Oh my gosh, you came back for another round! I thought for sure you’d unsubscribe following my first newsletter. But, hey, I’m glad you’re (still) here!
I’m sort of a writing process junkie. For instance, I’ve always been fascinated by how an idea goes from initial germ to finished product. Even in my own life, I’ve been surprised and amused at how two ideas connect and put me on a path of creativity. I thought it would be fun to showcase this process to you through my own experience.
THE GERM OF AN IDEA
It was 2012 and the Summer Olympics were heating up in London, Game of Thrones season two kept viewers on the edge of their seats, and the first Fifty Shades of Grey book left housewives in need of more alone time. And while “Gangnam Style” was racking up the views to become the most-played YouTube video of all time, there was another, lesser-known milestone happening within the pop zeitgeist.
I had just returned home from my office job in Orlando, Florida and found my wife sitting on the couch enjoying some television. Ready to decompress from a long day of pushing papers around, I plopped down next to her and asked what we were watching.
“It’s called Storage Wars,” she said. My wife went on to explain that the reality TV show centered on a group of people who purchase unpaid storage units at auction—the contents of which are generally unknown—and then try to sell the contents for a profit. Amused by the idea, I asked her if anyone who purchased units so far in this episode had come across anything cool, such as old files and documents revealing who really assassinated President Kennedy.
The wife chuckled at my stupid joke and kept watching. Meanwhile, in my head I was connecting dots. Storage lockers. Full of secrets. Falling into the wrong hands. There was something there.
Just as soon as I’d sat down, I got back up to search for a notebook, wherein I wrote down the expanded story synopsis as fast as I could. I never finished watching that episode of Storage Wars. I heard it was good.
In hopes of learning whether this bonkers idea had any appeal outside of my own brain, I texted my best friend Doug. “What if inept Area 51 employees forgot to pay the rent on the facility’s off site storage unit, leaving the secret contents to be sold at public auction?”
Doug texted back. “Interesting.”
Now, I realize you may not know Doug, but when he says something is “interesting” it means he hates it but doesn’t have the stones to just come out and say that he hates it. So I did what anyone in my position would do: I dropped the idea.
Actually, that’s what any sane person would have done.
I was so enthusiastic about the idea that I ignored Doug’s opinion and doubled down, writing the idea as a comic book. I could see it all so clearly in my head. The story would be told through a comedy of errors and would feature bumbling government agents, needy aliens, and backwoods rednecks all on a collision course to secure a dangerous item. It would be one part Men in Black and one part The X-Files, but because I love silly stuff, I decided to toss in a dash of Airplane! for good measure.
I had the script for the first issue of the comic written in a matter of days, and the completed pages didn’t stray much from the original idea at all. I then headed to the internet to see if there was an artist out there who might hate themselves enough to help me bring my totally irreverent story idea—newly titled Unit 44—to life.
Having previously published a couple graphic novels, one-shots, and short comics, I reached out to my network to see if any of my former collaborators might be a fit. I was thankful when a couple of pals offered up concept art of the two main characters, Agent Hatch—a grizzled, by-the-book, no-nonsense Area 51 “Man in Black,” who was actually a total idiot—and Agent Gibson—a fresh-faced slacker-type agent… who also happened to be a total idiot. (In my experience, when you put two idiots together, you have a delicious recipe for fun. Doug and I as friends are the perfect example of this being true.) The art I got back from those pals verged on realistic, whereas I was starting to envision Unit 44 as a Saturday Morning Cartoon with a simpler art style and bright colors. I decided to expand my search.
After months of putting out feelers I finally met my match, connecting with Ed Jiménez—a talented artist based in Costa Rica—who not only understood what I was going for, but shared the same ridiculous sense of humor I needed to bring Unit 44 to the correct level of zany. We jumped into production on the series, exchanging silly ideas and creating something that we thought was hilarious.
In 2013 we funded a print run of the first issue via Kickstarter and got the book out to our supporters. Within the span of a year, Unit 44 went from a wayward idea to something I could physically hold in my hands.
But that’s not where the story ends.
In 2014 Ed and I returned to Kickstarter and funded issues 2-4, luring those who loved the first issue back so they could see how the series panned out. We also got a bunch of new readers in the process.
It was right around this time that I got an email from the publisher at Alterna Comics, Peter Simeti. This was a big deal. I read and genuinely enjoyed Alterna’s catalog of comics and here he was offering to publish Unit 44 to help it reach a wider audience. It was the first time I didn’t have to pitch a comic series to someone else. Someone had come to me, wanting to support my work. (That was a big difference from Doug who was still calling this whole thing “interesting” at this point.)
Unit 44 officially debuted as an Alterna Comics title in 2015, being published digitally on the ComiXology platform.
In 2017, Alterna Comics published Unit 44 again as a beautiful 100-page trade paperback that is available in most comic shops.
Then, having established itself in the comics industry as a purveyor of fine comics, Alterna publishes Unit 44 again in 2019, serializing the story as 4 individual issues. The book was in a lot of comic shops. That was rad.
At this point, I’m relatively sure that Unit 44 is Alterna’s most-published title despite there only being 4 issues.
Wanna see how Unit 44 turned out? Click here to read the first 5 pages for free! If you’re so moved, you support my writing career and purchase Unit 44 in print, digitally, or in trade paperback form. Heck, you can even buy issues directly from me and I’ll sign the books and ship them right to your door. While the single issues and graphic novel are no longer being printed, between myself, Alterna, and Amazon, we still have some inventory socked away just for you.
As I write this, the year is now 2022. It’s been 10 years (!) since I first had the idea for a comic book about storage units and aliens and revenge and I can safely say that it has been read by dozens of people.
To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of my not staying on the couch and watching Storage Wars with my wife, Alterna Comics will soon release a new collection of Unit 44 in a format called a “Giant”—a fat, saddle stitched comic that collects all 88 pages of the series.
But here’s the bigger news…
At the same time that this giant becomes available for order, so will Unit 44 #5.
That’s right. Unit 44 is coming back. (When Doug heard this breaking news he said it was “interesting.”)
Consider getting caught up on the series now so that you’ll be ready for Gibson and Hatch’s next irreverent adventure when it arrives in March.
Oh. And bringing back a long-dormant comic series? That’s a whole story in itself. I’ll save that one for next time.
And that, dear reader, is how the germ of an idea infects your brain and doesn’t let go for a decade.
I’m Wes Locher. I’ve been writing professionally for a decade. I write comic books. I write video games. I write fiction. I write nonfiction. I write whatever seems fun, cool, and inspiring. I also love helping other writers to demystify the process of making a living through words. Welcome to my newsletter.
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Too many times I talk with burgeoning writers and find that they’re obsessed with a massive story idea of their own creation. They envision these stories being told in a Lord of the Rings-sized trilogy of books, or as a 60-issue comic book series, or as a 9-season television show. However, despite having the idea, they seem paralyzed by the weight of their own creation and haven’t started writing that book, comic, or TV script.
As a writer with some miles on his odometer, this conversation always raises two red flags.
1. If you’re just starting off in your career, no one will contract you for a book trilogy, or a 60-issue comic series, or ask you to serve as head writer and show-runner for a TV show.
Your focus needs to be on building a body of work—and ideally, one that makes money.
2. If you’re paralyzed by the breadth and weight of your story, start small.
Put the novel aside and write a short story. Put the maxiseries on the backburner and write a short comic. Open a new Final Draft file and write a spec script for a popular 30-minute TV show.
Before you tackle your huge series, you need to put in the hours of finding your voice and style as a writer. The worst mistake you could make is to launch directly into your massive passion project. You will learn so much by creating something smaller first and the knowledge you gain can be applied to that big thing down the line. Imagine attempting to create your masterpiece now and then one day not even being able to look at it or read it because you can only see what you’ve done wrong.
Plus, if you start with something shorter, you may discover that you hate writing novels and the story might better be served as a comic book or movie. All of those discoveries are important as well as you learn which medium works best with your skills.
Perhaps most importantly of all, if you cannot tell a compelling and interesting story in 5, 10, or 20 pages, I guarantee that your longer novel will hold nothing of interest.
Give yourself the time you need to sharpen your skills.
Are you ready to tackle the questions I got in response to my first newsletter? I KNOW I AM. (You can read the first newsletter HERE if you missed out.)
What was your favorite comic book of 2021?
Unfortunately, being a parent has left me incredibly behind with my comic book reading. While I don’t have a local comic shop anymore, I do read comics digitally on Amazon’s ComiXology app. However, my Christmas gift to myself was an annual subscription to Marvel Unlimited—which collects practically the entire Marvel Comics catalog digitally—so I’ve been enjoying catching up on titles there. In January I re-read the entire run of Ultimate Spider-Man by Brian Bendis, Mark Bagley, Stuart Immonen, et al. which was a joy. (In total, the series ran 170+ issues and required me to spend a lot of time in the bathroom.)
If you’re interested in reading Spider-Man comics, but aren’t sure where to start, I’d recommend Ultimate Spider-Man. Rebooted for the year 2000, the series modernizes Spidey’s origin story, leading to the character being more palatable and more accessible. The series heavily inspired the current MCU incarnation of the character and the comic also served as the introduction for Miles Morales, whom I’m sure you’re familiar with. It’s a can’t-miss.
What books are you planning to read in 2022?
I don’t really plan ahead. When I finish one book, I tend to grab whatever is next from my to-read pile that looks interesting. I also try to alternate between fiction and nonfiction.
I recently finished Nick de Semlyen’s Wild and Crazy Guys, which tells a collective history of comedians such as Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray, John Candy, John Belushi, Dan Akroyd, Chevy Chase (and others), and explores how their orbits shifted from being funnymen on Saturday Night Live into starring in some of the best (and worst) movies of the 80s. If you grew up with those films (Caddyshack, Groundhog Day, Ghostbusters, National Lampoon’s Vacation, etc.) then it’s a great read, offering a lot of behind-the-scenes info on the actors and the films themselves.
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No problem, Mom.
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