Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Table Talk - Kill 'Em All!




In the latest installment of Table Talk, New Pulp authors Barry Reese, Bobby Nash and Mike Bullock discuss attachments to their characters as well as the writing process itself.




Question (Barry): How attached do you become to your characters? Is it ever hard for you to put them through the wringer? I've run into situations where the story called for a character to die and it was a really tough time for me. In some cases, I spared the character but in others, I pushed through and killed/maimed, ruined them. What about you guys?

Bobby: They say you only hurt the ones you love, right? I think that definitely applies to our characters too. Sometimes I do become attached to characters. In the Yin Yang graphic novel I created one character with the express plan that he would die. I quickly fell in love with the character, but stuck to my plan and he met his end, but I think it was a better end because I really cared for the character and it showed in the writing (or so I hope).

Sometimes characters stay with me long after I stop working on them. I still occasionally hear Jaclyn Hayes: The Demonslayer in my thoughts even though it has been several years since that series ended.

Mike: Some characters I create specifically to 'put through the ringer' and I've also created a few destined to die. Of those, only one had me wanting to bring him back, which was Manuel Ortega, a villain I created for The Phantom. Sadly, he's the property of King Features Syndicate now, so until I start writing Phantom stories again, there's nothing I can do about that.

Barry: Bobby, I definitely feel you about how characters stay with you even after you’re done with them. It’s kind of strange – there are lots of times where I’ll write a story and at the end, the main characters are still out there, ready for more adventures… and I loved writing their first one… but I’m hesitant to do anything more with them. It’s almost like I love them too much to want to screw them up. Go to the well once too often and you taint the memory of the original, sometimes. I’ve found that I need to create a character with the intention of writing a series with them or else when their story is “done,” I feel like I need to honor it by staying away. Kind of off-topic, I know, but that’s one I’ve noticed about characters that I loved writing – like Fiona Chapman in Rabbit Heart or Violet Cambridge in The Damned Thing.

Bobby: It’s an easy trap to fall into to automatically start thinking of future adventures when I’m writing a character, but you’re right that sometimes you have to know when to walk away and leave them alone. I recently finished a nice stand-alone novel. My first thought was what can happen in the sequel. Then I started to wonder if it really needed a sequel. Part of me thinks no, but another part of me would like to revisit the characters.

It’s hard to walk away from some of these characters after having them live in my head for so long. It’s one of those issues I struggle with as a writer sometimes, but at the end of the day you have to do what’s best to serve the story. Sometimes that means characters have to die or just ride off into the sunset never to be seen again.
Mike: That's kind of foreign to me, most likely since I've done so much writing for comics which are always open-ended. Most of my characters I create with the intention of having a long career of adventures. I'm not sure I'd even know how to create a "one and done" main character. But, maybe that's because I love character driven storytelling. Maybe if I was plot driven, that would do it. Which way do you guys lean on that?

Barry: I always start with character. In fact, I think my biggest weakness is in terms of plot. Really, all my plots are just excuses to see how the characters respond to situations, how they interact, etc. I love people who can do big, grandiose plots because I never feel I can do that. I like doing dialogue, getting into the characters' heads, seeing how they feel about the people and things around them. I can rarely remember the plots of the Rook stories, for instance, but I can tell you how Max responded to having his wife and kids be threatened or how he and Will went on vacation together, etc.

Bobby: Character is key. I get to know my characters and then drop them into situations and see how they respond. I try to work out intricate plots as well, but like Barry said, sometimes the plot revolves around seeing how a character reacts to a certain situation. I’m working on a sequel to my novel, Evil Ways. The climax of Evil Ways happens in a state park where the protagonist is surrounded by trees when something very bad happens to him (trying to keep this spoiler free). In the sequel I wanted to see how the character would react to be thrown back into a similar arena under different circumstances. That idea shaped a big part of the story line just to see how he’d react. It turned out to be a really good scene and it gave the character a personal obstacle to overcome.

Mike: It's always fascinating to hear how other writers produce their work. I'm a big outline guy, so after I create my characters, I hammer out an outline of the plot, then move on from there. But, like you guys, every twist and turn is founded on what the character did at the last juncture. The characters dictate the plot, not the other way around.

Bobby: I plot to a degree, but I don’t outline. Outlining kills a lot of the fun for me. Plus, I find myself ignoring the outline once I get started anyway. I generally have a good idea where I’m going and I know there are guideposts I need to hit in the story. The fun is seeing how the characters go from guidepost to guidepost.

Barry: I very, very rarely outline. Like Bobby said, it takes a lot of the fun out of the experience for me. I have an idea of the basic plot and where I’d like to end up, then I take off and have fun seeing how I get there. Sometimes I will make notes of things that I don’t want to forget along the way but it’s not a true outline – I usually only do that if the plot is complex or there are just a ton of characters in the story. In general, though, I get the idea and the plot in my head, then start writing.

Bobby: Same here, Barry. Most of it is in my head. Sometimes I’ll write something down on a scrap piece of paper if I’m afraid I’ll forget it, but other than that I avoid outlining.


Mike: Yeah, for me at least, since I'm doing mostly comic scripts, the structure of it demands an outline. Now, with my prose stuff, I don't get as detailed in the outline, it's more of a synopsis. One of the novels I'm doing, I only have a very vague sense of the overall plot, and I'm making up a great deal of it as I go, which is kind of fun. I won't tell anyone which it is, but it'll be fun to see the response to the three. One of them, I worked out a very detailed outline, the other one I just mentioned barely has one and the third is somewhere in the middle. I guess that's me either being experimental or lazy… [laughs]

Bobby: Do you find yourself approaching your prose stories differently than you do comic book stories or is it the same process with just a different format?

Mike: Story creation-wise, not at all; good stories need the same elements no matter what the delivery format. Story telling-wise, very much as the comic format is much more structured than free-form prose.

Barry: I have to admit that I detest writing in script format. It doesn’t matter if it’s full-script or “Marvel style” – the entire process feels artificial and takes me out of the story. I much prefer prose because, as Mike says, the comic format demands so much more structure. I have to block out the story and then further break it down into panels… in the end, it feels a hell of a lot more like work than simply writing prose. I love seeing my script interpreted by an artist but it’s not generally worth all the headache in getting there to me. But to answer the question – coming up with the idea is the same regardless of whether or not it’s prose or script but the actual laying out of the plot is far different and I have to think of things in a more visual way.

Bobby: I started out writing comics so the format is almost second nature to me now. I agree that it flexes different creative muscles than writing prose, but I find that I enjoy both styles. I approach a story in much the same way in both, but with comics it’s more of a straightforward storytelling style for me. With prose there’s a bit more introspection from the characters. Plus, with comics there is nothing as exciting as seeing new pages of art in my inbox. I still get a thrill seeing how the artist(s) interpret my script.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Supermarket Checkout Line Effect



There’s a reason that I titled this column “Adventures on the New Pulp Frontier.” New Pulp, and indeed all of modern publishing, is venturing into new territory. Every day, it seems, someone writes an article for a newspaper or trade magazine asking the question: Is traditional publishing on the way out? Sometimes they skip the question and go right to the obituary.

We are witnessing a paradigm shift for the written word. Just as the pulps radically changed the accessibility of fiction for the average reader, so too digital publishing is altering the way we think about books. Regardless of how you and I may personally feel about it, the change is happening, and as I have repeatedly said, this new landscape provides unique opportunities for New Pulp creators and readers alike. No longer do authors have to submit to the grueling and often futile process of submitting manuscripts to agents and editors.

One perennial myth of publishing is that traditional publishers will take care of all the publicity and marketing. I hear this a lot from new authors who are dedicated to going the traditional route because they think it will represent a bigger paycheck, and spare them the somewhat laborious task of self-promotion.

This is most certainly not the case.

Every author, from Stephen King right down to folks like me, bears the responsibility for their own commercial success. Granted, the best-selling high-profile author has advantages, not the least of which are the financial resources to enlist professional assistance—publicists, paid advertisements, and the like. But the ability to hire someone to pave the way does not obviate the fundamental need to self-promote; it’s about making and sustaining a connection to the readers. At every level of publishing, this involves making use of another new frontier of communication: social networking. You would be hard pressed to identify a commercially successful writer who does not have and regularly use a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a blog, or some combination of the three.

It’s easy to forget just how new all of this is. Six years ago, when my first book came out, I started exploring ways to use the Internet to get the word out. Social networking at the time consisted largely of groups and forums dedicated to almost every topic imaginable. I was drawn to a Clive Cussler fan forum, and for several years, became a regular fixture there, discussing his works, offering up my unsolicited opinion of the future of movie adaptations, and every once in a while, gently reminding the participants that I was an author too. I made some very good friends there, many of whom I am still in contact with. But the publicity value of that particular avenue diminished quickly. As I broadened my approach, I became aware of other authors who were attempting to do the same thing, and that was when I began to notice what I call ‘the Supermarket Checkout Line Effect.’

It’s what happens when you go to a grocery store and try to pick the shortest line to stand in. You may pick a line that you think is moving quickly, but then someone in front of you pulls out a wad of coupons or a bag of pennies, and everything grinds to a halt. You glance left and right and see that another lane has opened, so you gather your 15 items or less, and head for it. If you’re lucky, you get there first and you’re on your way. But the problem is, everyone else sees it too, and you could just as easily find yourself in another long line, maybe even losing ground.

My very good friend Jeremy Robinson was an earlier pioneer of new ways to utilize various Internet based platforms to publicize his work. Like so many of the rest of us, Jeremy ran up against the wall of exclusion in traditional publishing, and so started looking for alternatives. He discovered a brand new publishing service called Lulu.com, which utilized the emerging ‘print-on-demand’ technology to produce professional quality bound books, but without the up-front investment required by similar ‘vanity-press’ modeled ventures like Alibris and iUniverse. (Lulu is still around today, and is a great resource; I use it to create proof copies of my manuscripts. You only pay for what you print and the postage to ship it, so for me it’s more cost effective than printing out my manuscripts). Jeremy used Lulu to publish his first novel, The Didymus Contingency, and then the magic really started to happen. With a lot of hard work and thoughtful strategy, he found ‘the shortest line’ and got the word out. He did guest blogs, he made connections with other authors, he utilized discussion posts on Amazon.com, he created video trailers and released them on YouTube (another innovation of the last few years) and suddenly (but not really suddenly) The Didymus Contingency was a bestseller.

There’s a lot more to Jeremy’s story, and even though he’s now a traditionally published author, he’s still pioneering new ways to reach readers. The salient point here though is that the techniques Jeremy used to launch his career worked for him because he was one of the first people to see the short line. Now, that line isn’t so short anymore. That’s not to say that those techniques are valueless. Guest blogging remains an excellent way to reach new readers. Sending your book to review sites is another. But you may well discover a long line of other authors trying to do the same thing. Many book review sites have transformed into commercial ventures, catering to authors who are willing to pay to get their book featured, and even then, there may be a waiting list several months long. Many of the services that Amazon.com once provided became so inundated with authors trying to self-promote that they began restricting their use, or even banning authors from making posts.

But the Supermarket Checkout Line Effect has another constant; there’s always a new line opening up somewhere. In the last couple years, Facebook and Twitter have exploded onto the scene (MySpace? What’s that?). The eBook phenomenon has created another short line. Witness as an example, the success of John Locke, who has become a self-publishing megastar by releasing dozens of books for 99 cents, or J.A. Konrath, a mid-list mystery writer who re-released his out-of-print backlist and discovered he didn’t need traditional publishers any more. Both men have become the new prophets of self-publishing. Konrath blogs regularly about how eBooks will destroy mainstream publishing. Locke has written a best-selling guide to successful self-publishing. Konrath and Locke (and there are others) are essentially shouting: “Hey! Short line over here!” And from where they are standing, the line does look pretty short.

Here’s what it comes down to. Authors, you want readers. Readers, you’re trying to find new authors. A connection is possible, but it’s not going to happen without a lot of patience and hard work. There are a lot of lines in this Supermarket, and most of them are pretty crowded. Some move faster than others, but the factor that determines how fast you will get through the line is your own ability to use a given platform or technique effectively. Figure out what your strength is and play to it. If you see a new “line” open, use common sense; recognize that it probably won’t be a silver bullet that launches you to the top, but just one more avenue for you to utilize as you blaze your trail across the frontier.

One very effective new tool is Twitter—a social networking site that allows people to send out short messages to upwards of 2,000 followers. Twitter is something that I’ve only just begun to use, and for me, it’s very much unexplored territory. So I have done what any good adventurer does when venturing into an unfamiliar landscape—I’ve “hired” a guide. Next week, I’ll give you the low down on using Twitter.


Sean Ellis is the author of the Nick Kismet thrillers, The Adventures of Dodge Dalton, and other adventure and pulp novels. He is a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, and has a Bachelor of Science degree in Natural Resources Policy from Oregon State University. Sean is also a member of the International Thriller Writers organization. He currently resides in Arizona, where he divides his time between writing, adventure sports, and trying to figure out how to save the world. Visit Sean’s website: http://seanellisthrillers.webs.com


Monday, August 29, 2011

Pulp Perusals - Pulp Doesn't Mean Anything to Me




Pulp magazines and pulp characters, they don't mean anything to me!

Did I really used to say that?

It didn't happen in a blaze of gunfire. There was no moment of sudden clarity. However, there may have been a special girl involved, and there's a good chance that it was accompanied by a squeal of tires.

Whatever the circumstances, and whenever it happened, what is certain is that at some point in my life there came a creeping realization that despite a lifetime of protestations to the contrary, I was in fact a fan of the pulps. I blame Texas, and I blame the comics.

Growing up in the UK in the sixties and seventies, Texas was a mythical land and never in my wildest imagination did I ever consider I would one day call it home. The Lone Star state of my childhood was bestrode by heroes who performed daring deeds on an epic stage. They rode across the TV screen, first in muted black, white and grey, then in full color. They raced across the pages of my weekly adventure comics. They occasionally filled the silver screen, but above all they would crop up in cheap paperback magazines and books. And chief among these heroes was one with a mask, a fiery horse, and a cry of “Hi Yo Silver” on his lips.

The Lone Ranger

As I kid I wanted to know more about where this character came from. The cartoons and comics weren't enough. I also wanted to know what came next, a question that lead me to The Green Hornet. Like many other kids my age I was hooked on the Batman TV show; and when the "spin-off" Green Hornet series made its way across The Pond, I was probably the only kid in the play ground who knew who the character was and his connection to that other masked hero of the old West.

The masked man on the horse was soon replaced in my obsessional fervor by the masked man in cape and cowl, with the cool car with all the gadgets. A dive into the earlier Batman comics led me to his darker pulp roots. But the connection between The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet wouldn't go away; I found the idea of generational heroes a compelling one.

An idea that lead to The Phantom...

Meanwhile my father developed a penchant for filling house with books about the modern Robin Hood of crime, one Simon Templar. As a teenager for a few foolish years I put comics aside and migrated over to reading The Saint, and discovered the works of a certain Ian Fleming that showed me that the real James Bond wasn't the one I saw on the silver screen.

And so it remained until that certain woman entered my wife. Following a drunken college dorm late evening conversation about childhood heroes she suggested I picked up a comic book from a local newsagents. The rest, as they say, is history.

Among the first titles picked up as part of the return to sequential art was a Marvel UK comic called Daredevils that along with superhero types included Alan Moore's NightRaven a distinctly pulp influenced character that, along with a renewed interest in Batman's origins (a continuing obsession), lead me to The Shadow

While on surface my interest seemed to be the long underwear types, The Shadow & The Phantom were never far away, the Green Hornet, Lone Ranger & Zorro were also still lurking.

Then came Texas.

A decade after arriving in the USA we suddenly found ourselves heading for the mythical land of my youth. While the streets of Austin, Texas may no longer be full of cowboys, (well not the ones on horses anyway), they are well populated with creative types. It didn't take long before I was hanging out with folks who talked the same kind of language I did, and loved the same sort of characters and stories. Except they used the word “pulps” a lot. And they kept talking about some guy from Texas called Howard.

Before I knew it I was coming home from various conventions with the occasional pulp magazine in among the stacks of books and comics. It didn't take long for occasional to become a regular habit.

When recently asked to participate in a prose superhero anthology collection, instead of someone with superpowers wearing long underwear, I came up with a guy wearing a slouch hat, and toting twin .45s running around a 1940s era New York, the progenitor of a line of generational heroes.

When through Bobby Nash & Ron Fortier, I was offered the chance to pitch some story ideas for a pulp detective series I jumped at the chance.

You know, maybe I do like this Pulp thing after all. I guess we'll find out in the coming months.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Bold Venture Bulletins



Writing a column for the New Pulp website sounded like a great idea. I’ve been involved with pulp fandom since 1984, and done more than my fair share of publishing and writing. I sponsor an annual collectors’ event in New Jersey. But then it took me several weeks before finally delivering a column (this one) to Mike and Tommy.

Time slips away from me, unless I’m paying strict attention to the clock or calendar. No sooner had one Friday passed, before I realized that I was staring down the business end of another Friday.

Also, I’ve never been particularly eager to write about myself. Hence, every editorial in Pulp Adventures, my old publication devoted to the pulps, usually became a notice of noteworthy events or a review of something seen or read. It was a convenient way of reaching out to readers while hiding behind the anonymity of a review.

I’m bringing this up by way of explaining why a column that should have debuted two weeks ago is finally appearing with New Pulp. Since I elected to place myself in the spotlight, and this column isn’t going to write itself, I’m hammering it out with less than 24 hours before it should be forwarded to all New Pulp subscribers.

The old-line pulp writers often worked with tight schedules, but they were professional enough to know that working up to the last minute was a bad idea. Maybe this column will be good practice in maintaining those pesky deadlines.

***

Incidentally, I often wondered what it was like to be a pulp author in the Depression. Now, I no longer have to wonder – I’ve written stories about The Green Hornet, The Spider, the Domino Lady, and Ed Race, the Masked Marksman for Moonstone Books, and the good old U.S. of A. is in the midst of an economic meltdown. Be careful what you wish for.

Two major differences between then and now: Hundreds of newsstand magazines offered income potential to freelance authors. At a penny a word (later at a much higher rate), The Shadow magazine’s twice-monthly frequency allowed Walter B. Gibson to live like a king. Also, people comforted themselves in the 1930s by telling themselves they would find jobs once the U.S. escaped the Depression – if they could survive that long.

In this modern world, computers and mobile devices are automating certain jobs into oblivion. Therefore, the Depression will never end for some people. On the up side, modern technology allows hacks like me to reach people willing to idle away their time away on my penny-per-word philosophies.

***

Lately, everyone has been writing about the topics “What Is Pulp?” and “Does New Pulp have its place with Old Pulp?” Or something like that. Since everyone has offered up an opinion, I’ll throw in my two cents another time.

The only advice I can offer to New Pulp guys: Keep looking ahead. I’ve been in pulp fandom for over 25 years -- I’ve witnessed first-hand the close-minded mentality toward just about everything. Many of the “Old Pulp” guys’ opinions were fossilized by the time people traded in their “I Like Ike” buttons. The passage of time has proven many of them to be as ill-informed as I originally suspected.

***

Now, to dodge my responsibilities a little further with a review: This week, Rocketeer Adventures #3 from IDW Publishing.

This new series chronicles the further exploits of Cliff Secord, a barnstormer who blasts off to adventure after discovering an experimental rocket-pack. The brainchild of the late writer-illustrator Dave Stevens, The Rocketeer was a originally a back-up feature in Starslayer, from the Pacific Comics imprint. It quickly achieved a following that overshadowed the lead feature.

This issue features two comic book stories “A Rocketeer Story” by Ryan Sook and “Junior Rocketeers” by Jonathan Ross and Tommy Lee Edwards. The Rocketeer foils a box-office heist and an attempt to steal the jet-pack. The stories are self-contained and fraught with action, but the heart of each story is the romance between Secord and his girlfriend, a pin-up model turned actress.

Both comic stories are admirable efforts, but the real show-stealer is the third feature. Author Joe R. Lansdale and artist Bruce Timm deliver “Heaven’s Devils,” a Rocketeer story told in prose with spot illustrations.

The first page is Bruce Timm’s full-color “cover” to the “April” issue of Spicy Adventure Stories, depicting The Rocketeer hurtling to Betty’s rescue. A double-page spread follows, showcasing a beautiful black-and-white illustration of The Rocketeer in pursuit of an enemy bi-plane. Distant planes dot the sky around him.

“He just wanted to make time with his girl” the caption reads, “not have to re-fight the Great War!”

Betty is cast as an extra in Heaven’s Devils, a big-budget feature produced and directed by Buford Biggs, a slimy movie mogul with designs on her. Meanwhile, stunt-pilot-for-a-day Cliff Secord stumbles across a robbery attempt on the studio’s payroll. Betty joins the fight, is taken hostage, and its up to The Rocketeer to save the day with an aerial pursuit and rescue.

“Heaven’s Devils” is a nifty little eight-page feature, more for Bruce Timm’s artwork and the pulp-like format, designed by Robbie Robbins. The plot is simple and straight-forward, with the emphasis on action and dialogue. Lansdale doesn’t waste any wordage on atmosphere or description – “The plane deliberately shifted so that the propeller chopped at the good. There was a spray of blood.” – but his word count doesn’t give him much elbow room. No point in describing the characters, since the illustrations are right there, with the exception of Betty and the love letters to her curves.

“The rear view of Betty was pretty tantalizing. The pink lingerie rode up on her buns like eyelids opening.”

Bruce Timm’s artwork captures the style and essence of the great pulp illustrators like Edd Cartier and John Fleming Gould. Timm, of course, is one of the talents that made Batman: The Animated Series a revolutionary program, establishing a standard of quality that few television cartoons have attempted to reach before or since.

Run right out and purchase Rocketeer Adventures #3 at your local comics-shop. Make certain to write IDW and tell them you’d like more Rocketeer stories told with prose and illustrations. I sure would ...

***

Next week, I’ll review some of the stories in Moonstone Books’ forthcoming The Green Hornet Casefiles, the second prose anthology in the series. It just went on sale, but since I handled layout, design and prepress on the book, I read them before everyone else.

***

Start making plans to attend Pulp Adventurecon on Saturday, November 5th , 2011. Ramada Inn of Bordentown is located conveniently off exit 7 of the New Jersey Turnpike.

It’s an annual one-day show with a big emphasis on pulp magazines and related material like vintage paperbacks, movie memorabilia, reprints, and lots more stuff. You have an interest in pulps? It’s probably there – Dashiell Hammett, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Shadow, Doc Savage, and everything in between and on the fringes.

It’s a fantastic one-day show, and I’m not just saying that because I run it.

Learn more at www.boldventurepress.com. Or contact me directly at boldventurepress@aol.com.

BOLD VENTURE PRESS TM & © 2011 Bold Venture Productions. All Rights Reserved.

UNDER COVER REVIEWS - The Kensei

Jon F. Merz's "The Kensei" is apparently the fourth novel in his tales of the vampire enforcer, Lawson. That being said, it was my first experience with the character or his universe. Despite being book five in a series, the story was very reader friendly, which is always a sign of a writer who knows his way around a good serial.

Lawson is a vampire, but that doesn’t really make him all that different. The vampires of his world aren’t created but born, and seem to be only slightly stronger than an average human. It gives him a slight advantage over a common thug, but he’s not going to destroy them to easily. He’s something of an enforcer for the secret vampire society. His normal job is to hunt down vampires that would break the Balance and reveal the vampire community to human society, not unlike the Masquerade in a certain series of White Wolf role-playing games.

In The Kensei though, he’s on vacation despite being embroiled in another vampire plot. A learned warrior and trained martial artist, Lawson travels to Japan to visit an ancient dojo and practice his craft. In the tradition of any true pulp hero, it’s not to be. Instead he ends up searching for a child slavery ring alongside his human lover Talya while also trying to find the shadowy vampire crime lord known as the Kensei.

Of course, both threats proved tied together and Lawson is pulled into action packed battle after battle. Merz may not have set out to create a great piece of new pulp with The Kensei but that’s clearly what happens over the course of the novel. Lawson personifies the pulp hero in the 21st century and any new pulp fan should give this book a look. Recommended.

Review by Nick Ahlhelm

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Press Release: FLASH GORDON returns at Dynamite

August 25th, 2011 - Runnemede, NJ - The iconic legend Flash Gordon is making his dynamic splash back into comics with Dynamite Entertainment this November! Flash Gordon - Zeitgeist #1 is written by Eric Trautmann (Vampirella, Red Sonja), from a story and designs by Alex Ross (Project: Superpowers, Kingdom Come, Marvels), and illustrated by Daniel Lindro!

As Flash Gordon's story begins, it is a time of two-fisted swashbuckling, of fearsome threats and wild adventure-and of ever-growing threats on the horizon. Three valiant humans -- Flash Gordon, Dale Arden and Dr. Hans Zarkov -- are plucked from the Earth, traveling to the distant planet Mongo. Their exploits are legendary, battling the machinations and terror schemes of the dreaded emperor Ming, the All-Seeing Ruler of Mongo. But they did not fight alone! And coming up, witness a startling meeting with Ming the Merciless! With the fate of our world helpless, can even Flash Gordon save us?

Alex Ross had this to say about Flash Gordon - Zeitgeist, "Finally, after all this time, I'm working on a Flash Gordon series that brings the best I have to contribute to this legendary character and forerunner of all comic books!"

"I couldn't be happier about this project," stated writer Eric Trautmann. "It is a genuine treat to be able to let my inner 'pulpster' out, and write in an idiom I rarely get to play in, which has a rich core of optimism and innocence. We're very much approaching the comic as if it were the Flash Gordon movie we'd all want to see. Add to that, I've adored Flash Gordon for as long as I've been reading, and the opportunity to play with Alex Raymond's material -- in a way I don't think has been done before -- is truly exciting. The Raymond strips were just so plot-dense, with a sense of 'anything goes' that I look for -- often unsuccessfully -- in contemporary comics. And, of course, several times a week, I check my e-mail, and find a dozen amazing pieces of artwork from Alex Ross; I'd be hard-pressed to find someone who has a greater understanding of the characters, or who harbors more affection for them, than Alex. He has laser-like clarity about the look and feel of the characters, the setting, the story, technology, making it all look new, and at the same time quite familiar. He's an exceptional 'vision holder' for our tale."

"Dynamite has added another classic character to our growing library of comics," says Dynamite Entertainment President and Publisher Nick Barrucci. "Eric has put together an amazing story and all Flash Gordon fans will fall in love with this book, just as I have!"

Pulp Magnet - Yesteryear



Full Disclosure: Tommy Hancock is a member of the New Pulp Fiction site and a major driving force behind the New Pulp movement. Hancock is Editor in Chief for Pro Se Productions, Promotions and Marketing Coordinator for Moonstone Entertainment, Editor in Chief of ALL PULP and also the Coordinator for PULP ARK, a New Pulp convention/creator's conference in Batesville, AR.

Sometimes the Greatest Mystery of Tomorrow Happened Yesterday!

YesterYear is Tommy Hancock's first full-length novel and it comes out swinging right from the very beginning.

At the heart of it all is a book, a notorious and mysterious lost manuscript from 1955, the journal of one Ramsey Long, a journalist turned masked adventurer who knew too much for anyone's good.

Ramsey Long's journal is not just any old kiss-and-tell memoir about the glory days of some masked vigilantes and their sordid personal escapades and peccadilloes before the government began to officially sanction specific defenders of Democracy, it exposes a host of dirty secrets that could destroy quite a few careers, provides proof regarding long buried clandestine government projects and details on long-denied black ops, the truth behind various controversial government policies and more. Conspiracies are mapped-out and proven. Corruption is identified and called to task. Secret Identities are revealed along with a good deal more. Much more. There are things in that manuscript that could end careers, upset the delicate balance of power and threaten the national defense. If that book ever did come out, even decades after it was first written, it could very likely bring about the end of the world as we know it. It's a real doomsday book. Ramsey Long connected the dots and followed the leads like a good reporter until he knew too much to be allowed to go any further.

Long's announcement in 1955 that he was publishing his journal was the last straw. What had been a smoldering powder-keg before was an atomic bomb about to detonate. Something had to be done.

Officially, the manuscript, like Long himself, disappeared in April, 1955. Everyone connected with it has died under mysterious circumstances that have been covered up by someone with a lot of clout--including the suspicious deaths of J. C. Smithenson's parents who were the ones planning to publish Ramsey Long's book. Smithenson, the former world famous boy detective Kid Kop, has spent most of his life obsessed with uncovering who killed his parents in connection with the missing manuscript, ruining his one-time career as a real cop and leaving him out of step with the whole Hero and Villain movement. Reluctantly, J. C. has himself become a publisher and some-time consultant for the police, just like his parents before him.

But no sooner does Smithenson help his old partner Detective Donovan nail crooked councilman and deranged serial killer Martin George (codename: Antibody) than someone leaves a mysterious package for J. C. Smithenson. It's not the Grail, nor is it Sam Spade's Black Bird, but instead it is Ramsey Long's ultra-dangerous manuscript itself. J. C. is left holding the manuscript—the very same manuscript that his parents were killed to prevent them from publishing years ago.

Things go into overdrive then.

J. C. finds himself very much a marked man because quite a few people have been tipped off that he has Long's manuscript. Government-controlled superheroes, the military and the obligatory unnameable alphabet agencies, elements of super-covert ultra-black ops units, an assassin with serious standards, and a shape-shifting victim of bizarre government-sanctioned super-power experiments all come out of the proverbial woodwork to voice their concerns over Long's manuscript, to talk J. C. out of publishing it, or to make sure that he never gets a chance to use it against any of them.

Smithenson is faced with a lot of hard choices. The danger quickly escalates as word of the manuscript's resurfacing spreads like wildfire. People have been getting killed over this manuscript for decades. Everyone out there has secrets they don't want exposed. Several of them are more than willing to kill to keep their secrets from being revealed or used against them.

Within mere hours of his receiving the manuscript, Government agents show up and harangue him about National Security while not-so-subtly threatening him should he even consider publishing; and a rogue superheroine practically burns down his publishing company and ruthlessly murders his fiancee before his very eyes. It is then that Smithenson knows that his old life is over and done with once and for all. Possession of Long's manuscript will get him killed sooner or later, by the mask-and-cape set, or the government, or someone else

So J. C. Smithenson does what any red blooded young man raised to know right from wrong (and to give a damn about it) would do – he takes on the mask, costume, and cause of The Freelancer, Ramsey Long's own long-dormant masked identity. He becomes the new Freelancer.

If anyone was ever born to be some sort of masked crime-fighter, it is J. C. Smithenson. He grew up around reporters, writers, and his grandparent's recollections and scrap-books from the earliest days of the Heroic Age. Even before gaining access to Long's journal, J. C. was a world-reknowned expert and consultant on the Hero-and-Villain movement. As the new Freelancer he probably knows more secrets than anyone else out there, and what he doesn't know, he knows how to find out. This is an intriguing new character who combines some of the more cerebral aspects of a Sherlock Holmes or even a touch of Carl Kolchak, but with the rugged physicality and so forth that evokes Daredevil or his predecessor the Black Bat, and yet none of that really does the character justice.

This isn't just some schmuck in a mask who'll brain-punch the bad guys or sling hot lead indiscriminately into hordes of gangsters. This is a thinking man's New Pulp hero. He knows things. Lot's of things. He is privy to loads of secrets -- many of them the kind of stuff no one else is supposed to know – and that makes The Freelancer not just fresh, but unique and bursting with incredible story-potential. Hancock could easily do a whole series of thrilling adventures in the mold of Warren Ellis's seminal Planetary just in terms of J.C.'s first few attempts to investigate some of the obscure references or incomplete notes from Long's Journal. The consequences of his publishing some version of that same Journal could also lead to all sorts of complications, conflicts and intense drama that could, would and should play out across this New Pulp universe.

All the skullduggery and action surrounding Long's Journal and the passing of the torch from Long to J. C. and the rise of the new Freelancer is the central theme of Yesteryear, but Smithenson isn't alone in his journey of self discovery and personal re-invention. We also witness the tragic origin of the dark hero The Night from out of a sweltering hot-bed of police corruption revealed in the wake of the brutal murder of a good cop whose twin sons face off in a showdown of good versus evil that leaves one dead and the other a haunted avenger who prowls the darkness.

The Night is somewhere between the Spider, The Green Hornet and the Shadow in terms of his Pulp pedigree, but just as he did with The Freelancer, Hancock doesn't stop at just concocting a derivative cocktail of a character, he brings this two-fisted New Pulp nemesis of evil to life and reveals the very poignant personal turmoil, torment and terrible loss that made him take up his mask, defines him as an implacable scourge of the underworld, and drives him onwards in his one-man crusade against organized crime and police corruption. He's not rich, doesn't have a fancy cave or swanky hide-out – he's the son of a murdered cop. He doesn't leap over tall buildings and he probably won't spend much time doing interviews – he packs heat and isn't afraid to use it. The Night will be cleaning up the streets, alleys and neighborhoods of his city and he isn't afraid to take on crooked cops, politicians on the take, the mob or anyone else. The Night is intense and it will be great fun seeing where Hancock takes this character next.


The much more light-hearted Blue Genie also makes his debut in Yesteryear. We get tantalizing glimpses of the Bootlegger, The Starlet, The Hero, Public Defender, Doctor Caduceus, and a host of other heroes. We learn about the stymied and confused villain Doc Shock; the insane genius The Music; the pyrotechnic ballerina-assassin from hell known as Firedancer; the mystic master Caul Kain who saw all of this coming; Peter Poseidon, the conflicted leader of the First Team; the deadly and creepy Personas who take over their victim's lives; and the ultra-dangerous meta-assassin Patch Tatters—who isn't the bumbling clown Ramsey Long's journal pokes fun at, not by a long shot.


All in all Yesteryear is an incredible tour de force of the amazing new universe that Tommy Hancock has built and the novel is packed with an immense amount of detail without ever once bogging down or going flat. In fact, the book reads like an action-packed roller coaster ride through the author's imagination. It's one heck of a ride and it'll leave you wanting more. Thankfully, Mr. Hancock is hard at work on the next installment: Nomorrow.

After reading Yesteryear, you'll know why Tommy Hancock won the Best New Writer of 2011 award at the recent Pulp Ark convention.




YesterYear by Tommy Hancock
Published by Pro Se Press.

Cover Art by Jay Piscopo, Interior art by Peter Cooper, Format and Design by Sean Ali.

Publication Date: Apr 12 2011
ISBN/EAN13: 1461061598 / 9781461061595
$12.00, 190 pages, Black & White (Illustrations)

or

$3.99 eBook via: http://www.pulpmachine.blogspot.com/

Yesteryear is available at Createspace and Amazon.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Moonstone unleashes Green Hornet and the Avenger!

Moonstone Books is proud to announce the release of  The Green Hornet Case Files and The Avenger: Justice Inc. Files.

The Green Hornet Casefiles from Moonstone Books is now available at http://moonstonebooks.com/shop/category.aspx?catid=29.

Procopio Cover


The Green Hornet Casefiles
Edited by Joe Gentile and Win Scott Eckert
Written by: Joe McKinney, Jim Mullaney, John Everson, Paul D. Storrie, Eric Fein, Vito Delsante, Win Scott Eckert, Dan Wickline, Paul Kupperberg, Howard Hopkins, Bobby Nash, Arthur A. Lyon, Bradley Sinor, Matthew Baugh, F.J. Desanto, David Boop, Barry Reese, Micheal Uslan, Joe Gentile, Tim Lasiuta, Rafael Nieves
Covers by Ruben Procopio and Michael Kaluta

Kaluta Cover

The long-awaited return of the Green Hornet & Kato and their rolling arsenal the Black Beauty!

Back again with all-new stories!

Moonstone is proud to present The Green Hornet Casefiles, our second anthology featuring all-new, original crime fiction tales of the man who hunts the biggest of all game, public enemies that even the FBI can’t reach!

It’s the mid 1960’s, the political climate is shaky, there’s civil unrest, freedom and equality issues erupt everywhere from film to music to out in the streets.

On police records, the Green Hornet is actually a wanted criminal, a master manipulator, a crime boss who has his fingers in every pie. In reality, The Green Hornet is actually Britt Reid, owner-publisher of the Daily Sentinel. Alongside him rides his partner Kato, who is not only is a martial artist of unsurpassed prowess, but a skilled driver, and educated engineer as well. Their goal is to destroy crime from within by posing as criminals themselves!

The Matthew Baugh story, the Win Scott Eckert story, and the Howard Hopkins stories are sequels to their stories in the first volume!


The Avenger: The Justice Inc. Files from Moonstone Books is now available at http://moonstonebooks.com/shop/category.aspx?catid=35.



The Avenger: The Justice Inc Files SC
Item #: avj
Price/ea: $18.95

The Avenger: The Justice Inc Files HC
Item #: AvCf
Price/ea: $45.95

The Avenger: The Justice Inc. Files

Written by: Robin Wayne Bailey, Will Murray, David Michelinie, Win Scott Eckert, Mark Ellis, Matthew Baugh, Ron Fortier, Howard Hopkins, Barry Reese, Eric Fein, Frank Schlidiner, Chris Paul Carey, Chris Bell...
Cover Art: Tom Gianni
Edited by: Joe Gentile & Howard Hopkins
336pgs, b/w, Squarebound, 6"x9"

The Avenger…All-New Stories for the Next Generation! Moonstone Books is proud to present this original anthology featuring never before seen tales of The Avenger.

**See it here…for the first and ONLY time anywhere…these two pulp titans collide… The AVENGER meets the uncompromising relentless justice of The SPIDER!

**See the never before told origin of The Avenger’s personal weapons "Mike" and "Ike"!

**The AVENGER meets up with the DOMINO LADY!
**HC includes bonus stories of the Avenger's aides!

From the Flames of Tragedy, a Hero Rises In the roaring heart of the crucible, steel is made. In the raging flame of personal tragedy, men are sometimes forged into something more than human.

Life was bliss for millionaire adventurer Richard Henry Benson until the fateful day crime and greed took away his wife and younger daughter and turned him into something more than human.

Driven by loss, compelled by grief, he becomes a chilled impersonal force of justice, more machine than man, dedicated to the destruction of evildoers everywhere. A figure of ice and steel, more pitiless than both, Benson has been forged into an avatar of vengeance, possessed of superhuman genius and supernormal power. His frozen face and pale eyes, like ice in a polar dawn, only hint at the terrible force the underworld heedlessly invoked upon itself the day they created... The Avenger!

Now, the greatest crime-fighter of the 40s returns in a stunning collection of original action-packed tales of adventure, intrigue and revenge and even a chilling showdown with the Lord of Vampires himself!

You can learn more about The Green Hornet Casefiles, Avenger: Justice Inc. Files and view cover art at http://moonstonebooks.com/.

Table Talk: Who Are You?

This week, Bobby, Barry and Mike dig into the hats they wear and what it's like to switch them around, based on the needs of the moment.







Question (Bobby): I was on a panel at a convention recently with about 10 other writers. What I found interesting was the way each introduced themselves to the crowd. Each of them referred to themselves as “a dark fantasy author” or “a young adult fantasy author” or “a horror author” etc. What struck me was that each of these writers introduced themselves as a very specific writer for a specific niche audience. As each of us write multiple genres, I’m curious how you introduce yourself to an audience. Also, do you prefer to be called a writer or an author?

I guess I can start. I generally introduce myself as a writer of novels, comic books, short stories and whatever else the publisher needs in multiple genres. Although the title applies, I’ve never felt comfortable calling myself an author. I’m not really sure why though. I’ve also never referred to myself as a novelist, even though that also applies.

Barry: I always say I’m a writer. Author is too impersonal and novelist would imply that I don’t also write short stories, novellas, etc. I generally tell people that I write adventure, horror and thrillers. I sometimes use the word pulp but not very often since it usually just confuses people. Someday, maybe, the New Pulp movement will help change that but for now, I avoid the use of the word pulp if it’s a “civilian” crowd I’m talking to.

Mike: I usually answer by saying I'm a writer. Then, invariably, the questioner asks what I write, at which point I detail the nature of my work, including comics, pulp fiction, kids books, and the like.

When I was younger, and aspired to write professionally, the word "author" seemed to denote someone who wrote novels. While I realize now that's not entirely accurate, for some reason that was my perception when I was growing up. So since I'm actually working on four novels currently, I've found myself reflexively telling people I'm an author. Go figure.

Bobby: I like to keep it open as well. If I told someone I was a dark fantasy author, for example, and that person doesn’t read that type of book then they’ve probably already decided they won’t have any interest in my work. To that end I keep it simple and say writer. Same as with Barry, the next question will be about what kind of stuff I write.

Question (Bobby): Since we all write in multiple genres and mediums, are you able to work on multiple projects at the same time, easily switching back and forth between them, or do you have to focus on one style of writing at a time?

Mike: I usually don't have much trouble with that. It's actually nice to have the choices as some days the muse isn't playing the right tune for a specific piece, so I can switch gears and work on something else without losing time. My only real trouble is keeping all the minor details about the characters straight. I think, with everything I'm working on right now, I have about 35 "major" characters rolling through my mind at any given time.

Barry: My preference is to work on one project at a time; but that’s not always possible, mainly due to deadlines. So sometimes I’ll be working in multiple genres at the same time – it requires effort on my part to avoid letting things bleed over into other works but I can do it. The hardest was when I was working on RABBIT HEART, which was hardcore slasher stuff. It was so dark to write that I found I couldn’t really work on The Rook at the same time. I had to take a week “off” from RABBIT HEART to work on something else. Or vice-versa.

Mike: That's interesting. I've never had that problem. I worked on the first Death Angel and the last Lions, Tigers and Bears at the same time. Juggled Phantom and Timothy and the Transgalactic Towel, too. Now I'm working on Palooka's Legion of Combat, Fiefdom of Angels and developing a new all-ages property with Adam Van Wyk while squeezing in time to write the Runemaster. When I stop and think about it all, it does make my head swim, though. [laughs]

Bobby: I can generally work on multiple things as well and somehow keep them straight in my mind, so there’s no trouble jumping from one to the other. If only I could keep track of non-creative information so easily. [laughs]

One of my chief issues is carving out time to sit down and write. Writing is just a part of the job of a writer, as you both know all too well. There’s also updating the website, reviewing artwork on comic scripts, responding to fan mail when it comes in, the occasional interview, updating my social networking and other networking sites, writing press releases, designing ads, flyers, and postcards, booking convention trips, and on and on and on. When I first started as a writer I had no idea how much non-writing work was involved in being a writer. How do you guys handle these aspects of the job? Do you do it all on your own? Do you have help? What’s that one thing you find yourself doing that you never expected to do as a writer?

Barry: I do it on my own. The hardest part is balancing the writing with being a husband and dad. There are plenty of Saturday afternoons where I wouldn’t mind being at the keyboard but I know I only have so many days with my son at this age and I better focus on that. I just try to arrange my schedule as best I can.

One thing I didn’t expect to do is to turn down so many projects. It’s not like Simon & Schuster are knocking down my door but I get lots of offers to take part in anthologies and such – and I just don’t have time to do them all. I’d love to be able to do but there’s only so many hours in the day.

Mike: For me, it's running the business of writing. Lately, I've spent probably 70% of my time on the phone with clients, artists, publishers etc. discussing the work. If I had to do all the administrative stuff, too, I'd never get anything done. Thankfully, my wife is not only gorgeous, but one of the best accountants and businesswoman I've ever met and she takes care of a lot of that for me. She works from home also, so we've set a schedule where she takes care of our son in the morning and I hang with him in the afternoon. It's nice to have that time with him, as like you say, Barry, there are only so many days where we can do that.

I hear you on the turning stuff down, too. Sucks to say no, but on the flip-side, it's nice to have the abundance so I can work on what brings the best balance of enjoyment and compensation.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Building Brands


Like it or not, brand names matter.  This is as true for books and authors as it is for cola drinks and franchise restaurants.  And we aren't immune from this reality out here on the New Pulp Frontier.


I should probably clarify what I mean by “brand” in the literary context; it's a very fluid concept. For authors, this may involve serial characters--most of today's commercially successful genre writers achieved their success with a series, not standalone novels. Or it may be a signature style of writing--you know what you're going to get in a Stephen King or Tom Clancy novel, and often that is enough to build anticipation for the next book months in advance, even if little is known about the story. For publishers, the brand might be a particular genre specialty, or ideally, a recognizable level of quality. I can recall, as a teenager, realizing that the science-fiction and fantasy titles released by one particular publishing imprint (I won't say which, but it's still around) were consistently better than all the others, and it wasn't long before that little trademark on a book's spine was a primary selling point for me.


This idea of literary branding, really came into its own during the era of classic pulp fiction. A mainstay of pulp was the “house writer” model of production. Most of us know that Kenneth Robeson, the “author” of Doc Savage and The Avenger, was not in fact a real person. Nearly all of the Doc Savage novels were penned by Lester Dent, while The Avenger series was written by Paul Ernst. Very few of the pulp authors ever got any credit in their day. Publishers were selling a brand--not just the serial heroes, but also the name awareness of the pseudonymous author. House writers also allowed publishers to churn out content according to a production schedule.


This concept of using house writers endures today; a notable example is Gold Eagle/Worldwide which publishes the long running Mack Bolan/Executioner series, as well as Deathlands, Rogue Angel and others. Even bestselling heavyweights like Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy and James Patterson have effectively become house written pseudonyms--brand names. The value of this model of publishing is undeniable; readers pay attention to their favorite authors, even when they know full well that “Alex Archer” might be one of several different ghost writers, or that Clive Cussler is only peripherally involved in all the novels that now prominently bear his name.


These name brands did not of course simply spring into existence.Both in the classic era of pulp and today, the authors and publishers cultivated interest over a long period of time. Some have been more successful than others. We're more aware of the success stories simply because the failures slipped into ignominy before ever registering on our consciousness. That's not to say that the authors involved did anything wrong.  Publishing is a business, and sometimes decisions are made based purely on an economic bottom line. The same thing happens in television programming all the time; that's why your favorite TV series gets cancelled, just when it's starting to get interesting.


Generally speaking, creating this kind of brand awareness involves publicizing and marketing, as well as having a reliable network of distribution. Consider the aforementioned Rogue Angel series, which hit the shelves in 2006. I picked up a copy of the first Rogue Angel book in the post exchange at Kandahar Airfield, while deployed to Afghanistan--now that's distribution! It was the cover that caught my eye. The artwork got my attention and the synopsis of the story hooked me. Knowing that this would be merely the first of a long-running series was also a selling point. Today, the Rogue Angel series is still going strong.


Now, consider another pulp-inspired series that is not quite such a success story: the Gabriel Hunt adventures. Launched in 2009 and created by Charles Ardai (editor in chief of the Hard Case Crime imprint at Dorchester and creative consultant to the SyFy network's Haven series) the Gabriel Hunt stories follow the adventures of a modern day free-lance archaeologist, cut from the same cloth as Indiana Jones and Doc Savage.The books, ostensibly written by Gabriel Hunt himself, were “told to” such noteworthy talent as Ardai, James Reasoner and Raymond Benson, and featured beautiful pulp-style cover art by Glen Orbik. These stories should have been brain-candy for pulp-fans, but as things stand right now, the future for Gabriel Hunt looks grim. It's not that there's anything wrong with the Gabriel Hunt stories; they just didn't catch on with enough people to justify the effort of keeping the series alive. And they came along just as the publisher decided to phase out mass-market paperback production (which resulted in the sixth book of the series being delayed several months before finally appearing in print-on-demand trade paperback and ebook formats only).


New Pulp--what I have called 'digital pulp'--provides both its creators and readers with opportunities to get around some of the limiting factors that bedeviled the Gabriel Hunt books, but that doesn't mean that there aren't some valuable lessons to be learned.  Even at the level of the small indie press or the self-published author going it alone, the importance of building your brand cannot be overstated.


There are already quite a few authors and publishers in New Pulp who have successfully built their brand, and this is great news for readers and for up-and-coming authors. Even better, though, is the fact that the innovations which have made New Pulp possible will also ensure that these authors and publishers will have a chance to cultivate a long-term relationship with readers that simply isn't possible in traditional publishing.


If you'll indulge me in a little shameless self-promotion, I offer my pulp-inspired series The Adventures of Dodge Dalton as an exercise in brand building.  The first book in this series was published in the summer of 2010.  It wasn't a runaway success by any means, but it did sell and I got enough positive feedback from readers to know that I was doing something right, so I forged ahead with the second book, with similar results.  For people who stumble across Dodge, there are now two books in the series, and I have every reason to believe that this pattern will repeat and add momentum when the third book is released. That would never happen at a traditional publisher.

The lesson here, particularly for New Pulp creators, is to take the long range view. Figure out what you want your brand to be, and then stick with it. This applies at all levels of the creative process: developing characters that readers will want to visit again and again, finding a publisher who can give you a memorable product (cover art, layout, book design) and access to a broad reading audience, and most importantly, finding a way to get the word out.


That last bit--publicity and marketing--is the most important part of building brand awareness, and the part that most authors really hate.  But in the new landscape of publishing, all authors at every level must utilize all available tools for generating interest in their work and creating a relationship with readers.  In next week's column, I'll explore some of the most effective ways to build brand awareness using social media.

Sean Ellis is the author of the Nick Kismet thrillers, The Adventures of Dodge Dalton, and other adventure and pulp novels. He is a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, and has a Bachelor of Science degree in Natural Resources Policy from Oregon State University. Sean is also a member of the International Thriller Writers organization. He currently resides in Arizona, where he divides his time between writing, adventure sports, and trying to figure out how to save the world. Visit Sean's website: http://seanellisthrillers.webs.com

Monday, August 22, 2011

PULPTACULAR | 10 Marvel Pulps We'd Love to See


As DC's New 52 comes closer to reality, it's got me thinking about what if Marvel did the same thing. Actually, though I wish I'd thought of this myself, it was Comics Should Be Good that came up with the idea of developing your own Marvel 52. That's a project I'm tackling at my personal blog, but as I started in on it, I realized that there are a lot of great, pulp concepts that Marvel's had over the years and I'd love to see more of. Or straight-up superheroes that would work great in a pulp setting: Westerns, jungle adventures, heroic pulp, spies, space opera...


Here are ten pulp titles that I'd love to see Marvel do; not necessarily as part of a company-wide relaunch, but just because they'd be great series. This is just fantasizing about what I'd love to see without considering things like sales or the chances of Alan Moore's ever working for Marvel again. I'd love to hear your Marvel pulp dreams in the comments.

1. Gamora by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Sam Hiti

Gamora's got a lot of history in Marvel's cosmic comics, but the focus on this would be her traveling the universe as an intergalactic bounty hunter. Gamora's extremely hard to kill and has a wicked sense of humor. Kelly Sue DeConnick (OsbornSupergirl) can deliver the goods on funny (and excitement) while Sam Hiti (Tiempos Finales, Death-Day) knows everything about drawing beautiful women and exotic, alien landscapes.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy by Roger Langridge and Shaun Tan

As fun as a Gamora solo-title would be, we also need a book that can capture the rest of Marvel's cosmic characters like Silver Surfer, Thanos, and Rocket Raccoon. Roger Langridge (Thor: The Mighty Avenger, Snarked!) has the imagination to make that incredible, while Shaun Tan (The Arrival, Tales from Outer Suburbia) has the ability to mix the real and the odd in a unique, believable way. He's not known for action sequences, so I'd be interested to see how he tackled that, but I can already imagine his depiction of the arrival of Galactus, and it's mind-blowing.

3. Sabra by Carla Jablonsky and Laurenn McCubbin

Sabra isn't a well-known character, but I've been fascinated by her since I first saw her in The Incredible Hulk #256. Maybe because she took her Israeli heritage so seriously, yet didn't seem to have been created specifically to fill a slot as Israel's Superhero for Contest of Champions or something. She eventually became just another of the many, international mutants running around the X-Men's corner of the Marvel Universe, but I've always thought she was better than that. I'd love to see her in a series that focused on the issues of the Middle East in a thoughtful, objective way. Not that Sabra herself should be objective about them, but that the series could explore the region and its history in a way that educates as well as entertains. Carla Jablonsky's done something similar with WWII Occupied France in her Resistance series, so I picked her to write.  Laurenn McCubbin has a great, realistic style that would complement that kind of story beautifully.

4. Black Widow by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Amanda Conner

This is the second book I'd give Kelly Sue DeConnick. I promise that I haven't purposely matched up women creators with women characters, but it worked out that way in DeConnick's case. I'd love to see her write Black Widow. As for Amanda Conner: I love seeing anything she draws, but one look at her variant cover from Secret Avengers #6 above and you'll get why I want her on a Black Widow comic so badly. This would be straight-up spy stuff; maybe with an occasional guest-appearance by other Marvel characters, but focused on espionage.

5. Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD by James Turner and Luc Jacamon

If you've read James Turner's Rex Libris or Warlord of IO (and you should; they're both great pulp), you know how insanely, awesomely inventive he is. Just the guy to put the "super" back into super spy. And Luc Jacamon (The Killer) knows all about drawing deadly people in diverse settings, both urban and exotic.

6. Mystery Men by Susan Kim and Guy Davis

Let's pretend that David Liss and Patrick Zircher aren't available to continue the excellent series they created at Marvel. If that were the case, I'd give the '30s-set heroic pulp to Susan Kim, who did a great job with her adventurous City of Spies set in a similar time period. I'm also aching to see Guy Davis do some more stuff like he did on Sandman Mystery Theatre, so he has to draw it.

7. Tigra by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, and Kerry Callen

The inspiration for this book is two-fold. First, I wanted a jungle comic and Tigra would work great in that setting. She wouldn't have to stay only in that setting, but it would be a great homebase for her. The second inspiration was this description by Kerry Callen of what he wanted in a Tigra series: "a fun-loving character whose cat-like curiosity gets her into interesting predicaments." Pak and Van Lente would be perfect for that and one look at Callen's blog tells you that he's the only guy for the visual part of the job.

8. The Savage Land by Joshua Fialkov and Jeremy Bastian

It's another jungle comic, but this one's different from Tigra. Her comic would be much more versatile with lots of guest-stars from other Marvel characters. The Savage Land of course would be set exclusively in the prehistoric world beneath Antarctica. At first I thought I'd call it Ka-Zar and Shanna, but then I remembered the temptation writers have to take those two out of the Savage Land and have them interact with the rest of the Marvel Universe. Renaming it The Savage Land (which is a much cooler title anyway) removes that temptation.There's a whole world to explore there and as long as I'm fantasizing about my dream comics (as opposed to worrying about sales), I want to keep these characters out of the rest of the Marvel Universe. I don't care if other Marvel characters stop by for a visit, but I want the setting to stay consistent.

Josh Fialkov (Elk's Run, Tumor) does really well with setting and small casts of characters, so I pick him to write. Jeremy Bastian (Cursed Pirate Girl) draws lavishly and I'd love to see the creatures and landscapes he could fill the Savage Land with.

9. The Rangers by Alan Moore and J Bone

Based on another group of characters I once read about in The Incredible Hulk (#265 this time). The Rangers were a goofy team created by Bill Mantlo, but I liked their modern-Western concept and the sheer zaniness of it would be a great playground for Alan Moore. The team included Firebird (probably the most famous character to come out of the team) as well as modern versions of Red Wolf and the original Ghost Rider (renamed Phantom Rider to avoid confusion) and a couple of very Mantlo characters: Shooting Star (her gun shoots stars!) and Texas Twister (tornado powers). In keeping with making the series fun and versatile, J Bone can draw absolutely anything and make it look wonderful.

10. Gunslingers by John Ostrander and Leonardo Manco

Counterpoint to The Rangers, this would be a real Western set in the late 1800s. Really it's just a continuation of Ostrander and Manco's two mini-series, Blaze of Glory and Apache Skies in which they updated Marvel's classic, Western heroes for modern fans of the genre.

So that's ten Marvel pulps I'd love to see. Tell me yours in the comments! 

This was more or less cross-posted - after considerable editing - from my blog.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Tangled Web of Spiders

Moonstone Books has been putting out high quality Spider material for several years now in a variety of formats from wide-vision to prose to comic books. So, it may come as no surprise that the recent announcement from Dynamite Entertainment caused a bit of a stir.


DYNAMITE SNARES THE SPIDER!

Following up the announcement made on 8/17 that Dynamite Comics will be bringing the Pulp icon THE SHADOW back to comics, Dynamite announced today that fellow Pulp legend THE SPIDER will be joining the company's growing cast of characters.

On board for Dynamite's take on the millionaire turned somewhat horrifying hero will be writer David Liss, currently writing Marvel's MYSTERY MEN mini series, artist Colton Worley and cover artists Alex Ross and John Cassaday.

Based on the art released thus far, Dynamite's visual take on the character hews more toward how The Spider appeared in serials produced in the late 1930s and early 1940s by Columbia Pictures than how he has been portrayed in the original Pulps or in other comic adaptations, most recently that done by Moonstone Entertainment.

However, when asked for comment on this new development,  Moonstone Publisher and EiC, Joe Gentile, had this to say:

We'd like everyone to know Moonstone retains the rights for the ongoing exclusive use of THE SPIDER in prose and in comics form and will continue to put out new SPIDER material.

We were aware of Dynamite’s series and have a mutual agreement between the licensor and Dynamite (and Moonstone) to have Dynamite produce a mini-series.

We hope that this further exposure of The Spider will benefit all.


So what does that mean for Spider fans? That's up to you to decide.  Either way, it looks like the Master of Men will now have two distinct faces in the New Pulp arena.

Friday, August 19, 2011

UNDERCOVER REVIEWS - Iron Man Noir

Marvel scored a lot of notoriety in the pulp community over the last few months thanks to the arrival of Mystery Men by David Liss and Patrick Zircher. But while this is the company’s first major attempt to create in-continuity pulp heroes, it is not the first pulp superhero story they’ve created. In fact, Marvel produced several in the last few years often hidden by view in their line of Noir titles.

Marvel: Noir was made to bring a 30s-40s sensibility to popular Marvel characters, but several creators involved with the titles took the chance to move past the conventions of noir in to straight pulp. No title took this to heart quick like Iron Man: Noir.

Now famous for his work on Batman and his American Vampire comic collaboration with Stephen King, Scott Snyder was still a relative unknown when he wrote the title with art by Manuel Garcia.

The story sets up Tony Stark as a big time investigator with Jim Rhodes as his aide. His secretary betrays him for Baron Zemo and Baron Strucker. She steals their latest find, a jade mask, Stark’s biographer (in pulp form of course) is murdered. After Stark and Rhodes make their mistake, we quickly learn that Stark is kept alive by a synthetic valve on his heart. His personal mechanic Jarvis helps keep it charged and Tony alive.

After recruiting a new writer, Pepper Potts, Tony and Rhodey set out to trail his former assistant’s last case: the finding of Atlantis. Along with a pirate captain named Namor, they discover the ancient civilization and even more trouble.

Of course, this all leads towards Tony taking up a full-powered suit of steampunk-style armor to battle against Zemo and Strucker. By story’s end, one can’t help but feel they’ve just experienced the first adventure of a great new pulp hero.

Alas, Iron Man: Noir never had a sequel so any subsequent adventures are left solely in the mind of fans. Nonetheless, Iron Man: Noir is pulp heroes brought to comics in all the right ways and well worth a read by any new pulp fan.

-By Nick Ahlhelm

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pulp Magnet: Captain Spectre


Captain Spectre is a retro-styled pulp hero created by Tom Floyd. The on-going adventures of Captain Spectre take place in a web-comic that began as a full color feature, but has since transitioned to a more classic format resembling a daily newspaper comic strip, complete with full color 'Sunday section' strips.



It's 1939 all over again...

So far there have been four chapters to the Captain's saga, taking him from Omaha Nebraska to Africa and the Lost City of Suon-Mira, and even to a doomed town way out West where his troubles appear to be just getting started. He has battled robots, Electric Soldiers, vicious enemy agents and even had a fist-fight with a dinosaur!

It all started in 1939...
Combining aspects of Captain Midnight, Commander Cody, Rocketman (even a dash of Dave Steven's The Rocketeer), with a bit of The Spider and even a touch of Flash Gordon , Tom Floyd has created something unique and quite exciting. Captain Spectre roars right off of the monitor, dishing out two-fisted justice right from the start in Chapter One: The Mark of Death  [24 pages, Color]. 'The first new chapter in the life of Captain Spectre since 1946.'

 
People Needed a Real Hero..
In this, his debut adventure, Captain Spectre arrives incognito at a nondescript diner in Omaha, Nebraska in answer to a small boy's letters pleading for the Captain's help. The young boy is a fan of the Captain Spectre radio program and a member of the Lightning Legion—a sort of auxilliary organization for supporters of Captain Spectre, reminiscent of Captain Midnight's Secret Squadron, The Phantom's Jungle Patrol, or The Baker Street Irregulars...only in the case of Captain Spectre's Lightning Legion, there is both an official, very real cadre of experts and elite operatives working with the Captain, and a radio-show fan-organization that attracts a number of impressionable young children, with predictably dire results down the road.

A trio of thugs running a protection racket have been preying upon the boy's father and the Captain decides to step-in and set things straight, the hard way. Captain Spectre beats the two-bit racketeers to a pulp and when it was all over... “All he left behind was three coins on three dead men, enough money to pay for the damages, and that coin he told me to give to you.” 

Captain Spectre is hardcore and unrelenting. His villains are despicable and ruthless. The Captain has stepped from out of the shadows to pursue his war on evildoers in plain sight, hoping to draw out the evil mastermind behind a great deal of the troubles and criminal mayhem going on across the world.


Captain Spectre has a definite dark side, much like the Spider, and also like the Spider, he tends to run up a serious body count in the course of his adventures. But very much unlike the Spider, Captain Spectre used to be a radio show hero, idolized by thousands of impressionable young fans.

At first it is very cool and exciting for the kids who realize that their hero isn't just some made-up thing from the radio. Kids go out and start getting involved. Like Jack Kirby's Newsboy Legion, these kids, fans of the Captain Spectre radio show, go out and try to find bad guys and help their hero.

At first blush, the kids of the Lightning Legion seem to taking things into the gosh-shucks kind of old-timey corniness that you tend to expect from certain shield-bearing WWII-era super heroes. The Lightning Legion has a special Boy Scout-type Code of Conduct:
The Conduct Code of the Lightning Legion
I, as a member of the Lightning Legion, swear to:
-Protect the Citizens, Laws, Symbols, and Property
of the United States of America.
-Work with other Legionnaires for a Free, Strong,
and Better tomorrow.
-Treat all Legionnaires, and citizens, as you would
want to be treated.
-Never dishonor your word, or yourself.
-Never reveal the secrets of the Lightning Legion,
or any of it's members, to citizens.
-Strike Evil, Crime and Injustice with Force, Courage,
and Knowledge....like lightning.

SWIFT SURE TRUE

The Lightning Legion has an official membership card, a commemorative coin and old fashioned sew-on patch, just like the fans of any old time radio show would have had available to them as premiums. And now these figments of a 1939 that we'll never know are available by way of the internet. Captain Spectre's creator Tom Floyd has done an incredible job of blending old time radio show nostalgia with grassroots marketing to really bring the Lightning Legion to life. He doesn't miss a beat, and it'll probably only be a matter of time before there will be a Captain Spectre Decoder Ring like the old Captain Midnight radio show used to offer listeners as a premium. You can even get official Captain Spectre T-shirts. The lines of distinction between fiction and fact blur quite a bit as the verisimilitude really piles up around Captain Spectre and you find yourself wondering if this wasn't really some lost treasure from the Thirties and Forties. 

The Lightning Legion itself would have been almost an obligatory sort of thing for a hero like Captain Spectre to have, but to build it directly off of the Captain's fictitious radio show is simply brilliant and things don't stay corny very long at all. In fact, all those wide-eyed kids trying to lend assistance to their hero doesn't remain fun and games for long. Things get very, very real and very, very dangerous – even deadly – fairly quickly.


People tend to get killed around Captain Spectre -- both the bad guys and sometimes innocent bystanders. When young Stanley pays the ultimate price in order to help out his hero, it is quite an emotional sucker punch. You know it's probably coming, but when it happens...it has quite an impact. And that is one of the more interesting things about this particular New Pulp Hero; Captain Spectre is a serum-enhanced ubermensch of a hero in a jazzy flying suit, and he is also a man who hasn't always been the nicest or kindest of gentlemen (Chapter Four really reveals some extra-juicy dirt on the Captain's background and origin...), but in the final analysis, he is doing the best he can to protect and defend other people. He cares. Unfortunately, his enemies have little regard for human life, and this sets up some seriously destructive confrontations that, while delivering a lot of pyrotechnic spectacle, sometimes end in tragedy.

In Chapter Two: The Electric Soldier [21 pages, COLOR], an evil mastermind creates the first of his army of Electric Soldiers by giving a horribly mangled test subject mechanical limbs and Tesla-esque electrical powers, and then sends this super-powered agent of destruction after Captain Spectre. The Electric Soldier and Captain Spectre have a tremendously flashy fight, but the Captain gets stunned by the soldier's electrical powers, and the villain sends Spectre crashing down into the middle of a highly populated city block like a living bomb.

It is in the aftermath of this fight, as seen in the following page, that the good people of Omaha aren't too terribly happy about being collateral damage in his war with the forces of malevolent super-science. Especially not when they have to start digging the bodies of innocent victims out of the rubble. Captain Spectre seems to defy death pretty handily, but everyone else around him doesn't and that is a fact that a lot of other heroes tend to overlook. This was another really moving moment, like when young Stanley died earlier. It feels like we're on the very cusp of seeing Captain Spectre reclaim his humanity out from under the whole super hero thing, and that would be very cool to see happen as this story continues

People are quickly becoming wary of this costumed hero who only weeks before was just some character on a radio show. And while the Lightning Legion are on his side, not everyone is especially happy about getting dragged into a bizarre war between uncanny and weird superhuman forces like malevolent robots and Electric Soldiers.
Tom Floyd deserves a lot of credit for having the guts to try and handle things like the death of young Stanley or the aftermath of the destruction in Omaha with guts and not taking the easy way out. People get killed either because they were trying to help the Captain out, or because they were simply in the way of his enemies who have no respect for human life whatsoever. The over-the-top gizmos and all his previous victories over hoodlums start to pale in comparison to the dawning realization that this costumed hero who walked straight out of a radio drama is putting everyone around him in harm's way by his vigilante antics.

This brings a welcome sense of grittiness and consequence to the fight scenes and it makes the bad guys that much more despicable and evil. This is also where Captain Spectre could very well take a big leap forward from the usual blood and guts Pulp Heroes. Consequences come crashing down around Captain Spectre sometimes, and for all his skill, ability, and his jet-pack...things sometimes go wrong, and he has to pick up the pieces. It will be interesting to see how this aspect of things is addressed in the course of the comics or in the promised prose tales that would be right at home in one of the New Pulp Fiction periodicals that various publishers are in the midst of producing.

In Chapter Three: Secret Worlds [23 pages, COLOR], Captain Spectre heads off to the heart of Africa and winds up confronting the M'Zimba tribe and meets Talla-Al of the Lost City of Suon-Mira, The Land Beyond, even as his stalwart side-kick Patches is called before the Conclave to account for the recent actions of Captain Spectre. The Conclave is headed by a certain guy with a very bronze tan, and it consists of just about everybody who was anybody in the Pulps back around 1939. Patches' past is not only mysterious, but now we know that he's on a first name basis with some truly heavy hitters, and very likely was himself a masked vigilante or costumed avenger of some sort back in his heyday.
In a nicely handled twist, Captain Spectre turns out to be one of the first of the old-time Pulp heroes to actually go public as more than just some radio show actor or made-up hero. This doesn't sit so well, at first, with some of the older, more established heroes who gather together to discuss this so-called upstart after the 'Incident in Omaha' from Chapter Two. 

The scene where Patches confronts a veritable Who's Who of classic Pulp Heroes on page 3_2 is priceless and really does a lot to cement Captain Spectre's place in terms of crossover continuity.
Chapter Three is also where we meet the amazon-like defender of the secret of Suon-Mira, Talla-Al – and we get to see Captain Spectre have a knock-down-drag-out fist-fight with a T-Rex. He also gets captured by cannibals, escapes to a Lost City and winds up undergoing a number of weird adventures in the Land Beyond, not the least of which is somehow overcoming certain death and escaping from the subterranean super-science city that Talla-Al protects.


Even in the middle of some obscure part of Africa, surrounded by cannibal tribesmen and dinosaurs, they've heard of Captain Spectre's radio show!



In Chapter Four: The Day the SkyScreamed [33 pages (so far), Black and White Newspaper Strip format], a lot of Captain Spectre's background and his somewhat disturbing origin is revealed.
Captain Spectre really is not like other men. He is the son of a super villain. Much like Hugo Danner in Gladiator, Captain Spectre is genetically-modified by a serum injected by his father, before he was even born. This serum seems to have made him stronger, faster, and he has some sort of enhanced healing capability, all of which we've seen previously. What all else the serum may have done to Captain Spectre remains to be seen. In Chapter Three the Captain is flying off to Africa and blacks out in mid-air, only barely recovering enough to save himself from certain disaster—because of something going odd with the serum in his bloodstream. So it is possible that we'll see more revelations regarding the serum and its effects on Captain Spectre in future installments.

Captain Spectre is a wonderful addition to the ever-growing world of New Pulp Fiction. The one thing that seems to be missing is a podcast-style mock radio show. That would be very, very cool. Perhaps Mr. Floyd might consider teaming up with the folks at Decoder Ring Theatre or maybe there's some sort of New Pulp-oriented version of EscapePod in the works? That'd be cool!

Captain Spectre Links
Tom Floyd's Sketchblog: http://lightninglegion.blogspot.com/
Tom Floyd's Portfolio site: http://www.tomfloyd.net/