Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Voice of the Mountain

For some time, the wandering Balladeer known simply as John has heard tales of the voice of Cry Mountain. Now he's made his way to the mountain to learn, if he can, the source of the eerie wailing cry, and despite the warnings of the Appalachian folk who live in the shadow of the mountain, John climbs to the summit.
   There he finds the strange "witch man" Ruel Harpe, a smooth mannered sociopath with dreams of being a god and just maybe has the power to make it happen. He wants John to join him as one of his disciples. Trapped in Ruels's rustic commune, John will have to use all his knowledge of backwoods magic to stop Ruel Harpe's scheme.
   This was the last of Manly Wade Wellman's five novels about John the Balladeer. He planned one more, The Valley So Low, but a serious injury led to his death before that one could be completed. The Valley So Low came out as a collection of Wellman's mountain themed short stories edited by his friend Karl Edward Wagner.
   I think that Wellman was more comfortable writing short stories about John than novels. In fact this one reads much like one of the shorts that has been padded out to novel length. Not that it's a bad book. Wellman was a good enough writer to hold my interest until the end. It has all the trademarks of classic John the Balladeer stories. Folksy background. True love. (not for John though) Weird supernatural goings on and dark magic that seems scarily authentic. In a short forward, Wellman mentions that all the grimores mentioned in the story are real books. I'm familiar with a couple of them from other Wellman stories, and yeah, they're for real. Wellman knew his stuff.
   He mentions several real people in the book too. There's a funny bit where a woman mentions that she worked in the special collections section of the library at Miskatonic University, and among the seekers of arcane knowledge who came there were men named Fritz Leiber, Bob Bloch, and Frank Belknap Long. I think Wellman had fun with this one, throwing in references to earlier adventures and plenty of old mountain folk songs. Though this was the last John the Balladeer novel, Wellman wasn't quite though writing about John. There would still be a couple of short stories about what had become Manly Wade Wellman's signature character. All the stories, both short and long are worth your time.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Future of Comic Book Art?


   See this manga page? I "drew" this in about half an hour using a program called Comipo. The program gives you 3D models that you can move around in space. Change poses, faces, backgrounds, etc. When you're done it looks like line art, but it's really photos of 3D models. I can import backgrounds and such from other sources too. I could even make it black and white so it looks more like a real manga.
   I could write and draw an entire comic book like this and I learned to use the program as I went. Now obviously everyone doesn't want to draw comics that look like Japanese Manga, but it wouldn't be a lot harder to make a set of 3D models in the Marvel style. Think of an artist like Sal Buscema who used a lot of stock poses over and over.
   I don't see this technology replacing real comic book artists any time soon, but I could definitely see writers who can't draw being able to turn out sharp looking comics in the not too distant future. Heck, if you want to draw a manga you can do it now.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Naming Names

There's a character in Blind Shadows, the novel by James A. Moore and me, named Carter Decamp. He's a former Olympic fencer and a retired professor of English literature. He also hunts monsters.
   For some reason, Decamp, who isn't one of the main characters, has proven unexpectedly popular. Readers like him. I get a lot of questions about him. The other day someone asked me if I had named him after SF/Fantasy authors Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp.
   The answer to that is...sort of.
   Decamp is actually an old character of mine, created a couple of decades ago for a series of short stories I wrote that were read aloud at a friend's annual Halloween party. I needed a mentor/wizard sort of character who dealt with occult menaces and such for these stories so I came up with Decamp. I made him a fencer because he occasionally needed to use a sword, and a professor because I needed to show in short hand that he was an intelligent, well read sort.
   The name came about more or less by accident. You know how in the movies, when someone is trying to give a fake name and they look around and see a sign or something and use part of that as a name? That's more or less what happened with Decamp. I was looking for a name and my glance fell on the spine of one of the ACE Books Conan paperbacks that had been written by Lin Carter and L. Sprague Decamp and the spine read "De Camp Carter". I didn't think de Camp sounded like a good first name, so I flipped it. And I changed the spelling slightly from de camp to Decamp. I liked the sound of it and I figured it would elicit a groan or two from my intended audience when I mentioned the character's name for the first time. (It did.)
   Jump forward about twenty years and I was writing away on Blind Shadows. I was at a point in the book where I needed a character who could explain some of the supernatural occurrences in the story. On a whim, I just decided I would lift this old character or mine from those old short stories, figuring I could always change his name to something else. But as I started to write him I found that I enjoyed visiting with my old friend. He is exactly the same character he was in the original stories. Still lives in a Victorian era house on Church Street in Marietta Georgia. (A real house by the way, though I've no idea who really lives there.) He still has a study full of books and weapons. There are even one or two references to those earlier stories in Blind Shadows, in-jokes for a very small group of people.
   Because, comic book geek that I am, I like continuity. In my own personal continuity, those old stories happened in the same fictional universe as my current stories. We're just picking up in Decamp's life twenty years later. There are other old characters of mine, who appeared in previous stories, who show up in Blind Shadows, but we'll talk about them another time.
   Carter Decamp has a larger role in Congregations of the Dead,(Available for pre-order now from Miskatonic books, he said in a shameless plug.) the follow up to Blind Shadows.  I think there's a good chance I'll write some short stories featuring the World's Most Dangerous English Professor too. He's just a fun character to write. He has a mysterious background that's slowly being revealed. Heck, some of it is new to me.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Tarzan and the Foreign Legion

  I was having a restless evening last night. I wanted to read something but I couldn't settle on anything. Finally I decided to go for a re-read of one of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novels. I went with Tarzan and the Foreign Legion since it had been a while since I'd read that one, and I remembered it as being not only fun, but a departure from the more standard books that ERB had written in the last half of Tarzan's career.
   I remembered correctly. This one, written in 1944, while Burroughs was living in Hawaii, takes place, not in Africa, but in Japanese occupied Sumatra during the closing days of World War Two. RAF Col John Clayton is serving as an observer on board a US aircraft in the Dutch East Indies. The plane is shot down and crashes in the jungle. For the first quarter of the book, the crew of the plane marvels at the jungle survival skills of Clayton, who has discarded his clothing and wears only a loincloth made from parachute silk. It's only after Clayton kills a tiger with nothing but a hunting knife that the commanding officer makes the connection. John Clayton is Lord Greystoke is Tarzan of the Apes.
   I get the idea that Burroughs really enjoyed writing this. The book has a lot more humor than previous Tarzan novels and there's a lot of flag waving, old fashioned patriotism on view. Also quite a bit of anti-Japanese propaganda, but during WWI that was fairly typical. Ever see the Popeye cartoon You're a Sap, Mr. Jap? Like that.
   While trying to lead the US servicemen (and a lovely Dutch girl who they find a prisoner of the invaders) to the coast, Tarzan fights tigers, pythons, a rhinoceros, and orangutangs. He also learns that the animal denizens of Sumatra understand the language of the great apes, so Tarzan can communicate with the monkeys and elephants on the island. Most animals seem to understand this language though not all can speak it.
   There are the usual series of unlikely coincidences, the romantic subplot (two really) and all the other things one expects from Burroughs, but they seem less tired here, perhaps because Burroughs was acting as a war corespondent when he wrote this book. Writing about the war and using a new setting seems to have regenerated his interest in writing Tarzan. Sadly, this would be the last new work ERB published in his lifetime. Tarzan and the Foreign Legion came out in 1947 and Burroughs passed away in 1950. As Tarzan books go, this was a good one to go out on.
   There's an interesting bit toward the end of the book where Tarzan explains why he still appears to be in his twenties though he is much older. He had been exposed to not one but two methods of gaining eternal youth and so he is for all intents and purposes, immortal. But we knew that. Anyway this is a fast paced book with plenty of action, and it was just what I needed just when I needed it.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Reading Stephen

  The last few nights I've been re-reading some of Stephen King's short stories, revisiting some old favorites like Jerusalem's Lot, Gray Matter, and Crouch End. In some ways I like King's short fiction better than his novels. He just seems to have the knack for that story length.
   I was telling my pal Cliff that one of the things that amazes me about King is his ability to completely inhabit a character. The narrator of Jerusalem's Lot is an old New Englander in his seventies, and the entire time I was reading that story I believed in that character. It never occurred to me that Stephen King was lurking behind that voice. I can tell you as a writer that this is NOT an easy thing to do. But King does it all the time. When I was reading Joyland a couple of weeks back, I believed in the 21 year old who was narrating the story, just as I believed in the narrator of Bag of Bones. When writing in first person it's much harder to create a character rather than the narrator just sounding like the author with a different name.
   Third person is easier, giving the writer some distance and allowing he or she to view the character from outside to some degree. There is a version of third called "close" third person where the writer never leaves the protagonist's viewpoint, but I've never really cared for that voice. At that point you might as well be writing in first person since you lose most of the advantages of third.
   Anyway, I came away reminded yet again what and awesome story teller Stephen King is.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Four Color Conan: Parallel Events

One of the more interesting things about Roy Thomas's return to the pages of Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian comic book was his attempt at reestablishing the continuity abandoned by the writers who followed him on the book. As John Hocking pointed out to me, the other writers had pretty much jettisoned the rich background of Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age. Not Roy. When he returned he once again began relating Conan's life as it connected to the original stories. During his first run on the comic, Roy had adapted many of REH's stories and attempted to fit his own tales in between those adaptations. When he came back he tried to resume this habit, but there was a slight problem. He had already adapted pretty much all of the original Conan stories ten years earlier.
   This made for some interesting challenges. For instance, Roy was picking up Conan's life around the time when the big Cimmerian was serving in the army of mercenary General Amalric, whose army was working for the city state of Khojara. This would be just prior to the REH story, Black Colossus. I knew where things were heading when Conan, along with his allies Red Sonja and Zula the wizard/warrior, joined up with Amalric. I also knew that Roy had already adapted Black Colossus in Savage Sword of Conan issue #2, so I sort of wondered what Roy was up to. I mean, he wasn't likely to adapt Black Colossus again.
   What he did instead was show you the events leading right up to the beginning of the REH tale, and then he switched the focus from Conan to Sonja and Zula. So what we got to see were the parallel events. Conan was off stage, doing the things that we know he did in Colossus, while Sonja and Zula fought Natohk the Veiled One's army with the mercs. When they meet up with Conan again, it's right after the end of Black Colossus. Roy gives a summary of what Conan was up to of course, so the reader knows what's going on. It works pretty well, though I do wonder if folks unfamiliar with Black Colossus might have been a little confused.
   Sonja and Zula leave the book at the conclusion of this story line and in the next issue Conan leaves the service of Queen Yasmela to strike off on his own again, after a summary of one of the L. Sprague de Camp/Lin Carter tales that Roy had adapted for SSoC way back when. More parallel events. By issue 252, we're back to new stories by Roy. The art chores at this point were being handled by penciler Mike Docherty and inker Ernie Chan. Docherty was trying hard to emulate star Conan artist John Buscema, and I think swiping some of Buscema's layouts, and Ernie Chan had, of course, inked hundreds of Buscema pages, so the art was very traditional marvel Conan.
   Anyway, I'm still haing a lot of fun reading the stories from the second coming of Roy Thomas. I see from scanning the covers that my next issue #253 will see the return of Kulan Gath, the wizard originally created by Michael Moorcock and James Cawthorn.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Thank You Stephen



"If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented."

   -Stephen King

R.I.P. Robert E. Howard

"All fled—all done, so lift me on the pyre—
The Feast is over, and the lamps expire."
― Robert E. Howard.

Died on June11, 1936.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

New Who?



Saw reports this morning that Rory Kinnear has been approached by the BBC to take over as The Doctor on Doctor Who. Apprently they're just waiting for his answer. He was in Skyfall, but I've never heard of the guy. Then again, I'd never heard of Matt Smith either.

Another Weird Dream

   Been a while since I mentioned any of my whacked out dreams. I've been having a period of extremely vivid dreams the last couple of weeks. One I won't describe as it had several elements I intend to use in a story.  However, this morning I had one that was kind of cool. In the dream I 'woke up' to find a vampire who looked a lot liked Quentin Collins from Dark shadows, leaning over me with one hand locked around my throat. Glowing eyes, barred fangs, the whole nine yards. Not a good thing to wake up to.
   Fortunately I was in good form and I used a ju-jitsu move called the oopa, to throw the bloodsucker off of me. Then I rolled out of bed, smashed a bedside table, snatched up one of the jagged legs, and jammed it into the vampire's heart as he came running around the bed to get to me. Remember kids, furniture is your friend.
   I woke up a little later, congratulating my sleeping brain for fast thinking. Go brain.
  

   (And yes, I know Quentin Collins was a werewolf, not a vampire. I don't write these dreams. I just have them.)

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Joyland

Just finished up Stephen King's newest book, Joyland and I have to say it's one of his best in some time. It's not horror. It's a ghost story, and a mystery, and a coming of age story and it works on all those levels. The book follows a young man named Devin Jones who takes a summer job at an amusement park called Joyland.
     Joyland's not a big place. No Disney World or even Six Flags. Closer in spirit to a county fair perhaps, but it has its own charms. It also has a fortune teller who really has 'the sight' and a house of horrors with a real ghost. Don't let all of that make you think this is a King fright fest though. It's not that kind of story. The supernatural is just something in the background. A side dish if you will. The main course is more like The Body (Stand by Me) or The Shawshank Redemption.
   Devin tells the story looking back from the present to 1973. And I think this is a book that King couldn't have written ten or twenty years ago. I get the feeling that he was looking back too, the way that you can only see things with the kind of clarity that time and experience can give.
   I know that there are people who will always refuse to see King's talent and skill as a writer. Those who want to pigeonhole him as a writer of supermarket scary books, but trust me, this one is well written with the kind of style that other writers will envy. It has that seductive story teller voice that King excels at when he's on. I read the thing at one sitting, even reading as I cooked dinner. (No I didn't burn anything.)
   I laughed at places as I read Joyland. Other parts I found very moving. There were even points where someone less tough than me might have teared up. It's a good book. One of those books that reminds me why I enjoy reading. So thanks again, Mr. King. You've still got it.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Acquisitions

   Last night I got the first of a projected four volumes collecting Russ Manning's entire run on the Tarzan newspaper strip. This is a major big deal for me because Manning is my favorite Tarzan artist and I have wanted these strips in a quality collection literally for decades. And the best thing is, the book is just as good as I was hoping it would be. The reproduction is fantastic. The black and white strips are crisp and clear and the color strips are vibrant and dynamic. And of course the artwork is just gorgeous. Have I mentioned how much I like Russ Manning's Tarzan?
   Thank you IDW for this awesome package.

   My other purchase for the evening was Stephen King's new paperback original, Joyland. From the cover:

"Set in a small-town North Carolina amusement park in 1973, Joyland tells the story of the summer in which college student Devin Jones comes to work as a carny and confronts the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and the ways both will change his life forever."

   Sounds pretty darn up and at em. Looking forward to spending some time in King's Dark imagination.

   So yeah, quality over quantity for last night's comic book store visit. I didn't get a ton of stuff, but what I got was darned nifty.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Four Color Conan: When Roy Returned

   A few posts back I talked about how I'd been collecting the issues of Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian written by Roy Thomas when he returned to the title after a 10 year absence. I finally got all 30 something issues and I'm finally sitting down to read them. In a text piece in the back of issue #241 (Roy's first official issue, though he scripted #240 under a pen name) Roy mentions that in Conan's timeline, only a couple of years have passed during the ten years that Roy had been away from the series. Thomas wrote Conan the Barbarian issues #1-#115. While he doesn't come right out and say that he'll be treating the issues since then as if they didn't happen (he denies it in fact) on page 16 of issue #241 Conan says, in reference to Thomas's last story in issue #115:

   "Since the night I walked out of Zukala's cave, I have often felt I were still  wandering amid the visions he showed me there til it sometime seems to me as if all my life since then has been but a waking dream."

   So basically Roy is leaving it up to the reader. If you want to disregard every issue of Conan the Barbarian between #115 and #241, feel free. Me, I'm inclined to do so, as I considered most of the stories done in that period pretty poor.
   Anyway, issue #241 finds Conan back in Arenjun, the City of Thieves and at least in Marvel Continuity, the location of the Tower of the Elephant. Robert E. Howard never named the city in the original story. I think Arenjun was coined by L. Sprague de camp and adopted by Roy.
   A decade has passed since Conan has been to the city and he finds that the citizens are still afraid to touch the ruins of the Elephant tower. Conan travels into the Maul and ends up in the very same tavern where The Tower of the Elephant begins. Not surprisingly a brawl breaks out. Conan is finishing up the brawl when Karenthes, a Priest of Ibis, whom Conan has met several times before, shows up and offers Conan a job escorting him to the rebuilt castle of the sorcerer Zukala where the priest is to officiate at a wedding. That's the stated reason anyway, but the priest isn't being upfront with Conan of course and action, chaos, and a meeting with yet another old acquaintance ensue.
   All and all, it looks like Roy Thomas was having a good time, pulling in elements from his earlier work on Conan and pretty much picking up where he left off. Penciler Gary Hartle, while no John Buscema, does a nice job of rendering Conan and company, though he seems to have trouble drawing horses. (So do I. Horses are hard to draw.) Overall, the art is solid and the visual storytelling satisfactory. Big John Buscema was doing the penciling over at the black and white Savage Sword of Conan, which Roy was writing as well, so it was possible to see the old team together again. I'll try and get around to talking about that in a future Savage Spotlight.
   So yeah, Roy was back and in fine form. As I mentioned before, I didn't read these comics in their original run, so for all intents and purposes this is 'New' Roy Thomas Conan for me. Not a bad thing at all.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Who's Next?


   If I had to pick a new Doctor from the current crop of up and coming British actors, I think I'd go with Aidan Turner (who's Irish, by the way. He was great as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and he's shown he can play serious, comedic, and action in Being Human and The Hobbit.

All Good Things...

  Well it's official. Matt Smith will be leaving Doctor Who after this year's Christmas special. I'd been hearing rumors for the last few weeks, but there are always rumors. But it's in the Telegraph this evening and now all over the net. I hate to see him go, because I've become very fond of his version of the Doctor, but all good things must end, as the saying goes. Read all about it, here:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/doctor-who/10093520/Matt-Smith-to-quit-Doctor-Who-after-Christmas-special.html

Sexton Blake: World Traveler

   The other day I was trying to explain to someone why Sexton Blake isn't a Sherlock Holmes clone. I'll offer these covers as further proof. Ever see Holmes travel out West to fight Owl-hoots or join the Foreign Legion? Blake was always about adventure as much as deduction. I love thse Union Jack covers.