Friday, October 31, 2014

All Hallow's Read - a short horror story for your enjoyment

It's All Hallow's Read (aka Halloween...with scary books).  So here's a piece of flash fiction I had published in the most recent issue (#2) of Firewords Quarterly, a literary magazine out of the United Kingdom.  Also, here's a link to the PDF of the actual two-page spread for my piece in Firewords - I love the art direction for it, and I think you'll agree, it's pretty great.

Enjoy, and a have a spooky Halloween.

By C. M. Beckett

I need to get outta here.  Winter ain’t even here an’ it’s already too effin’ cold even with the friggin’ global warming.

Sorry, but I won’t curse in front of my Ma, don’t matter how old I get.  A mom takes care o’ you, provides for ya, keeps food on your plate.  You gotta appreciate that and show some respect. 

Of course, things changed with the Little Big One.  We could feel it all the way over here.  Some folks didn’t believe me.  Little tremors, like a shiver runnin’ through your boots.  And then when it hit the news sites.  Nobody knew what to do.  Sittin’ at home watchin’ crazies freakin’ out, killin’ their neighbors, drownin’ their kids.  What the heck?! 

We did what we do best up here – hunker down and cut ourselves off from everything else.  It wasn’t too hard, livin’ on a farm an’ all.  Generations before us had done all right with it, and with the government goin’ ta hell (sorry, Mom) it seemed the best thing to do.  Most people never knew what to make of us up here anyway – ninety percent woods and nothin’ much ta do ‘cept drink and terrorize. 

At first, things were good.  We didn’t need for much, just had ta be smart, use what we found and not waste nothin’.  Things’d be back to normal soon enough and then we’d get back to headin’ down to the mall and such. 

That was a pipe dream.

Goin’ on twenty years now since it all went to crap, and still no end in sight.  Most o’ the woods is gone now.  At least around here.  When the oil prices spiked durin’ the War, poachers swept in like huge vultures, layin’ waste to practically the whole state.  Now we got no resources ta speak of.  No forests.  No topsoil.  No birds, no animals.  Nothin’ worth a damn.  Not here anyway.

So I need to move.  No way to survive another winter here.

Tonight’s my last night.  I managed to gather a few saplings for one last meal before I hit the road.  They’re still raw an’ smoke more than burn, so I didn’t even bother with a pan, just threw it on the fire.  I like the skin blackened anyway, gives it more flavor.

Should be done soon.  It was hard the first time, with Gramps.  Everybody squeamish, not wantin’ to partake an’ all.  My sister – she was always a bitch (sorry, Ma) – got up and walked outside.  Wouldn’t eat nothin’ and upset my Ma no end. 

It’s how Gramps woulda wanted it.  He’d lived a good life and died o’ natural causes.  He would'na wanted us to waste away too just because o’ some old-school civilities.  The rules had changed and we did what we had to do to live.

My sister was next o’ course, but that wasn’t for quite a few months.  I dug right in that night.  She’d fallen and hurt herself somethin’ fierce.  Not much we could do.  No doctors left, and little in the way o’ supplies.  We did what we could.  Made her comfortable.  Said some words over her from the Good Book.  But it wasn’t long before she was gone too. 

That was last winter, which was pretty tough on all of us.  Not many made it to summer.  We all knew what was comin’ but didn’t talk much about it.  How could we?  We had to look each other in the eye every day. 

Now I’m it.  The last one.  I put that off as long as I could.  It was too hard.  I mean, she’s my Ma.  She brought me into this shitfuck (sorry, Ma) world.  But in the end, she understood which one of us had a better chance o’ makin’ it. 

And she knew that a mom takes care o’ ya, provides for ya, keeps food on your plate.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Give it up for the Giants - World Series win

And this is the play that led to the Giants win.  Golf clap for the rookie.  Amazing.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

W27 replay: OCTOBER COMICS 3 (Universal Monsters, Frankenstein, and Starchild)

Three years ago, I did a short series here called "October Comics."  Like the over-arching title states, these were comics I felt epitomized this time of year - with the leaves turning color and falling, the temperature becoming colder, the nights longer.  It's a great time of year to curl up with a good book (or comic, as the case may be) and let that autumnal mood take you away on dark flights of fantasy and horror.  Here are a few books that can take you there.

UNIVERSAL MONSTERS by Art Adams, Denis Beauvais, and others

The Universal Monster films hold a dear place in many people’s hearts. They’re fun and, as a boy, were great for a scare when I watched them on television late at night. So, when Dark Horse published comic adaptations of some of these classic films back in the early 90s, I was onboard.
It’s been a number of years since I read them, but I remember enjoying these books immensely. The adaptations were very true to the movies from which they derived, and, as it is when we see Iron Man or Batman on the silver screen, it was a thrill to have these stories in a new medium for which I have such passion.

Dark Horse did a stellar job of pulling together creators for these books. Art Adams and Tony Harris are the obvious “name” stars to have contributed to this short series. Adams’s meticulous linework in the “Creature from the Black Lagoon” and his notable detail offer a fully-realized and icky swamp for this creature to reside in. Conversely, Harris’s more flowing ink style fit well with the fraying wraps of the mummy, bringing this encumbered figure to vivid, haunting life.

However, despite the involvement of Harris and Adams on this project, I was more anxious for the Frankenstein adaptation from Denis Beauvais. I was familiar with Beauvais’s painting from Dark Horse’s Aliens books. And he did not disappoint. His use of color and ability to evoke atmosphere through his painting fit this book perfectly. Easily, this is my favorite of the bunch.
And finally, Dracula was brought to life by Dan Vado, “supreme commander” of Slave Labor Graphics, and J.D. Smith, who works primarily as a colorist in the comics field today. Like Frankenstein, these two were able to imbue their adaptation with the atmosphere evoked in the film.The soft linework of Smith worked well in this respect.

Are these books scary? No. Are the original films considered scary by today’s standards? No. But these books are fun, and, if you enjoyed the Universal Monster films when you were younger, reading one of these will touch that nostalgic part of you that is also what keeps us reading comics.And that, to me, seems fitting.


A few years back, Steve Niles started a series of “Little Books of Horror” through IDW. They were slim, 48-page adaptations of classic horror stories. Niles wrote the adaptations with a number of distinct artists providing illustrations. Ted McKeever provided art for “The War of the Worlds,” Richard Sala did so for “Dracula,” and Scott Morse drew the single volume I own, “Frankenstein.”
I re-read this book just the other night, and, although it was a quick read, I enjoyed it thoroughly.Niles manages to encapsulate the entirety of Shelley’s novel with an economical use of prose. True to the source material, he includes bits that are often overlooked in other adaptations, and I applaud him for this.

It is a great challenge to boil down a novel to a few hundred words, and yet, Niles manages to do just that. Obviously, readers do not get the nuance and more fully-realized narrative that can be found in Shelley’s novel through this 48-page graphic novel. But, if one is already familiar with the book, a faithful adaptation such as this ignites the memory of the original’s reading. And, if one has not read Frankenstein before, this is a great introduction to a classic of literature that could, very easily, spur one on to go and read the original.
The big draw for this book, though, is the lush painting of Scott Morse. He provides richly imagined pieces, full of color and design and symbolism, and adds so much to Niles’s adaptation. Between readings of this book, I have often pulled it from my shelf and slowly leafed through it, studying the artistry of Morse. Somehow, his animation style fused with his sense of color manages to evoke the very genuine emotions that are to be found in the source material.

And it is a very distinct book that feels and reads like little else in comics – or prose, for that matter.This is mainly why I appreciate Scott Morse’s work so much. He – like Paul Pope or Kate Beaton or James Owen – prefer to carve out their own niche in this medium doing challenging work that stands out among the soulless “house styles” found in many of the “mainstream” comics on stands today (not that this is unique to current comics). If you love great art and can appreciate the skill necessary to create such a faithful adaptation in so few words, then this is a book you should seek out.

And if you do choose to read this book in a dimly lit room as the moon falls behind the swaying trees outside your window, you just might hear the monster crying off in the distance, and you may need to pull another blanket up close to your chin, just to keep the cold away.

STARCHILD by James A. Owen

James Owen’s Starchild series was one of those books that would rise to the top of my “to-read” pile when it was being published regularly back in the early 90s. I love that book and have read it a number of times through the years.
Not a horror book – as most of my other “October comics” offerings have been – it is a book perfectly suited to reading during this time of year when the days get shorter and the air becomes cooler. This was pointed out to me by my friend from the CGS forums, Adam Murdough, and when he shared this insight, I knew instantly he was correct.

The tale of the Higgins family, the bulk of Starchild is set in the timeless village of Fool’s Hollow near a magical forest. Hearkening back to our romanticized versions of ancient English villages, this is a tale wherein mythical characters like Titania live alongside caricatures of some of my favorite fantasists such as Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore. It’s a masterful blending of myriad times and settings that Owen manages to pull off with intelligence while never forgetting to tell an entertaining story.
Owen both writes and draws these tales, and his art meshes wonderfully with the writing. Owen’s delicate lines and slightly rough style are reminiscent of old woodcuts, evoking through his artwork the atmosphere of such a tale. One can almost hear the wind whistling across the glens as the pages turn. Drawn in a different style, or by a different artist, I don’t think Starchild would evoke such wonder as it does.

Within the pages of Starchild, one encounters mystery, high drama, and familial secrets tempered by the whimsy and lyrical comedy of characters such as Old Tom and Martin Humble, and simmering beneath it all is the magic of stories, the kind that ignited our imaginations as children.

If you love fantasy and appreciate the mood found in that hour right before midnight in the early autumn, then this is a book for you. Definitely worth seeking out, Starchild is best read on the porch at dusk, with a steaming mug of cider close by.

Go ahead, listen to the crisp leaves beneath your feet, the cool breeze rising to a soft shriek at your back, and watch for those long shadows growing deeper, with the coming of winter just over the horizon, and try to tamp down that shiver rushing up your spine as you spy something in the corner of your eye ... and turn to find nothing there. 

Then sit down to read these comics and try to tell me you don't get that same feeling of anxiety and anticipation as the words and images wash over you.  You can't.  


Sunday, October 26, 2014

What It Is - week ending 26 October [2014]

With apologies to Dave the Thune.

Every day.  1000 words.  That's the goal.

The train kept rolling this week as I added to the novel in progress.  Passed 160 manuscript pages and 44,000 words, which is good.  But I hit a snag in the middle of this week.  I sat down to write my thousand, and it was a chore.  I would type something, sit back and stare at it, work it over in my mind, delete and retype it in a slightly different manner, sit back, stare, delete, skim the internet, skim the internet some more, come back to the writing, type something, finally move on, then sit, stare, and try to get my mind focused.
But it was not working.  So, after an hour, I closed the laptop with only 450 words down.

Now, all this focus on word counts may seem, to some, as if I am focused on the wrong thing.  Why should I worry about the number of words I got down?  Shouldn't I be thinking more carefully about the words I'm choosing?  Isn't that the more important thing rather than just looking at the total (quantity vs. quality, and all that).  And the answer is yes and no - with an emphasis toward "no."

Every writer whom I admire has stated numerous times that if one wants to be a writer, one must write.  Not think about it.  Not read up on the subject.  Not philosophize and market test ideas.  Write.  It's the only way to learn, because if you haven't actually written anything, well, you haven't written anything.  Now, is the word count the final goal?  No.  But, I can assure you, when I was only writing intermittently, there was little growth in what I was producing.  Since I've been writing regularly (and keeping track with my spreadsheet has been the best thing for me - a quick, visual check on whether I am keeping up my end of the bargain that keeps me honest), though, I know I've grown quite a bit.  Actually doing the writing comes more easily, connections within the narrative (whether to points earlier in the story or through metaphors) reveal themselves to me, and I approach my writing differently now, working to make them more effective dramatically rather than crafting a dot-to-dot series of events.

And, when I have trouble "getting the words out," I realize that something is not working.  It's a gut feeling, but one I recognize now, and it makes step back and re-assess the point I'm working on.  Which is what happened the night I slogged through getting down those 450 words.  Something was off in what I was trying to do.  So I went to bed, pouring over what I'd read and what I wanted from this scene, and by morning I had it figured out and was able to write 1400 words that pushed the narrative forward a bit more (rather than stagnating it with "spinning wheels," as I think was happening the night before).  It would be nice if my gut would pinpoint what's going wrong in the writing, but at least I'm learning to understand what that feeling means and work to adjust what's going on the page.

That - learning how I need to write - is the best thing that has come from writing consistently, with a daily goal in mind.  And, no, the goal doesn't need to be a word count, it can be a set amount of time, or some other goal.  As long as it's a regular thing and you approach it honestly, then it will be something that will help you improve your writing.

In comics, horror may be the most difficult genre to do.  There's no music, no dripping blood (i.e. being able to watch the blood fall to the floor), no movement (as in film) allowing us to watch the monster slink out of the shadows behind our protagonist, none of those tools are available to the comic artist.  So achieving that gut-twisting punch of horror is an almost impossible task.  Which means many horror comics turn to gore and grossness, in order to shock their readers with how far over the line they are willing to go with their grotesqueries.  And, I suppose, that's one approach.

Thankfully, Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, choose the higher road.  I finished volume 5 this week, but am thinking specifically of a scene from volume 1 that just froze me, when I turned the page.


Bode, the youngest Locke child, has been talking to the woman in the wellhouse, at the point I'm discussing.  And we know that the woman in the well is evil, wants to hurt the Locke family, but is trapped in the well (may even be an immaterial ghost or spirit).  And, to this point, Bode has gone down to the well to speak with the woman a few times.  It's become relatively common, and the readers have come to expect how these discussions go.  Add to this the fact that Hill & Rodriguez have crafted believable and very sympathetic characters in the Locke family, and the scene is ripe for a big shock.  Which we get with a page-turn late in that first volume when Bode turns away from the well to answer his sister (iirc) that he'll be right up to the house - as it is late - and behind Bode, in this large panel, we see the woman from the well creeping out of the well, arm outstretched, reaching for the young boy.  It gave me chills.  This was brilliantly executed, from the set up, to the characters we care about, and the large panel on a page-turn that changes the entire status quo - so good.  If you haven't read Locke & Key yet, do yourself a favor and check it out.

Also finished the screenplay for Harlan Ellison's Cutter's World (I read his teleplay of the same idea last week).  Through the first 100 pages, it stayed very close to the teleplay, which was disappointing.  But then, once Cutter and his son arrive on the alien world, things changed.  Ellison didn't excise anything, instead, he chose to enhance these scenes, and it worked wonderfully.  He managed to share more of the alien civilization while also ratcheting up the drama and the emotional connections with the characters, by dropping in scenes here and there, expanding others, and rearranging still others, with additional antagonists that also made the final part of the narrative feel more natural and not as familiar as it did in the teleplay.

As an example:  In the teleplay, when Cutter and his son sit down to eat, after making their way to Deke's on this new world, Cutter and a Kyban (Ellison's go-to aliens) coincidentally reach for the final piece of meat on the platter between them, a fight ensues, but in the end they become uneasy allies because of a connection Cutter had made previously.
In the screenplay, the Kyban across from Cutter deliberately reaches for the meat at the same time as Cutter to goad him into fighting, and the "friendly" Kyban is alerted by Deke (the connection Cutter made) to intercede, without others realizing, and he pushes aside the antagonistic Kyban, feigning cultural offense at Cutter's insolence, and the same fight ensues but with a far different, and more interesting, reason behind it.  Things like this really made reading these two screenplays not only interesting but also a good lesson for approaching my own writing.

World Series time!  I don't have cable, so this is about the only time I get to watch baseball on TV, since Major League Baseball doesn't seem like they want to try and encourage a new, younger generation of fans.  Ah, well.  Just means I can focus more on my writing at night.

The first two games weren't what I expected.  Even though the Giants won 7-1 in game 1, it felt like the Royals were just on the cusp of breaking through against Madison Bumgarner.  I'm hoping they are able to do that when they meet Bumgarner again.
I'm an American League guy, plus I love the way the Royals play the game - running, good defense, productive hitting even when they make outs - so I was happy they won game 2.  Admittedly, I didn't see the blowout coming.  with 5 innings in the books, it felt like Peavy was just getting stronger, making pitches he wanted to make and forcing the Royals to chase those out of the strike zone for outs.  I wasn't feeling good about an AL win, but they came through against the bullpen and meant I'd get at least one extra game out of my baseball viewing this year.
Game 3 - this is what I was looking for.  Pitchers' duel.  Great defense on both sides.  And scoring a run with two productive outs, as the Royals did in that first inning.  Sure, the general audience loves the home runs and the scoring, but give me a low-scoring, well played game any day. It's far more exciting than a home run derby blowout.
But 4 just turned the momentum back to the West Coast.  Let's see if the Royals can pull this out.

Three years ago, I did a short series here called "October Comics."  Nine posts about comics that would be perfect to read this time of year - they either had a horror element to them, or a dark fantasy element, or were specifically Halloween themed.  It was fun, and I figured I should dust them off and share them with anyone checking the blog this year.  The first two repeats (with three books each) are below this post - the final one goes live Wednesday.  But here are links to all nine individual posts, if you like.

A Glimpse of Crime & Terror by Steve Niles and Scott Morse
Hellboy by Mike Mignola, et al.
Taboo from Spiderbaby Grafix (Stephen Bissette)
Batman: LOTDK Halloween Specials by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
The Broadcast by Eric Hobbs and Noel Tuazon
Coraline adapted by P. Craig Russell from the novel by Neil Gaiman
the Universal Monsters adaptations by Art Adams and others
Little Book of Horror: Frankenstein by Steven Niles and Scott Morse
Starchild by James A. Owen

All right.  Two for two, which leads to the fact that I pushed out my 42nd and 43rd submissions of the year this past week.  I believe that puts me one ahead for my goal of 52 submissions this year.  Each year I've increased the number of submissions, which means next year, I'm going to need to really up my game - and get some more stories ready for submission - so that I can continue that trend.

'Til next week.


Friday, October 24, 2014

W27 replay: OCTOBER COMICS 2 (Batman LOTDK, The Broadcast, & Coraline)

Three years ago, I did a short series here called "October Comics."  Like the over-arching title states, these were comics I felt epitomized this time of year - with the leaves turning color and falling, the temperature becoming colder, the nights longer.  It's a great time of year to curl up with a good book (or comic, as the case may be) and let that autumnal mood take you away on dark flights of fantasy and horror.  Here are a few books that can take you there.


I’m not sure why I picked up the very first LOTDK Halloween special. I know it had nothing to do with the creative team – neither Jeph Loeb nor Tim Sale was familiar to me at the time. It could have been the nice shiny cover, with that gold foil “enhancement,” but I like to think that wasn’t the case.More likely, it had to do with the fact that it was prestige format. When a publisher – most often DC comics – published a book in that squarebound format (see: Dark Knight, Longbow Hunters, Hawkworld, Killing Joke, etc.), it piqued my interest. So I bought that first special right off the shelf.And I loved it. The story moved along at a brisk pace, the artwork was stylish but appealing, and it was done in one.

With the success of that first Halloween special, it became an annual tradition for the next two years, with Loeb and Sale reuniting to tell other ethereal tales from Batman’s history. They too were immensely enjoyable and just plain fun reads. And, with each successive volume, I came to appreciate more and more the artistic talent of Tim Sale.
Sale’s linework is smooth and organic, with fluid inking that helps to suggest movement on the page in a similar manner to the inking style of Will Eisner. It’s a tough thing to accomplish in a static medium such as comics, and is a major reason why I have such trouble with many of today’s photorealistic artists – their work is just too precise, taking all of the energy out of their drawing.

Loeb’s writing has received a lot of criticism in recent years – not all of it undeserved – but in these specials, he really shines. The stories move along at a brisk pace and don’t collapse under the weight of a longer narrative. With the limited page count, Loeb was forced to pare things down and get right to the heart of the matter, and, similar to Chuck Dixon, Loeb can drive a plot forward pretty well. It doesn’t hurt that he was paired with a stellar talent like Sale.
I regularly return to these books, pulling them out of the longboxes to re-read every couple of years, usually during this season. These books help remind me why I love comics. If you’ve never given them a try, you should seek them out. You won’t be disappointed.

And, if you have the chance, read them late in the evening while the wind sweeps across your lawn – the creaking branches and rustling leaves will add to the atmosphere already present in Sale’s moody linework, and you might understand better why I cherish these stories.

THE BROADCAST by Eric Hobbs & Noel Tuazon

Since “discovering” Noel Tuazon’s work on Elk’s Run, with writer Joshua Hale Fialkov, I have become a huge fan of Tuazon’s work. His loose lines and cartoonist’s approach to drawing is far more appealing to me than the current flavor of the month at the “Big Two.” He, like many of the comic artists whose work I admire, is able to infuse his pages with more emotion and atmosphere than most artists working in the field.
So, when I passed the NBM table at last year’s Small Press Expo and saw they had only one copy left of Tuazon’s most recent book, The Broadcast (written by Eric Hobbs), I had to pick it up. And was I ever glad I did. This book, along with Tuazon’s return collaboration with Fialkov, Tumor, has solidly put him on my “guaranteed winner” list.
The Broadcast, Eric Hobbs’s first major graphic novel, comes from a brilliantly simple concept – how might a small group of rural Americans in early 20th century America react if they believed Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds” broadcast was real – a reality that earned Welles much criticism after that initial radio broadcast. I haven’t read The Broadcast since that first time last year, but the emotion of the book has lingered with me since then, rearing its head at unexpected times, so it is only appropriate that I write about it now, as best I can.

The Broadcast is more than just how people might react to a perceived Martian attack. It is really a story of how people under stress react to, and treat, one another and the hierarchy that quickly evolves in such an anxious time. This book is about these characters, about the injustices, perceived or otherwise, they manage to suppress until such a time as this, and the consequences of allowing one’s anxiety to dictate one’s actions.
None of the characters make it through this book in one piece, whether emotionally or physically, and Hobbs deftly handles the issues of that period – including most prominently the racism that was rampant, and is still a problem now, in our country. The Broadcast is, at times, a harrowing reading experience, but it is also touching in many instances. It’s a delicate balance of emotions that Hobbs and Tuazon manage to achieve wonderfully, and it elevates this book beyond what could easily have been a one-note story.

And the artwork from Tuazon is beautiful. His inkwash technique, coupled with Tuazon’s facility with facial expressions, perfectly evokes the atmosphere of the dreary, rain-soaked setting and the weight of finality under which these characters rest. Tuazon’s storytelling is on full display here, and any artist looking to break into comics would be hard pressed to do better than study The Broadcast, or any of Tuazon’s other work.

Although told in a quiet manner, this is a brutal book about the dark places of the human soul. It is a compelling read that shines a hard light onto the horrors of fear, very real horrors that feel more authentic than most of those found in graphic fiction, or fiction of any kind. Hobbs and Tuazon come together to showcase the best of what this medium has to offer, and I heartily recommend you seeking this book out. You won’t be disappointed.

CORALINE adapted by P. Craig Russell, from the novel by Neil Gaiman

I am a huge fan of Neil Gaiman and have read all of his published books. Coraline was an enjoyable read, but I would probably put it toward the lower end of my favorites by Gaiman. It was inventive and well-written, as I have come to expect from Gaiman, and he took me to another fantastic world that feels just beyond my reach, but there was a “weight” missing from it that probably has a lot to do with its intended audience. Ultimately, for me, Coraline wasn’t creepy enough.
As an aside, Gaiman’s “Graveyard Book” does carry that weight I so look forward to from his best fiction, and that was also intended for young adults, for what it is worth. (And it is only my opinion)

When I heard P. Craig Russell was going to be adapting Coraline into graphic form, I was intrigued but not overly excited. Boy, was I wrong to have that reaction!

Russell’s adaptation of Coraline was amazing. When I read it, I was thoroughly on edge. Something about actually seeing Coraline’s “other family” with those button eyes just creeped me the hell out more than Gaiman’s actual prose description, which is odd since Joe Hill’s similar description of the main ghost in his novel Heart-Shaped Box made me horribly uncomfortable when I read that.

Russell is known for his delicate linework, and he does not disappoint here. But I have to admit at how surprised I was with the manner in which he evoked the atmosphere of this eerie little novel. It is a testament to his artistry that he elevates Gaiman’s prose narrative to another level for me. This is one of the very few times I have thought that an adaptation of a work of prose was better – or worked better – than the source material.

I wish I could more precisely put my finger on what it is about Russell’s Coraline adaptation that makes it so much creepier for me. But, I admit, I can’t. I just know how I reacted to it when I read it – on an entirely emotional level that left me with that gnawing ache in the pit of my stomach. Check it out.

Go ahead, listen to the crisp leaves beneath your feet, the cool breeze rising to a soft shriek at your back, and watch for those long shadows growing deeper, with the coming of winter just over the horizon, and try to tamp down that shiver rushing up your spine as you spy something in the corner of your eye ... and turn to find nothing there. 

Then sit down to read these comics and try to tell me you don't get that same feeling of anxiety and anticipation as the words and images wash over you.  You can't.  


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

W27 replay: OCTOBER COMICS 1 (Crime & Terror, Hellboy, Taboo)

Three years ago, I did a short series here called "October Comics."  Like the over-arching title states, these were comics I felt epitomized this time of year - with the leaves turning color and falling, the temperature becoming colder, the nights longer.  It's a great time of year to curl up with a good book (or comic, as the case may be) and let that autumnal mood take you away on dark flights of fantasy and horror.  Here are a few books that can take you there.

A GLIMPSE OF CRIME & TERROR by Steve Niles & Scott Morse

It’s October, which means I have an obligation (self-made though it may be) to recommend some cool “autumnal” comic fare (i.e. horror comics in honor of Halloween)
Anything Scott Morse is involved with gets my attention. He is one of those cartoonists – like Los Bros Hernandez or Frank Santoro – whose work I will buy without hesitation. Since he landed at Pixar, his comics work has been rather limited. So, when I read online about him and Steve Nilesdoing something together, I was interested.
The series – co-created and co-owned by Niles and Morse – is called Crime & Terror. Morse described the book on his blog as a book where he and Steve can create the stories they want. In his initial post, Morse wrote that Crime & Terror would have an over-arching narrative following detective Mike Fallon, along with a number of short stories – both prose and comic – in whatever genre they chose – sci-fi, horror, noir, whatever. I’m a sucker for great anthologies, and when you have creators of this caliber writing and drawing whatever they want – I’m in!

As a teaser, Niles and Morse have created a limited edition oversized board book of A Glimpse of Crime & Terror that includes two short stories. I read this a couple of weeks back and thoroughly enjoyed it. Morse’s artwork and storytelling are spot-on here, and the stories were novel for the fact that they weren’t what I was expecting.

I expected a crime story and a horror story, but instead, Morse and Niles offer a mash-up of these two genres, and it works amazingly well. The plots hearken back to noir films of the 50s – with the requisite sprinkling of the fantastic and zombified accents. They aren’t necessarily world-shattering.But the beauty of this book is in the way the stories are told. Despite the “dark” nature of these two genres, there’s a fun aspect to this book that is never missing in anything Scott Morse does. I imagine it has a lot to do with the animation style Morse incorporates. His work is distinct, and, despite the “cute” aspects of his art, Morse continues to exhibit a range in genre and tone that is remarkable.
And, if you order this limited preview, each copy will be signed by Morse. So get on it.

The regular book will be a series of 80-page hardcovers, and I cannot wait for the first one to drop.Be on the lookout, because these are going to be some fun, entertaining, and well done comics.

HELLBOY by Mike Mignola, et al.

This time of year I always dig into my longboxes or go to my shelf for something appropriate to the season. Recently, I’ve been re-reading some of the early Hellboy collections by Mike Mignola – Wake the Devil and Chained Coffin & Others, to be precise.
It’s been a while since I’ve read any Hellboy, and I had forgotten how great this series is. Mignola really seems to be having fun with these stories. He packs so much action, fantasy, folklore, and fun into these tales that it really is a wonder to behold. Even through pages of talking heads and exposition, Mignola makes it interesting – whether it’s the cadence of a character’s speech or just the fanciful nature of the dialogue – and I find it completely engaging.

Even with the emphasis on plot and the fantastical elements of these narratives, Mignola doesn’t forget about the characters. He knows Hellboy and Abe and Liz and all the others, and he plays them off each other well. It would be easy for the story to trump the characterization, but Mignola manages to balance things and has me wondering where he went with all of these great characters.

And has an artist ever been more suited for the stories being told? The way Mignola paints his blacks (with apologies to the Rolling Stones) and the manner in which he delineates the ancient architecture all adds to the atmosphere of these tales. The imagery has a gothic feel to it that is perfectly suited to the narratives, along with being pitch-perfect for this world Mignola has created.

If you want something haunting and exciting for this autumnal season, you would have trouble doing any better than Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. After re-reading these older books, I am now going to seek out the later volumes to see where he has taken “the big red guy” and the rest of the BPRD, and I cannot wait.

TABOO from Steve Bissette and  host of creators

It is appropriate that October be the month of Halloween, especially here in New England with darkness creeping in at the frayed edges of these shorter days, the naked branches scratching against window panes as brittle leaves blow past, propelled by a chill wind heralding the coming winter. The brisk air is tinged with a scent of horror – something almost tangible – that insinuates itself into our minds as we try to reconcile the change in the seasons.
Stephen Bissette’s horror anthology, Taboo (published from 1988-1995), masterfully captures the atmosphere of this time of year. With contributions from such notable writers and artists as Dave Sim, Charles Burns, Tom Sniegoski, Charles Vess, Bernie Mireault, Keith Giffen, Chester Brown, Eddie Campbell, Moebius, Melinda Gebbie, Neil Gaiman, Michael Zulli, Alan Moore, and Bissette himself, every issue of this series reaches for – and often achieves – an incredibly high standard of graphic storytelling.

From Hell and Lost Girls both had their starts in this anthology. Readers also experienced the fleeting glimpse of Gaiman & Zulli’s Sweeney Todd (with the prologue found in issue 7), which never found another publisher once Taboo ceased publication. Spain Rodriguez’s succinct retelling of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s cult film classic El Topo can be found within the pages of this book. (issue 4, to be exact). And there is any other number of horror masterpieces to be found within various issues of this landmark series.

The offerings in Taboo are not what one would describe as typical horror comics. These stories are disturbing, uncomfortable, demanding pieces of art. They are the horrors that keep one up at night, staring into the blackness to identify the sound that startled you awake. These stories are creepy, and the slimy film of the narratives is hard to wash off, staying with you long after the book is closed.

If you’re a fan of “shock” horror and want to be scared – Taboo might not be the book for you. But if you like your fiction challenging, if you want to read stories that make you think, and if you appreciate that anxious flutter in the pit of your stomach when the clock strikes midnight, then you should be seeking these books out because they are becoming harder and harder to find.
The stories found in this seminal anthology are a fitting capstone to a crisp, cool October day.

Go ahead, listen to the crisp leaves beneath your feet, the cool breeze rising to a soft shriek at your back, and watch for those long shadows growing deeper, with the coming of winter just over the horizon, and try to tamp down that shiver rushing up your spine as you spy something in the corner of your eye ... and turn to find nothing there. 

Then sit down to read these comics and try to tell me you don't get that same feeling of anxiety and anticipation as the words and images wash over you.  You can't.  


Sunday, October 19, 2014

What It Is - the week ending 19 October [2014]

With apologies to Dave the Thune.

So...I don't update here as often as I should be (that's an understatement).  But seeing friends like Brad & Matt, as well as Don McMillan, offering regular posts at their respective sites, it's obvious I need to do something to keep up - and, really, who's going to check Warrrior27 out when the top post never changes?   Time to face reality.

Why haven't I been posting here more often?  Easy answer - time.  There's never enough time to get everything done you want.  I have a day job.  I'm a father and husband - and I do not want to take away my family time for writing, as a general rule.  And there's always working out and sleep, along with all the books & comics to read and the films & television shows to watch (I'm still two seasons away from finishing LOST and have yet to watch Battlestar Galactica, while Locke & Key is still unfinished [should remedy that soon] and the latest David Mitchell novel hasn't even made it to the to-read pile).

So, time.  It's not going to materialize out of nothing.  I'll need to carve that time out somewhere to make this a regular - read: weekly - thing.  But I can do that.  And here's that first baby step.

Preamble:  My daily writing goal is 1000 words.  This takes roughly an hour (though I think about what I'm going to write throughout the day; it never stops).  For a long time, I was aiming for this but having trouble achieving it.  Again, it was that constriction of time.  I needed to make the time.  So I decided to schedule an hour, after my son was in bed and my wife was heading to bed to read, within which to get this writing done.  And it worked.  So well, that I began carving out an hour at sunrise on weekends, to get my writing done before everyone got out of bed.  Not surprisingly, my output increased and my writing has certainly improved.

Writing regularly - at a similar time each day - has certainly made it easier to sit down and get the words out.  The muse shows up more regularly when you train your mind to expect that you will be writing at the same point each day.  Also, I approach my writing in a wholly different manner now.  I am thinking more about craft, about the plot, about how to "upset the apple cart" and add tension to the scenes I am putting down.  Scheduling your daily writing is, perhaps, the most important thing any aspiring writer can do.

So, this week.  I've written roughly 5500 "new" words, while dropping 2400 words onto critiques at the Comics Experience creators' online workshop, which comes to about 8000 words for the week.  For the year, I just passed 248,000 total words (broken down into New Words, First Revisions, & Critiques).  My goal is to hit 300,000 for the year, and I think I'll make it.

The project on the front-burner right now is a novel called "On the Ledge," which is an expansion of a short story I wrote a number of years back.  Thus far, it seems to have legs, and I feel this could be a breakthrough piece of fiction for me.  Currently, I'm at 141 manuscript page, totaling 37,900 words (an average novel runs about 100,000), and I just passed one of the major plot points in the outline.  So, I'm feeling good about that.

And I had a short comic story, drawn by the incomparable Angela Allen, accepted for a quarterly independent comic anthology.  I'm really excited for this to see print.  If you want to check out a sample of Allen's art check this post out - which is just below this one, as it is.

I'm currently reading volume 3 of Harlan Ellison's Brain Movies - collections of his screenplays and television scripts (both filmed and unfilmed).  Volume 3 includes two versions of an unfilmed story, Cutter's World, from the late 1980s.  I finished the first script, written for television.  It was classic Ellison, with fantastic ideas and cool characters.  Next, I'm going to read the film script and am curious to see the changes between the two versions.

I also finished volume 4 of Joe Hill's & Gabriel Rodriguez's amazing comic series, Locke & Key.  That volume ended with a plot twist that was brilliant, for a number of reasons.  One of the tropes (or maybe accepted realities) in horror fiction is the fact that the people being terrorized are never very smart.  They always make the dumb move, the foolish decision, that the audience yells for them not to make, that inevitably ends up with someone bloodied and butchered.  With volume 4 of Locke & Key, Hill & Rodriguez show up characters, in the Locke children, who are not dumb, who are able to see connections and begin to figure out who it is, in their midst, that is causing all of the harm and horror.  And they take action to stop him/her/it.  But, with a brilliant and elegant twist - playing off something first seen in volume 1 - Hill & Rodriguez bring the terror even closer to the Locke family, while making them believe that maybe, finally, there can be a respite to the craziness.  It was fantastic.

Started watching season 1 of the Newsroom with my wife (I did mention I was way behind in my TV viewing above).  It's Aaron Sorkin.  On HBO.  I loved it.  Sure, the hectic pace of the dialogue can, at times, become irritating and problematic.  But that is easily overlooked for the brilliant lines that come out of the mouths of many of these characters.  Loved it.  We watched the first two episodes, and are all in on this one.  One of the things I greatly appreciated came, in the second episode, when the newscast lost their major interviewee and did not come through, in the end, with someone to equal the person they'd been advertising for that night.  It was refreshing to have the "heroes," for want of a better word, lose.  Well played.

Also, with the return of Twin Peaks in 2016, I bumped the original series to the top of the Netflix queue.  What a great show.  Damn.  David Lynch is a genius.  Looking forward to rummaging through this seminal series, which helped spawn so much of today's "new golden age of TV."  3 episodes in, already, and, I have to say, the series holds up and would not feel out of place next to Mad Men or Breaking Bad or the Sopranos.  Great, great, stuff.

So, we'll see if I can keep this up.  One week down, an infinity to go.  And, hey, if you made it this far head on over to In the Mouth of Dorkness and Donist World, and check out what Brad & Matt and Don have to say on all things, geek, nerdy, and cool.  You won't be disappointed.