Friday, October 16, 2009


Here's the short piece I created for the 4th week of Elephant Words, the flash fiction website created by Nick Papaconstantinou where six creators conceive a new piece of short fiction each week based on a new image. The catch is that, on a rotating schedule, the writers need to have a new piece of fiction up every day of the week, so someone has only 24 hours to write their story while others have six days. It's pretty fun and a great challenge. You should definitely check it out. And before the story, here's the image from which it was inspired:

Keep out of Lake

The Lost
by Chris Beckett

Six children had gone missing in less than two weeks, all of them lost near Big Lake outside of Rumford. A sign warned against going in the lake, birthing its fair share of urban legends through the years, but it had apparently done no good.

The disappearances prompted the Bangor Daily to send a photog to Rumford, but the myths surrounding the lake relegated the assignment to one farther down the pecking order. That was where Darren Fletcher came in. He understood his laughable “role” at the paper, but was determined to make the most of this opportunity. After scouting the area in the daylight, Darren had returned near midnight thinking he could find it again easily.

“Aw, shit.” Mud oozed over his left foot, sucking his Teva into the soft earth. At least the moisture assured him he was close. Darren released his foot with a loud squoosh and took halting steps forward.

A scream from behind made him stop suddenly. He peered into the darkness for the source of the sound, but the clouds kept what little illumination available at bay.

“Eeehh.” A spider’s web stretched across his face. He clutched at his face, wiping harshly down each cheek. It took a couple of swipes before the tingle of gossamer threads retreated.

Once he’d finished clawing through his hair, a faint sound came to his ears. Isolated notes made it difficult to place, but it felt familiar somehow. Darren turned slowly to the left, following the faint notes. Zeroing in on the music, Darren caught a glimmer of light through the silhouetted trees.

Checking that his camera was still on his hip, Darren moved forward with more resolve. Walking quickly, he slashed wildly at the branches surrounding him. The lilting tones were clearer now, but he could still not place them. Pushing through the underbrush, Darren refocused on the light ahead. His heart raced.

“uh–” A sharp hiss of breath as a line of thorns raked across his calf. He thought they might have drawn blood but had no time to check.

Approaching the odd luminescence, Darren was now able to make out the local geography. The music was louder but still inscrutable.

“Shit.” Something buzzed Darren’s ear. A bat, maybe an owl, didn’t matter, he was sure his heart seized for a second. Leaves rustled up high as it alighted on a branch. Darren wiped his brow and took a deep breath. He held it for a moment, then let it out slowly. Release the balloon.

Darren moved more deliberately now – curious, anxious, his stomach clenching as he felt an urge to relieve himself. Pushing that down, he reached for a branch crossing his face and nudged it aside.



The light was blinding. He blinked furiously, willing his pupils to adjust. Finally, he looked up. His jaw dropped.

The lake was solid, but not frozen. Tiny waves rippled against the embankment. A group of children sat at picnic tables on the middle of the water. They were eating ice cream and playing “go fish.” Darren recognized four of the kids that had gone missing. The other two were turned away from him, but Darren knew they were numbers five and six.

They paid Darren no mind and were not those who greeted him. Behind the children, next to a brightly painted ice cream truck (the memorable jingle now audible) stood a group of animated teddy bears. They were apparently expecting Darren, beaming at him, as if anticipating some great feat of magic or dexterity.

Waving merrily, they motioned for Darren to join them.

He was at a loss. He looked down at his camera. Returned his gaze to the scene before him. Considered the most feasible reaction to such a situation. Disregarded that option. And then took one tentative step out onto the lake.

It held.

A smile came to his face as he took another step onto the water. Then a third and a fourth. Picking up his pace, Darren reached down with one hand and pulled out all the spare change he was carrying.


Friday, October 9, 2009

FYC replay: Larry Young's Black Diamond

For Your Consideration: The Black Diamond from Larry Young (writer) and Jon Proctor (artist)
By Chris Beckett

Astronauts in Trouble put Larry Young on the map, and made readers rethink our history in space. With his most recent addition to the AiT/Planet Lar line, ably assisted by artist Jon Proctor, Young puts his stamp on the near future and has fun doing it. Come in and check it out. It’ll be worth your time.

The 411:
The Black Diamond: On Ramp
Written by Larry Young
Art by Jon Proctor
32 pp. Color $2.95

The Black Diamond #1 (of 6)
Written by Larry Young
Art by Jon Proctor
32 pp. Color $2.95
AiT/Planet Lar

What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):

In 1999, Larry Young first came to prominence in the comics community with the publication of Astronauts in Trouble: Live from the Moon, which he created with artists Charlie Adlard and Matt Smith. Young initially shopped the idea for AiT, as it has come to be known, to a number of comic publishers but they all passed. So, confident in the strength of the work and wishing to get it out to the masses, Young published it himself. Naming his publishing house AiT/Planet Lar (you can figure that one out), Young eventually published two more chapters in the astronauts’ lives: Space 1959 and One Shot, One Beer. With the success of these books, Young decided to start publishing books by other creators like Brian Wood, Matt Fraction, Joe Casey, Becky Cloonan, Warren Ellis, Kieron Dwyer, and Fabio Moon with titles that include The Couriers, Giant Robot Warriors, Badlands, and Come in Alone.

One thing is certain, one can always count on an entertaining and quality read when picking up an AiT book, and this most recent addition – the first color book from the publisher – is no exception. The Black Diamond is set in the near future where, in his 2016 inaugural address, President Fulton promised to make the nation’s highways safe for everyone. His solution is The Black Diamond, an elevated superhighway set above the rest of the population; it is a place where there are no laws – one can pass on the right, drive 150 miles per hour, or travel singly in the car pool lane. Built in response to the rampant lawlessness on every street corner, the Diamond becomes a haven for those with a wild streak.

And it works, as the Diamond spawns its own subculture where mechanics are looked upon in the same manner sports stars are on the surface, where waitresses take the place of supermodels, and where shantytowns crop up in the breakdown lanes. High above the surface, away from prying eyes, those running wild on the Black Diamond experience life on the edge, never thinking about tomorrow, only living in the moment. It’s a brave new world, and if one has a muscle car, then life is very good.

It is within this near-future that Young tells his story. Doctor Don McLaughlin, a dentist living beneath the 8-lane highway, is a typical guy. He makes no trouble, obeys the laws, goes grocery shopping, and loves his wife. Life is simple. At least, life is simple until his brother-in-law R.J., a police officer, shows up with bad news – Don’s wife has been kidnapped.

In recent weeks, activity on the Black Diamond has gotten out of control, and the Army is taking it back, cleaning the elevated Autobahn with extreme prejudice and Don’s wife Kate has been taken in response to this new edict. Despite their simple life, his wife is a relatively famous woman. Kate’s father was the engineer who designed the Black Diamond, and somebody hopes that if they have her, the clean-up of the highway will cease. But nobody in authority is paying attention.

R.J. wants Don to go to Baltimore and find Kate. Don protests, but his brother-in-law will have none of it. He’s brought Don a 1973 V-8 Mercury Cougar that will get him across the country in record time as long as he goes up top. When he arrives in Baltimore, R.J. hopes to have discovered where Kate is, at which point they will figure out how to get her back. It’s not the best plan, but it’s the only one they have. Don hesitates for a second but slides into the Cougar, a plush ride complete with power windows and air conditioning – a ride that will get Don from ‘Frisco to Baltimore in style. But will he be too late?

This first issue of Larry Young’s and Jon Proctor’s The Black Diamond, along with the preview book On Ramp, released in 2005, are great reads. Young has completely thought his idea through, seeding the preview book with multiple story possibilities in setting up this brave new world that’s full of fast cars and faster death. The dialogue is crisp and entertaining, and he opens each book up with large panels and double-page spreads that shoot the story along at a break neck pace. Young smartly matches up the storytelling with the story in order to immerse his audience in the hectic, nail-biting, life or death world of The Black Diamond.

Young also knows how to slow things down, giving readers a glimpse into this world through the conversations, quiet and otherwise, between the characters. Whether the conversation between Don’s two assistants or the one he has with a young patient, they all flesh out this slightly off-center world while thrusting the narrative forward from first gear through to fifth.

Young’s partner in crime, Jon Proctor, utilizes an art style that is reminiscent of Tony Harris. Proctor evokes that photo-realistic look overlaid with the subtle fluidity of line that is a staple of Harris’s work. Though not as polished as the Ex Machina penciler, Proctor is still a fine artist whose style meshes well with the story set forth by Young. His storytelling is clear and he moves from wide shots to close-ups with ease, making sure never to cause these transitions to be jarring for readers. Proctor also does the coloring and adds a lot to the story with his palette. Scenes on the Diamond are drenched in a hot red, while those on the surface have a soft green or yellow tinge to them. It’s another great use of the comic page that enhances the dichotomy between life on the ground and life above.

This initial issue of The Black Diamond is a great opening chapter, setting up the story nicely while still managing to be entertaining in its own right. Young and Proctor work well together, producing a taut, fast-paced comic that is also fun to read – something missing in many comics today – and left me wanting more once I reached the end. I am anxious to see where Young and Proctor are taking readers and look forward to the possibility of more stories on the Black Diamond in the future.

For those of you who would like to know a little bit more about Larry Young, here are a few quick questions with the comic creator ... For Your Consideration.

Chris Beckett: Why comics? What is it about the medium that attracted you, not only as a creator but also as a publisher?

Larry Young: Why comics? Because I love the form. There're not too many artistic forms of expression that combine disciplines to make the whole greater than the parts while simultaneously sporting a pretty low barrier-to-entry. Words by themselves can tell a captivating, interesting, constructive entertainment... and pictures by themselves have a powerful mojo that was old before we came down out of the trees. Combine the two and you get a powerful narrative engine. Sure, at some level, film is a combination of words and pictures, but you need a piece of equipment, at the least. You need a camera, and film, and at least a grounding in the technology to get usable pictures and clearly spoken words from actors to drive your tale.

But all you need to have to create a comic is a piece of paper and a Sharpie. The only difference between a few pieces of typing paper folded in half with drawings and word balloons and the hardcover version of Watchmen is just a matter of scale.

So that answers "why comics?" as a creator... as a publisher, I suppose it's because of what happened to us when I was shopping around the first Astronauts in Trouble: I put together a five-page graphics-heavy teaser in order to get across the tone of the story I wanted to tell. I think it's not bad, really, considering there's only one piece of actual art in all of the five pages...

Many of the folks I sent the proposal to were very encouraging, including Jim Valentino, Bob Schreck, and Phil Amara. Many, though, basically said, "Look around; I don't know if you've noticed, but the comic book industry is in the crapper. Established veterans can't get gigs; why do you think we would publish your little astronaut confection?"

Mike Carlin of DC, bless his decrepit heart, finally came out and said, "You know, you'd be better off putting out this project yourself, than trying to get one of the big publishers to do it. The fact is, there's just nothing to put between your first and last names."

"What d'you mean, Mike?” I asked.

"You're an unproven talent in the marketplace," he said. "We'd have better luck selling your next project, when we can say "Larry Astronauts in Trouble Young" in the advance solicitations. Go the Kevin Smith route; the Robert Rodriguez route, and do it yourself."

So, I did. Creator by enthusiasm; publisher by necessity. Seems to have worked out so far.

CB: As you are the publisher at AiT/Planet Lar, how difficult is it for you to separate those responsibilities from your job as creator when you publish a book of yours?

LY: Well, it's two different sides of my brain, and two different parts of my personality, so it's not too hard to separate them. Writing comics is sort of schizophrenic, anyway, keeping characters and their traits and all in your head as you tell their stories, so it's not that big a deal for Larry the Writer and Larry the Publisher to coexist and work together, while there's a late 50s male anchorman, his early 30s female segment producer and their late 20s male cameraman still having adventures on the moon in my head. Not to mention the zombie dinosaur, the last vampire, the time-travel crew, and the invisible girl, or the various other cats all waiting in the wings for me to stop picking out paper stock and writing press releases and sending review copies to Nisha Gopalan and sit down and get their adventures on to the page. So, yeah. "Publisher" and "Writer" are just another two columns of responsibility on the Great Excel Spreadsheet of My Life.

CB: Following up on that, do you have somebody that reads over your stories, as an editor, or do you edit yourself? And, if the latter, how do you manage, again, to separate the two disciplines and read your own work critically?

LY: My very good friend, the writer Adam Beechen, always seems to be able to make time to take a pass at my scribblings and give me insightful notes that I almost always address, and AiT publisher Mimi Rosenheim is a valuable resource for making sure I pass the "This Doesn't Make Sense; Fix It" test. As she's not really a comics fan, sometimes I'll write a bit of dialogue or make a story-telling assumption that would pass muster to a comics fan but doesn't play in the real world for your regular fiction readers. And I have a tendency towards the flip comment to get out of a scene or to give my favorite character in the piece all the best lines, and she makes suggestions that smooth over that sort of thing.

CB: In your opinion, what is it that Jon Proctor brings to this series?

LY: Jon is a frankly amazing artist. His story-telling is clear while maintaining a core visual flair and a sense of style and rhythm that's just electric. After working on this project for so long, to say that I can sit down and just read the thing and it sings to me like I'm reading it for the first time, every time, is a testament to Jon's strengths.

And he's a bad-ass colorist.

CB: The Black Diamond seems rife with story possibilities. Do you have any other stories in mind revolving around the elevated highway?

LY: Actually, I have two other narratives in mind that might see the light of day sometime, but I'd guess Jon's going to be really busy with Big Four work after this comes out, so it may be a while. I do have to say that the end of Doctor McLaughlin's story doesn't do anything to alleviate some of the bigger political issues raised in the miniseries, so there's a follow-up story that writes itself, right there. And it is fun for me and Jon seeing stories like Dennis Culver's "Jet Swanson, A.S.E. (Automotive Service Excellence)" and Ken Lowery, and Benjamin and Marlena Hall's "That Old Time Religion" as back-ups in the Tales of the Black Diamond. It's neat seeing folks have fun in our sandbox.

CB: What other projects do you have in the works – whether as creator or publisher – and when can fans expect to see them?

LY: I unexpectedly had an idea while putting together baby furniture that lends itself to an ongoing story, but who knows if that'll ever see the light of day? It seems a little ambitious, even for me, what with the new human coming any day now, to try and tackle an ongoing monthly. I'm actually presently struggling with learning superior swaddling techniques and trying to understand what it is about Cheerios that infants find so appealing.

My guest appearance on LEGION OF DUDES

Jim Dietz, one member of the Legion of Dudes podcast, graciously asked me if I would like to be a part of their discussion of Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volume I, and I was more than happy to join them.

This past Monday, I joined Jim, Russell Latham, and Adam Umak on Skype for the talk and it went live Thursday. I don't know how much I added - not being a "talker" and such - but I had a good time. If asked back, I will definitely try to sound more upbeat and excited than my tone exuded in this episode.

You can check the episode out here, and if you haven't read this book yet, do so now. A superteam created from Victorian era literary characters. Fantastic. With beautiful illustrations from Kevin O'Neill and the typical greatness that is Alan Moore.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

more proof we were @ SPX

Not a full-on review, but over on the right of Sean Collins's picture of his SPX haul, those would be issues 2 and 3 of our little mag, Warrior27. Sean was very cool to talk to - a fellow COLD HEAT fan - and the "new action" panel he moderated with Frank Santoro, Ben Marra, Kaz Strzepak, and one other creator whose name escapes me right now, was very fun and really gave me (another) new perspective on making comics. All of these guys are hardcore indy artists, self-publishing their b/w comics, but they're all doing it for the love and excitement they found from comics in their youth. They pack a whole bunch of story and fun and violence and craziness into their books, and it reminded me that you don't have to be "artsy" in order to create independent comics, which is what we have been doing with Warrio27. But now, I want to try my hand at producing my own mini, but instead of riffing on fight comics I want to do the crazy, demented, mad scientist.

Dr. X here I come.


SPX 2009 report @ Legion of Dudes - extended edition


While down in Bethesda, Adam Umak, from the Legion of Dudes podcast was walking around the hall interviewing a variety of publishers and creators. Being a regular listener and "post"er on their forums, he was kind enough to come by the table and talk with me and with Matt Constantine, who also contributed to this year's issue.

You can check the podcast here. Matt starts in around 24:18 and I get to be near the end @ 1:08:55. it was very cool to meet Adam in person, and I have to give props to the guy. He's a smooth interviewer who manages to go with the flow of the conversation. And for the convention reports he's done on the HHW/LOD extended edition, the man has the best interstitial musical interludes. Check it out.