Nicole Embrey

Nicole is currently an adjunct English instructor at various community colleges. Aspiring to be more than just a teacher, she likes to say she is a "storyteller in training." The stories bouncing around in her head range from a collection of mythical "creature features" to an intensely personal (yet fictional) story about ghosts and clairvoyance. In her spare time, she absorbs anything pop culture, often jumping into new fandoms with reckless abandon. In fact, she is a proud rêveur (which simply means her favorite book is Night Circus).

Writing Prompt: Dungeons & Dragons

D&D Books

If you are a writer then you have inevitably run into the dreaded writer’s block. You have probably scoured the internet for writing prompts that might just yield something. You may have even dived back into your own favorite stories in the hopes that something will inspire you. Well, I’m here to provide you with one more tool to combat this unwelcome guest.

Play Dungeons & Dragons.

Aside from the fact that geek chic is apparently “in” at the moment, renewed interest in this classic table-top game seems to be growing. Perhaps this is because it was featured prominently in Stranger Things, or maybe the 5th edition release made it easier for new players to join and became more accessible. Either way, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a group of willing victims to play with you while you battle your own personal writer’s block demon. Here’s some of the intricacies and how it can help you with your own writing:

Start with character development: Build your own character
Having a tough time creating characters that are likable? Untrustworthy? Or just down right evil? D&D can absolutely help with this. To even start playing, you need to build character on your “character sheet.” This includes picking a race, class, backstory, and alignment. (Actually, it includes quite a bit more than this, but these elements help you write a story for your character.) If one were to purchase the 5th edition Player’s Handbook for D&D, one is provided with extensive race and class break-downs that also give you some insight as to the kind of character you would create, should you choose those prompts. For instance, elves have three different sub-races with drastically different characteristics. High elves, as one might imagine, are often arrogant, but incredibly noble. They are wicked intelligent and are often interested in their own self-preservation. Wood elves, on the other hand, are a bit more mischievous, sometimes to the detriment of themselves or their team. Dark elves, known in the game as Drow, are dark and mysterious beings, and at times very dangerous. There are many other races and sub-races within the game to choose from, each with general strengths and weaknesses to play on. Selecting a class also adds some characterization. Druids are keenly and primarily concerned with nature and gravitate to the more natural elements of the world. They can even transform into animals, and some druids even prefer that form over their human one. Clerics are a bit more complicated, but incredibly fun to create. You can have your standard, holy cleric driven by a divine deity aimed towards healing the weak and innocent. Or you can create a trickster cleric that does best when they deceive and talk their way out of confrontations. Your deity could be, oh I don’t know, Loki? Characters are so customizable in this game that creating something as contradictory as that actually works!

Next, you work on the backstory, but perhaps that writer’s block is just too darn heavy to push, even for this. Do not fret, you can turn to the backstory chapter in the Handbook and roll for it. That’s right, roll the dice and leave it to chance. What are one of your ideals? Roll a 2: To protect myself first. What is a weakness you have? Roll a 4: I am incredibly clumsy. Now how would a character constantly worried about their own self-being be able to survive in the world by being a klutz? You get to act that out. Lastly, your character alignment helps make your character more complex. You have probably seen those memes floating around on social media where they place characters from popular television shows into an alignment chart, starting with lawful good and ending with chaotic evil. While these are fun to look at, they actually go a bit more in-depth. One character I currently play is chaotic good. This means that she is drawn to freedom and kindness, but has little use for laws and regulations. She performs good acts to help others achieve their own freedom as well. The way this is enacted in play is by keeping my actions in check and making sure I stay true to my character. Killing someone out of spite would have negative affects on my character, whereas showing mercy would be more in line with her views. Dungeon Masters will also help with this by giving you real in-game consequences if you stray. It is possible you can change your alignment, but that requires cooperation with your DM, which leads me to my next point. (more…)

Book Adaptations: Are Television Series the New Cinema?

American Gods

As many of you have probably noticed, there have been several book adaptations made into televisions series or miniseries of late and I am LIVING for them! In fact, I have noticed that overall fan reactions and critic reviews tend to look favorably on adapted television series. This has launched a property scramble among television stations and independent streaming services to create shows centered around the many books that we love. And while this is still a relatively new pop cultural trend, it does seem to be a profitable one. So what is it that causes serialized book adaptations to be more successful than their cinematic predecessors?

NOTE: There are some spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t binged or read American Gods, The Handmaid’s Tale, Game of Thrones, or Anne with an E, be aware that I’m talking about them here and highly recommend you check them out.

1. Minor characters you secretly wanted more of are further developed:

Fan-fiction has often been devoted to the development of those side characters you were craving more of before they exited the story, either of their own violation or in a body bag. Series adaptations, however, are playing with this idea to elongate the show and keep the bucks flowing in. This is probably most noticeable in the American Gods and The Handmaid’s Tale series. Mad Sweeney, the down on his luck leprechaun, got more screen time than book time and was received incredibly well by fans and critics alike. He gets to go on his own road adventure with other minor characters, Laura Moon and Salim. And while I’m not a huge fan of Laura Moon’s fleshed out character in this series, some did find her likable. Critics, apparently, enjoyed her apathy.

Ofglen’s expanded storyline.

The second property has created quite the buzz given our current political climate and the additions made to this story have proven to be welcome ones as well, namely the development of the original “Ofglen” and her story. She is made a more complex character by being a lesbian, or “gender traitor,” in an environment that is incredibly homophobic and religiously influenced. Fans were stricken with grief to discover that Ofglen underwent female castration. The lines still haunt me to this day: “you cannot desire what you do not have.” Serena Joy, the Commander’s wife, is also more colorful as the true antagonist of the show, helping to create the laws that currently oppress the women of Gilead. I find myself hating her more than I do the Commander at times.


From Amora to Zatanna: Convention Round-Up #1


Guess what comic junkies? I was fortunate enough to attend the San Diego Comicon for a couple of days (thanks Neo!) and, man, was that an experience!

I was in the same vicinity as some of my favorite entertainers and creators… and spent entirely too much money. But hey! My bad money-spending habit is your reward; here are some titles I picked up while walking the ever seductive floor of vendors:

Invictus by Antonio Ramirez with art by Neil Dmonte & Jason Walton:

This is a comic from a smaller publishing house and I was fortunate enough to meet the writer at this booth. This 3 part series follows the adventures of Alex Archer, otherwise known as the shadow-bender Invictus. Shadow-benders have the ability to blend in with and manipulate the darkness of the shadows, which leads Alex to wonder “should my powers be used for good… or bad?” With the impending apocalypse, he better make his decision. And quick!

Templar by Jon Simon & Paul Mendoza with art by Neil Dmonte & Paul Mendoza:

“Evil Thrives When Good Men Do Nothing.” This comic, which I believe is independently published, comes from another writer I was fortunate enough to meet at the same booth as Antonio. A historical fiction, Jon was motivated to write this comic as a result of his love for history. This love developed from the close bond he shares with his father, who was a history teacher. Taking the most interesting factoids from history and fusing them with magical and mythical elements, Jon manages to create an entertaining story of knightly obstacles and triumphs.

Clan of the Vein by Neo Edmund & Neil Dmonte with art also by Neil Dmonte & Jason Walton:

Neil was the last person I met at this booth of talented people and was the artist for all the previous comics I listed. While Neo was not at the booth during this time, he is a close friend of mine and the reason I was able to check out Comicon this year (again, thank you!). Together they tackle the vampiric folklore through Ian MacBane, which they describe on their Facebook as “– a legendary vampire killer. MacBane finds himself in a remote mountain resort under siege by a clan of vicious vampires who have taken the guests hostages. He learns that the vamps are seeking the hidden location of the blood of the last vampire queen, but he has no idea that the secret is locked away in his own lost memories — and his enemies will stop at nothing to force him to remember.” You might also recognize some of this artwork on the walls of Stile’s bedroom in MTV’s Teen Wolf.

Womanthology by an assortment of women writers and artists at IDW:


This is a truly unique comic of separate, yet thematic, vignettes completely written and illustrated by women in the comic business. Believe it or not, the comic community still has its reservations (and trolly rants) about women writers and artists, which makes the market for someone like myself a difficult place to enter into. But things are getting better, as the existence of this comic illustrates. Slowly but surely, more and more people want to read stories and see art by women!

From Amora to Zatanna: Ant-Man Defense

Age_of_Ultron_Vol_1_10A.I._Rivera_Variant_TextlessNow here is where I might lose some of you comic junkies, but hear me out! With the release of Ant-Man in theaters earlier this month, I felt it appropriate to talk about this controversial character and shed some light on why some comic fans, particularly female comic readers, have a bone to pick with him. Namely, I want to talk about the original Ant-Man: Hank Pym.

Warning: This post contains content that may possibly trigger people who have experienced domestic abuse.

Then, in this defense of Ant-Man, I am going to discuss why we shouldn’t write him off just yet. But first, for those of you who know nothing about him.

Ant-Man History:

IMG_1354 First appearing in Tales to Astonish #27, Hank Pym is presented as a genius bio-scientist who unlocks shape altering abilities through his discovery of Pym Particles. As such, he gains the ability to shrink his size and eventually communicate with ants he meets through a specialized helmet. It was then that he adopted the superhero name Ant-Man. During his heroic adventures, he encounters his soon-to-be-wife, Janet Van Dyne, and helps her get revenge for her father’s death by manipulating her size and giving her insect like wings and “stinger” abilities, thus creating The Wasp!

Now, sure, his abilities do not seem too impressive. Eventually, Hank discovers a way to grow in size, becoming Giant-Man and Goliath through his super-career, but even this does not make him that impressive of a Marvel character. What does set him apart, and why some fans love him so, is because of his genius intellect and the trouble it gets Hank into. To shed some light on this, comic circles have often stated that Hank Pym’s intellect reviles that of Mr. Fantastic, who many recognize as Marvel’s smartest superhero. Furthermore, Hank Pym, along with Janet, were the original founders of The Avengers, which Janet aptly named. So with a guy as smart as Hank, how does he manage to get into trouble?

Well, Hank is the original creator of Ultron.

ultron-first-appearance-1 (more…)

From Amora to Zatanna: Blog Update

Where did the time go, comic junkies?! My sincerest apologies for disappearing off the inter-webs for so long! As I wrote in a blog long ago, I was finishing up my Master’s project and graduating. Having finished all school stuffs for the time being and finally kicking this weird funk I was in since graduation (see story shorts for June), I figured now was the time to restructure the way I publish posts here and keep you guys informed on the content I hope to provide every month. While things will not change too drastically, I am attempting to make postings a bit more uniform and, perhaps, more frequent! So without further ado, here is what I plan on writing:

NicciBusinessCardFront1. Comic Criticisms and Defenses: These posts will focus on critically analyzing a popular topic in comics. I will not write blog responses to specific incidents about comics anymore (such as the blog I wrote about Goyer and his sexist comments about She-Hulk) because every comic blogger tends to jump into the fray and, as a result, their voices are lost. Instead, I will discuss important themes present in the comic community and do my best to actually add something original to the conversation.

2. Teaching with Comics: Now that I have graduated and received my Master’s, I am transitioning from a student to an adjunct English instructor. As such, I want to share some of my teaching materials and discussions (sans student comments) with you all. Maybe there is a new teacher out there who wants to use comics too, or even a veteran who wants to shake things up a bit.

NicciBusinessCardBack 3. Writer Advice/Updates: Okay, so as you may know from previous blog posts, I’m hoping to become a comic writer. As such, I plan on posting a few blogs here and there with advice I have gained from others, or to update you on the progress of my own work. Here is my business card (which my wonderful animator friend, Hannah, made up for me). So excuse the shameless plug, but feel free to follow me on twitter for more updates as they come!

4. Comic Pulls/Convention Round-ups: These blogs will be listicles of comics and goodies I have on pull at my local comic shop, or that I found attending a local comic convention. I will try to take many pictures of these conventions as well!

From Amora to Zatanna: February 2015

Oh my goodness, comic junkies! I am late yet again on my monthly blog post. This is primarily because I am finishing up my last semester of grad school and my master’s thesis is kicking my butt! Aside from my student turmoil, I wanted to take this month’s blog and examine a pretty important character in the Marvel universe: Gwen Stacy.

8299d295feb249e7663d95d7ff1f8267Now let me start by saying that I never used to be a Gwen Stacy fan. Sure, she was smart as well as beautiful, but I was always more interested in Felicia Hardy (aka Black Cat) and Mary Jane as romantic interests for Peter Parker. I’m not really sure why this is, except that by the time I started reading Spider-Man issues myself, he was already in a relationship with Mary Jane.
And Felicia Hardy was someone I became obsessed with when I went further back into the series to catch up on what I had missed. And, let’s face it, Felicia Hardy is so sexy and sassy!
But Gwen Stacy is really something special. She was, and is, hugely important to comics.

First of all, Gwen Stacy’s death is an incredibly iconic moment not only in Spider-Man’s fictional life, but in comic history. The graphic death of Gwen Stacy by Spider-Man’s hand was shocking on multiple levels. The “snap” sound effect drawn on the page was somehow brought to life as readers collectively heard the bone brake. It was gritty, visceral, and real. It was in this moment that comics also took a firm stance against the Comics Code Authority and proceeded to tell stories in which superheroes were fallible. The death of Gwen, though debated for a few months after the issue’s release, was entirely Peter’s fault. His overconfidence in his abilities and himself as a superhero lead to the heart-breaking death of his beloved girlfriend. And this is someone who is supposed to have an intimate knowledge about physics!
ASM2-Death-of-Gwen-StacyWith Gwen’s death, Spider-Man became less perfect and more damaged, launching a comic movement that drifted away from the Comics Code and towards “grey storytelling.”

From Amora to Zatanna: January 2015


My apologies for being so late on this post, my dear comic fans, but time is slipping away from me so quickly these days. (I blame it on my final semester of grad school!) Stress aside, I wanted to keep it simple this blog and post a list of comic pulls I’m excited for this upcoming,2015 year. Let’s get started!

#1: Spider-Gwen
How was this not a comic already? The “What-if” universe didn’t even run a story like this, but thanks to the Spider-verse (and the end of the Marvel comic universe as we know it, apparently) this dream has become a reality. In an alternate universe, Gwen Stacy is the one gifted with the amazing Spidey powers and is unable to save the Peter Parker of her universe. It’s an interesting premise that pulls on our collective heart strings all over again as this beloved couple is still doomed to fail in the end. Plus, all female rock band with Mary Jane? Yes please!

#2: Silk
Silk_Vol_1_1_Lee_TextlessAnother spidey-related super heroine that is also a person of color! Cindy Moon was bit by the same spider that bit my beloved Peter Parker and was also endowed with spider abilities, though she a rougher time handling these new and fantastic abilities than Peter did (and that’s saying something!). She is currently running amok the Spider-verse, which in itself is a bit crazy, but I’m excited to she where her character goes from there.

#3: Angela: Asgard’s Assassin
Plot twist, Odin had a daughter! And no, I don’t mean the reincarnated Loki that seems to enjoy embodying both male and female bodies or this strange female Thor that I still cannot decide if I like or dislike, but a long lost sister abandoned in Heven and raised to despise anything Asgardian. Naturally, she has already been introduced to the Marvel comic universe thanks to the genius of Neil Gaiman (though prior to this even she was an Image property), but is currently getting her own solo run. See? I like other comics besides Spidey…

#4: A-Force
Just announced, well, today was the all female Avenger’s team! Some confirmed characters include She-Hulk, Dazzler (70s style?), Medusa, and Nico Minoru, while also promising to introduce a wholly new character named “Singularity.” With a writer like G. Willow Wilson and an artist like Margaurite Bennet, who could not be excited for this comic event?! Oh right, people who think an all-female team is nothing more than a gimmick rather than their own prejudice. “I just want good storytelling!” And why can’t an all female team not have a good story as well?

From Amora to Zatanna: December


Hey there comic geeks! Well, I finally did it. I made my own comic… sort of. As I mentioned in my bio, I am a Teaching Associate at my university and teach FYC (first year composition). As such, I created my very own comic this last month to teach my future students how to read a comic.


Here are some things I learned along the way:

“Through my writing/designing of a comic teaching tool, I have found that comic creation can give us insight to the importance of clarity and revising practices. The teaching tool I created is called “How To Read a Comic” and, as the title suggests, instructs my students on how to read a comic. I noticed that there was a need for this tool after I first used graphic novels in the classroom and had to instruct my students on the fly how to read a comic like a alphabetic book, what the different word bubbles and panels were, and how words and images were both necessary to create meaning. While I did use supplemental readings from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, I knew I needed to make things simpler for my students. To discuss how to read a comic, I knew I needed to create a comic that illustrated everything they would need to know about the medium through words and images. For this project, I downloaded an application called ComicLife and got to work.

From Amora to Zatanna: November


What’s up comic fans! Do we have any aspiring writers visiting us today? If so, then this blog is dedicated to you. As I have mentioned previously, I am looking to create some comics of my own in the near future and have been doing research on how to do just that. During Comikaze this year, I attended a Self Publishing Symposium featuring Comic Indy Writers and Artists such as Joshua Henaman (Bigoot: Sword of the Earthman), John Hervey (Black Tiger: Legacy of Fury), Aleister Gilgrim (The Cemterians, Ferryman). I took extensive notes for myself when attending this panel and I am here this month to share them with those seeking to breaking into the comic business through self publishing. If you are such an individual, then read on!

The chair of the panel, (find name), broke down the process into steps. The first step is know where you are going. Are you looking to get picked up by a big name company, or do you desire to maintain full creative control of your work? This also includes goals like how many issues do you want to put out a year (is it digital or print), how many issues you want per series, and how much time do you plan to set aside a day to spend on producing an awesome product.

After this, you assemble your creative team. Yes, this means getting out there and networking! One site to start looking for artists is Deviant Art, which typically has individuals looking to get into creative projects such as comics. It is important to note that you must pay an artist for their time and need to have material already prepared for them to work on. This is a team effort, so schedules and ideals need to be discussed so that you can produce a comic you are both proud of. This can also be said for colorists and letterers. Other sites that can help you start networking include digital webbing forums, Facebook comic groups, PencilJack, and Meetup.

Next, you will want to get readers on board through crowd funding, like kickstarter and indy-a-go-go. (For successful endeavors, check out Sullivan’s Sluggers and Ley Lines comics.) For this, you need to do your homework and set realistic goals for yourself. Promising to produce too much in too short a time, asking for too much money when you have supported no one else, and having no material to share with perspective readers are some things you want to avoid before jumping into something like this. Also, manage your rewards. This means knowing how much postage and packaging costs (if you have physical items), knowing how much assembling a comic costs (again, if print is desired), and any other incentives you might provide. Kablam, Comix Wellsrping, and RA Comics Direct are some publishing groups to look into.