Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Boy and His Dinosaur

Back in 1978, after a short (but ridiculously influential) stint working at DC Comics, artist Jack Kirby returned to Marvel, the place where he had helped to create the Avengers, Iron Man, the Hulk, the X-Men, and most of the other characters who are still cash cows for the company. Jack, whose contract stipulated that he pencil fifteen pages of comics art a week, leapt into the fray, drawing Captain America, a character he had also co-created and 2001, a series based on the movie. That series eventually spawned two spin offs, Machine Man, a comic about a robot who became almost human, and Devil Dinosaur, a series about one of the 'dawn men' (the hairy guys dancing around the monolith in 2001) who befriends a big, red, tyrannosaurus.
   Now you and I know that, according to the fossil record, man and dinosaurs didn't exist at the same time. Jack knew this too and mentions it in an essay in the back of issue #1, but he goes on to say that in the interest of fun and entertainment, he's just going to gloss over that. So for nine issues Devil, the big red dinosaur, and his young pal Moon Boy roamed the prehistoric world, encountering monsters, aliens from space, and a clever retelling of Adam and Eve.
   It sounds kind of goofy, but like most things, Jack made it work. However when the book originally came out, I didn't read it. I can't recall why. I was buying all of Jack's other Marvel books, Cap, the Eternals, etc. However 1978 was before I discovered Comic Book Stores, so it's entirely possible that given poor news stand distribution in my home town, I just never saw it. Or maybe I thought I wouldn't enjoy a comic book about a big red dinosaur. Nah, that's not likely.
   Anyway, in 2007 Marvel published a big shiny hardback omnibus collecting the nine issue run of Devil Dinosaur. I didn't get it then either. Probably just an oversight, or maybe I was broke the week it came out, but somehow I missed it. (There were a couple of other Marvel series Jack worked on that slipped under my radar. I don't think I knew he was drawing Black Panther until he had already left the book.)
   Recently, as I began trying to accumulate the collections of Jack's work from both Marvel and DC, I started looking for a copy of the Devil Dinosaur Omnibus. Problem was, the book didn't have a huge print run, so copies in the aftermarket were hard to come by and usually cost more than I was willing to pay. So I kept a watch on Ebay and Amazon, figuring that eventually I'd find one at a reasonable price.
   Last night that became a moot point because my pal Cliff presented me with a copy of the omnibus as an early birthday present. My birthday isn't until next week, but Cliff knew he wouldn't see me again until after the day, so he went ahead and gave me the book last night. Made my day I can tell you.
   So this weekend I'll be reading, what for me, will be all new comics by my idol, Jack Kirby. Not at all a bad thing. Thanks again, Cliff. You're a pal.

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Black Solitude

   I gotta tell you, I owe John Pelan and the folks at Cemetery Dance a big thanks for introducing me to the work of author H. Russell Wakefield. I went on quite a bit about his story The Red Lodge, which was featured in the CD collection The Century's Best Horror Fiction. Last night I read another of his stories called A Black Solitude and it was yet another amazingly creepy and well written ghost story. The thing about this one is it includes a trained ghost fighter, kind of like Carnacki or Jules de Grandin, except things don't go near as well for this fellow as those guys.
   The thing that amazes me about Wakefield is his ability to capture that "otherness" that one should encounter in a ghost story. You can't really understand his vengeful spirits. They aren't operating under the same rules as the living. Wakefield is also a master of the slow build-up, and boy when things go to hell, they go there fast and ugly.
   Anyway, this collection is The Best Ghost Stories of H. Russell Wakefield, and it's getting hard to come by in book form, however there are plenty of affordable ebooks of Wakefield's stories. Well worth your time if you appreciate a really scary tale of the classic type. Highly recommended.

Reading Report

Did a good bit of reading over the weekend. Finally got to Joe Abercrombie's new one, Red Country. This is basically a Western set in the world of his First Law trilogy. He has filled it with Western tropes. A gold rush. A wagon train. Retired gunfighters, though with swords instead of guns. Readers of Abercrombie's previous books will find many familiar characters, like Nicoma Cosca, Caul Shivers and Friendly. Another old character makes a surprise appearance, but I'll leave that one a surprise.
   The plot is one familiar to Western readers. While young farmer with a past, Shy South, is in town selling grain and getting supplies, renegade mercenaries attack her farm, killing the hired man and stealing her younger brother and sister. By page 13 Shy has set out to get her siblings back with only her cowardly stepfather as back up.
   As usual for Abercrombie, this is a violent book with a lot of profanity. I've seen some fantasy fans get bent out of shape about his sometimes over the top language, sex and violence, but I've read worse in crime thrillers over the years, so it doesn't bother me much. Abercrombie is usually writing about folks who don't live in a pretty world, so I don't expect them to act or speak in a polite manner. Still, I wouldn't want some ten year old to pick this up after he reads Dragonlance.
   All and all I enjoyed the book, though I thought it rambled a bit. Abercrombie likes to lavish attention on all of his large cast and I found myself bored whenever the book swung away from the main plot. I know some readers like a lot of sub plots and secondary characters, but we've already established that I have a short attention span.
   Next up was Anything for Billy by Larry McMurtry. Fittingly enough, I picked this one up while I was in Santa Fe, since large portions of the book take place in New Mexico. I wouldn't say this book was meant to de-mythify Billy the Kid, though it could be taken that way. It seemed more of an alternate universe take on the character to me. McMurtry portrays Billy as a likable sociopath, full of boyish charm but dangerously unpredictable. He suffers from bouts of extreme depression and self loathing, but his moods are mercurial. Down one minute, flying high the next. As the book progresses he becomes more prone to shooting people who bother him.
   The narrator is a middle aged writer of dime novels named Benjamin Sippy, who comes to the west after his family life falls apart. He finds the wild west not much like the place he portrayed in his booklets. McMurtry exposes Sippy to a wide range of bizarre characters, from gunfighters to nuns to a literal "la belle dame sans merci", a beautiful lady without mercy.
In the end the book is as much about Sippy's journey as Billy's. McMurtry plays fast and loose with the known facts about Billy the Kid, but as Sippy points out, he was there and all the other writers weren't.
   So those were my two novels for the weekend. I also read a short story by H. Russell Wakefield, but I'll talk about that later.

Friday, January 25, 2013

This Just In

   Looks like Arcane Wisdom will be publishing Congregations of the Dead, the follow up novel to Blind Shadows by James A. Moore and me. More info when I get it. Needless to say, I'm pretty stoked.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Arak: Year One

   In some ways it's probably better that I've come to this comic book now rather than when it was first published in the early 1980s because back then I didn't have the knowledge of history to pick up on the things that I'm catching now. As our Native American hero adventures through an alternate universe Europe, he ends up at the court of Carolus Magnus (Charlemagne) and gains a mentor and ally in Carolus Magnus's wizard adviser Malagigi. He also picks up a comrade in arms and love interest, the lovely female knight Valda, the Iron Maiden.
   During the first few issues Arak has quite a few Conan-esque adventures fighting sorcerers, man-eating trees, vampires, and the like, but as the series progresses he begins to run into beings from Greek mythology, including the last of the centaurs. Arak seemed to be witnessing a twilight of the gods, as the Greek deities had retreated from the earth and thus the magical beings of their kingdom have mostly died out.
   In issue #12, Arak helps the dying centaur to cross the river Styx into Hades, and almost ends up staying there when he manages to piss off Charon the ferryman. (Cue Chris de Burgh singing Don't Pay the Ferryman.)
   The end of that issue leaves Arak about to visit Byzantium. That should be fun. All and all I'm having a lot of fun with the series. My pal Cliff pointed out that it's probably helping to read them in a lump since the series got off to something of a slow start. Since I've read the first year's worth in about a week, I've been able to speed up the pace. Anyway, three years and an annual to go.

   Oh and if you didn't get the Chris de Burgh reference, go here:


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Robert E. Howard: Born January 22nd 1906

   I was going to write a lengthy post about REH, but I decided to go with my favorite toast. So please join me in lifting a glass to one of my favorite writers, a man without who my life wouldn't have been nearly as much fun. Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Cimmerian. Writer of mayhem, magic and dark poetry.

Here's to us and them like us.

Damn few, and they're probably dead.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Brain Flotsam

   Sometimes things just float to the top of your brain for little or no reason. I was talking about Lord of the Rings Online this morning at breakfast with my parents and I suddenly flashed on a poster I'd been given at a comic book convention in the 1970s. It was a preview for Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the Rings. So when I got home I went on Ebay to see if I could find an image of it. Couldn't find the exact poster but the illustration had been used for a Spanish movie poster. Here's the pic:
I don't see a signature but I'm pretty sure it was drawn by comics artist Mike Ploog. I know Ploog worked for Bakshi on several films. Anyway, I remember having that one my wall for some time. That made me think of yet another poster that hung in my room for several years. This was also a Tolkien based poster, but I had no idea who drew it. Back to the internet and a search for 'Vintage Tolkien Posters', which brought me this:
Also got a little background info. The artist for this poster, a fellow named James Cauty,  was only 17 years old at the time. What's funny was that I hadn't read any Tolkien at that point. I guess I just liked the image. I'm pretty sure I bought it at Spenser's, which was a sort of suburban head shop, popular in malls back in the day. Lava lamps. Black light posters. Incense. That kind of thing. I seem to recall one other poster but I can't get a clear image of it. Seems like maybe Robert Gould drew it. Didn't spot it on a quick web search. But yeah, weird the stuff that the brain just throws at you sometimes.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Department of Lost Barbarians: Arak

Back in 1981, original Marvel Conan comics scribe Roy Thomas had left Marvel for the competition, DC Comics. Not surprisingly, Thomas created a sword & sorcery title for DC. This was Arak: Son of Thunder. I remember reading a couple of issues back then, but this was during the period when I was obsessed with crime fiction and reading virtually no fantasy or science fiction and that included fantasy comic books. Arak ran for four years, 50 issues and one Annual and that was that.
   The other day, having just read some "new" Roy Thomas comics and having really enjoyed them, I started casting about for something else to read that Roy had written. I recalled Arak and decided to give that series a try. Since I never do anything halfway, I found a comics dealer who had a set of all 50 issues and the annual at a decent price and a couple of days later a cardboard box showed up with the complete run of Arak. Sat down today and read the first three issues.
   So far I've been having fun. Arak is basically an Indian (Native American) version of Conan, adventuring in Europe in the Eighth Century. However, as Roy is quick to point out, this is an alternate universe Europe where magic works and where history may not follow the exact path that it took in our own reality.
   The first issue shows how a young Indian boy was found drifting in a canoe by a Viking longship and was taken aboard where he was more or less adopted by a Frankish member of the crew. This is historically sound as the Norse did sometimes have members of other races on their ships when they were 'gone a viking.' Over the next ten years the boy grows up among the Norse, eventually becoming a Viking himself and accompanying the rowdy Danes on looting runs to what will eventually be Britain.
   Through a series of odd circumstances, Arak (the way the young Indian pronounced Eric) ends up the last surviving member of the crew and is marooned in Northumbria.
   I was a little concerned that the comic might not have enough sorcery, given its pseudo-historical setting, but by issue #2 Arak is involved in an adventure where Conan would have been right at home, so no worries there.
   The artwork on the series features Ernie Colon as penciller and long time Conan inker Tony Dezuniga doing the finished art. I suspect DC was hedging its bets back in the day by having the comic look as Conan-ish as possible since Roy's version of the big Cimmerian was very popular.
   Anyway, having fun so far. I have 47 issues and an annual left to go. I'll let you know what I think later on.

The Best Laid Plans...

   Okay, so the plan for the weekend was to read Joe Abercrombie's new book, Red Country. However, thanks to my first ever shipping problem with Amazon Prime two day shipping, the book didn't get here yesterday, so that plan was shot. I considered going ahead and getting it for my Kindle, but I bought a hardback because I like Abercrombie's work enough that I want the tactile feel of a book so I guess I'll just have to wait. (Yeah I know it doesn't make sense, but there ya go.)
   As a result, my plan to spend the weekend immersed in a big, thick, book is out. I swung by Barnes & Noble this morning but all I could find that caught my interest was a reference book on Jane Austen. Hardly a substitute for blood and gore. I sneered at their copies of Red Country as I walked through the SF/Fantasy section. Grrrr.

Monday, January 14, 2013

An Edge to a Sword by Harold Lamb

As I've occasionally mentioned before, I'm a big fan of the historical fiction of author Harold Lamb. This isn't surprising, given that Lamb was a favorite of Robert E. Howard. In fact I recommend Lamb to anyone who loves REH's work because you'll find much of the same energy and headlong pace in Lamb that you find in Howard.
   Over the last few months I've been reading my way through the Bison Books Complete Cossack Adventures, compiled and edited by my friend, writer Howard Andrew Jones. I started volume three, Riders of the Steppes last night. The very first story in the book, An Edge to a Sword, turned out to be one of my favorite Lamb stories so far. This is the story that introduces Ayub, a massive Cossack who will later appear in several short stories, novellas and even a novel. There's a difference though because unlike most of Lamb's Cossack tales, which are told in third person POV, this one is narrated in the first person by a young boy named Gregory who hero worships Ayub, giving the huge warrior an almost mythic stature. The story takes on the feel of a legend.
   It's a short tale, only about twenty pages but in it Lamb does a great job of sketching characters so that they seem very real. In many ways I've always preferred the rare Lamb first person stories because they have a feel to them that's hard to explain. They seem more real to me, and more visceral. I was complaining to my buddy Jim the other day about how disappointing I find much of the current crop of first person fantasy book, all snark and no substance. Lamb shows how it's done. Along with writer William Preston (Taking the Old Man Down, Unearthed) reading this story has renewed my faith in the first person voice.
   I will tell you that Edge is not a happy story for all its wonderful characters and atmosphere. There's a heartbreaking moment late in the tale that made me grit my teeth and wait for the reckoning I knew would come. But then some of the best stories don't end happily. Track this one down and give it a read. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Conan: The Ravagers Out of Time

   Conan: The Ravagers Out of Time was a Marvel Comics Graphic Novel that appeared in 1992, during the time that I was no longer reading fantasy fiction. (I've told the tale of my not quite two decade lay off from fantasy before so I won't go into it here.) It was written by Roy Thomas who had recently returned to Marvel after his own decade long absence from Conan and who was writing both the color Conan comic and the Black and White Savage Sword of Conan magazine. He also found time to pen this sword & sorcery extravaganza which teamed the big Cimmerian with Robert E. Howard's other black-maned barbarian, Kull, as well as with Red Sonja, the she -devil with a sword.
   Perhaps it's because Roy Thomas's version of Conan was the first one I encountered, but Roy remains my favorite writer of Conan comic books. Thus it was fun to have what was, for me, a brand new Roy Thomas Conan story. And it is very much an old school sword & sorcery tale with a tower, a monster, and an honest to gosh sorcerer as the bad guy.
   It's also a sequel to an earlier Thomas tale, The Curse of the Golden Skull, from Conan the Barbarian issue #37. In that issue Conan runs afoul of a resurrected ancient Lemurian sorcerer named Rotath who had been slain by Kull in the distant past. This character was actually created by Robert E. Howard in a Kull fragment. As he often did, Thomas adapted and expanded the unfinished story, bringing Rotath into Conan's time. In that story, Rotath met a messy end in the innards of a gigantic slug.
   Flash forward ten years and Conan is now leading a band of bandits in Turan. He and his men attack a caravan, only to find it contains a wagon loaded with gold and a strange prisoner, an elderly Pict who seems oddly familiar to Conan. The barbarian gets another surprise when he learns that the captain of the caravan guards is his old friend and sparring partner, Red Sonja. Sonja recognizes the Pict as the spitting image of Gonar, the Pictish shaman who advised King Kull. She and Conan had met Gonar in another adventure where Gonar and Kull crossed time to the Hyborian Age.
   Conan notices that the he's not far from the gold mine where his run-in with Rotath occurred and he realizes that's where the gold in the caravan came from. He and his men set out to claim more gold, but they are attacked by the giant slug that consumed Rotath. However it turns out that over time Rotath's will was able to actually take control of the slug's body. Now he wants revenge on Conan, Kull, and anyone else who's unlucky enough to be close by. Rotath uses his sorcery to hurl himself, Conan and Sonja back into the days of King Kull where the mad sorcerer plans to transfer his mind into Kull's body and then conquer the world as he had originally intended.
  In the end it will take steel, blood, and Pictish magic to halt Rotath's schemes and get Conan and Sonja back to their own time.
   All and all, a rousing adventure. The art is by Michael Docherty and Alfredo Alcala, and if not quite as impressive as John Buscema, it's still in the classic Marvel Conan mode. If I've any complaint about the artwork it's the coloring, which seems a bit washed out. A brighter palatte might have improved things. But that's a small quibble. I had a lot of fun reading this 21 year old Graphic Novel. It's not hard to come by on Ebay if you're interested.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The End of an Era

   Cliff told me yesterday that The Comics Buyers Guide is ceasing publication after four decades. This gave me one of those "Aww gee" moments, as CBG holds a special place in Comic Book fandom and for me an even more special place in my career as a writer.
   If you're not familiar with CBG, it originally started back in 1971 as a tabloid newspaper for comic book collectors called the Buyer's Guide to Comics Fandom. Not long after I discovered the paper in the early 1980s, the original publisher, Alan Light, sold the tabloid to Krause Publications who installed Don and Maggie Thompson as the editors. In those pre-internet days CBG was the primary source of news and information about comic books as well as being a place where you could find advertisements from stores and other collectors for comics, books, videos, and all those things fans love.
   A couple of years after I first subscribed, CBG also became the first place to actually buy my writing. My first professional sale was to The Comics Buyers Guide. It happened like this. I was attending the Chicago Comics Con and Cliff Biggers, Ward Batty and some other friends and I had gone to dinner with Don and Maggie. Somehow it came up that I was a karate instructor and Don started quizzing me on various martial arts related subjects. Apparently he liked my answers to his questions because he asked me if I'd like to write a column about fighting and violence in comic books. I said I would and for the next three years I wrote a couple of columns a month for CBG. I still have the stub from my first check from Krause. That column would lead to me becoming a comic book writer a little while later, but that's a story for another time.
   I'm not the only one who got his start with CBG. Many writers broke in through those pages before going on to other things. And many writers who were already pros contributed articles and columns to the paper as well. As I said, back in the day, it was THE place for comics fans.
   What it boils down to is that there never was anything else quite like CBG and there will never be again. An era has ended, folks.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Authors and the Artwork

   Here are James A. Moore (left) and me (right) with the original artwork for the cover for Blind Shadows, sent to us by artist Alex McVey. Since this is my first novel, Jim is graciously allowing me to keep the painting. Thanks Jim!  
   And yes, we are two burly writers. Photo by Cliff Biggers. Thanks Cliff!

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Sunday, January 06, 2013

The Complete John Thunstone

The fine folks at Haffner Press have released the Complete John Thunstone. All the short stories and novels that Manly Wade Wellman wrote about his occult investigator in one volume at last. I"ll have a review up as soon as my copy arrives. I've already read all the stories of course, but it will be great to have them in one place. Go here for details:

Sunday Morning at the Bookstore

   Headed out early this morning to the Book Nook II in Marietta. It's one of the few used bookstores left in the area and it has a pretty good turnover in books so it's worth dropping by once a month or so. The selection was particularly kind to me this morning as they had two of the three Judge Earl Stark (see my review of The Silver Alibi a few posts back) books by James Reasoner that I wanted. Also found a Lou Prophet novel that I didn't have, by the ever reliable Peter Brandvold. I mostly bought the two Nevada Jim books for the James Bama covers, though my pal Cliff tells me they are perfectly good series Westerns. They came out at the same time that Bama was doing the covers for the Doc Savage paperback reprints and in fact Nevada Jim looks like some parallel universe version of the Man of Bronze as a cowboy. I'll read one soon and let you know what I think.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Blind Shadows Available Now for the Kindle

   Miskatonic Books just let me know that Blind Shadows is available in paperback and on the Kindle. it's exclusive to Kindle for 90 days and then it will be out in the other e-book formats.

Friday, January 04, 2013


   I got a lot of stuff in the mail today. Got the three He-Man mini-comics with art by Alfredo Alcala that I mentioned a couple of posts back. Flipping through them I see that He-Man's early adventures were very much in the sword & sorcery mode. Terrific art.
   And speaking of the art of Alfredo Alcala, I also received a copy of Magic Carpet #1, an independent comic from 1977 that features two stories illustrated by Alcala. More about that later.
   And finally I got the last Frank Belknap Long Gothic Romance Novel which I needed to complete the set of nine. This one, The House of Deadly Nightshade, is the hardest to come by of the group and usually the most expensive but I got a nice copy for a good price. It also has the worst cover of the nine. What is with that woman's arms? Is she related to Monk Mayfair?
  Anyway, some fun stuff to look at over the weekend.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Conan the Unread

   If you read my Savage Memories series last year you may recall that by the mid 80s I was no longer reading Marvel Comics' Conan comic books. As a result, several of their stand-alone Graphic Novels aren't in my collection. (I did buy one called Conan the Rogue because it had John Buscema artwork, which had a low print run and has become very expensive in the collectors market. Go me.)
   Yesterday I was bumping around Ebay and I saw the cover for Conan: The Horn of Azoth. I recalled that this was based on Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway's original script for the second Conan movie, Conan the Destroyer. The script was changed greatly by the time the cameras rolled, so I thought it might be fun to see the original story.
   That of course led to more looking around and I spotted Conan: The Ravagers Out of Time. Hmmm, Conan and Red Sonja and Kull together again for the first time. Loves me a crossover and it's a Roy Thomas Conan story I haven't read. Got to get that.
   And then I saw Conan: The Skull of Set. A Conan comic by Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy, the team supreme on Marvel's Master of Kung Fu comic? Need that, yep.
   So then I spent the next half hour looking at the various sellers who had these three Graphic Novels, trying to find decent copies at a reasonable price. Found em and ordered em.
   Now of course I'll have to track down all the Marvel Conan graphic novels I don't have because I've started a new set and I must possess them all. It's what I do.