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The Reason for Mars

Elon Musk is obsessed with going to Mars. Not just to visit. No, he wants to send a million people there. He wants regular flights, like a train leaving the station. Hop on, hop off. He wants to colonize.

If you don’t know who this guy is, you’ve been living in a cave. He’s the man behind Tesla’s electric cars, reuseable rocket ships that land vertically, Paypal and more, if his heart survives the stress of his high-voltage lifestyle. I just read a fascinating biography by Ashlee Vance that is incredible – he’s just getting started and he already has a well deserved biography that will need a new chapter added every 6 months.

I didn’t find anything in the biography strange. He’s a person who sees problems and likes to fix them – he can’t just sit there and watch people do things wrong. He is motivated by a central set of values we can all relate too – save the world from the evils of oil, overpopulation, and banking fees (seriously, banking fees are evil). But this Mars thing struck me as curious. As a child, Elon would build homemade model rockets and shoot them off. Not the Estes kits, I mean made-from-scratch rockets. So the trip to Mars, and the colonization of a new planet, seems to be the efforts of a man tapping into his inner child, something I urge all of us to do.

The inner child needs to be taken care of.

I’ve learned over the years that if there’s something from your childhood that resonated with you, that has stuck with you, that is deep inside and scratching to get out every day, you’ll never be free of that thing. You can’t suppress it. You can’t ignore it. You have to feed that longing rather than push it down. Meaning, do what you love, even if what you love originated when you were 10 years old. And from that depth you’ll find strength, passion, creativity, and success. And happiness, for that matter. People who stifle their inner child are miserable. How does that play out in practice? It means just follow your dream, even if that dream seems silly to other people. Love dogs? Become a vet. Love cars? Become a mechanic, or engineer, or driver. Your love of dogs or cars probably originated from a childhood experience, and that’s ok. That’s more than OK, that’s great. Go for it.

So Elon wants to build rockets. And go to Mars. But what does that mean? As a storyteller, I don’t see things as they are, but rather as they are interpreted. And it is we humans who infuse things with meaning. We turn ordinary objects into symbols, and use those symbols to push our ideology on others. We are at constant war over the meaning of things. Reading the brilliant book Story Wars (Winning the Story Wars by Johah Sachs) pushed that point home not long ago. This excellent review of the nature of modern mythmaking uses a bit from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey but adds in some archetypal characters and core values to make a compelling case for the need to control narrative.

When a crack opens up in our myth, the floodgates open. Basically, our myths are ancient, and not designed to deal with the changes our world is experiencing. We can either reinterpret the old myths to fit our new endeavors (Elon is the new Noah? Or Moses? Or Satan?) or we can create new myths that suit ourselves. And that new myth becomes what in politics is called a wedge issue. It squeezes in between two established factions and forces you to take sides. And although many people don’t take Elon’s Mars colony seriously, we have to. Because he’s going to get there, and as it becomes real, we are going to have to understand what it means to leave earth. And whoever owns that narrative is going to own the history of the human race.

Whoever owns Mars owns humanity.

Seems dramatic, but that’s what’s going to happen. And I’m not talking about physical ownership of Mars. I mean the story of Mars. When we go to Mars, there will be no money, no nations, no history. It is a blank slate. And how we build the philosophical Mars is going to determine how we build every other human colony.

One day we’ll go beyond Mars, but the story we tell the children of Mars is going to be THE narrative that drives humanity onward.

Sachs provides ample illustrations in Story Wars. Marketers can either use the negative approach (you’re ugly, drink this and you’ll be pretty) or the empowerment approach (this product will help you reach your personal goal) when selling their brand. And the colonists of Mars are going to have to tell a story to their children, the story of Earth, the story of the planet they left behind. And they can use the negative model (humans were too greedy and irresponsible to protect Earth so we had to leave) or the positive model of empowerment. The only thing is, I couldn’t think of one good (and by good I mean positive) argument for leaving Earth. We’ve destroyed this planet. Greed has consumed us, and we’ve consumed ourselves. We’ve taken all the resources, killed the animals, and tossed the planet aside like a styrofoam cup.  Is there any other narrative we can come up with to explain our exodus from the poisoned planet?

Then I met a guy from NASA named Sean Fuller. He’s the Moscow Director of Human Space Flight for the International Space Station, so he knows a thing or two about leaving Earth. More than a thing or two. He’s been keeping humans alive up in space for decades. He gave a talk at a university recently where he remarked that the best thing about space is that you can’t have politics involved. You just can’t. People will die. The temperatures are so extreme, the vacuum of space so unforgiving, you can’t squabble. You start arguing over water and electricity like we do on Earth, and people will die. Nations have to work together out of necessity, until at some point the nation just ceases to be important. The Mission takes precedent.

There are no borders on Mars.

The one thing that really resonated with me is when he said that when you look down on earth from the International Space Station, you can’t see any borders. All the borders are artificial. They’re all in our minds. All the wars and nationalism and horrors in the name of king and country are all illusions. And so that’s why I think Mars is significant. That’s why Mars matters. That’s why we need it. We need that vantage point to being again on a planet with no maps, on a world with no borders. We need to start from scratch and say “here on Mars, there will be no hunger, no poverty, no extortion, no nations. No past, only a future of cooperation and prosperity.”

We go to Mars not to tell the world that Earth is bad, but to tell the solar system that humanity is good. That we can shed our feuds and our nationality and move forward. That our step away from our home is a step of maturation, the first step of a child becoming an adult. Sure, we pooped in our diapers. That’s what kids do. But on Mars, we become the species we were meant to be. Not politics, no war, no money, no racism, no nationality. So while Elon may be embracing his inner child and making toy rockets, humanity must embrace its inner adult and get ourselves to Mars while there’s still a human race to save.

 

Sevara #1 first review!

I was thrilled to read the first review of Sevara #1 for a few reasons. First, it was nice to see that many of the things that I had intended to get to the audience were not lost on reviewer Jodi Scaife over at Fanboy Comics, a comprehensive pop-culture site with some twenty active bloggers and reviewers. First off, I wanted to make the world of Sevara really brutal, like Game of Thrones brutal. Not only that, but the brutality is aimed at everyone, not just our barely-clothed heroes. Their entire world is corrupted, evil is everywhere. Jodi writes,

When a young woman dares to run away from the palace, the king retaliates by cutting off the villagers’ water supply, condemning them to death by dehydration if the runaway is not found within three days.

Jodi was thrown off by how different issue 1 is from issue 0. That’s on purpose. Sevara is a woman who is lost in time. She wakes up from a fifty-thousand year sleep, and finds that her memories have somehow corrupted the future. Sevara has no idea how that happened, and she has no friends or fancy technology to save her. She’s trapped in a medieval era, and discovering everything for the first time just like the readers are. The robots and destruction from issue #0? We’ll get to that later, much later. Kind of like Quantum Leap, Sevara goes into stasis every time she thinks she’s save the world, only to find that it’s still all messed up. So this is going to happen over and over again throughout the series. In stead of going to new worlds, we go to new times, with new challenges.

Not in Kansas anymore.
Not in Kansas anymore.

Another thing about Sevara is that it’s about strong women, and Sevara is so sure about herself (she’s thousands of years old) that she doesn’t really care how she dresses by this point. Jodi was worried, and she has a right to. The Josh Chinsky cover is extreme, and from the beginning we get Alathea running away from Mitan in a very skimpy outfit. Jodi writes,

The cover image of Sevara worried me a little.  I feared that the proposed tale of female empowerment would actually be a cheesecake fest; however, the creators proved me wrong, because while the costumes are a bit on the skimpy side, both men and women (at least amongst the prones) receive equal treatment.

But Sevara’s a goddess, and doesn’t care what other’s think of her, not at this point in the story. That being said, her revealing costume is not to please and tantalize  the reader, is it is in so many other comics. Sevara’s muscles are ripped throughout the whole book, and she’s acting natural.

Sevara rescues the slave girl and gives her powers
Sevara rescues the slave girl and gives her powers

There’s no awkward poses to show extra TNA. In the panel above, Andre gives Sevara her own agency instead of making her pose for the picture.

And what about the cliffhanger? Well, issue #1 has a killer ending. I mean, I want people to buy the next issue, right? (which should come out August 5 on ComiXology….).

Check out Jodi’s review here.

Knowing your audience – what women want

My audience?
My audience?

In the process of writing and creating my first comic book, I had no idea who my future readers would be. As a 38-year-old man, I’ve long since lost touch with the world of today’s teenager or even twenty-something. Facebook statistics helped me understand my reader’s demographic and focus my marketing, as well as adjust the tone and themes of future issues.

I wrongly assumed that my major audience would be 28-year-old men. I just took my own age, hacked of 10 years, and figured, ‘sure, a younger version of me would love to read this, because I’m the one who’s writing it’. Not only that, but my main promotional image features an full frontal shot of an extremely beautiful, and barely clothed, goddess. I assumed that %75 of my readers would be men.

My Facebook fans
My Facebook fans

I was partly right. %77 of my Facebook fans are men. The age set weighed heavily in favor of the 18-24 range, with strong representation in the 25-34 range and a healthy number of 35-44 year olds. The number of people reached and people engaged is about the same, because they are drawing on my fan base. But when I look at my ads, who reach out into all of Facebook, I see a different story.

Initial ad campaign reaches more women then men
Initial ad campaign reaches more women then men

When I began to promote my comic’s ComiXology link with Facebook ads, my adsets featured images of the same strong beautiful women as in my comic. I figured %77 of those clicking on the images would be men. Yet when I looked at the statistics, I found that only a little less than half of the clicks to my ComiXology page were women. At some parts of the campaign, men and women were at 50/50. On top of that, the overwhelming majority of those who clicked the ads were in the 13-24 range. Almost no one else clicks, ever.

first ad campaign showing clicks
My first campaign’s clicks to website – almost 50/50 men and women

Maybe it has a lot to do with the images that I selected. They women are in poses that display strength, and sexuality without sleaziness. Indiecomix.net reviewer Derrick Crow remarked that Sevara’s design has, “a sexualized look but not once did I see her in a sexual light.”

A sample adset image
A sample adset image

At the Middle East Film and Comic Con in Dubai, I found even more gender differences while ‘manning’ my booth in artist alley. Roughly %70 of my sales of the preview book ‘The Art of Sevara’ were to women. And at this convention, most of the women were college students from Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, or Saudi Arabia, dressed in partial or full-body hijab. I finally stopped trying to interact with the male young browsers, who never bought anything, and focused all my attention on selling to the women.

Strong. Female. Character.
Strong. Female. Character.

Maybe the men were embarrassed to pick a book with such a striking woman on the cover? But the women felt right at home with a copy of Sevara in their hands. They wanted to look at images of strong beautiful women, and read stories about strong beautiful women. That’s what I try to deliver in Sevara, I just never realized how thirsty my female audience was for women they could connect with.

My true audience
My true audience