This is what Indie Publishing looks like.

About a month ago I attended the Penny Arcade Expo with the final edition of my storytelling game The Dreaming Crucible.

Well, that’s not exactly true. It would be more accurate to say that I attended PAX while designing the Crucible, and spent the first day of the con finishing the game in my Seattle lodgings in time to release it in Friday evening at the The Dreaming Comics and Games booth.

In most if not all professional publishing models, this would have been impossible. If I didn’t have the game finished weeks ahead of the convention date, there’s no way in hell I could arrive on the scene with books in hand. Thank God I don’t follow a professional model.

I personally handled every step of The Dreaming Crucible‘s writing, design and production process. The only exception was the artwork of the talented Erin Kelso, the usage rights to which I secured via email. But I wrote the game myself, laid it out myself in Adobe InDesign, printed it at home on an inkjet printer, and assembled it myself using embroidery thread, a portable papercutter and scrapbooker’s glue.  I did not employ a printing service or subcontract any design or proofreading duties. I did receive the generous help of friends who coached me on layout and art direction, proofread portions of the text, and consulted on game design aspects. Those I thanked heartily, credited in the book, and gave a complimentary copy of the finished product. But as much as possible, the Crucible was a one-man operation on a shoestring budget.

Continue reading This is what Indie Publishing looks like.

Punk Rock is for the kids!

I’m thoroughly stunned that I somehow missed out on the childhood experience of the late 70s-early 80s TV show, “Kids Are People Too.” Through the retroactive magic of Youtube, I’m experiencing a taste of the show, and I’m impressed with its refreshing respect for its audience, not pandering or patronizing or ghettoizing the experience of childhood, but giving them a variety/talk show with the same entertainers and interviewees that an adult show might host. If I’d had the chance to see stars like KISS or Ron Howard talking straight with kids about who they are, I might have—well, forget about that, this post isn’t about regretting the childhood that never was.

Instead I want to talk about an amazing thing that happened when Patti Smith appeared on the show. When host Michael Young asked Patti what Punk Rock was all about, she answered: “The whole thing of Punk Rock is—newspapers and media have thrown it out of proportion—but the main thing of it was that Rock ‘n Roll’s getting back in the hands of the people. It belongs to the kids again, not the big business guys.”

That, right there, is the most beautiful and direct definition of Punk I’ve ever seen. Punk isn’t studded leather and mohawks; it isn’t three chords and vocals screamed in a British accent. In fact musicians who adopt those trappings or styles can sometimes be little more than pre-packaged record-label assets who shill for Doritos. Continue reading Punk Rock is for the kids!

Unflattering Imitation

I participated in a fundraiser for my special education job the other night. It was a talent competition called “[Education District] Idol”, and consisted of volunteers singing popular songs with a live band or karaoke track, and attendees buying votes to raise money for our programs. I sang “In the Ghetto” and had a good time.

There was something odd that kept coming up, though. First, at rehearsal, the organizers (and fellow performers) who were listening asked me if I was going to “dress up as Elvis.” They suggested that I go to a thriftstore for a “costume” or maybe “slick my hair back.” Then after I sang on performance night, one of the judges declared, “folks, Elvis is alive and well!” Later that evening the district superintendent complemented me and told me I was “channeling the spirit of Elvis.” Continue reading Unflattering Imitation

Making it ourselves

I saw the Tim Burton film 9 last night with my wife. It was a movie that promised so much, yet failed to satisfy. In fact it was painful how breathless plotting, ponderous dialogue, and shameless clichés managed to rob a story that could have been heartbreakingly human. Instead it was a collection of fascinating ideas and themes that were ultimately lifeless.

This has always been a hazard of Hollywood, for seekers of substance. Every now and again a film is the real deal, but often it’s a pale, stilted imitation of authentic expression.

My wife and I noted that more and more of the promising movies we’ve seen have left that empty taste. The question hit us–are we witnessing a twilight of artistic depth? Is the age of personal human vision in art and storytelling passing from the earth?

I don’t know much about how 9‘s vision germinated. I do know that the production processes of movies and television provide a wealth of material for consumption, but are not conducive to authenticity. Human-ness is not produced by committee. What are then chances that a creator will say something honest, and be heard, as content-as-product proliferates?

Perhaps this trend in movies represents a mere slump, a recession if you will, in creativity. But if it is indeed the birth pangs of a complete creative collapse in the “entertainment” industry, then I must conclude that if we want to have stories with integrity, we must make them ourselves.

This is why roleplaying and storyjamming are more than mere diversions for me.

This is the way we make our own myths, the way we keep the flame of story alight. This is the way we teach ourselves, over and over, to be humans. This is the way we celebrate who we are.

Occasionally, within the “system,” (or sometimes in defiance of it–Dr Horrible’s Sing-along Blog, for instance) a fire will blaze up that speaks with integrity, that teaches us, that celebrates with us. We cherish these flames. But by and large, we’re on our own. So we write our own novels with a purpose beyond leveraging motion picture rights, we make our own comics which explore the endless possibilities, we make our own music in our living rooms and on our street corners for whoever is there to hear. . .and we sit down by the hearth to tell stories together.

Put like that, storyjamming is less a pastime and more a calling. A calling I mean to keep.

Peace,

-Joel