Friday, February 27, 2009

Latest serialization installment goes live

This one has been up for a couple of weeks now, and I must admit to being a bit lax in updating here.  Part 10 of my speculative fiction serialization "In Search Of" has went live over at the burst culture blog 50YFN.  

If you've never checked this site out and you're a  fan of science fiction that is focused on character and thoughtful writing, go on over.  Monk Eastman, who started the whole thing, has really got a great place.  Recently, there've been fewer updates from writers, but hopefully if we can get the word out, more people will add their voice to this corner of the web. 

The thought behind the site is that people don't have a great deal of time to give over to some of the more relaxing hobbies they might like, and so all of the pieces going up at 50YFN (short for 50 Years From Now) are 1000 words or less to give readers a good chunk of story that can be digested in a short amount of time.  Of course, I've stretched that with my continuing story "In Search Of" and it's been one of the most enjoyable experiences of my short writing career (sideline?).  All the stories take place in an America fifty years from now and many of the offerings are greatly entertaining.  I would recommend you check it out.

But I've rambled enough and need to get to work shortly.  My latest piece can be found here.  And if you liked that, check out the links to the first nine parts in the sidebar.  and let me know what you think.   Feedback is always appreciated.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Some New Kind of Slaughter - check it!

So, the Harveys are coming uo, with the nomination process already begun. Some New Kind of Slaughter by mpMann and A. David Lewis is a mini-series deserving of recognition, and to facilitate creators' decision, Lewis is offering the first two issues available for free download at his site.

I had the opportunity to read the whole thing when I spotlighted it in my Pulse column. This is part of what I said:

Within this four-issue series from Archaia Studios Press, these two creators have brought together multiple flood myths from across the world – China, India, Australia, Africa, and the Americas – in order to create a compelling and emotional narrative that touches upon the most basic of human instincts – survival and acceptance. It is a creative use of ancient stories that sheds light upon the fears and desires of modern society through comics.

When I first learned of this series from artist
mpMann, I made the assumption that Slaughter would be an anthology, but that would have been the easy way out and not as entertaining. Instead of taking that route, Lewis and Mann chose to create one single narrative that ties in all of these myths. For a medium that seems to thrive upon the perpetuation of the status quo, this was certainly a gutsy decision to make, and readers should thank them for taking that risk.

What Lewis and Mann offer with Slaughter is an incredibly complex story that effortlessly moves in and out of these various tales. Although the first narrative jump could be jarring for readers, once they are aware of the intricate fashion in which this series has been crafted, they can settle in for an enjoyable and thought-provoking ride. The authors utilize both written and visual cues to help transition from one period to the next, and subsequent readings will offer readers a better understanding of the multiple depths hidden within this tale.

Some New Kind of Slaughter is another step forward for the comic medium, showcasing a complexity sorely lacking in most of the comics found on racks today. Co-written by Mann and Lewis, who live on opposite coasts, it is a testament to these two creators that the text reads seamlessly, and Mann’s artwork is again a wonder to behold. His pared down style evokes more emotion than a more “photo-realistic” artist might be able to. Not only is this a well-written book, but it is also a “pretty” book that fans of great storytelling will enjoy.

You should definitely check it out here. you won't regret it.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

I Hate It Here

So Chris has had this site up in running for some time, and while I've often checked in on it, I must confess I have yet to do a damn thing myself, selfish bastard that I am. I've got things to do dammit!

And right now that involves sitting in a small 6X8 room, wondering why I can't get myself to fall asleep. No, I'm not in prison, watching out for JK Simmons, I am at work.

I do direct care for a couple of fine gentlemen, and since my shift is a continuous three days, I find myself having to sleep in the staff room, which is just as uncomfortable as it sounds. Cinder blocks with not one, but two pieces of plywood form my bed. My pillow is whatever stale bread is left in the cupboard. Sometimes I fight small mice to the death for piece of mind. They want my pillow stuffings, and I simply cannot let that stand.

Most of the nights the house shuts down at 10Pm, which might as well be 10am for me. I'm not getting to sleep anytime soon.

I've done my best to occupy my time. Read books, watched cable television (a luxury I have not known for years) or best yet, tried to write. So far I'm failing miserably.

This is why I am being punished by my immune system. The 4olbs of snot, hacking cough, and what is most likely a Wilfred Brimley spider monster appearing in the corner is a direct result of me not holding up my end of the storytelling bargain I struck with an old man at the crossroads when I was a wee lad of 26. His parcel is past due, and he's striking at me through my anti-bodies, tricky little devil that he is.

Only thing to do is put pen to pencil, fingers to keys, and let the sickness slowly drain from my system and into you.

That sounds horrible.

But its true. Deal with it now, stock up on penecillan, band aids, and handy wipes to keep that oh so fresh feeling. From this point on, at least once a week from this sanitary bunker I will unleash upon you my thoughts, feelings, and story progessions.

Comic work to follow in 168 short hours.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

BACK MATTER RE-RUNS: Black Mane by Mike LaRiccia

Here's another piece that predates my current column at the Pulse, For Your Consideration, and which laid the groundwork for that series of pieces, which - if the heavens don't falter - should be returning on a regular basis THIS MONTH.

Mike LaRiccia's enthusiasm for comics is infectious, and if you get a chance to meet him at a convention you should take the opportunity to go up and talk with him. I was pulled to his table (at SPX 2006) by the sign that claimed he was a Xeric award winner. And thanks to this, he was offering his first volume of Black Mane for half price. How could I resist?

When I got home and had a chance to read it, I was certainly glad I'd picked it up. What follows is my thoughts on the book and Mike's unique art style, plus a short interview with Mike. Check it out, then check out his site. Since 2006, Mike has published his second volume of Black Mane and has also published the first issue of Satori with writer Matt Weber. Anyone, enough preamble. On to the column.

BLACK MANE by Michael V. LaRiccia

By trade, Michael LaRiccia is a printmaker, but he has held an affinity for the comic art form since he was young. With his Xeric-awarded graphic novel BLACK MANE, LaRiccia set forth to examine race and gender issues in America based upon his own experiences. Although a work of fiction, LaRiccia casts himself as well as friends and family within the book, giving the work a more authentic, autobiographical feel. He also frames the book in a non-traditional manner, eschewing a straightforward narrative with a conflicting protagonist and antagonist, and instead presents a variety of situations linked together by a day-in-the-life motif that forces the audience to ponder and examine these social issues on their own. It is an interesting approach in support of a worthwhile endeavor.

The idea for BLACK MANE comes from a recurring daydream LaRiccia would have in which he transformed into a black-furred lion creature that would mete out justice through imagined violence upon those from whom LaRiccia felt threatened or wronged. LaRiccia is an unassuming young man harboring the inhibitions and insecurities all people carry within themselves, and this recurring daydream allowed LaRiccia a release for his pent-up frustrations. Channeling those frustrations into this creative pursuit seems a natural next step, and a worthy response to the incivility that so often casts a long shadow over our daily lives.

Through the course of the book, the audience is witness to short vignettes in LaRiccia’s life. Involved in a mild fender bender, Mike is accosted by a frantic baseball-bat-wielding bigot. While eating lunch on a street corner he observes a young mother in a revealing sundress walking with her son, her bare ass on full display. Returning home he witnesses a neighbor viciously berating his girlfriend, and all Mike can do is clear his throat hoping his presence will forestall any violence. In these and other instances in LaRiccia’s book Mike often feels helpless, unsure of what to do, easing into the apathy commonly exhibited by others around him. Subsequently, his guilt takes form in dream sequences involving Black Mane as when his alter ego turns the baseball bat around onto the bigot from the car accident.

It is when Mike meets up with his old buddies from school for their annual hiking expedition that he discovers something very startling about himself. During the trek down from the summit one of them twists his ankle and Mike runs back to the car for the bandages left there. On his way back up the trail he is confronted by a rabid raccoon. Looking around, he realizes nobody else is there to assist and takes matters into his own hands, smashing the raccoon’s head in with a large rock. With this act not only comes the realization that he too is capable of violence, albeit in self-defense, but also a newfound empowerment that was noticeably absent before. This new self-assurance proves valuable the next time Mike is out at a club. Entering the men’s room he hears a woman being accosted by her “date” in one of the stalls and knocks on the door asking if everything is all right. When the guy is the only one to respond, Mike leaves to find a bouncer and explain the situation. By taking action – something he had not done previously – Mike not only helps out the woman, but he also takes the first step toward divesting himself of Black Mane.

I was terribly impressed with Michael LaRiccia’s honesty in BLACK MANE. Through his characters, LaRiccia speaks candidly about his insecurities, his uncertainty of how to handle uncomfortable situations – whether he has a right to step in, or whether they deserve what they get – and what exactly it means to be a human being. This openness is a courageous stance to take with this work, as LaRiccia does not shy away from revealing foibles and prejudices that could certainly turn off people reading BLACK MANE. But this truthfulness also allows readers to relate completely with his character, as the insecurities and the questions he grapples with every day are some of the very same insecurities and questions with which everyone else grapples. This allows BLACK MANE to resonate more with LaRiccia’s audience than if it had been lacking in those ugly truths that are aspects of us all. LaRiccia’s artwork also complements this story very well. He changes his style to fit the situation – clean, simple linework for “calm” scenes and wildly frenetic lines for Black Mane and characters with a proclivity to anger and violence – and his use of caricature for the facial features of those in duress really brings out the emotion in this work. His style is very individualistic and his voice is one worth listening to. For anyone searching for something new and different in the graphic narrative field, I must heartily recommend BLACK MANE by Michael LaRiccia.

AN INTERVIEW WITH Mike LaRiccia writer/artist of BLACK MANE

Chris Beckett:
BLACK MANE is obviously a very personal book for you where many of the situations and much of the dialogue is extremely honest, which could leave you open for criticism from some readers. Have you received any criticism, and how difficult was that for you to lay yourself bare like that?

Mike LaRiccia:
I don’t really consider how people will criticize the personal content in my work, especially while I am creating it. What I enjoy about creating art in general is the lack of restriction and I hope my comics convey that sense of openness and freedom. That being said, there were definitely responses to the book that have stayed with me. Members of my extended family were uncomfortable with many elements and one family member even told me I had disgraced the family name and that the book was disgusting. My fans have responded extremely positively and have only praised the honesty of it. The follow-up book will feature the same type of honest portrayal and I feel I have learned a lot since BLACK MANE in terms of looking inward so I believe many of the scenes in book two will resonate with my readers.

Chris Beckett:
Your art style for BLACK MANE comes across, in much of the book, as frantic or chaotic, which fits the story you are telling perfectly. Was this a conscious decision on your part of a serendipitous melding of style with story?

Mike LaRiccia:
BLACK MANE was one of those books that wrote itself and as it moved along the feeling of story and the situations dictated the visual language. I am not sure how other artists experience their work but when I draw a page depicting myself chained to a rock screaming at the top of my lungs, I mentally find myself in the situation and I reach that “serendipitous melding” of the written and visual language. I try to be sensitive to the emotion of the scenes I create and capture the mood visually utilizing all of the elements of the page.

Chris Beckett:
How did you develop your art style? Are you self-taught or have you taken classes, and if so, which ones did you find the most useful to you as an artist?

Mike LaRiccia:
When I was in high school I was a hardcore fan boy. I was obsessed with comic art and I intensely studied HOW TO DRAW COMICS THE MARVEL WAY. This period of my art education helped me develop my gesturing skills and a new sense of intuition, which was later broken down in college. In college I had the typical ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL experience and comics were not part of that equation. So I studied anatomy, composition, content, etc. I ended up going to Grad school and there I started to secretly develop my comic work and eventually I wound up where I am now. I like to think of myself as 40% Academically taught, 60% Comics taught. I would say the classes I took that really developed my style would be the classes that stressed ways of thinking rather than craft. If you are passionate and motivated in your work you’ll strive to get better and improve your craft, but it is the professor who sparks your mind to think in new ways that really contributes to the bigger picture and directs you out of stagnant periods that you may not have realized you were in.

Chris Beckett:
What is the most important piece of advice you would give to aspiring comic creators?

Mike LaRiccia:
Be real with yourself. Hold yourself to the highest standards. If you know your work looks amateur then get the ball rolling and practice. I see too many comic artists who have so much passion and drive but they haven’t developed their craft. They think it’s just their style but it really reflects a lack of ability. When you have reached a point where you can look at your work and say “All right, this looks professional,” then start thinking about connecting with other comics’ people. The community is so much more accessible than you think, especially with all of these conferences and internet sites like Comicspace. Get to know people and start to show people your work. Get the word out.

Chris Beckett:
What are your goals within the comic medium?

Mike LaRiccia:
I would like to continue creating comics that contribute to promoting social awareness. Ultimately I hope to be able to do this for a living. Also, like every fan boy, I would really like the chance to try some commercial work for the big two. Who wouldn’t want a stab at drawing the X-men or Wolverine and see it printed 50 thousand times?

Chris Beckett:
What other projects are you working on now, and where and when can people find these and other projects of yours?

Mike LaRiccia:
Presently I am focusing on the second book which will be titled, THE DEATH OF BLACK MANE AND THE FEARED SELF. Expect the first part to be released this summer. I have a short story in the upcoming FUTURIUS 3 anthology set to come out in December 07. I have a front-piece for TALES OF THE TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES which will be in the June issue. I am currently doing theater posters for the Steve Allen Theater in California. Those wanting to see previously published projects can see a short story in the sci-fi anthology ZEBRA MAG and obviously you can pick up a copy of BLACK MANE. My printmaking, illustration, and comic work can all be seen on my website