing spirit.

Why I write – there’s an inherent need in me. I’ve been drawing and writing stories since I could hold a pen. If I don’t write I feel I’ve wasted my day. If I don’t flesh out the muses and characters that appear so brightly in my head I feel I don’t do them justice.

 I am a writer, a storyteller. I want to entertain people and I want to write stories that I’d enjoy and share them with people like me or people who like these things so they can become absorbed in the world. I want to create a best friend for someone, even if it’s one person, who can say one of my stories is the go-to book they read if they need comfort or company.

I write because I’m a writer, and no matter what job I may take in future or wherever a path may lead me, at my heart I will a writer forever. 

A little bit of light reading…

I’ve heard a lot of authors read similar toned books and the same genres not only to check out their competition but to see what’s already been done and if they’re treading old ground. I bought a book to read that was of similar content and, I worried, style to mine in order to see if there was any true competition there or if I was to be worried about copying it.

After reading a few pages I put it down and sighed in relief. There was the barest thread to link the two ideas together and it was a completely different writing method to mine. It was bare, easy to read, simplistic almost and very straightforward in the first person, straight into the business with no explanations provided.

I wouldn’t say I thought “mine’s better”, Every book is different, people might prefer his style to mine etc, but I did feel mine read a little bit more. Totally different characters and way of approaching a similar subject. The only strong similarity was that his partner’s name begins with “L.”

So today I feel good. I’m going to write today. Should my mother not need me to piddle around, should my back not actually kick off more than it has already and should the woman next door not ironically scream at her children to ‘be quiet’ George will once again come out to play.