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Manifesting the Stories You Want to See
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I hope you’re doing as well as can be. I’m still recovering from a busy weekend at Motor City Comic Con plus fighting off whatever germs my kids have dragged into the house from school, or I collected at the show. Strangely, deadlines don’t seem to move based on your energy level, so I’m still cranking on those. But before I get into the granular updates, I want to talk about something.
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Now, I’m not really the kind of writer that looks back too often, despite the fact that by now, I’ve written a lot of comics, novels, a podcast, and done some video game work. While I’m as nostalgic as the next person when it comes to art that I consume, I don’t necessarily feel it for my own work. Once it’s done, I’m done, and while I can think back on things like the Pete Fernandez Miami Mysteries or, say, Archie Meets KISS, I tend to be more excited by whatever’s next. Which got me to thinking about the idea of manifesting.
You may be wondering what the heck I’m talking about, and that’s fair. But let’s start out with the simplest version of what it means to manifest something: I believe, really firmly, that you can achieve your goals by having a clear vision of what you want and slowly but surely working toward that goal over time. It’s not a shortcut, it’s not a cheat code, and it’s certainly not any kind of head start. It’s just about clarity of vision, and clearing a path to get where you want to go. Playing the long game, if you will.
Let’s look at one example from my backlist, a series I’ve wanted to revisit and talk about for some time, mainly because I feel like a lot of people missed it:
Before I get to the book itself and how it came to be (spoiler: manifesting!), some backstory -
Two of my favorite sub-genres shouldn’t surprise you. They’re the street-level crimefighter/superhero, a la Daredevil, The Question, Batman, etc., and also, shockingly, the troubled private detective. Both sub-genres have a lot of overlap if we’re looking at it like a Venn Diagram: tainted knights trying to overcome systemic failures to do the right thing, despite their own obvious flaws and demons. Heady stuff. When done well, these stories really speak to me. I also feel like, thematically (something I avoid thinking about until I’m done with a work, rarely before), my best stories are about people overcoming their own demons to do the right thing and fix their damaged lives or achieve their dreams.
I care more about the person over the mechanism - which is to say, I’m less interested in the superhero villain-of-the-month plot or the episodic nature of the PI novel and keen on character. It’s why I lean more toward private eye series that are finite - like George Pelecanos’s Nick Stefanos books, or Dennis Lehane’s Pat and Angie novels. The characters change from novel to novel, and it doesn’t feel like it’s more about the plot - like an episode of Law & Order or CSI - than the people.
If the character doesn’t speak to me - or, worse, if the character doesn’t evolve during the arc of the story - I check out pretty fast. Give me messed up people forced to make tough choices that could ruin their lives and I’m set. So, as I was getting my sea legs as a novelist, I started to imagine a world where I could tell this story - but not as prose, but a comic. I started thinking about what it would take to make this happen. Engage manifesting: I started to visualize the book and I started to literally imagine it existing.
A few years ago, I was working at Archie Comics by day. That gig often involved writing comics - stuff like the aforementioned Archie Meets Kiss, The Archies, Archie Meets Ramones, and so on. I grew up loving those characters, so writing even a handful of story featuring these icons was a dream come true. But like any creative, I had other ideas that existed outside of the Riverdale city limits. One idea in particular - a synthesis of the hard-drinking private eye (something I explored more directly in the Pete novels) and the legacy superhero/street-level crimefighter. Specifically, what if the person tabbed with taking over for a legendary hero…wasn’t up for the task? And what would that journey of recovery be like? Could someone overcome their own baggage to be a true hero? And could you use those superhero and private eye tropes in a story that wasn’t limited by content, aiming for a more Vertigo-style take? Around the same time, I was working on a podcast for EEP and iHeart Radio called Lethal Lit, and had the absolute pleasure of co-creating and co-writing the first season with Monica Gallagher.is an amazingly talented writer and artist, with tons of credits to her name. The experience of crafting that first season, though challenging (we were basically learning how to write a narrative audio drama as we went!), was a blast, and we managed to get a bunch of accolades for our work - The New York Times even called the first season one of the best podcasts of 2018. So as our work on the series wound down, I knew I wanted to work with Monica again. And I had this idea percolating.
So I brought the very, very, very basic concept to Monica and asked if she’d be game to work on it with me. Thankfully, she accepted almost immediately, and we were off to the brainstorming races. I could see our comic not only taking shape, but becoming reality. (We even outlined some of our biggest comic book influences here, which is a story I still think back on fondly!)
What we came up with was an amalgamation of the two sub-genres I mentioned plus so much more: a story about Creighton news reporter (and a former Miamian of Cuban heritage) Lara Dominguez, a haunted alcoholic struggling to keep her life together while obsessing over her city’s mysterious vigilante, a masked and debonair hero known as the Black Ghost. Our intent was clear: we wanted to play with the tropes of both genres and twist them into something new that worked for our story, while still honoring them.
So, if you read the series, you’ll see a lot of nods to classic superhero storytelling - like the fictional city forgotten by the world (Creighton), the legacy hero, the drunk protagonist struggling with demons from her past (poor Lara!), the sidekick (Ernesto), a corrupt police force, and more. But at its heart, The Black Ghost was a story about Lara - and her coming to terms with her own problems (not just drinking) and choosing to try and fix them while taking on this huge legacy and responsibility. And also, if she even…should do this? Monica and I wanted to explore the real consequences that would come from donning a mask and trying to fight crime, while still playing safely in the world of comic books. Lara, who had some self-defense skills and was a pretty good reporter when sober, would still have trouble fighting off a gang of thugs, for example. And those battles would have consequences.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t, at this point, mention the rest of our team, which helped shepherd the series through ten single issues and two collections, which you can get digitally via ComiXology Originals or in print from Dark Horse Comics. Our editor (and dear friend) Greg Lockard helped keep the ship running and our excesses in check with his calm demeanor and kindness. George Kambadais (now killing it on Gargoyles), our artist and co-creator, gave us a look that was both unexpected and totally perfect, part Batman: Year One with a dash of Darkwing Duck. His animated style really cemented the ideas Monica and I had for the story, and propelled us into some unexpected areas. Colorist Ellie Wright gave George’s work a subtle, classic tone that was only amplified by Taylor Esposito’s precise and polished lettering. A big shout out must also go out to Chip Mosher, who welcomed the book at ComiXology, and editor Daniel Chabon, who really advocated for us at Dark Horse. The series wouldn’t exist without them.
Anyway, about manifesting. It’s more than just thinking, ‘oh this would be nice.’ The art of manifesting is in the doing. The incremental steps you take to get closer to that vivid, realistic vision. That’s the hard part. Because once you want something, it’s tough to wait and be patient. But manifesting is also a long game, and if you play it well, the wins are big.
I’ll spare you an extended recap of all the work that went into those ten issues/two trades, but I will say this: Lara changed during the story. She evolved. She struggled. And in the end, I think the team felt really strongly that we created a vibrant world, supporting cast, and hero that could stand up next to some of the classics we loved as readers. We brought that to life, not just by manifesting it - but by doing the work. It’s something to be proud of, and we’re grateful we made this fun comic.
I’m not big on comps, either - like, my book is “this meets that.” I think it can be a lazy way of explaining your work without, well, actually showing your work. Whenever I talk to other writers about it, or whenever I’m teaching a class on pitching, I implore people to show the editor they’re trying to woo what the story is first, then use comps as a supporting device. The Black Ghost is a story about redemption - about someone hitting absolute bottom and pulling themselves out, while doing something they never envisioned. It’s about the surprises life throws at you and how Lara taps into her own inner strength to overcome them. But not without making a ton of mistakes along the way. It’s all served up with a nice superhero bow and private eye wrapping paper, but at its heart, Lara’s story is about a broken person picking up the pieces of their life and trying to put them together to make something new. The titles that really inspired me, and I think the whole team, are always top of mind for me:
The Question, by Denny O’Neil and Denys Cowan
Daredevil, by Ann Nocenti and John Romita, Jr.
Alias/Jessica Jones, byand Michael Gaydos
Hawkeye, byand Leonardo Romero
Hawkeye, by Matt Fraction/and David Aja
Ms. Tree, by Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty
Dakota North, by Martha Thomases and Tony Salmons
Moon Knight, by Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz
Whiteout, by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber
Batwoman, by Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III
Stumptown, by Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth, and Justin Greenwood
Sandman Mystery Theater, by Matt Wagner, Steven Seagle, Guy Davis, and more
If you like any of the above (and if you don’t - what’s wrong with you?!), you’ll probably dig The Black Ghost.
And hey, you can order it!
So, yeah. It’s a special book to us. And I don’t think we were alone in thinking that. The Black Ghost gained praise from places like The New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter, Publishers Weekly, SyFy, Boing Boing, and much more, not to mention a two-part audio adaptation from the fine folks at Graphic Audio and trading cards! On top of that, a lot of creators we admire, like James Tynion IV,, Mark Waid, Gail Simone, Kelly Thompson, and Pornsak Pichetshote sang its praises. Hell, we even got covers from folks like Bill Sienkiewicz, Francesco Francavilla, Greg Smallwood, and Veronica Fish. Added bonus: if you’re a crime fiction fan, see if you can catch the many Easter Eggs spread over both volumes - from the title of the two arcs to many of the character names, I’m sure you’ll have a blast.
I think sometimes we’re so busy that we forget to celebrate the wins because we’re scrambling so fast to get to The Next Thing, but The Black Ghost was most certainly a win - not just for me, but for the team that helped bring it to life, and hopefully for the readers.
And I do think, to some degree, the book has been swept away - just another indie title that gets a little lost in the shuffle and noise, not through any lack of effort on anyone’s part. But then I’ll hear from a reader or see it mentioned on social media from someone I don’t know, and I’m reminded that Lara’s story did have some impact, and that’s special.
But it’s also not done.
Every time I see Monica, or we chat - which we had ample opportunity to do as table neighbors at New York Comic Con this year, along with our editor and friend, Greg Lockard - we brainstorm ways to bring Lara back. We have a few rough ideas, and if you read Shame the Devil, you know the volume ends on a pretty big cliffhanger. So there’s more story to tell. I’d always envisioned The Black Ghost as a trilogy - three books that could showcase the arc of a messed up person doing her best to become a hero, and the consequences of that journey.
I know George, Greg, and the rest of the crew are down for it, too. We just need to figure out what that would look like. But if you’re interested in more, take a minute to plug the first two volumes on social media or via reviews, or pick them up if you haven’t. It’s the best way to motivate people to want to give the third part of the story a home.
Maybe we can manifest that one, too.
UPDATES! NEWS! EVENTS!
I woke up on Saturday morning to a TON of new subscribers and I wondered what that was all about. It took me a minute to figure out Substack had featured my essay on the new Beatles song in their weekly “Substack Reads” newsletter - which is very cool! Now I get to wave this shiny badge around and get into all the Substack parties.
But seriously, I loved writing that essay and I’ve tried my best to include more than just updates in these weekly newsletters, so it was nice to feel like people have been responding to what I’m doing here!
To all my new subscribers - welcome! I hope you survive the experience!
I also got to write a short “WHO IS…?” character recap/history on the wonderful Ms. Marvel for Marvel’s Infinity Comics platform (which you can read now, exclusively on Marvel Unlimited!), with kinetic art by Noemi Vittori and colors by KJ Diaz. Just in time for The Marvels to hit theaters! Very appreciative of the opportunity from editor Annalise Bissa, and super-thankful to my dear friendfor her help and insight while I wrote this!
Speaking of Marvel Unlimited, I’m part of the superstar crew of writers contributing to an Infinity Comics EVENT, starring everyone’s favorite mischief-maker, Loki! Spearheaded by good pal Karla Pacheco and editor supreme Sarah Brunstad, “The Bifrost and the Furious” follows Loki as he aims to get his hands on a supremely powerful artifact. But he will need some help! Along with Preeti, Jason Loo, J. Holtham, and many more, we’ve put together a fun adventure that’s loaded with cool guest stars, heartfelt drama, and tons of fun action. The first few installments are out in the world, and you can read them on Marvel Unlimited. Really thrilled with how it all turned out!
Also! This Friday I’ll be at The World’s Borough Bookshop in Jackson Heights, Queens for a reading with some dear friends and wonderful authors, including bestie Kellye Garrett, Erin E. Adams, Ed Lin, Shizuka Otake, hosted by Radha Vatsal. If you’re in the area, be sure to swing by - we’ll be doing a brief Q&A and selling/signing books! You can RSVP here.
TEASE: Do y’all remember Mara Llave: Keeper of Time, the newspaper strip I did with the wonderfully talented Nickolej Villiger? Well…that’s new art right there. Yeah. Brand new.
Which can only mean one thing, right? Watch this space.
I’ve got some audiobook promo codes for my Spider-Verse YA novel, Araña/Spider-Man 2099: Dark Tomorrow, which will allow you to give the book a listen on Spotify - for free! Narrator Victoria Villareal does an amazing job. I’ve got five codes, so sound off in the comments if you want one and I’ll make it happen!
At Esquire, Kate Dwyer asks if it’s ever been harder to make a living as an author and gets a resounding “NO!” in response. I’d say that’s accurate!
Pals Neil Kleid, John Broglia, Ellie Wright, and Sarah Litt have a new ComiXology Originals series - Nice Jewish Boys - a taut, powerful crime thriller that evokes classic shows like The Sopranos. You should check it out!
Was excited to get an early copy of good friend Eli Cranor’s next novel, Broiler, which you all need to make a point of pre-ordering.
That’s all for now. Hope you enjoyed this week’s dispatch, and I’ll see you soon!
Alex Segura is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.