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 Phobian Marvel: Comics giant Jim Shooter lends his creative skills to Phobos
 By Keith J. Olexa

At 6-foot-7, Shooter can let his mind soar while keeping his feet on the ground.
For a creative genius, Jim Shooter is a very pragmatic man.

It’s a combination of traits that serves the former Marvel Comics Editor-and-Chief and Valiant and Defiant Comics founder and president very well. For while enthusiasm alone is hardly a sufficient reason to start a science fiction writing contest, Shooter believes that the Phobos Fiction Contest has definite, if somewhat intangible, merits: “The main benefit I see at present for Phobos Entertainment is good Karma,” he explains. “Offering an opportunity to writers generally seems like a good idea, and, in theory, that could eventually bear fruit in a number of ways.”

And he should know, for as a media barometer, few come more qualified than Shooter. This literal giant of the entertainment industry has done everything from writing, editing and even drawing comics to writing books, plays and TV series. He has also helped develop a number of innovative game and toy designs, like the new G.I. Joe and The Transformers. His experience is instrumental to Phobos, as the company will not only be publishing the Fiction Contest’s winning stories as a hardcover anthology, but also hopes to transform any or all of the tales into films, TV series, electronic games and web media.

All that means nothing, however, if the stories fail to impress readers. Shooter details why these submissions had what it took to win. “First, they actually were stories,” he explains, “with a status quo that was disrupted, precipitating a problem or problems and attendant conflicts, which were developed, generated suspense and reached a climax that resolved the problems and conflicts, leaving a new status quo. Second, the characters breathed. Third, the writer actually had something to say. The underlying ideas upon which the stories were based were all pretty good.”

Storytelling means a great deal to Shooter, as anyone who read the Turok, Dinosaur Hunter or The X-Men Phoenix Saga could assert. It might be one reason why he finds the idea of choosing the most visually compelling winning story such a thorny task. “The easy [response], and the wrong [response],” he says, “would be to name the stories with the grooviest-sounding creatures, spaceships or explosions. However, as some big-budget SF film disasters have proven, such things are no guarantee of real visual interest. You can often find superior visual opportunities in stories that lack what one might think initially as visual slam-dunks.

“I'm not one of those people who works out the movie in my mind as I read a story. My mental video card supplies basic, functional visuals and occasionally, if something is really brilliantly described, a fully rendered image. If I take the time to go through the full visualization process–a process quite different than just reading–all of them could be well told in visual/verbal language. I work with what's there and translate the story into visual/verbal language–a language quite different than English. Most science fiction, in fact, lends itself pretty well to visual/verbal language.”

Likewise, he finds the idea of adapting any one of the Phobos tales into a comic a tricky proposition. “Adaptation to a different medium requires just that: adaptation,” he notes. “I would have to get into it and really think through how I would adapt these stories to get a feel for which ones might have the best potential.” As discussed in an earlier Phobos interview (check out www.phobosweb.com for the full Shooter story), Shooter began his career at the ripe old age of 13, after a work sample sent to National Periodical Publications catapulted him not only into the colorful comics universe, but also into the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s youngest comics writer. He has been in the entertainment biz, particularly the comic’s biz, ever since, and has helped more than a few notables find success in four-color print. “I gave a chance to a bunch of guys who never amounted to anything,” he quips. “Eventually, I gave Frank Miller a shot, and he has done OK. David Lapham grew up to be a contender, too.”

But for all his years in the industry, Jim has never waxed terribly philosophical about the “real” meaning of fantastical tales. According to him, a genre writer’s primary job “is to entertain. Any insight into the human condition, the nature of the world or the future is a bonus. But it's also what sets the great ones apart from the punters.”

And while he’s “tired of post apocalyptic and dystopian futures,” Shooter recognizes the cons as well as the pros of living what Sci Fi Channel Head of Programming Tom Vitale refers to as “Sci Fi Lives.” “Our technology is getting so far beyond our common-sense, Newtonian understanding of the world–what's really being done in here–sounds almost as fantastic as the stuff we make up. There's a fict/fact blur effect.”

If fact is destined to fuse with fiction, Shooter only asks that it be done creatively and intelligently. He even offers a little pearl of wisdom for those brave stalwarts determined to ply the author’s trade. “Too many beginners don't think their story through before they plunge in to writing it,” he says. “They think they have an idea for a story, but 5,000 words later it turns out that what they had was a really just a bit or a thin gimmick, and the end product is an immense shaggy dog.” Jim Shooter’s advice for beginning writers is simple then. “Learn the craft,” he advises. “Writing is architecture as well as art. Learn the language and all you can about the language. Learn structure, mechanics and devices. Know what you're doing and why.”



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