Thursday, February 28, 2013

Acquisitions

 Interesting night at the comic book store. Picked up DC Comics' Showcase Presents Justice League volume 6. Oddly enough this volume starts with the very first issue of Justice League I ever bought off the stands, a team-up between the Justice League of America and the Freedom Fighters, who were the heroes that formerly were published by Quality Comics. I figure this will be a fun book for me as I haven't read most of these stories since the 1970s and that was prime comicbook discovery time for me. Ah, nostalgia.
   Also got Nemo:Heart of Ice, which is a new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen adventure by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill. Moore's work has been sort of uneven the last few years, but when the man's on he's on so I figured I'd give this a try. We'll see how it goes.
   And even though I'd already read max Allan Collins' Seduction of the Innocent on my Kindle, I bought the trade paperback because the cover is nifty and I wanted the Terry Beatty illustrations on paper. The book so nice I bought it twice.
   The mail brought two packages. One contained the paperback edition of I Am Providence, the gigantic two-volume biography of H.P. Lovecraft by S.T. Joshi. I passed on this when it came out in hardback figuring to pick it up later, but it has since become collectible and very expensive, so I was glad to get the paperbacks. Looking forward to delving into this one.
   The other package held a hardback adaptation of the 1957 movie Tarzan and the Lost Safari. No idea who actually wrote it, but I'd been meaning to pick up a copy for some time. The book wasn't in quite as good condition as the Ebay seller claimed, but it's fine as a reading copy and it was cheap.
   So yeah, lot of cool stuff yesterday.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Seduction of the Innocent

   Okay, if you're a comic book fan, especially one who enjoys EC horror comics and Lev Gleason style crime comics, you do not want to miss Max Allan Collins' new novel, Seduction of the Innocent. Loosely based on events surrounding Dr. Fredric Wertham and his book Seduction of the Innocent, which attempted to link comic books and juvenile delinquency,  Collins' novel is a fair-play, Nero Wolfe style mystery that features characters and suspects who will be very familiar to anyone well versed in the history of comics.
   Max Allan Collins, himself a sometimes writer of comic books and comic strips, does an amazing job of recreating the world of comics publishing in New York in the 1950s. This shouldn't come as a surprise as he does much the same thing in some of his collaborations with Mickey Spillane, some which I've reviewed here. His detective, Jack Starr, a trouble shooter for the Starr newspaper syndicate (owned by Jack and his foxy step mother Maggie) isn't quite the hardcase that Mike Hammer is, being closer in spirit to Rex Stout's Archie Goodwin, but when some mob boys try and lean on him, Jack shows he can certainly deal with them in a way that would make Hammer proud.
   Even if you're not a comics fan, this is a well plotted, engaging mystery with plenty of twists. I've been reading Collins for over thirty years now and I'm always impressed with his writing. He uses several first person narrators in various series and he manages to make them all individuals. Jack Starr doesn't sound like Quarry who doesn't sound like Nate Heller who doesn't sound like Mallory. Collins makes this look easy, but trust me, it isn't.
   Just like he does in his Nate Heller books, Collins provides an afterword where he discusses the books he used for reference and talks about the events that inspired the story, so don't worry if you don't catch all the references. MAC has got you covered. Oh, and the book features illustrations by artist Terry Beatty, a frequent collaborator with Collins and currently the artist on the Phantom newspaper strip. Highly recommended.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Writing Report

   James A. Moore and I are about ten thousand words into our new novel. As I mentioned before this one isn't related to Blind Shadows or Congregations of the Dead. This falls more into the SF/Fantasy genre, though there will still be plenty of gunfights and such. I'll have more to say about it when we're a little further along.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

My Gun is Quick

   Sometimes you're just in the mood for some Spillane. That was me yesterday. It was a cloudy, rainy day and I had planned to spend it reading. I chose Mickey Spillane's second published Mike Hammer novel, my Gun is Quick. in this one, Hammer has just finished a case and he's gone three days without sleeping. He's on his way home late at night and after briefly falling asleep behind the wheel, he decides he'd better pull over and get a cup of Joe at an all night hash joint under the elevated train. And man, can't you just see it? Hammer in his raincoat and pork pie hat walking on the rain slicked sidewalk to the blurry square of light thrown by the hash joint's flyspecked window.
   Mike has barely plopped down on a stool when a hooker, a redhead who's seen better days, asks him to buy her cup of coffee. Hammer obliges and he and the redhead chat. He comes to realize that there's a story behind this soiled dove. Her manners and her vocabulary speak of better times. Hammer likes her.
   Just then a rough looking character comes in and latches onto the redhead. Hammer warms him to back off. The guy gets belligerent and learns the hard way what it means to get in Mike Hammer's face.
   Hammer deals with the guy, but the redhead is shaken and she begs mike to go before things get worse. He does, but he gives the redhead some of the fee he's just collected and tells her to buy some clothes and get a decent job and she looks at him with "A look that belongs in church when you're praying or getting married or something."
   The next day Mike learns that the redhead is dead, apparently killed in a hit and run accident. But Hammer doesn't buy the accident story. He believes the girl was murdered and as usual, he's determined to do something about it. It's time for another kill-crazy ride with Mike Hammer.
   Like most of the Hammer books, plot is secondary to the bombastic character of Mike Hammer. It's not so much whodunnit but how Hammer goes about hunting them down and the situations he gets into as he goes. You know that there will be booze, bullets and broads. Spillane's Mike hammer yarns speak to the emotions. You can feel Hammer's simmering rage, his passion for justice, and his outrage at those who would prey on those who can't fight back. Well Hammer can damn well fight back and he's going to.
   Not that Spillane isn't capable of being subtle or funny. There's a line about a girl name Lola that made me have to close the book for a moment while I laughed out loud. Don't let anyone kid you. Mickey Spillane was a good writer. A lot better than he gets credit for. I think the force of his writing and the sometimes over the top actions of his heroes often eclipsed his ability to turn a phrase. I find more evidence of this on every re-read.
   Anyway, this is a terrific book for a rainy afternoon, a fine time out on the mean streets with a man who is sometimes mean and sometimes tarnished, but seldom afraid.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Complete John Thunstone Reviewed

   When James A. Moore and I were writing Blind Shadows, the two writers we kept coming back to as influences were Karl Edward Wagner and Manly Wade Wellman. Though I had created my Occult Investigator, Carter Decamp, many years before I discovered Wellman or his own Supernatural Sleuth John Thunstone, when it was time to bring Decamp into the novel, Wellman and Thunstone were definitely on my mind. I'd spent the last several years tracking down all the Thunstone stories at some not inconsiderable expense, including the near legendary Carcosa Press volume with the George Evans illustrations, and the two often hard to find Thunstone novels.
   But you don't have to do all that hunting because the folks at Haffner Press have just published a hefty (almost 650 pages) hardback called The Complete John Thunstone, and believe me it is well worth your time. Every short story is here and both novels. Plus, the aforementioned George Evans illustrations, reprinted in all their crisp, black and white glory on quality white paper. I own several Haffner books and this is one of the nicest yet.
   While most fans of horror and weird fiction are familiar with Manly Wade Wellman's other phantom fighter, John the Balladeer, his earlier character, John Thunstone, has often been neglected. Trust me, if you like  creepy stories, you want this book. Where John the Balladeer was a man of the southern mountains, John Thunstone was, for the most part, a man of the city. Most of his adventures take place in and around New York. Thunstone is a big, burly man. Well read, extremely well educated and intelligent, but also a surprisingly savage fighter when things turn ugly. Thunstone will kill if he has to. Where the other John carries a silver-stringed guitar, Thunstone carries a sword. Not a man to be messed with. His original adventures took place in the shadow haunted pages of Weird Tales between 1943 and 1951 and he fought demons, ghosts, vampires, and far less readily identifiable supernatural menaces. Not to mention Wellman's signature pre-human race, The Shonokins. Wellman returned to the character in the 1980s for one last short story and two novels.
   I'm very pleased to see these stories made available again in an affordable but high quality package. Hey, I already had everything in the book except the new introduction by Ramsey Campbell and I bought it as soon as it came out. The Complete John Thunstone gets my highest recommendation. Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, finer comic books stores or directly from the publisher.

http://www.haffnerpress.com/book/the-complete-john-thunstone/



Sunday, February 17, 2013

Late Winter Cold

Yeesh. I've spent most of the weekend flat on my back with a head/chest cold of epic proportions. First cold I've had in five or six years. I'd forgotten how unpleasant they can be. I've been drinking plenty of fluids and sleeping a ridiculous amount. As of Sunday morning I am feeling somewhat better, but it hasn't been a fun weekend. I plan to continue chilling out the rest of the day and hopefully will be feeling back to normal soon.  I'll see if I can't write something more interesting later today.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Lunchtime in Cimmeria

   Another Conan item I missed somehow was the Dark Horse Conan lunchbox, which was released in 2004. It's long out of print and people usually want 50 bucks or so for them but I spotted one on Amazon new and still factory sealed for $19.95. It' mine now, of course. I don't actually carry my lunch to work but if I ever do it's going in this lunchbox, by Crom.

Entitled

Over at his blog, my pal Howard Andrew Jones was talking about book titles and how he doesn't have one for his current work in progress yet and how that's bugging him. I can certainly identify. I prefer to have a title for a story as soon as possible. It just seems to make the work easier to nail down somehow. Hard to explain. Of course some titles come easier than others.
   The original title for Blind Shadows was Sudden Shadows, from a line in a poem by Stephen Crane.

   Lo, the walls of the temple are visible,
   Through thy from of sudden shadows.
  
   That went through a couple of changes and James A. Moore and I decided at the last minute that Blind Shadows worked better given the content of the book.
   The entire book Congregations of the Dead came about because of the title. (This comes under the heading of where do you get your ideas.) I was writing a short story called The Dead Abide and I knew that line came from a poem but I couldn't remember the rest of the poem, so I googled the line and instead of the poem, I got this quote from the book of Proverbs in the bible.

   The man that wandereth out of the way of wisdom shall abide in the congregation of the dead.

   I read that line and several visual images hit me immediately and I started thinking of a plot and soon had a big chunk of what the book would be about. You get lucky sometimes. I emailed Jim with the quote and the premise and he was taken with the idea too, and a couple of weeks later we started writing. So yeah, titles can be very important.
   I don't have a title for the book I'm working on now, but I've started mulling ideas, so hopefully at least a working title will come to me soon.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Four Color Conan

   I was reading back over my Savage Memories Posts from 2011 over the weekend, and I realized that in my enthusiasm for the Black and White magazine Savage Sword of Conan, that I had sort of overlooked the Marvel color Conan comic, without which, I wouldn’t have even cared about Savage Sword. So I thought I’d write a few posts about my discovery of Conan in the bright, four color pages.
   Marvel Comics Conan the Barbarian #36 was cover dated March of 1974, but it actually hit the stands in December of 1973. Cover dates were a bit arcane back in the 1970s, what can I say? The reason I know this is because I received Conan #36 as a Christmas present, along with a bunch of other comics on that particular December.
   That was my first ever encounter with Robert E. Howard’s signature character, Conan of Cimmeria, and though that issue was not an adaptation of an actual Howard story, Roy Thomas’ and John Buscema’s version of the big barbarian captured my attention as few things had done before.
   I had started collecting comic books only the year before, and up until that Christmas I only collected DC Comics. You know, Superman, Batman, Flash, Justice League, etc. For some reason, I had the idea that Marvel comics were somehow inferior. Not sure where that came from. But hey, I was only ten. What did I know?
   However, my great aunt Eula, who was always my favorite aunt, had apparently noticed my interest in comic books, so she went down to the drug store in Canton Georgia and bought ten comics at Random. As it turned out, she chose eight Marvels and two DCs. I’d like to think that I hid my disappointment well, but I probably didn’t. In any event, I pulled the two DCs (an Action and a World’s Finest) from the shirt box in which the comics had been packed and put the rest aside. Marvel Comics. Bah!
   But I still had a long break from school during the Christmas holidays and at some point due to curiosity, boredom, or both, I dug out the box and gave the Marvels a read. It was love at first sight. To this day I can remember the covers and the titles. Captain America, Spiderman, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Marvel’s Greatest Comics, (my first look at Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four) Marvel Team-Up, and Conan the Barbarian. I could probably write a post about where each of those comics led me, because they were all influential on my young mind, but this post is about Conan so we’ll stick with that.
   As I mentioned before, Conan #36 featured an original story by series writer Roy Thomas. The story was titled ‘Beware Hyerkranians Bearing Gifts’. The splash page shows Conan on horseback, pelting down the crowded streets of Aghrapur on his way to deliver a message to King Yildiz.
   I remember looking at this page and trying to figure out just what was the deal with this guy? What was a barbarian, anyway? He looked sort of like Tarzan, with his long black hair and loincloth, and I was already a big Tarzan fan thanks to my mother’s collection of Tarzan books and comics. Conan delivers his message and ends up being made part of Yildiz’s personal guards.
   His new position makes it necessary for Conan to learn the use of a bow, a weapon he originally considers unmanly. Two of Yildiz’s soldiers make fun of Conan’s lack of skill and he slams their heads together. Here, Roy Thomas quotes REH and I have never forgotten this quote.

   “Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split as a general thing.”

   At this point I had already decided that this was a character I liked. What ten year old doesn’t wish he were the toughest guy around? Conan didn’t take crap off of anyone. He lived by his own rules and did what he wanted to do. And he had a sword and fought monsters.
   I’m sure the artwork had a lot to do with the appeal as well. John Buscema was at the top of his game at this point in his career and from what I’ve read in interviews, he was just as taken with Conan as I was. He absolutely loved drawing the character. Buscema’s Conan was huge and powerful, his women gorgeous, his settings exotic, and his visual story telling amazing. The guy could draw. I was already struggling to learn to draw back then and John Buscema became a huge influence on me.
   Anyway, the story finishes up with Conan battling a living statue to save King Yildiz and his solution to the problem is about as bloody as the comics code would allow in those days. I was hooked. I had to get more Conan comics right then and there. How did I go about that at age 10? More on that next time.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

TARZAN: THE COMPLETE RUSS MANNING NEWSPAPER STRIPS

   Some really good news this weekend for fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Russ Manning. IDW, who is fast becoming one of my favorite publishers, will be releasing the complete Russ Manning Tarzan newspaper strips. Here's the press release to save me some typing.

"San Diego, CA (February 8, 2013) - IDW Publishing is proud to announce that the Library of American Comics will be collecting comics legend Russ Manning's classic run with Edgar Rice Burroughs' King of the Jungle in 2013! TARZAN: THE COMPLETE RUSS MANNING NEWSPAPER STRIPS is a four-volume series. The first three volumes will chronologically collect all ofManning's daily black & white and full-color Sunday strips from 1967 to 1974, while the fourth volume will collect the remaining Sunday strips, which Manningcontinued to do until 1979."


   I have long wanted to have a high quality collection of all this beautiful Russ Manning art. I have a lot of these strips in various forms, from badly reproduced copies to high quality European albums, to scans for my computer, but I don't have them all and I certainly will want all of these volumes. The first book will be out in May. Guess I better start saving my money...

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Tarzan and the Tarzan Twins with Jad-bal-ja the Golden Lion

   Despite what some folks would have you believe, the Tarzan novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs are not kids books. They were written for the pulp magazines of the 1920s-1930s and they were intended for adult audiences.  However ERB did write two books that were intended for a younger audience, The Tarzan Twins and a sequel, the somewhat clumsily titled Tarzan and the Tarzan Twins with Jad-bal-ja the Golden Lion. This second one was actually written as a Bigger Little Book, like a Big Little Book but bigger. That means that it was an illustrated book with text on the left hand pages and drawings on the right hand pages.
   A couple of years ago I read the first of the Tarzan Twins books and didn't really enjoy it. It seemed that Burroughs, in attempting to write 'down' for kids, lost most of what made his books exciting. The Tarzan Twins was a plodding adventure involving its two young protagonists with a tribe of cannibals. It did, however, introduce Dick and Doc, the titular twins who are not, in fact, actual twins. They aren't even brothers, but rather first cousins. However the boy's mothers were identical twins and since the boys are the same age and they both resemble their mothers, they look like twins. Neat, eh?
   I had read a comic book adaptation of the second book many years ago but only got around to reading the actual prose story tonight, and it is a much much better book than the first one. In this one Burroughs actually makes use of his own continuity, involving Dick and Doc with a group of beast-men from Opar and with the young German girl the beast-men have kidnapped, planning to make her their new high priestess. The boys, having been separated from Tarzan and Jad-bal-ja by a violent storm, must try to rescue the girl on their own. It's a rousing little jungle adventure with plenty of the thrills and chills ERB packed into his novels for grownups. It also ties into later Tarzan novels as the girl, Gretchen Von Harben, is the younger sister of Erich Von Harben, who will show up as a secondary hero in the Tarzan book Tarzan and the Lost Empire and whose discovery of the metal "Harbenite" will play an important role in the novel Tarzan at the Earth's Core.
   Anyway, I had a lot of fun with this small book. It's available on-Line at Project Gutenberg Australia if you'd care to give it a try.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Acquisitions

   Wednesday was a very good night for me at the comic book store. Not only did the second volume of Dark Horse's collected Brothers of the Spear come in, but also the trade collection of Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword, and a new Doc Savage book, Death's Dark Domain. So plenty of stuff for me to buy.
   Then the mail brought the latest offering from the Robert E. Howard Foundation, a whole book of REH's Pirate Adventures, featuring favorites such as Black Vulmea's Vengeance and The Isle of Pirates' Doom, plus some never before printed fragments and even some photos of a young Howard dressed as a pirate. The REH Foundation continues to put out some quality books.
   So yeah, Russ Manning and Doc Savage and Conan and REH. I'd call that a good night.

New Novel in the Pipeline

   And here we go again. The redoubtable James A. Moore and I are about to begin another novel. This one will be in the SF/Fantasy genre so a different approach this time, though I'm sure there will still be plenty of action. More details later.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

About Books


   I am an eclectic reader. I read all kinds of stuff, usually with no discernible pattern. As I read, books tend to pile up until I take the time to shelve them or put them in boxes to go to the Friends of the Library sale. This is what was on the middle cushion of the couch this morning as I was tidying up the living room. This is stuff I've read or re-read in the last week or so.

   In other reading news, I was checking the Kindle this morning to see how many books I'd read on it since purchasing the device in January of last year. One hundred and nineteen was the current count, probably about a quarter of the books I read last year, so yeah, liking the digital book world. The best thing about the Kindle is it prevents pile ups like the one pictured above.*9*9*9*9*9*9*9*9*9*9*9*9*9*9*9*9*9*9*9*9*9*9*9*9*9*9*9*9*9 (At this point, Bruce stepped on the keyboard. Cats.)

   Today's my birthday, so I took the day off from work. I plan to hit the bookstore when it opens in about an hour. We'll see what else I can find.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

The Black Abbot of Puthuum

 Back when I was trying to determine if Clark Ashton Smith had written any full out sword & sorcery I could have saved a lot of time if I had known of the story The Black Abbot of Puthuum. Most of the stories that various folks had championed as Smith's S&S were lacking a strong central hero, (Particularly the ones that L. Sprague de Camp kept putting into his S&S anthologies.) which I felt disqualified them as sword and sorcery. Later I would read stories like The Master of Crabs which did indeed have tough men at arms as heroes.
   Abbot has not one, but two stalwart heroes. In fact, Zobal the archer and Cushara the pike remind me not a little of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, though this 1936 tale appeared three years before the first published adventure of the boys from Lankhmar.
   There's plenty of sorcery in this story. Zobal and Cushara are acting as escorts, guarding a beautiful young girl who has been purchased for their king's harem. On the way home a strange cloud of dark mist surrounds them and begins herding the travelers towards an unknown destination. The cloud drives them to the front door of an ancient monastery where they are greeted by a fat, creepy Abbot who calls himself Ujak. Ujak is served by 12 weird monks who seem physically identical to their master and who cast no shadows.
   Having little choice in the matter, the archer and the pikeman agree to stay the night. From there the story gets even more weird, bringing in elements of cannibalism and a very nasty curse placed on a character. In the end it will be up to the skills of the two warriors, and a little dark sorcery, to save the day. The story may not have the pace and savagery of a Robert E. Howard yarn, but it is without a doubt, a tale of sword & sorcery.
   What it does have is the otherworldly mood that CAS was so good at, and his lush, evocative prose. It also functions well as a horror story, which I think is important to true S&S. It makes me wish that Smith had written a series of stories about Zobal and Cushara. I think the pair had plenty more adventures in them.
   I read this story in the fifth volume of Night Shade Book's Collected fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith but it appears in several anthologies. Well worth your time.