By Michele Brittany, West Coast Bleeding Cool Correspondent
There is excitement in the air here in Anaheim, California. No, it’s not about a new ride at Disneyland, but for those of us into comics and all things geeky and nerdy fun, Wondercon is back this weekend starting Friday, April 3 through Sunday, April 5 at the Anaheim Convention Center. It’s a great location to hold a con and I have heard that it will be a warm weekend. To get prepared for three days of fun, I caught up with Lion Forge Comics Editor Shannon Eric Denton and Eisner Award nominee Brandon Easton. Both will be at Wondercon and as an added bonus, they will be sharing lessons they have learned in the industry as editor and writer.
Michele Brittany: Shannon and Brandon, thank you both for taking time out of your busy schedules to talk about your background and start in comics as well as your respective panels at Wondercon this next weekend. To start, can you tell me a little about yourselves?
Shannon Eric Denton: Hi Michele. My professional background is probably summed up best as a storyteller. Sometimes it’s in comics, video games, TV and film and in varying roles from to artist to writer to sometimes as an Editor-In-Chief. At the end of the day it’s really a part of the same thing which is entertaining others with stories.
Brandon Easton: Hello Michele! I write comics, short stories and screenplays for film and television. I love sociological science-fiction (stuff like GATTACA, Blade Runner, District 9) and any stories that make a comment on humanity’s relationship with the natural world. Like Shannon, I consider myself a storyteller and can adapt to the demands of various mediums when necessary. Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland and spent many years as a public school teacher in New York City. I moved to LA in 2008 to take a shot on my dreams of being a screenwriter and after a few perilous years, it paid off.
MB: And, when did your interests for comics begin? Was there a defining moment or a comic book issue that grabbed you and did not let you go?
SED: Absolutely. Mine was born out of a love for Spider-Man. Marvel Team-Up #47 specifically but I wouldn’t have purchased that comic if I hadn’t seen Spider-Man on the Electric Company on TV. My love of properties in multiple genres has obviously been going on for a very long time. Still like Spider-Man too so please keep watching our Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon on Disney XD!
BE: It was either 1980 or 1981 when I was in first grade in Catholic school. Right across the street from my campus was a small comic book shop and I recall following my classmates into the store and I purchased an issue of Marvel Tales (a series that used to reprint all the classic Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Amazing Spider-Man issues) and from then on, I was hooked. I believe it was the issue where Peter knocked out Flash Thompson in the boxing ring in his school’s gym.
I was born at the perfect time to be a modern geek. From the late 1970’s onward we had a slew of mind-bending sci-fi cinema hitting the zeitgeist (Star Wars, Alien, Superman I, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., Star Trek films) and you couldn’t help but to be swept along for the ride!
MB: Shannon, you have worked as a producer and artist, can you talk about how you became an editor for Lion Forge Comics?
SED: I met them at WonderCon incidentally so it’s fun to have this event just around the corner! It’s a great show and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone in Anaheim this weekend! I can’t wait to let everyone know all the great stuff we have coming up through our print partnership with IDW Publishing!
MB: And a typical day is?
SED: A long one! Making comics is fun but it’s a ton of hours. Mine is spent equal parts editing current material, world building new content, setting up partnerships like the one with IDW, and expanding my relationships with producers in Hollywood to take stuff to the next level.
MB: Brandon, you earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and a Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting. Can you describe how that helped in defining your writing voice?
BE: I believe my Sociology degree informed my writing more than anything else. When I was an undergraduate, those courses fundamentally altered the way I viewed global society from the perspective of human interaction with politics, economics and history. I was forced to consider ideas and viewpoints that had been alien to me and even though I was made to be uncomfortable at times, I applied a larger context to everything I wrote. I incorporated the intersection of race, class and gender into my world view so that my characters and concepts felt authentic to the human experience.
MB: Is screenwriting as similar to comic book writing as one might think?
BE: Yes and no. They both set up stories in a finite space and time with a beginning, middle and end. However, comic book scripting requires an understanding of how to move a story forward in a series of still images. You have to create the illusion of movement on a two-dimensional page convincingly and balance your vision with the artistic imagination of your illustrator or illustrator team. They are both collaborative, but comics are a different language than cinema or television. I strongly recommend aspiring writers to check out Scott McCloud’s work on the subject.
SED: I’ll be on the editors panel [“Just What Does an Editor Do?” in Room 209 on Friday with talented peers Barbara Kesel and Sarah Gaydos (among others) discussing all of our upcoming properties. There will be a few reveals so please be sure and make the panel!
BE: I’m on two panels at Wondercon, both on Friday! The first is called “Art of the Pitch” from the Disney-ABC Creative Talent Development team and it’s an introduction of how to present yourself to television executives, showrunners and producers as a writer. I would suggest anyone interested in learning how to increase your ability to network within the TV industry to check it out. The panel is at 3:30pm in Room 300DE.
The second panel is one I created five years ago titled “The Writer’s Journey: Breaking into Comics and Hollywood Scriptwriting” and the title says it all. I moderate a group of seasoned writers who come from comics, animation, novels, television and film and we all give extremely realistic and practical advice for those interested in building a significant career as a professional writer. There’s no B.S. here. We tell it to you straight. The question and answer section is our favorite part because we’d much rather answer direct queries from the audience instead of rambling on forever or making in-jokes that alienate everyone else. That panel is at 6:00pm in Room 209.
MB: And what can attendees take away with them?
SED: Knowledge! Well, and hopefully a good time. We’ll also have some exclusives at the booth so please stop by!
BE: From both panels – an increased understanding of what a writer needs to do to get from point A to point B; an awareness of those requirements on a personal and a professional level; also a challenge to change one’s own perception of their career, to stop thinking as an “aspiring” writer and behave like a true creative machine.
MB: For both of you, what are three tips and/or or pearls of wisdom you would give to the aspiring editors and writers out there?
SED: Editors, writers and artists I’d encourage to work hard, work hard again, and then after taking some much needed free time to continue working hard (and working hard can include working hard to be nice and respectful to those you encounter)! That really is the secret to making all of this happen.
BE: 1) Never, ever stop writing and creating new material. 2) Finish what you start – don’t attempt to complete five projects at once because they will all undoubtedly suffer on some level. 3) Realize that people generally won’t care about you or your career until there’s some heat on a finished project.
All three of those ideas are interconnected on a base level. I see so many writers fail at #1 and #2 which leads to a lack of market awareness from your potential audience and erodes confidence and work ethic. Some folks believe coming up with ideas is enough to generate hype but with the endless array of entertainment content available at the tips of our fingers, writers have to more than one project done and out to the masses before there’s an appreciable tremor in the marketplace.
MB: Before wrapping up, I know that you have both worked together on a tribute comic book of the late Andre the Giant, which was officially licensed by his estate. How important was that project, personally and professionally?
SED: Andre had a huge impact on people’s lives. There have been other books on his life and other than our book, I’m sure there will be more. It’s important for us to get across this is our love letter to him and as fans ourselves we’re hoping you’ll join us in our desire to share that admiration with the world.
BE: The Andre the Giant book is the first non-fiction graphic novel I’ve done. It was a massive challenge for me as a writer but I feel I conveyed Andre’s importance to the growth of professional wrestling from being a collective of regional promotions to an international entertainment phenomenon.
I’ve been a fan of professional wrestling all my life. I grew up during the pro wrestling boom period which went from 1984 to 2001. I saw Andre live a few times and remember those moments as if they happened yesterday. When Lion Forge approached me to write the book I was able to draw on my personal experiences with pro wrestling alongside real stories from Andre’s family and colleagues. I believe we’ve created something special – particularly the artwork from Denis Medri which brought my script to life in ways I couldn’t imagine. Denis’ work is incredible.
MB: In addition to the panels on Friday, will you be signing at the Lion Forge Comics booth throughout the weekend? And if your fans want to find you on social media, where should they go?
SED: I’m on Twitter at @ShannonDenton and you can always find me at ShannonDenton.com as well. Thanks so much for your time!
BE: I’m not sure if I will be around on Saturday and Sunday, but I usually hang out at the Lion Forge booth whenever I go to a big convention. Otherwise, people can find me on Twitter (@BrandonEaston), Instagram (https://instagram.com/shadowlawwrite/) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/brandon.easton).
Thank you Michele! It was a pleasure!
MB: Thank you again and I look forward to seeing you at Wondercon!
Michele Brittany is an independent popular culture scholar and semi-professional photographer and editor of James Bond and Popular Culture: Essays on the Influence of the Fictional Superspy (McFarland & Company). She regularly posts reviews and analysis on the spy/espionage genre on her blog, Spyfi & Superspies and can be followed at Twitter @mcbrittany2014.