Saturday, October 31, 2015

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 issue #2 of Firewords Quarterly, a literary magazine out of the United Kingdom.  

Enjoy, and a have a spooky Halloween.
-chris


I GOTTA GET OUTTA HERE
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.


Friday, October 30, 2015

OCTOBER COMICS (2015): Saga of the Swamp Thing #21



“The Anatomy Lesson,” written by Alan Moore, art by Stephen Bissette & John Totleben, colors by Tatjana Wood, lettering from John Costanza



Swamp Thing is the comic that put Alan Moore “on the map,” and issue 21 is one of my all-time favorite single issues.  In the previous issue, Moore and his collaborators had killed Swamp Thing, as bullets riddled his muck-encrusted body.  Dead, Swamp Thing’s body has been taken to a research lab in a high-rise building, the modern marvel of “the old man,” a businessman who wants to know the secrets of Swamp Thing’s metamorphosis from Alec Holland into this plant creature and, hopefully, exploit these findings for himself.  To that end, he hires Jason Woodrue, the Floronic Man, a similarly afflicted scientist, to do an autopsy and discover all that he can about Swamp Thing. 


Through his investigation, the Floronic Man comes to discover that Swamp Thing, though his body has incorporated plant-like body parts that appear to be analogous to human ones, e.g. lungs, kidneys, a heart, none of these actually work in the manner they should.  These are plants, not human tissue, and could not act in the same manner.  What this means is that Swamp Thing is not a melding of Alec Holland and the swamp plants, as a result of the explosion years ago, but is actually a plant being created to mimic Holland, somehow incorporating his essence, or his soul.  But, for all intents and purpose, Holland is dead and will never be revived. 


More importantly, though, if this is actually a botanic simulacrum and not a human encrusted with plants, then bullets cannot kill it.  It is not dead.  The only thing keeping it subdued is the cryogenic crypt within which it is being held.  If someone were to raise the temperature, it would resuscitate.  And if it found out the truth—that it can never return to being Alec Holland, can only ever be a plant monster with the mind of Holland—then it might take its frustrations out ona a particular old man who did not appreciate the Floronic Man’s findings. 


With this issue, Moore & company completely reimagined the character of Swamp Thing without contradicting anything that came before (as Moore is wont to do).  But, like most comics, this would not have worked so well without the artistic contributions of Bissette & Totleben.  They are the gold standard, all due respect to Berni Wrightson, when it comes to Swamp Thing.  True collaborators—their thoughts and ideas were invited and incorporated by Moore—they not only drew Swamp Thing as a monstrous being who was covered with plants and tubers and vines, but also utilized inventive panel layouts and added details (such as crafting panel and page borders from collections of spiders and their webbing) to add to the ambience and mood of the comic.  Under these three master storytellers, along with the contributions of Wood & Constanza, as well as later collaborators such as Rick Veitch, Shawn McManus, and others, the character of Swamp Thing—and, to a lesser extent, horror comics—was revitalized for a market that seemed to have passed him by.  And he continues to loom over the DC comics landscape today, though nobody has seemed able to crack the code as to his popularity so well as Moore, et al. did so deftly back in the early-eighties. 




chris

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

OCTOBER COMICS (2015): Ann by the Bed, by Emily Carroll




“Ann by the Bed,” Emily Carroll’s contribution to Youth in Decline’s quarterly monograph series, Frontier, is a comic that will linger with you long after the final page.  Horror is tough to do in comic form.  There are no musical cues, as with film and television, to enhance one’s emotional reaction and add dread or discomfort to a scene.   Any use of gore within the comic medium can never be as visceral as that found in film, and the scare tactics utilized within those other visual media are almost impossible to replicate in comic form.  So, despite rare exceptions, horror doesn’t work in comics.  But if a creator chooses to attempt a horror comic, one is often left with creating a moody, atmospheric narrative as the best approach.  Emily Carroll achieves that brilliantly.



“Ann by the Bed” revolves around the grisly murder of a young girl, Ann Herron, and her family in early twentieth-century Canada, and the urban myth that has come to surround this heinous act.  In later years, it has become a parlor game, of sorts, similar to the Candyman myth or a Ouija board, utilized by older children to scare themselves and their friends.  Carroll interweaves the “true” history of Ann Herron (I place the word true in quotes because I am uncertain about whether Carroll created the history of Ann Herron for this tale, or if it is, in actuality, a true historical happening) with various instances of children playing Ann by the Bed, and the odd happenings that follow these games – often embodied by Ann Herron’s spirit visiting them.

Presenting these disparate scenarios – Herron’s history and the varied children playing Ann by the Bed –adds a sense of gravity to the tale that insinuates itself into your psyche, as you read, ratcheting up the tension slowly even as your mind shifts from reading this as fiction and begins treating it as non-fiction.  Carroll capitalizes on this shift in perspective with the final page, a full-page image that burns itself onto the back of your brain as it lurches the breath from your lungs, leaving you wondering:  Will Ann visit me tonight, or will I be able to avoid dying in my sleep?




Carroll’s art, and the way she deftly teases out the narrative in this story, is phenomenal.  She creates a looming sense of unease that is hard to shake off.  This is one of the most successful horror comics I’ve ever read.  Not only has the impact of the narrative remained with me, but I have also been pondering the craft encompassed therein.  This is a book I want to study a bit more, to try and fully understand how she pulled off this amazing feat.  It’s a rare creator who can imbue a narrative full of static images with such emotion and dread, and Carroll needs to be applauded for that.  She is a serious talent, and one whose work you should seek out (I know I’m going to be keeping an eye out for her comics and do a little digging to find what she’s done before).  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.


Highest recommendation.

chris

Monday, October 26, 2015

OCTOBER COMICS (2015): Sandman #6



“24 Hours,” written by Neil Gaiman, art by Mike Dringenberg & Malcolm Jones, III, colors by Robbie Busch, lettering from Todd Klein


Dr. Destiny—in possession of Morpheus’s ruby, which holds much of his power—has escaped from Arkham Asylum and is holed up in a 24-hour diner in a small town somewhere in America.  His mind already cracked from years of exposure to one of Morpheus’s tools, Dr. Destiny has such a fractured psyche that he takes delight in the torment and horrors inflicted upon others.  He watches the television with glee as the atrocities of the world are revealed to those in the diner, and Destiny uses the powers of the ruby to inflict similarly horrific cruelties upon the few patrons unlucky enough to have entered the diner around the time he is there.  


Through his manipulation of the ruby, Destiny unearths these ugliest thoughts and, for some, fantasies of those around him, affording them the opportunity to realize these horrors (including homophobia, misogyny, and incredibly disturbing physical and emotional tortures) without inhibition.  It’s chilling and uncomfortable, a comic that doesn’t flinch when confronted with the ugliness of humanity. 



Gaiman is ably abetted by his artistic collaborators, Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones, III.  The first issue wherein co-creator Sam Kieth was no longer part of the artistic team, the transition away from Kieth’s more cartoonish approach works to the advantage of this issue.  Dringenberg & Jones have a more angular, scratchy delineation (an almost tighter Eddie Campbell style) that increases the sense of urgency and dread, as we follow the cruelties perpetrated by these people over the course of twenty-four hours.  The ugliness of the acts are amplified by the cartooning of Dringenberg & Jones, who are not afraid to exaggerate anatomy and expressions in one panel to great narrative effect, while then returning to more natural imagery in the next, in order to ground the story. 


It is this grounding of the narrative, by Gaiman, Dringenberg, and Jones, that is the most horrifying aspect of the comic.  These are normal people, ones you may know or could easily run into while walking downtown, while the supernatural effects happen invisibly, in the mind of Dr. Destiny, revealing horrors we may have experienced, either personally or second hand, or seen on the news.  The horrors that occur in this small diner are not out of the ordinary; they are the black spots on our souls that we all deal with—though, for most of us, these dark spots are merely flashes of frustration that pop up in fits of pique, that are quickly diminished because we are civil and rational.  But it is this familiarity that makes this story all the more chilling.  



chris

                                                                                                                        

Friday, October 23, 2015

OCTOBER COMICS (2015): From Hell by Moore & Campbell


From Hell, written by Alan Moore, art & lettering by Eddie Campbell.


Warren Ellis called From Hell the best graphic novel ever published.  I think he may be right.  The story of Jack the Ripper as told by these two masters of the medium, From Hell is an incredible read. 


Moore & Campbell’s approach to this story was novel.  Most Ripper yarns start with the perspective that the identity of Jack the Ripper, over a century later, is still unknown and thus, a mystery.  These authors, through their works, treat the material as a whodunit, working to enhance the suspense of their narratives by keeping the face of the killer in the dark, teasing out the clues that ultimately reveal the truth of who was behind the ghastly murders haunting Victorian London in that year of 1888.  Moore & Campbell, on the other hand, chose not to keep the Ripper’s identity a secret, instead following Jack (Sir William Gull, royal physician to Queen Victoria) on his rapid descent into horror and debasement.  As Moore stated in interviews, From Hell is a “wha’happen” rather than the typical “whodunit,” and this elevates it above most Ripper fiction. 



Although a fiction—and both Moore and Campbell have stated they do not necessarily hold that Dr. Gull was indeed Jack the Ripper—From Hell is incredibly well researched.  Copious notes can be found at the end of the book, explicating scenes and offering theories that have been put forth by other Ripperologists, and the narrative connections that Moore threads within this horror enrich and enliven the story, even as the facts may turn your stomach.  From Hell is a wildly ambitious narrative that expands across the whole of London—incorporating the freemasons, the architecture of Nicholas Hawksmoor, John Merrick, the Elephant Man, the royal machinations of Queen Victoria and her family, the inspectors of Scotland Yard, and the dregs of humanity left to founder by an uncaring aristocracy in the East End of London—while also keeping it personal by revealing the narrative through the eyes of its characters, including Mary Kelly, Inspector Abberline, and Sir William Gull. 



Of course, as engaging and complex as the story is, it benefits greatly from the masterful artwork of Eddie Campbell.  The frenetic, scratchiness of his linework and heavy use of blacks add so much to the reading experience.  This London is dark, is dirty, is a place where one can see how a serial killer could make his easily through the blackened night and get away with these horrors.  I cannot imagine this book being drawn by anyone else.  The cartooning adds so much to the feeling of the narrative while also drawing readers in with its more naturalistic and less rigid line.  If you’re looking for a great book to read on these dark, October nights that will chill your heart and tingle your spine, this is the one book you need. 



chris

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

OCTOBER COMICS (2015): Batman & Dracula: Red Rain


Written by Dough Moench, art by Kelley Jones & Malcolm Jones, III, with colors by Les Dorscheid and letters from Todd Klein


Another Batman Elseworlds tale, but with his affinity for the night, Batman lends himself well to these October Comics. 


In an alternate world, vampires are real, and Dracula has amassed a large enough horde of vampires to his side that he is ready to take over the world, starting with Gotham City.  But Batman is on the case.  At first, he does not realize the victims, whose throats have been slashed, were attacked by vampires.  Digging deeper into the commonality behind those left for dead on Gotham’s streets, he realizes they are all homeless, leading him to the most destitute part of town where he intrudes on the latest attack.  Hindering the attacker, he trails her through the alleys, only to have her disappear without trace or explanation.  When he returns to the victim, he finds her dead, but with puncture wounds, and realizes what he’s up against. 

  
The understanding that vampires are real also leads to Bruce Wayne coming to grips with how he has been changing.  Concomitant with dreams of a female astral body hovering above his bed, Wayne has become more averse to the daytime while his strength has increased ten-fold.  Eventually, the astral form reveals herself as a vampire who has broken with Dracula, intending to stop his evil before it can spread beyond Gotham, part of her plan being to enlist Batman as a similarly infected “good” vampire, with the speed and strength to battle Dracula on his own terms.  And, in the end, with wings sprouting from his back, Batman is able to do just that.


This was another pairing that just made sense, and Doug Moench’s story works really well.  He paces the comic nicely, revealing answers to the mysteries surrounding Batman and Gotham at opportune moments that add weight and drama to their revelations.  And the ending is quite satisfying, giving us a proper confrontation between these two entities of the night, while never making the outcome seem preordained. 

  
Again, though, the stars of this book are the artists.  Kelley Jones’s elongated, overmasculinized physiques defy reality, which creates a skewed prism through which to view this story.  As insane as his drawings can be, I love, love, love them.  Jones is unapologetic in his hypertrophied characters as they battle in the sewers and the skies of Gotham.  And that damn cape on Batman—it’s longer than the one Berni Wrightson gave the Dark Knight when he visited Swamp Thing back in the seventies, and it’s magnificent.  Great cartooning can infuse images with a story all their own, and when those pictures are played against dialogue and captions, as with the medium of comics, it can elevate a story to something beyond what either medium could accomplish.  Moench & Jones, et al. all bring their A-game to this book, and it is another October Comic that is eerie and creepy while also being fun and adventurous, a perfect alchemical concoction of comic reading enjoyment.  Check it out!


chris

Monday, October 19, 2015

OCTOBER COMICS (2015): Providence #5


Written by Alan Moore, art by Jacen Burrows, colors by Juan Rodriguez, letters from Kurt Hathaway


Alan Moore’s latest series from Avatar, the first handful of issues have been a slow burn, with little development to see, as of yet (of course, once the full twelve issues are complete, I imagine there will be many threads weaving back to these initial installments; so I can’t pass judgment yet).  A deeper exploration of Lovecraft and the themes surrounding his works, there have been hints at what may come, but, as with the plot development, there has been little in the way of horror.  That changed with the latest issue, number five. 



The protagonist, Robert Black, is continuing his travels through New England in search of an idea he can expand into a novel, all the while encountering strange things and people that he manages to explain away, but which those of us reading recognize as Lovecraftian monsters.  Now in Manchester, New Hampshire, Black is hoping to examine the copy of the Kitab mentioned in the Suydam pamphlets in an earlier chapter, which is supposedly held at the library of St. Anselm College.  But the library is closed, as Black arrives, and he must find a place to stay.  Sent to the outskirts of Manchester, Black finds a worn-down house where a single, elderly woman lives.  She agrees to let out an attic room to Black, and things get weird.



The first indication that something strange may happen is when Black is being led up to the attic, and his room.  As he passes a window on the stairwell, the “camera” pulls outside the house, as if something from without were watching and waiting.  It is used again as Black returns back down the staircase, a single, ominous image that tingles at the spine.  Later, Black is aroused from his slumber by the older woman renting him out the room.  She is sitting in the corner of the attic, stark naked, suckling a creature that has the head and upper body of the creepy man who gave Black a ride into town in his oxblood roadster, while the lower half of his body appears to be that of a large rat/human hybrid.  It is unsettling, an intrusion into Black’s private space that would unnerve any of us in the same situation.  He quickly dresses while the woman sits there, calmly suckling this odd monster, and escapes the house (with a now-full moon hovering above the landscape where a crescent earlier resided), only to have the oxblood roadster approach him, the strange man asking if he can take Black anywhere.  Then Black awakes, back in the attic room, but it’s now empty.  Again, he dresses, packs his suitcase, and escapes, fleeing to the home of a medical assistant from St. Anselm who offered a place to stay, if Black found nothing. 


It’s the idea of intrusion upon a place, even a temporary one, where we, if put in Black’s position, might expect a degree of privacy.  Couple this with the matter-of-fact manner with which the old woman speaks with Black, as she suckles the stunted monster on her naked lap, and this entire scene is rife with unease and discomfort.  The mundanity of the situation, as much as anything, sparks this scene with a sense of horror that lingers after you’re done reading.  And I feel like this may be the turning point in the narrative, where things will start to get more unnerving and begin to move forward into darker, uglier realms of the soul. 



chris

Sunday, October 18, 2015

APOLOGIES, MARK MILLAR: a Kingsman comic review



Millar is one of those name creators, whose following has garnered him a fair bit of autonomy.  As a comic writer, he’s worked with artists such as John Romita, Jr., Leinil Francis Yu, JG Jones, Dave Johnson, and Frank Quitely, had work published by Marvel & DC, as well as other, smaller publishers, and seen a number of his books translated to film.  The guy’s a success, and I’ve not read much of it.  So, a few years back, I decided to check out some of his work—and though I enjoyed his “Old Man Logan” storyline, I had a lot of trouble with another Wolverine story he wrote, which you can find if you search the site, but I don’t feel the need to heap on here again.  Suffice to say, after reading these books, I felt no need to check out anything more from Millar.  I was done. 


Am I glad I moved past that personal decree and read Kingsman: The Secret Service. 



The big draw here, for me, was the artist, Dave Gibbons.  He has worked on some of my favorite comics—writing the World’s Finest mini that was drawn by Steve Rude, as well as drawing the Martha Washington series with Frank Miller, as well as Watchmen …’nuff said there—and I will check out anything he’s involved with.  Gibbons never disappoints. 



Kingsman is a story in the vein of James Bond, revolving around an agency of British super-spies (focusing on Jack London, the agency’s best in the field).  London’s sister is on the dole, living with a worthless piece of trash who has no right being a father-figure to either of her children, the older David, better known as “Eggsy,” who’s working age, or his far younger brother.  Rarely there for her, having long moved past enabling her, in his mind, and believing she needs to take some responsibility for her life, London is still willing to get his nephew out of jail, through his high-level governmental association, whenever he does something stupid.  But, this time, as he helps Eggsy, London decides to give him a chance to get out of his current living situation and make something of himself and recommends him as a new recruit for the spy agency. 



As Eggsy begins his training, his uncle is hip-deep in a rash of kidnappings of pop cultural icons such as Mark Hamill and Rowdy Roddy Piper.  Clues are being unearthed, but they make no sense.  Not until one final piece is revealed.  At which point, uncle and nephew start to close in on the twenty-something technological wunderkind who has been using his money and telecommunications expertise to devise a plan that will save all his pop culture heroes while almost eighty percent of the world’s population is killed through a subliminal signal delivered through their cell phones.  And then, London, a thirty-year veteran of the spy agency, is taken out, his nephew now left on his own to complete the mission—one that is doubly hampered by Eggsy’s discovery of moles within the spy agency. 


Spoiler:  good guys win. 


Millar & Gibbons play with an intricate balance of seriousness and satirical comedy in the tone of the book and manage to pull it off amazingly well.  Much of this is familiar—the cool gadgets, the global threat, the calm, cool approach of the spies who rarely flinch in combat—but Millar & Gibbons put a nice spin on it through the dichotomy of the younger generation, epitomized by Eggsy, and the older, as characterized by the experienced members of the agency.  Through the training episodes, the creators play up this generational gap, offering the readers a traditional solution to a problem posed to Eggsy, only to have him upend expectations when he finds a far different, but plausible escape from his predicaments.  This, more than anything, is what makes Kingsman such an enjoyable story.  Tack on some emotional growth for the protagonist, Eggsy, pathos in the form of London’s death (which his nephew experiences almost as his own, through the video-link they had at the time), and some genuine drama during the final battle when Eggsy must confront a former spy and find a way to outmaneuver an opponent familiar with all of his training and gadgets…or, at least, most of is gadgets, as we find out, and you have an engaging and entertaining read. 



Gibbons’s art is top-notch, as always—clean, crisp lines with fully realized backgrounds and easily read pages.  Millar plays fair with his readers, feinting nicely within the narrative to reveal solutions that, though unexpected, work with the information already available on the page.  I never felt like there was a cheat or a “wrestlemania” moment (where the protagonist wills himself, or herself, to overcome his opponent, despite having been completely outmatched the entirety of her, or his, altercation).  Certainly, some of the emotional growth and character beats were a bit too quickly achieved, but the creators work within a limited space, so we can forgive them that. 


Overall, I really enjoyed this, which surprised me.  Not a book that might reward future re-reads, but it’s certainly one that will entertain you when you’re looking for something fun and light to read.  Now I’m looking forward to checking out the movie.  I expect it does translate well. 



chris

Friday, October 16, 2015

OCTOBER COMICS (2015): Gotham by Gaslight


Written by Brian Augustyn, art by Mike Mignola & P. Craig Russel, colors by David Hornung, with letters from John Workman


This was the first, unofficial, Elseworlds tale from DC Comics back in 1989, and it is great. 


As with the vast majority of DC’s Elseworlds tales, Batman is the character of note in this comic.  Set 100 years in the past—1889, at the time of its publication—this comic posits the narrative conceit of what might happen in a Victorian-era Gotham City if Jack the Ripper were to come to these shores and continue his killing ways here in America.  Combine this with the emergence of Batman as a dark force of the night, and you have a cross-pollinated story ripe for the telling. 


Brian Augustyn, known mainly as an editor for DC, does a fine job with the story.  It may be obvious to many, early in the story, who the actual Ripper is, but that does not take away from the finely structured tale he crafted.  All the pieces fit, and fit well, with characters we know, such as Bruce Wayne and James Gordon, acting in a familiar manner, even in this different milieu.  And the confluence of Batman’s appearance with the horrors perpetrated by the Ripper, in the dark, works nicely and makes sense.  The end comes as a bit of an anticlimax—the Ripper revealed by Batman, he confesses everything to Gordon, apparently so scared and scarred by this Batman  that he must confess it all—but that’s a minor quibble. 

  
If the story is good, though, the real stars of the book are the artists.  Sure, everyone remembers that Mike Mignola drew this, but many may have forgotten the inks were by P. Craig Russell (who also worked with Mignola on one of my favorite DC mini-series of the eighties, the Phantom Stranger).  Mignola’s distinct linework evokes the Victorian time period beautifully, while Russell’s delicate inks add yet another layer to these images.  Gotham City feels cluttered, dirty, a claustrophobic urban setting that will only grow larger and more congested over the next century.  And the costume design for Batman is iconic and appropriate to the time period.  This really is a beautiful comic wherein style matches setting and theme masterfully. 


Check it out!

chris 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

OCTOBER COMICS





It may be cliché, but this time of year, especially here in New England, evokes a feeling of unease that is exciting.  We all like to be scared or disturbed by our fictions, to a certain degree and when the mood is right.  It’s thrilling, gets our blood racing, makes us feel alive while reaffirming that life.  It’s a combination of things, no doubt, that can elicit this mood in October—the creeping darkness that sends us into our homes far earlier than we’ve come to enjoy during the summer months, rising winds that rattle tree branches and send dried leaves skittering down the road like a pack of rats threatening to overrun us, the chill air forcing us to pull our jackets tighter to keep out the cold that will soon lay trees bare and send snow our way.
And of course, there’s All Hallow’s Eve. 


I love fall in Maine.  The leaves change color, the days aren’t as warm, and winter is coming.  Yeah, I’m that guy.  I also love pulling out some appropriate comics for the season and reading them, as well, and a few years back I did some capsule reviews for some of these under the heading of “October Comics.”  Those books, which I would highly recommend, were:






I plan on adding more entries to this list in the coming weeks.  Hopefully you’ll join me on a reading of some cool, moody comics.  And add your own favorite titles in the comments, if you like.  I’m always looking for something new to read.

Thanks,

chris

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Best American Mystery Stories 2015!


My short crime story, "Silence," which was published in the Winter 2014-15 issue of Needle: A Magazine of Noir has been recognized in the latest edition of the "Best American Mystery Stories," edited by James Patterson & Otto Penzler.  Not one of those reprinted in the book, it's one of the short-listed honorable mentions that can be found in the back of the book.  Boo-yah!  (yeah, I'm excited about this)



When I re-wrote "Silence," I knew it was the best thing I'd written.  So, to have it recognized in this way feels really great and alleviates--just a bit--the feeling that I'm faking it and have no idea what I'm doing, which I think is fairly common for most writers.



If you're interested in checking out my story, "Silence," you can hit the link in the first paragraph for the issue of Needle where it was published (7 bucks, and a bunch of noir stories) or head over to the Warrior27 store and order a copy of my chapbook that has that plus a short comic illustrated by Angela Allen, which is another story I'm quite proud of --- it's volume 7 of the Mainelining book, about three-quarters of the way down the page.

And thanks,
chris

Saturday, October 3, 2015

BALTIMORE COMIC-CON 2015 IN THE REARVIEW pt.2




When I traveled to Atlanta in 2004 with my buddies for Dragon-Con, one of the attractions was the fact that Warren Ellis was crossing the Atlantic for the first time in years.  Ellis had an early signing the one day we attended the show, so we hopped in line first thing.  One of those ahead of us in line was also a writer (I will assume published, but I don’t know) and remarking about how she was unable to read books for enjoyment anymore, because she knew what it was like to sit down to write a story.  She just couldn’t find it in herself to be a fan of authors anymore.  Because……why?  o_O 


It was a frustrating discussion to listen to, and though I concede that might be some writers’ reaction to doing the work, I have trouble believing it.  It reeks of an elitism that turns my stomach.  And it’s interesting to note that all of my favorite extant authors—Harlan Ellison, Neil Gaiman, Toni Morrison, among others—seem to revel in sharing newfound literary gems.  If it weren’t for Joe Hill’s enthusiastic blog posts and tweets, I never would have discovered the work of David Mitchell.  Harlan Ellison turned me onto W.S. Merwin.  With that in mind, despite being some elitist “auteur” behind the table in Baltimore, I definitely set out onto the floor to meet with some of my favorite creators, and it was a blast. 


Two of my favorite comics from the 80s, when I first got into this habit, are Suicide Squad and Grimjack, both written and co-created by John Ostrander.  This was the first time I had a chance to meet him—one of the best comic book writers you haven’t heard of.  Why Ostrander isn’t in the discussion of great comic writers always boggles my mind.  I might need to remedy that, at some point, here on the blog.  Ostrander was generous, speaking with me about his work on these two titles, including the major status quo shake-up that occurred around issue 55 of Grimjack, which is the only major reboot of a comic that’s ever worked for me.  Ostrander said it was risky, when they decided to do it, because it was such a radical departure, up to that point in the series.  But it works so well, and the introduction of a new artist, Flint Henry, certainly helped things, I believe.  Worth checking out, if you’ve never read it.


John Totleben, an artist whose work is just plain beautiful, and whose delicacy of linework is only matched by the likes of P. Craig Russell or Charless Vess, was seated just down from Ostrander, and he had no line (huh?).  I had my original copies of the first Swamp Thing trade and the third Miracleman trade, both written by Alan Moore, with pencil art in the former by Stephen Bissette.  And Totleben seemed genuinely appreciative to have them to sign and to have the chance to discuss them a bit.  I shared with him how I lent out my Miracleman trades to others in the graphic novel discussion group I was a part of a dozen or so years back, not realizing the exorbitant prices they went for due at the time.  He chuckled at this and was just happy that people still appreciated the work.  If you haven’t read the updated printing of Miracleman (and I can’t relate how the new coloring works with Totleben’s linework, if they revised it), you should definitely seek it out.  The whole thing is great, but the Totleben issues are some of the most beautiful comic art you’ll find. 


Scott Snyder.  This guy was swamped, and he was super generous with his time.  I’ve read a number of his comics, and they’re pretty good—entertaining while I read them, even if they don’t stay with me too long afterward (though Wytches is a series that has lingered)—but I am definitely a fan of his prose work.  I brought along a copy of the One Story edition of his short narrative, “Happy Fish, Plus Coin.”  Snyder was excited to see a copy of what was only his second published story.  We chatted quickly—the line was long—and I forgot the question I wanted to ask him.  But, still and all, a great interaction with another in a long line of creators who felt like he enjoyed being there interacting with fans. 



I also got a chance to speak with Carla Speed McNeil (her series, Finder, is one of my favorites), Franco (of Aw, Yeah Comics and Teen Titans Go), Rob Venditti (X-O Manowar, Surrogates), Greg Pak (Action Comics), Jamal Igle (Molly Danger), Jim Starlin (Dreadstar, Death of Captain Marvel), and they were all great—kind and generous with their limited time.  And there was one creator who seemed ambivalent about his attendance, who was charging 5 bucks for his autograph.  Wish I’d known that before he began signing my Kraven hardcover (note: not the writer or inker), but it was on the sign at the far corner of the table, away from where he sat, at the bottom of a price point sign for his prints…maybe he should have had it up front like Neal Adams.  Ah, well. 


Which made my experience meeting Charles Vess so much better.  The man draws beautifully, and his linework is so soft and feathery you wonder how he manages it.  Vess has worked on a lot of important comics for me, including two of my favorite Sandman stories, as well as his lushly illustrated edition of Stardust with Neil Gaiman (also the Sandman writer), and many high fantasy tales.  In recent years, Vess has moved more into illustrating children’s books along with a variety of novels and is currently working of fully illustrated versions of Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea Chronicles—one color plate and fifty black and white illustrations per book.  And, as he was signing the few books I had for him, without asking he opened up my Sandman: Dream Country hardcover and did a quick sketch for me.  More than I could have expected.  The man is an artist and a gentleman. 


I took some time to browse comic boxes at the many vendors, too.  And I hit a jackpot.  Got roughly two dozen Rom issues I needed, all for a buck or two bucks a piece, with the exception of the first issue, which I found in really good condition for well below what I could find it for online.  So, I’m close to finishing off that run and looking forward to discovering the wonders this Spaceknight from that stars. 

Anyway.  It was a great show, as a comic fan, and I’ll be back tomorrow (hopefully) with my final reminiscence on Baltimore Con 2015.  Thanks.


chris