Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pompeii by Frank Santoro - Book of the year

This, for me, was the comic of the year.  Published by Picturebox, which will be shuttering its doors at the end of this month and is currently holding a 50% off everything sale (codeword: sale), this serves well as a culmination of a publishing collaboration between Santoro and Dan Nadel, who runs PBox.  (though one can hope they will work together at some point in the future, sooner rather than later, and yes, I am well aware they are both at

My first introduction to Santoro's work was Cold Heat - Nadel gave me the first four issues, along with the first couple 1-800-Mice, at MoCCa fest 2007, when I was just starting out as a "comics journalist" - and, upon my first glance through the comics, I was nonplussed by the art.  When I finally read those comics, though, I discovered my first assumption was completely and utterly wrong.  This was an engaging book that spoke directly to me, and I had to have more.  Pompeii is no different.  

Santoro works in a very "simplistic" style, choosing not to define his characters with incessant cross-hatching or photoshopped color effects.  Instead, he focuses on the core of his characters, using the bare minimum of lines to delineate his images.  And with Pompeii he went even further, utilizing thin pencil lines with occasional ink wash, as well as keeping in some of the initial linework that can act as a shadow of movement for a given figure.  This spare use of lines and dearth of detail imbues the story with a rough quality that propels readers through the story and reflects the mood of a given scene, while also reaffirming one of the themes of the book - that of artists and their relationships with their artistic creations. 

Pompeii also tackles the broad theme of love, offering varying interpretations of that word, and Santoro manages to introduce the complexity of such a topic through these various relationships, showcasing myriad facets of what we call love through the interactions of the characters.  Under the pencil and brush of Santoro, we get very real, and some very tender, moments that all too often are ignored in popular entertainment, whether that be comics or books, television or film, and it elevates Pompeii to a wholly different level, to my mind.  

Dash Shaw made a very astute observation about Santoro's work in Pompeii.  He noted that "[t]he characters' faces are all 100% real and expressive in a way that's absent in nearly every other comic I've ever read.  Most cartoon characters' faces are made out of cardboard.  The people in Pompeii actually seem to have a soul behind their eyes."  I had forgotten about this quote until I finally got a chance to read the book.  And halfway through, I realized I was noticing a similar thing and remembered Shaw's remark.  He nails one of the things that speaks to me in Santoro's art - there is a soul behind his characters' eyes, and it is that, among so many other aspects of his work, that really tugs at my heart when I read a Frank Santoro comic.  Pompeii is no different.  COMIC OF THE YEAR, in my humble opinion.  Either get it through Copacetic Comics, where you can get a copy of Santoro's Blast Furnace Funnies as well, or go to Picturebox and get it for half off.  You will not be disappointed.

- chris

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Times-Picayune spotlights New Orleans by Gaslight

The Times-Picayune has a piece on their site that spotlights New Orleans by Gaslight, the steampunk anthology that includes my short voudou steampunk tale, "You Gotta Give Good."  I am very happy to be a part of this anthology, which has steampunk prose and poetry revolving around the city of New Orleans.  It's been getting some good reviews and is available on Amazon.

To read the Times-Picayune piece click the link.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Baltimore in the rear view - being the 2nd part

My summation of the recently completed Baltimore Comic-con, where I, along with Dan & Matt, exhibited for the first time.  Sales weren't as brisk as we would have liked, but does that mean it was an unsuccessful convention?  Click the link and find out.  [spoiler: it was a good show, as a fan and aspiring writer]



Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Baltimore in the rear view - being the 1st part

Over at In the Mouth of Dorkness, I offer a personal retrospective on the recent Baltimore Comic-con.  In this first part, I write about how it was, as a fan, for me to return to the Baltimore show after ten years.  Spoiler:  it was a pretty good show.

Look for part 2 soon.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Finally, a John Wayne "4-pack" I can get behind

I grew up during the advent of WTBS - the Superstation!  They showed a lot of classic films, and among those classics was a strong helping of John Wayne films.  These were movies my father and I would watch together.  As a result, I became a devoted fan of the Duke, even enrolling in the John Wayne collection of VHS tapes.

Then things shifted, and VHS tapes fell out of favor with DVDs taking precedence.  I became a father - an adult, one would hope - and fiscal priorities shifted (mortgage, children's clothing, comic books) so that my DVD collection is spare (I prefer curated, but it's all semantics).  I've added a couple of John Wayne films I found cheap - The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Red River - and I would check out those 4-packs always offered at Target or W**-***t.  But those always included a lesser war film or The Wake of the Red Witch or some of the oaters Wayne did before breaking through to stardom.  So I never bought one.

Until I saw this one a few weeks back.

The Sons of Katie Elder - the first John Wayne film to become my favorite.  I loved this movie, the comedy with the youngest brothers, Dean Martin's charm, and the introduction of Wayne in the opening of the film, along with the standard shoot 'em up.

El Dorado - Wayne and Mitchum together?  I'm in.  I've seen this a number of times, though it has been years (decades, most likely) since I last watched it.  I can't remember much of the plot; I just know I enjoyed it.

The Shootist - an aging gunfighter (John Wayne) comes to town to get a second opinion from a doctor he trusts (Jimmy Stewart) to confirm that he has "a cancer" that will kill him in a painful manner.  So, Wayne's character decides to go out in a hail of gunfire rather than quietly.  With Lauren Bacall, Richard Boone, and Ron Howard.  This was a fitting end to Wayne's career.

The Searchers - regarded as Wayne's best film, with revered director John Ford, and hailed as his best performance, this is a revenge tale that shows Wayne in a darker light, one that was never explored by the star in any of his other films, that I can recall.  Everything that's been said about this film is spot on.  It's a classic that transcends the genre and should be seen by any fan of film, let alone westerns.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

"Big Man," by Gary Fitzgerald & myself, now available!

The short story I wrote for Red Stylo's Frankenstein anthology is now available digitally.  With art, colors, and lettering by Gary Fitzgerald, this is a story I'm really proud of.  Check it out here.


Friday, September 6, 2013

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Baltimore Comic-Con Preparation - The Final Part

Over at In the Mouth of Dorkness, I finally wrap up my short series on preparation for exhibiting at Baltimore Comic-Con this weekend.  It can be found HERE.

I hope the four of you who read it gained some valuable insights from them.  Thanks to Matt & Brad for allowing me to play in their "dork field," and we'll hopefully be posting about the show over the weekend.

take care,

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Dustin Harbin - thoughts on exhibiting at conventions

Dustin Harbin is a funny guy who knows his way around comic books.  He used to work at Heroes Aren't Hard to Find and was integral in the preparation of Heroes Con while there - a show I need to attend at some point.  He's also a great cartoonist whose Diary Comics have been published by Koyama Press.  And the man loves Frank Herbert's DUNE and did an online book discussion a few years back, which I participated in - that was a blast.

So, he knows his stuff.  And, with Baltimore Comic-con looming on my horizon, I thought it would be wise to share some of his thoughts on exhibiting at conventions, creating your own mini-comics (including thoughts on pricing).  Here are a couple of links:

First, a blog post from Harbin after his time exhibiting at last year's Small Press Expo.  I'm stealing his "take a picture of my table set up" for our time at Baltimore this weekend.  It's a great idea (and can be found toward the end of his piece)

Second, here's an interview he did with Jim Rugg & Jason Lexx for their "Tell Me Something I Don't Know" podcast.  In this, Harbin gets into the nuts and bolts of creating mini-comics, including some pretty specific thoughts on pricing, which make complete sense but were things I was ignoring in my earlier times at conventions.

Definitely check these out, even if you aren't someone creating his or her own comics and exhibiting at conventions.  It's still a fascinating read and discussion, respectively.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Baltimore Comic-con -- We're bringing some books to the show!

Dan and I, along with "Mouth Dork" hosts Matt & Brad, will be at Baltimore Comic-con this weekend, and we're bringing some books.  Here's a quick rundown:

-  Mainelining is the over-arching title for my series of chapbooks that include one short comic story and one short prose story written by me (with the exception of volumes 2&3, which encompasses my 20,000 word novella, "In Search Of").  Between 24 and 28 pages, these are stories that have been published in Warrior27 as well as through other publishers like Dark Recesses Press, Black Tome Books, Ape Entertainment, and Top Shelf Publications.  

- Warrior27 - the comics/prose anthology that Dan and I started in 2005.  We'll have three issues there, with comic and prose stories as well as interviews with key comic people such as Chris Staros and Gary Groth. With more pages than your typical Marvel/DC book, at 3 bucks each, they're a steal.  [and Indie Comics Horror #1 is 48 pages of horror comic stories set in space, ancient Rome, and all points in between, including my story, "Minister to the Undead," with art by Dan Lauer]

-  Reading Watchmen - my 87,000-word examination of Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons's seminal graphic novel, in 3 handy volumes.  If you love Watchmen, or are just curious about what "all the fuss" is about, give these a try. And if you want a taste of what this entails, check out our sister site.

-  New Orleans by Gaslight is the steampunk anthology in which I placed my story "You Gotta Give Good."  You'll find many more great stories and poems set in a steampunk-era New Orleans inside, as well.  

-  Warrior27: the Collection.  256 pages of all the best bits from our original issues, along with new and never-before-seen stuff, including interviews with Bryan Talbot and Joe Quesada (only a year into his tenure as EIC of Marvel) and teases of stories we're working on.  You can get the physical copy or the digital, in both cbz and pdf form.

Hope to see you there.


Monday, September 2, 2013

Baltimore Comic-Con preparation - the second part

Over at In the Mouth of Dorkness, I do a very brief overview on:

-  getting artists to draw your stories
-  learning to letter your own stories
-  formatting your books, especially if you include prose, like me
-  some artistic advice regarding covers
-  brief thoughts on branding yourself

And a bunch of other stuff.  It's pretty bare bones, as these topics could take up thousands of words, if you wanted to get into the real nitty-gritty of it all.  but there are links to places that will help expand your knowledge on the topics at hand, and it gives you a good jumping off point to get your own comics, and comics writing portfolio (read:  printed copies of your stories, drawn and lettered, NOT just the scripts).

You can check it out HERE.  And, again, take a while to browse the site.  Matt & Brad are doing some great stuff at the "Mouth," and if you like all things geek and sundry, you'll enjoy the site.


Saturday, August 31, 2013

MAINELINING @ Baltimore Comic-Con

I've managed to get a few stories published this past year, and I'll have them at Baltimore Comic-Con next weekend. 

First, I had a short supernatural story included in the inaugural issue of Indie Comics Horror, from Aazurn publishing. 

Then, this spring, I placed my first short prose story in a print publication - "You Gotta Give Good" was my first attempt at a steampunk story, with some voudou thrown in for good measure, and was part of the anthology, New Orleans by Gaslight.

Coming this fall, I have another short comic story, drawn by Gary Fitzgerald, that will be part of Red Stylo's Unfashioned Creatures anthology, based on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.  I'm very excited for this to be published and I will have a preview at the table along with including it in my Mainelining "portfolio" edition for editors and prospective artistic collaborators. 

And there are some other exciting things happening that I'd rather not jinx.  But hopefully in a month or so I'll have something else, very exciting, to announce. 

Hope to see you in Baltimore.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Baltimore Comic-Con: Here's where we'll be.

In a little over 10 days, Dan, Matt, Brad, and I will be in Artist's Alley at the Baltimore Comic-con.

Table A301.  Click the map for a larger image.

Hope to see you there.


Monday, August 26, 2013

Baltimore Comic-Con Preparation - the first part

So, now that the anticipation's out of the way, it's time to start thinking seriously about exhibiting at next month's Baltimore comic convention (less than two weeks away as I write this).  And that means getting your table ready.  Over at In the Mouth of Dorkness, I wax rhapsodic (though it may be more of a dueling banjo thing than a rhapsody) about getting your presentation "up to snuff."  Some topics of interest:

-  displaying your books
-  extras like pins and prints
-  artists' advice
-  color schemes
-  wire racks
-  banners
-  tablecloths (yes, tablecloths!)

Go check it out, HERE, and then roam around the place.  Matt & Brad are legitimate dorks and the wide range of geek topics on the site is kind of impressive.  And then come back in a few days for the next part, where I delve into getting your books ready for the show.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Baltimore Comic Con anticipation

So, I wrote the first of 5 (maybe more) pieces for the upcoming Baltimore Comic Con over at the "Mouth of Dorkness" blog, run by friends and compatriots, Brad & Matt.  In this first installment I talk about:

-  going to Baltimore 10 years ago
-  pretentious authors
-  Harlan Ellison (not to be confused with the previous segment in this list)
-  Who I hope to meet at the show
-  The separation between fan and "professional"
-  and other stuff.

Check it out, here.  And I'll be back soon enough to talk about preparing to exhibit at a comic convention.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

New Comic Story coming, with art by Gary Fitzgerald

The first of this year I answered an open call for submissions to Red Stylo's Unfashioned Creatures anthology, asking for stories revolving around the characters and themes of Mary Shelley's classic novel, Frankenstein.  And, with the help of the editor, Enrica Jang, I crafted an 8-page story that I am very happy with and something that I feel is the best comic story I've written, to date.  Getting Gary Fitzgerald, who worked with Caryn Tate on her western series, Red Plains, was a proverbial "cherry on the top."

The book will be available this fall, but leading up to the publication of the anthology, Red Stylo will be rolling out the short stories for digital download at their main site - 3 stories plus bonus material every two weeks from August 28 - October 31 (here's the schedule).  And it looks like the story I did with Gary will be available on September 11.  I'm very excited for this, and to whet your appetite, here is a detail from the first page of "Big Man," with art, letters, and colors all by Fitzgerald.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

GENIUS by Steven T. Seagle & Teddy Kristiansen

I’ve raved about this book on Twitter, tumblr, and facebook, since reading it a few days ago.  But I still felt too constrained within those venues to properly get across what I feel should be one of the front-runners for next year’s Eisner awards for best graphic novel – and let’s not forget Steven T. Seagle for best writer and Teddy Kristiansen for best artist, okay?  GENIUS, published by First Second books and created by the duo that also brought us It’s a Bird…, which I finally read last year and was equally impressed with, is a great, great book.


This book doesn’t necessarily break new ground within the medium or the broader storytelling milieu.  Seagle & Kristiansen are not playing with the structural aspects of comics (or graphic storytelling, if you must) in the manner that Moore & Gibbons did with Watchmen; they aren’t crafting stories within an emerging genre of the comic field as Will Eisner successfully managed with his original graphic novels (success predicated on his skill and those failed attempts of giants before him who tried to break from the confines of the superhero genre); they aren’t breaking away from “accepted” stylistic choices in the way Michael DeForge or Chuck Forsman currently are doing; and there isn’t necessarily the experimentation that can be found in their Vertigo graphic novel, It’s a Bird…, where Kristiansen incorporated a different artistic approach with every chapter.  What they do pull off, though, is a masterfully told story that engages, surprises, offers important truths, and sticks the ending in as successful a manner as I have experienced in a long, long time.

The main protagonist of this narrative, Ted Halker, is a brilliant physicist, a genius who works for an elite research and development lab.  Ted has always been smart, jumping multiple grades in elementary school because he was so far ahead of the rest of his classmates.  His life has always revolved around science, around learning, around pushing toward a better understanding of the universe and how our lives impact, and are impacted, by the universe and its secrets – secrets that are Ted’s livelihood. 

But, ultimately, Ted’s life has revolved around Einstein, though it might be more appropriate to say his life has lived within the shadow of Einstein, as have the lives of every other physicist to follow this giant of the field.

Ted is older, as the story begins, with two children, a loving wife who offsets his typically aloof approach to relationships with a cynically enjoyable worldview, and a good job.  But it has been far too long since Ted has had any “great ideas,” which is a problem for him.  Younger associates are making the important discoveries that earn them a dinner with the boss, while Ted continues to hit dead-end after dead-end, following paths that never pan out.  He can feel his age weighing him down.  Ted needs something, some insight or workable theory, to keep his place within the lab, and this tension only adds to his emotional distance at home, despite his best efforts.

And things at home are complicated as well.  There’s the awakening sexuality of his teenaged son, Aron, his wife’s emotional needs, and the father-in-law, Francis Christmas, who hates him and wishes his daughter had never married him.  But Ted also discovers that his father-in-law was once a bodyguard for Einstein, for a few weeks back in 1933.  And Francis claims to have been given a secret by the famed physicist, a secret that was never shared with anyone else.  This is something that, if true (and Ted is suspect of the claim’s veracity), could change things for him at work. 

And then a tumor is discovered behind his wife’s eye. 

All these stresses intertwine, wrapping tightly about Ted as he struggles to see the way forward.  He becomes irrational in his desire to learn the secret from his father-in-law, anxious to keep the paycheck and the insurance that his family, and his wife, need so badly.  It’s ugly, and a bit scary, how urgently he pursues this secret, emotion burning in him like he’s never experienced. 

It all races toward a climax that cannot succeed.  Everything hinges on this secret of Einstein’s – a fragile thread that could easily snap under the weight of life and the obstacles being thrown at Ted and his family.  It’s breath taking.   What will happen?  How will their lives be altered?  Will this family succumb to the struggles of life, or will they be able to persevere – a possibility that appears far too distant and unlikely, as the pages flash forward toward the end.

How can Seagle and Kristiansen possibly manage to pull this ending off?   It seems insurmountable, as one fast approaches the climax.  And then…

…these two artists pull it off perfectly, with an ending that makes sense, does not feel like a cheat, and is satisfying on every level.

I should also note that, from an artistic point of view, Kristiansen has once more created a beautiful book that should be seriously considered for an Eisner next year.  His palette is subdued, befitting the themes of the book, and his storytelling is clear and expressive and inventive when needed, with overlapping images and splashes of color that add so much to the overall feel of the book.  He’s a master artist, and I love how singular and distinctive his art feels on the comic page.  And when he gets to work with material that’s as good as this (and, if you haven’t yet, check out other books from him, especially those done in collaboration with Seagle), it’s something truly special.

I’ve been unable to stop thinking about this book since I turned the final page a few days back.  I write, and when something is as good as this I want to know how it works.  I want to pull it apart and see what the creator(s) did to craft something that is so damn good.  And I think, in my final analysis, the brilliance of this book comes from the fact that the creators convince their audience, through the first 100+ pages, that GENIUS is about one thing – with ancillary scenes seemingly included to add verisimilitude and emotional weight – but once one reaches the end, it becomes evident that, all along, this book was about something else entirely.  And all of those small, “insignificant” scenes peppered throughout the book – all the “little things,” which is a recurring piece of dialogue – retroactively become the foundation upon which Seagle and Kristiansen built this narrative.  It’s amazing.

Seek this book out.  Buy it.  Read it.  Savor it.  And then read it again.  It’s that damn good.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Ultimate Marvel Team-Up - mixing fun with your superheroes

I don't buy any monthly comics from the "Big 2" (Marvel and DC) anymore and have not for a few years now.  And I buy very few collections, if any (mainly I will borrow things through the library, but I did break down and get the Kirby Kamandi omnibi and will indeed be getting the new Sandman series by Neil Gaiman & JH Williams III).  The reasons for this require a longer posts - or series of posts - but I don't feel like going into that right now, so let's just call this a preamble and get on with it.

Superheroes are supposed to be fun. Sure, there's room for angst and gritty and serious (just like there's room for tropical and wild berry and tart-n-tangy in the Skittles family), but there's a sense of wonder that is built into the genre and is part of what makes it distinct, in my opinion.  And that sense of wonder is part of why I read superhero comics, and part of why I was, and am, more a DC guy than a Marvel guy.

That said, one of the comics from the past decade that I find myself returning to, and a run I finally completed at last year's CGS Super Show, is Ultimate Marvel Team-Up (surprise! you never saw that coming, did you?).  I bought the first 8 issues off the rack, when they were first published, and have no idea why I did not keep up with the series, at the time.  But it is great.

Initially, I was drawn to the series because of the run of artists on the book - open with Matt Wagner, followed by Phil Hester & Ande Parks, then Mike Allred, Bill Sienkiewicz (SIN-KEV-ITCH!), John Totleben, et al. - but I was also a fan of Bendis's having read some of his early crime books as well as some short stories in Negative Burn.  And this book gives me what I want from a superhero comic - wall to wall fun (I think that Sienkiewicz mini-run is probably rather dour, but Bendis would still have Ultimate Peter Parker throwing quips along with webs).  Bendis is just having a blast with these stories and the art is phenomenal.  All of the artists bring their A-game, and the diverse styles only add to the luster of this series, for me.  

Ultimate Marvel Team-Up is a premiere book, and it's too bad it stopped publication before its time.  Though, maybe that's a good thing, because the 16 issues + special are some stellar examples of good, fun superhero comics.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Write a story with Neil Gaiman

As part of Neil Gaiman's publicity tour for his new novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Gaiman provided the opening line of a story to the Guardian and asked readers to finish the story.  This was the line:

It wasn't just the murder, he decided. Everything else seemed to have conspired to ruin his day as well. Even the cat.

I thought it was a great stunt but did not plan to offer my own (I was working on something else that day).  But once that germ of an idea had set its hooks into my brain, the idea of not writing something soon vanished.

It's funny how a lot of ideas, bits of dialogue, and other pieces of my writings come to me while my mind is focused on another thing entirely.  Which I take as a good sign because it means that my mind is always working on these stories, even when I'm not conscious of it.

Anyway.  Here was my contribution:

It wasn't just the murder, he decided. Everything else seemed to have conspired to ruin his day as well. Even the cat.

That damn cat, which was how Gil had come to address the third wheel of their domestic bicycle. It wouldn’t stop licking his face or swatting at the blaze orange tie Deirdre had gotten him. She’d been so excited; told him once she spied it in the window she had to get it for him; wrapped it in sparkly paper and offered it as a 6-month anniversary gift.

Looking back, he could see that had been the first sign. A 6-month anniversary – it frustrated the entire meaning of the word, from the Latin annu, meaning yearly, meaning not every six months.

And blaze orange. That was a winning color.

Subsequent signposts on the road to unhappiness had built up exponentially, like the Fibonacci sequence or that video game he’d played as a kid, Tetris. Built up until they’d formed a metaphorical pyramid of Giza.

Signposts Gil had actively ignored.

The damn cat should have been the last straw. Deidre knew of his allergies, and still she’d invited the stray into their home. “Only for a few days, until its strength is up,” she’d said. Days had turned to weeks and then months until it welcomed itself into their bed evenings, and Gil had moved to one of the guest rooms.

It was all obvious now, looking back over the previous three years. Three years. Had they only been married three years?

Seemed longer.

The biggest surprise had been the fact that Deirdre, figuratively speaking, had been the one to actually pull the trigger –

And another piece locked into place. No wonder his wife enjoyed those crime and legal dramas on television so much. They’d been research.


At least it had been painless. Gil could thank her for that. No doubt the poison would be hard to trace, as well. Which gave him time to properly figure this ghost thing out. And on the bright side, Gil finally had an answer about the afterlife.

He smiled, picturing the weeks ahead invisibly tormenting his now-widowed Deirdre. And that damn cat, too. It was, perhaps, the best revenge of all.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Redressing an error: TOMBSTONE (in the top 5 Westerns)

I wavered on this one yesterday, when I posted my top 5 westerns.  Ultimately, I originally went with Unforgiven at #5.  But when it was brought up to me on the FB, by my friend (not just virtual, either) Ben Roberts, that maybe I'd gotten this wrong, I considered his argument ("Tombstone is a better film than Unforgiven," if I may paraphrase) and decided he was right.

#5 - Tombstone
Not only is this one hell of an action-packed western.  Not only do we have serious shoot-em-ups and idealized, if flawed, larger-than-life characters and revenge and a femme fatale and scenes that will just sweep you up, toss you around, and then drop you where you lay, but this movie is also full of heart.  Not just a classic western with a contemporary sensibility, Tombstone also says something about family, about friendship, and about the lengths one will (should) go for these bonds that should be the most important things in our lives.

I haven't seen this movie in a long time.  I believe I need to change that soon.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

My Top 5 Westerns

EDIT:  1, 2, 3, 4, 6?!?  What happened to #5, you might ask.  See the post that follows this one for the explanation, because "justice is coming."

Last month I offered up my top 3 casts in a western.  Then, as the Lone Ranger opened in theaters, with Johnny Depp as Tonto (?), my friends at In the Mouth of Dorkness offered up their top 5 westerns:   Matt  Brad.  So, of course, I must follow suit.

I grew up as WTBS, the Super Station!, was first starting its broadcasting.  It carried a lot of old westerns, and a lot of John Wayne westerns.  I was hooked and have been unable to shed that nostalgic sense of awe to truly come around to Clint Eastwood as THE iconic western actor.  I recognize his contribution, but the mythic, almost super-heroic, quality of the western, especially the John Wayne western, is so infused into my DNA that I have to just roll with it.

That said, and with my bias firmly in my sights, I offer my top 5 westerns of all time.

#6 (that's right, SIX)- Unforgiven
The western given a modern bent that, for many, portrays a more honest representation of the times.  This is Clint Eastwood, along with Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, & Richard Harris, creating a distinct coda to his "Man with No Name" films, as he maneuvers through the wilderness he helped bring about, as an old man with all the weight of regret and missed opportunities that entails.  An amazing story that is also a wonderful
commentary on the western film as a mythical "object," this is a timeless classic that rewards with each new viewing.

#4 - Once Upon a Time in the West
Sergio Leone. Charles Bronson. Jason Robards. Claudian Cardinale.  And Henry Fonda, as one of the most unfeeling and vicious villains in all of western cinema - mainly a result of the fact that this was HENRY FONDA, coupled with the insistence of Leone (when Fonda showed up unshaven and with contacts to hide his baby blue eyes for the first day of shooting) that he wanted HENRY FONDA, clean-shaven, blue-eyed, and handsome as his villain.  This is epic filmmaking at its best with a very personal, human story underlying the whole thing to give it a resonance so often lacking in many films.

#3 - The Searchers
John Ford and John Wayne are a legendary filmmaking director/actor duo, and their specialty was the western.  And this is their most brutal, most honest, and best film within their oeuvre.  Wayne is relentless and unforgiving in his quest to find his young nieces, kidnapped by a Comanche tribe.  The end resonates with questions long after the final credits roll, its ambiguity of character symbolized by Wayne's homage to early western star, Harry Carey, as in the final scene, silhouetted by the cabin doorway, Wayne holds his right elbow with his left hand before fading away.

#2 - The Magnificent Seven
Hollywood took one of the greatest films (Seven Samurai) of Akira Kurosawa, considered by many to be the greatest film director of all time, and transferred it to the American west.  And with Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, James Coburn, Eli Wallach, et al. they managed to create an equally compelling film here.  From the opening scene, which reveals Brynner and McQueen's characters with very little dialogue, to the final shootout, this is a great film in the grand tradition of the western genre.

#1 - Lonesome Dove
Yes, it was made for TV, but it was not a regular series like Stagecoach or Gunsmoke, back in the day, nor was it a long-form TV series like Deadwood (which would garner the top spot, easily, if it were eligible within the specific and fluid guidelines I have in my mind)

Honorable mentions:  Tombstone, Red River, Appaloosa (Viggo Mortensen & Ed Harris, come on), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Posse (has, perhaps, the greatest "high noon" shootout I've seen), The Proposition, The Man From Snowy River, and Young Guns.


Friday, July 5, 2013

Finally - Queen & Country news

This is just a quick post, but I caught a tweet pointing to an interview Greg Rucka did with the New York Post's Parallel Worlds blog where Rucka divulged that Tara Chace would be returning next year, in comic form, from Oni Press

Queen & Country is one of my all-time favorite series - crossing over from comics into three novels, written by Rucka - and I cannot wait to see where Chace is at, emotionally, when the series returns.  Do yourself a favor, if you haven't already, and read these books now.  They are some of the best spy fiction you will ever read, regardless of medium. 

I plan on doing a big re-read, and will be writing about it here, as we draw closer to release of the new books.  Until then, go read some Rucka.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

J.H. Williams III, the Sandman, oh & Neil Gaiman

Many were excited with the announcement of a new Sandman story from writer Neil Gaiman and artist-extraordinaire, JH Williams III.  Just as vocal (if, as I believe, smaller in number) were those decrying this "Before Sandman" story, riffing off the "Before Watchmen" series of series that were receiving much internet flack during the same general timespan.  Come on, it's the internet.  It's what we do in our "virtual" personae - vent and rage at things we've not read/seen/understood/bothered-to-even-glance-at.  Well, some of us (and I have done my small share of that, yes, so I am not vindicated by my scorn of this tactic).

Anyway.  Williams has revealed his cover for the first issue.  It's #$%&ing gorgeous!  Wow!

Despite my feelings regarding DC and Marvel (which is a post I need to get to soon), I will be buying the hell out of this series.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Best cast in a TV or Film Western

I think this idea came from my introduction to The Rockford Files a week or so ago.  Somehow, this show had escaped, but I can change that now, thanks to the magic of Netflix.  From there, my mind jumped to the question of TV Stars - legitimate, big-time, TV stars.  Of course, that's not necessarily an objective question.  Spurred by the query of whether James Garner was one of these stars, my mind immediately thought of Peter Falk (Columbo is all he needs), Michael Landon (for 30 years he was a star, or co-star, in 3 legitimate hits - Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie, and Highway to Heaven), and Robert Urich (who may be the odd man out, since he only truly had one successful show, Spenser for Hire, but he was on a string of series, every single year, from 1975 with S.W.A.T. to 1993 with It Had to Be You, and even after that he could always be found on TV).

Anyway, from there I started thinking about some of my favorite westerns, and the insanely good casts in these.  Consider (at #3):

Young Guns

You can read it, but just consider - Emilio Estevez, Charlie Sheen, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Kiefer Sutherland, not to mention Terence Stamp and John Wayne's son, Patrick, in a cameo role.  Great film.  Great cast.

Then, at #2:

The Magnificent Seven

The source material for this film is well chosen - Akira Kurosawa's brilliant film, Seven Samurai - but the casting for this movie was incredible.  The leads were well-known box office draws at the time, Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, and that would probably be enough.  But a couple of actors who would become stars were also part of this film, James Coburn and Charles Bronson (both of whom had been working steadily in TV for a number of years, but probably would have numbered this as one of their big breaks).  then there was the man who would be the "Man from U.N.C.L.E." Robert Vaughn.  And, lest we forget, the great Eli Wallach played the villain in this movie.  Great, great film with an amazing cast.

But there is one western which has a more stellar cast, and holds a deeper place in my entertainment heart, than the Magnificent Seven, and that is Lonesome Dove.

There were some "heavy hitters" in the other two films noted above. But Lonesome Dove, a brilliant TV mini-series adaptation of Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer prize-winning novel, is weighted down with talent and the hardware to back it up.

First, the Academy Award winners - Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, Anjelica Huston, & Chris Cooper
Then there are the rest - Diane Lane, Robert Urich, Rick Schroder, D.B. Sweeney, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Frederic Forrest, and William Sanderson.

That's an amazing cast.  And it's an amazing 6 hours of film that never feels lagging.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Marvel & their Trademarks - 1980s style

So, I've been reading through my old G.I. Joe comics.  When I came across this house ad for the
Marvel Super Heroes™ Secret Wars™ toys, drawn by Mike Zeck.

I circled every instance - I believe - of the use of the TM emblem to denote trademark, all of which are also noted in the indicia at the bottom of the ad.

There are 27 TMs throughout this one-page ad.  And, if you don't want to strain your eyes, they're for:

  • Marvel Super Heroes
  • Secret Wars
  • Doctor Doom
  • Marvel Super Villains
  • Kang
  • Doctor Octopus
  • Magneto
  • Captain America
  • Spider-Man
  • Iron Man
  • Wolverine
  • Doom Roller
  • Turbo Cycle
  • Tower of Doom
  • Secret Shield (note: NOT Secret Decoding Shield, which must have already been trademarked????)
It brought a smile to my face, so I thought I'd share.


Friday, May 31, 2013

Childhood Memories: Spider-Man's Black Costume Saga

I started collecting comics in the mid-1980s, and like most adult fans, that period of time when I first discovered the hobby is my Golden Age.  And the overarching storyline of Peter Parker's black costume is one that I fondly remember.

It all began in Secret Wars #8 (a book that does not even come close to holding up when I tried to re-read it a few years back, but does have some interesting ideas and concepts hidden within).  Spidey gets a new costume through an alien machine that Peter believes all the other heroes have been using. But once the costume is fitted, he discovers that he utilized a different machine.  But he quickly dismisses that, as there appears to be nothing out of the ordinary with this new suit - other than the fact that it seems to react to his thoughts and expands over his body like a second skin rather than the previously mundane act of actually putting on a costume, as he did with his classic one.  And this is a mysterious world created by the Beyonder from pieces of myriad worlds, so if the science is beyond these Earthlings, who is Parker to argue the point?

But, once Peter returned to Earth, things changed.  He found himself fatigued, even after a full night's sleep.  His emotional health began to suffer, and while in his guise as Spider-Man, encounters with civilians and fellow heroes became awkward.  And readers come to discover that all of this is occurring because the costume - which is actually an alien symbiote rather than some scientific wonder - is leeching Peter's strength by forcing him to go out into the city at night, while Peter is still asleep.

This was a crazy idea that really had me, a relative newcomer to comics, invested and excited about Spider-Man.  This story climaxed with the landmark issue #300, written by David Michelinie and drawn by Todd McFarlane.  Peter has figured out that sound waves - loud and intrusive - can harm the alien symbiote that has now permanently latched itself onto him.  He ends up going to a bell tower, high above street level, and suffering through the cacophonous rumblings of the bells as they toll the hour, forcing the symbiote to release its hold on Peter and slip away, apparently defeated (if I am remembering correctly).  And with the next issue, Peter returned to the classic red-and-blues.

But, of course, the threat of the symbiote - which would become Venom - was not over.  Not by a long shot.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Childhood Memories: G.I. Joe #23-24

Spurred by Larry Hama's posts on facebook, I decided to dive into the longboxes and pull out the first comics I bought for myself and re-read them. These are the ones that lured me into the habit.  One that continues to this day, nearly 30 years later.  G.I. Joe # 23-24.

Often, when I go back to re-read an old comic or read, for the first time, a classic comic, it struggles to hold up.  Too wordy.  Too juvenile.  Lacking in how the words and pictures mix on the page.  Bad dialogue.  Too much exposition.  Waaah, waaah, waaah. 

It's difficult for older comics to stand up to the scrutiny of a seasoned reader post-Watchmen/Dark Knight/Blankets/Authority/Invisibles/etc. etc. etc.  I cannot read a Chris Claremont comic. Can't.  I can't read a Roy Thomas comic.  Cannot do it.  For all they've done for the medium, their comics (specifically the dialogue) are horrid.

Which brings me to the comics at hand.  Ones written at a time when exposition, a villain more deadly than Galactus and Mephisto combined, was running rampant through the Marvel universe - allegedly due to dictates from then-EIC, Jim Shooter.  And yet, Larry Hama manages to create comics that are new reader friendly without dumping exposition on them in a manner that feels forced or sounds stilted.  Certainly, there are instances of this, but in these two books those are few and far between.  Hama thinks about where to place the exposition, about how to contextualize within a scenario that almost demands such dialogue.  And when he writes that dialogue it does not sound silly or ridiculous.  It sounds natural, which keeps me reading and keeps me enjoying the book.  It's a skill that was rare when he was working on these books in 1984, and one that is even rarer today, as the medium and the way stories are told has evolved. 

I was pleasantly surprised to find how much I enjoyed these books thirty years removed from their initial publication, and I look forward to continuing my re-read of these classic comics.

Yo Joe!


Friday, May 24, 2013

Childhood Memories: Web of Spider-Man #30

Critically-acclaimed comic writer, Christopher Priest - noted for his work on Black Panther and Quantum & Woody, among many other titles - initially went by his birth name, Jim Owsley.  And as I look back over my almost 30-year comic reading history, it’s fascinating to discover Owsley’s name credited with a number of comics that resonated with me, back in the day.

Here’s one - Web of Spider-Man #30, which revealed the origin of the Rose and probably does not get as much recognition today because it was overwhelmed, in people’s minds, by the next issue, which happened to be part 1 of the J.M. DeMatteis/Mike Zeck classic, “Kraven’s Last Hunt.”


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

New Orleans by Gaslight now available!

My story "You Gotta Give Good..." is now available in the new steampunk anthology, New Orleans by Gaslight, published by Black Tome Books and available at Amazon.

I've never written any steampunk fiction before, so this was a real blast.  I did my homework, read some books on steampunk as well as voudou, and I have to imagine that this is part of what allowed my story to resonate with the editor - enough that this is the first piece of short prose I've had published in a print edition (other than a DIY magazine a couple years back) - which has me very excited, obviously.

The cover art is by Rob Cerio, and the editors for the book were Brandon Black and Christopher Wong.

And here's the description from the back of the book:

In a New Orleans that Never Was and Never Will Be, there are a thousand stories to tell.  There are stories of sorrow and triumph, of passion and fury, of love and of revenge.  Aloft with cloud and sun, great warrior airships drift silently over the city below, crewed by eager young men and women awaiting the moment they will be called upon to strike against foes with cannon and with sword.  Steamboats float down the river bringing travelers from far climes and distant lands unknown to our more mundane world.  Lovers ride down the boulevards upon clockwork carriages drawn by mechanical horses.  Cheated gamblers decide between making a break for the door or breaking the quiet calm with the staccato beat of revolver gunfire.  Ragtime music echoes as fallen women ply the world's oldest trade in the streets of Storyville.  Soldiers lead clanking platoons of clockwork automatons through the port on their way to their next deployment and archaeologists, explorers and adventurers set forth aboard airships to find new lands, fortune and glory or perhaps death in the forlorn forsaken corners of the globe.  These are the stories of New Orleans by Gaslight.

If you enjoy steampunk or fantasy fiction, I think you'll like this.  And if you check it out, drop me a line here and let me know what you think.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy Earth Day

One of my favorite comics (of many, many, many favorites).   

Paul Chadwick.  Charles Vess.   Moebius.  

It's difficult to consider another triple threat like this - not just for artistic excellence, but also to provide varying styles that offer so much to readers.  Great, great book.


Friday, April 19, 2013

Happy Birthday (a day late) Superman!

April 18, 1938 - the agreed upon publication date of Action Comics #1

For me, Christopher Reeve will always be my Superman. And the first film will always be my favorite film.

This is one, of many, of the scenes I look forward to whenever I have the chance to watch Superman the Movie.