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WOW – as you can see, things have been busy for me lately.  (There are many more things happening that I can’t even talk about yet, btw.)  But I almost forgot to sound the alarm that a NEW PLAY I CO-WROTE IS NOW PLAYING IN CHICAGO!

PSYCHONAUT LIBRARIANS is a trippy, pulpy, heartfelt comedy that I co-wrote with the award-winning New York playwright (and friend) CRYSTAL SKILLMAN!

The show was developed with director (and concept creator) Sean Kelly and with The New Colony.  We were invited to devise this one-act play version of the concept for COLLABORACTION‘s annual SKETCHBOOK festival.  It’s been a wonderful chance to experiment and play in creating a madcap piece of pop theater for the broad and energetic crowd that Collaboraction cultivates.

I had a blast working with this  incredible cast.  New Colony starts its process by letting the writers work through improv and character-exploration workshops with the actors.  And this crew was particularly hilarious and emotionally genuine.  I like to think that Crystal and I captured some of their best qualities and worked them into the piece.

Anyway – if you’re in Chicago (or will be) and you like theater (or you’re willing to give an un-stuffy set of new works a try) YOU SHOULD GO GET TICKETS FOR OUR SHOW!!

RANDOM ADDITIONAL FUN-FACTS! :

  • Tickets are really affordable, but there might be REALLY CHEAP tickets on GOLDSTAR.com
  • Crystal also has a full length play running in Chicago right now!  WILD! <- (that’s the name)
  • “Psychonaut” is a REAL WORD!
  • Crystal Skillman is the wife of fellow (awesome) comic book writer – FRED VAN LENTE!

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Amelia Earhart: Jungle Princess cover by Mike Dimayuga

New Comic :  AMELIA EARHART: JUNGLE PRINCESS!

The famed aviatrix survived her legendary crash, only to live stranded on a remote and deadly isle! Will the local savages be friends or foes?  –  by James Asmus and Mike Dimayuga

Years after doing a(n award-winning) play by the same name with The New Colony in Chicago – I couldn’t let go of the idea!  This first tale is a stand-alone story with art by the fantastic Mike Dimayuga (Image Comics’ Colt Noble & the Megalords) and it’s available now through DoubleFeature comics!

*  *  *  *

DoubleFeature is an awesome digital publishing outlet that delivers two different, original 8-page stories – plus bonus material – for only $0.99!  You can get the comics as a PDF you can read on any device – OR – you can download the free DoubleFeature iPad app which offers extra features like page-by-page creator commentary and the ability to strip off different layers of the art and lettering to see the work at its various stages!

When you’re done reading Amelia, you should try out the other Double Feature comics from great creators like Tim Seeley (Hack/Slash, Witchblade), Mike Norton (Green Arrow/Black Canary, Battlepug), Dennis Hopeless (Legion of Monsters, Loveless), Sean Dove (Hack/Slash, I am Legion), Gabriel Hardman (Hulk, Planet of the Apes) and tons more!  Go get ‘em!

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Hearts Full of Blood - design by Tara Sissom

Awesome news!  With everything else going on, I failed to mention here that the play I wrote that The New Colony produced in Chicago last fall remounted for the New York International Fringe Theater Festival.  Well, as part of the fest, I finally got to see the show for the first time, and the director (Andrew Hobgood) and cast (Sarah Gitenstein, Gary Tiedemann, Mary Hollis Inboden, and Evan Linder) did a fantastic job.

And New York thought so too.  The show got great reviews, was picked for the festival’s Encore Series, and won an award for “Outstanding Achievement in Playwrighting”!   SO, if you or anyone you know are in New York this week (and like theater) get your tickets for Hearts Full of Blood in the FringeNYC Encore Series!

The Players Theater – 115 MacDougal Street, New York NY
Performances:  9/09 @ 9:30  +  9/10 @ 7:00  +  9/12 @ 3:00  +  9/14 @ 8:00

PRAISE (TO MAKE YOU MORE INTERESTED IN GOING):

“FringeNYC Encore Series…includes my favorite play of the fest, Hearts Full of Blood. The tightly constructed play from Chicago’s New Colony theater group begs for an off-Broadway run and is better than most of the plays currently running.” – Huffington Post

“**** the play’s snappy dialogue, shocking subject matter and remarkable leading performance give the Fringe a welcome infusion of quality.” – Time Out NY

“This is the kind of gritty, heartfelt, intelligent, and fearless work that I want to see and I imagine you will want to see it as well.” – Theater Is Easy

“Asmus is a talent. His ability to create realistic, natural dialogue for the stage is sensational.” – NY Theatre

Plus – a bucket load of praise for all the artists involved since the original run is round up HERE if you’re interested (Mom).

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That rant about people ignoring their reviews was not what I set out to write.  But I thought I’d let it fly.   Maybe I’ll circle back to what it was supposed to be later.  But in the meantime, I thought it’s worth mentioning a few things I learned about my own work from reading reviews:

1. I’m Accidentally Racist Against Eastern Europeans! - The cumbersome title X-Men: Manifest Destiny: Nightcrawler – For many reasons, I developed multiple blind spots on my first full-length comic.   But my favorite being that when I created a moment to Nightcrawler’s Frankensteinesque mob-with-pitchforks origin – I didn’t even think twice about having them carry torches.   Which several people pointed out is such outdated technology, that even rural Czech families would have upgraded to flashlights.  It NEVER even occurred to me as an option.  Seriously.

2. Even People Shunned By God Don’t Want to See God Kicked Too Much! - Sodomites!!! - In the musical retelling of Sodom & Gomorrah, we took very few creative liberties.  Faithfully retelling the story is pretty f**ked-up and hilarious.  But if we were to make sense of all the self-contradiction and irrational judgement contained therein, we had to add an explanation from our sexually frustrated God.  Actually, more of an apology.   In a song by Mike Descoteaux that serves as a coup de gras* to a comedy that already played rough – The Lord ultimately confesses to everything from watching us have sex to having “raped a 13-year-old girl…named Mary”.  I know, I know.  While we fully knew what we were getting into, I was shocked that even of the GLBT publications in Chicago said that it might go too far.  So if they’re saying that – a life of dark comedy has really blown out my understanding of people’s thresholds.

3. I Am Out of Touch With Today’s Youth!Runaways (vol 3) #10 – While this story is a step toward smoothing out my rough edges in comics, I did make one mistake repeatedly.   Fellow St. Ignatius alum Brian K. Vaughan created fantastic characters for this series and infused it with a pop culture awareness that felt real and current without being pandering.  I had a lot of fun playing with that.  One mistake though – I used my pop culture references.  And even though culture redeemed my GI Joe joke as relevant again – NO 16 year-old knows Small Wonder.

4. In General, I Am Still Learning! - Amelia Earhart Jungle Princess – To be 80% less glib, I should start by saying that I am still amazed by the work everyone did on this play (the first for The New Colony).  But the reviews completely disagreed over what was good and what was bungled about the play.  In fact, they disagreed on what the show WAS.   I expected a certain degree of that going in to what I, myself, referred to as an “action-adventure political dramedy.”   I knew what I wanted people to get from it, but that was getting lost in translation.   And once I realized that, I could see every misstep I made in the script.   Thankfully, though, New Colony let me write for them again.  And the results were much more successful.

But that’s part of it.  If you want to believe the praise, you have to also believe the criticism.

*- Mon dieu! Nous parle français!-

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So here’s the place where I admit it – I read reviews of my work.

Comics, theater, comedy – I’m writing for audiences, so finding out what anyone in the audience experienced is valuable to me.   I’m baffled by people who claim to not read their reviews.   How do you know if your work is affecting people the way you want it to?  How do you know your social satire is not being perceived as actual racism, sexism, etc.?

Granted, in theater (especially comedy), you get an immediate sense of what the majority think.   But that’s only in the broad strokes.   And when you’re writing for print – you have no idea how people are reacting in the privacy of their homes.

You (theoretical audience) may be asking “who claims they don’t read their reviews??”  Plenty of people.  Across art forms.  These people say it like a badge of honor, or a testament to their unassailable certainty in their artistic vision.  But to me?  It’s more of a declaration of contempt for your audience.  If not contempt, at the very least, then it’s ambivalence.   WHY WOULDN’T YOU CARE IF YOUR WORK IS DOING WHAT YOU INTENDED IT TO DO???

Perhaps I should make the important clarification: there is a difference between reading a review and believing they are right.  I’m not advocating changing everything you do in response to criticism.  God knows there are plenty of times that critics don’t even agree with each other.  But reading several reviews will give you a sense of the whole.  The strengths, weaknesses, gaps, and redundancies really worth addressing (or at least learning from) are the ones that emerge repeatedly across the reviews.

To a certain extent, every audience member is an outlier.  This is doubly true for reviewers.  Each individual will have an important detail they missed the first time around, or personal emotional baggage that’s going to filter the actual content of your work into something you can’t predict.  And to complicate things more, reviewers aren’t even there to enjoy your work (if they do, that’ s a plus).  But they are there to have Something To Say about it.  So know that.  And don’t put too much stock in it.  Feel free to completely disagree and come to the conclusion that no one else would so wildly misinterpret your subtext.  But once another person mentions it – you’ve got a problem.

And if your work still has problems, why wouldn’t you care?  The declaration “I don’t read reviews of my work” is tantamount to saying “I posses a definitive mastery of my craft, and have nothing to learn from the lesser beings my work showers down upon.”  So unless you’re comfortable saying that instead – read your reviews.   And learn something about how to do what you do even better next time.

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