Night at the Green Mill

Last Sunday evening, I was rushing to find an artist’s date for the week. Luckily I remembered while looking for ideas the weekend before, that the Green Mill had a slam poetry night that Sunday. I checked to see if it was a regular thing, and sure enough, it was! I’d always meant to go since I moved to Uptown, and it was only a ten minute walk for me.

When I first walked in, I didn’t know what to expect. My focus was initially on the dim lighting, the hum of conversations from the booths, the people seated at the bar. I circled the bar and became frantic as I realized all the seats were taken. I gave a sigh of relief as I found folding chairs leaning against one of the tables, and sat myself at the end of the bar. Now, I was able to focus on the nostalgic feel of a bar from another era, the walls in faded golds like an old movie theater. I could truly see myself in the 1940’s. A waitress interrupted me to let me know I was blocking the waitress area, and seated me at the end of the front row tables. I got a clear view of the front stage, where a jazz band was playing beneath a “Green Mill” sign in green light up cursive letters. My heart skipped at the thought that maybe I had come at the wrong night, that the website had been outdated and this was actually jazz night. As a precaution, I asked the woman next to me if this was in fact slam poetry night. I’m glad I did, because not only did she reassure me, but she also introduced me to the scene. It turns out Julia was one of the organizers, and that this week’s theme was the “French Connection.” People from France actually flew in to participate in poetry night! I was in awe. It was nice to make a friend to talk to and laugh with, and who welcomed me to the community. Julia is a woman in her forties, with short layered hair and a smile that lights up her whole face. Her laugh is infectious, and she reaches out to touch your shoulder when she gets excited and wants to tell you something.

It was interesting because I was sitting so close to the guy next to me that I couldn’t reach into my pocket without bumping into him. I apologized and got embarrassed, and after that I could tell that he kept wanting to talk to me throughout the show. I overheard him speak french, and thought he might be a part of the French Connection. It wasn’t until the second intermission that he did. He sat down next to me and segued smoothly into conversation, which was good because I felt awkward. I found out he was a French Brazilian who had lived here in Chicago for four years, and saw him in a different light. He had side-swept hair, glasses, and a trace of a mustache on his upper lip. He also had a bit of an accent. He wants to move to a different country, and since he has a lot of friends in Africa, he thinks he will go to Tanzania and some other places. I wish I could so easily say that I was moving to a different country. After finding out I came here alone, he also added me on Facebook to let me know if he and his friends were going to any more shows, as he used to go alone too. He mentioned being nervous about his poem about the CTA, and hoping the judges were from Chicago or it might not make sense. I was confused before I realized that he was participating in a slam poetry contest.

People here were friendly in general, as during the first intermission, when the seats cleared between us, one of the girls from the open mic slid over next to me and introduced herself. She had short poofy sand colored hair, a red infinity scarf, and a lovely smile. She said she was born in France and “moved over here when I was just a tadpole.” I remember her poem was something about pink flamingos rising from the grass with their consumer farts. It was fascinating to me how many new people I was drawing in simply for existing, not ever for doing a reading. It did seem like this was a community where old timers knew all the words to the intro songs and the ending songs, and newcomers were welcomed alike.

The night was broken up into three parts: open mic poetry, French and English translation performance groups, and slam poetry contest.

Open mic opened with a “virgin” reader named Samantha. She opted to use the band, which plays along to the beat of the poem, and told them to play something spooky Halloween-y to match her poem that says Trick or Treat a lot in it. Next, a more seasoned older man with a white beard wanted to read about Chicago violence and blood on the streets. “We’re off to a great start,” the host joked. Next was a woman named Emily, also a long timer, who made a poem based on a conversation she had with a French painter who had survived the Holocaust. Among the first timers was also a girl who lived in Seattle, who quit her job and moved to Chicago because she had a dream that told her to come here. There was an African American who read about the current political state and a relationship with girl. There was an old timer Hispanic who was allowed to read two poems, both seeming to revolve around bilingual speech, love and music. There was also a funny Polish guy who asked for gypsy Fleetwood Mac polka music, as his first memory revolved around listening to Fleetwood Mac with his dad. He read about the first memory of his father, who he thought was going to heaven, hell or prison. He was worried about his boy’s first memory, but decided that either way it wouldn’t matter, because they would remember singing to Pantera, the way he had listened to Fleetwood Mac with his father.

Part Two was an overlapping performance of English laced with French, where they spoke lines between and over one another in order to do both language versions of the poem.

Part Three involved the slam poetry contest. The first guy was Zee. His words went very well with the music, as though they had rehearsed, and he spoke about his blue jeans and how “I’m leaving” the girl. Next was Bruno, who read about “Just another day in the CTA.” The third was the winner, an older man with glasses who request French cabaret music in honor of the French guests. His was very comical, about birds love making going “COO COO” and at one point he scared us all when he said he’d shoot them and go “BANG BANG  BANG.” “COO COO.” The next was called the laptop poet, speaking of meditation with an ambient music background, before he got snapped off stage. The last was a stout blonde girl who wanted French war music, as her poem concerned this time period.

In all, I’d say it was a very successful artist’s date!




Too Many Panels, Too Little Time

‘Twas Friday, the first big day of C2E2. For newcomers like me, view handy tips on preparing for the convention.

The first panel Lindsay wanted to go to was “Self Publishing Unmasked.” I personally am biased towards traditional publishing since the more difficult aspects such as marketing, finance, book covers and printing can be delegated instead of all handled by myself, but I do think self-publishing is becoming more and more a viable option these days. While waiting for the panel we even made a friend, Natalie! Always worth it to reach out and talk to people. You’ll never know how much you have in common until you take the chance 🙂

Self Publishing Unmasked

  • Err on the side of simplicity and tradition for book covers.
  • Authors can be too close to their work, typically best to have someone else design book cover.
  • Edit professionally (not you, friends or family)! This is huge.
  • Be a good literary citizen. Spend equal time on everyone else, great way to meet people.
  • Consider print on demand.
  • Have your own website.

The next panel Lindsay and I both definitely wanted to go to was “Write or Wrong: ‘How to Manage your Brand as a Creator.'” This panel was led by Dirk Manning, in charge of the “Write or Wrong” column,

Write or Wrong

  • As an aspiring or established creator, you already have a brand, through various social media.
  • Four simple steps: do the work, create/release product, build audience, manage brand.
  • Make sure you prioritize your budget and time towards making comics, if you want to create comics.
  • Maintain positive professional presence as active creator. Comics is a small world.
  • Only hype finished products.
  • Success: work hard, be nice, no excuses.

At this point Lindsay and I split, as I wanted to learn about writing for video games. What I learned, is that I definitely don’t want to be a video game writer. Turns out you already have to be established in the field as an expert in Spiderman, Tron, etc. and that you are actually the last person to be brought into the creative process. The characters and game play has already been decided, and you just have to bridge the gaps between. A lot of times you have to cut content to meet a budget, and a lot of times you write battle chatter. I am ultimately glad I went as this saved me a lot of time and trouble. And luckily, I ran into Natalie again and exchanged contact information.

How to Write for Video Games

  • Writing something you’re not the creator of
  • Three factors: Game Play, Level Design, Story
  • Your job is to make sense of the game so the player can enjoy the experience. Create flow, no plot holes
  • Hierarchy of importance: Game Play experience, Budget, Pacing, Story
  • Story/Dialogue must be extremely brief and concise
  • Keep Game Play going, narrative should flow nicely in over it
  • Inject life into characters with clever phrases, quick personality traits
  • Serve game design mission
  • Work with your larger team

Next I went to “MARVEL: Breaking into Comics the Marvel Way.” What I learned from hearing the five different men’s stories (uh-oh all male panel, I wonder what the female story is here), is that there is no real “way” to get into Marvel. They made a joke that getting into Marvel is like breaking out of prison. Once you get in, they make sure to block off that way so that route can’t be used again, and you have to break in your own way. One man said he had actually given up until he realized he was still 35, there was still time. So he interned there, lied about using it for college credit, and ended up getting hired on the team officially. Another man from the UK said he was actually working on comics back when Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean were just “working on a book.” My mouth watered at the mere mention of the pre-Gaiman DIY days and reminded me once more of Lindsay’s and my dream of being the next female powerhouse duo.

MARVEL: Breaking into Comics the Marvel Way

  • Networking: hunting vs. fishing. Instead of focusing on one person, try “casting a line” to multiple people and seeing when one person tugs back. Focus on accessible network.
  • Try to get published at a smaller company first.
  • Do a small series, submit to anthologies. You never know who’s head hunting for talent.
  • Work with junior and assistant editors.
  • Completed comics with art preferred.

Creator Connection- Presented by Comic Book School and IBM

Being a big fan of networking, I wanted to go to one more panel before meeting up with Lindsay again. Although it was a fun event and I got to meet a lot of people, this panel made me realize how lucky I am to be friends with Lindsay and have a mutual understanding with her. I never realized approaching an artist for a big project was essentially going up to the hottest person in the bar and asking them to marry you. Good thing her and I are already “married” as there was a lot of protocol in the introduction I didn’t know.

I was reminded that artist’s need to at least be paid minimum wage what they could be making elsewhere, plus paid on top of that for their education and talent. Artists also do not exist merely to illustrate our work, and likewise, writers also spend lots of time and effort into their stories and need to be getting something out of the exchange as well. I like that Manning made slides from both the writer’s and the artist’s perspectives before beginning the networking rounds. Among people I met was Ryan Morrow, who started up his own site called OneSquaredStudios. I was impressed when he said that he wanted to make comics–so he did. I didn’t even know he would be introducing one of the panels on Saturday which ended up catching me by surprise!

Last but not least, I rejoined Lindsay for a very informative panel called “Closing the Deal: Everything You Need to Know About Publishing Contracts.” I was worried the panel would be dry, but it was actually presented by a man invested in both law and comics, and tied it together with fun memes and no nonsense bullet points covering on each topic. I won’t list everything out here, but definitely check what rights you are signing away! It’s crazy scary that you can sign away all your rights for a set amount of money, and if they end up capitalizing on a film adaptation big time, you get zero compensation. One of the previous owners of “Walking Dead” ended up getting screwed big time because he signed all his rights away before it went big. Aim to retain copyright and only transfer a limited subset of rights. You should reserve your right to fix story and approve of major plot point changes. Don’t give your rights away to someone who isn’t in the business for it; for example don’t give video game rights to a small publishing house. And of course it pays to get a lawyer first to look over the contract instead of paying out for a big lawsuit afterwards!!!

Tips When Dealing with a Contract

  • Get it in writing.
  • Keep language simple (we agree).
  • Spell out details, number your paragraphs.
  • Specify payment obligations.
  • Agree on circumstances that terminate the contract.
  • Agree on a way to resolve disputes.
  • Pick a state law to govern the contract (state you live in).
  • Keep it confidential.
  • Read entire contract, including reference documents.
  • Use clear, simple language when possible.
  • Beware the passive voice,

Get lawyer if you need one! Lawyer- aware of law. Agent- knows how valuable your work is, what you can negotiate.

Good luck on all your creative endeavors, hope to see you next year!