Friday, July 27, 2012

Undercover Review: THE COLD DISH

By Craig Johnson
Penguins Books
354 pages
Review by Ron Fortier

One of the benefits of writer Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire mysteries being adapted into a critically well received television series is having the publisher re-issue new editions of the books; to include the very first, “The Cold Dish.”  For those of you who have never read any of these or have yet to catch the TV show, which airs on A & E on Sunday evenings, you are missing some truly excellent entertainment and might want to run down to your local bookstore and pick up a copy of “The Cold Dish” right now.

The protagonist is Walt Longmire who has been the sheriff of Wyoming’s rugged Absaroka County for twenty-four years. A widow with an adult daughter, Longmire’s solitary life resolves around his job and his tight knit circle of friends and co-workers that include his feisty Deputy Victoria ‘Vic’ Moretti and Native American tavern owner, Henry Standing Bear. Longmire’s dry wit and sarcasm fuel his personality and adds a great deal of humor to otherwise somber, intense plots obviously centered around gruesome crimes.

In this first novel, a mysterious assassin is stalking four young men who two years prior had sexual assaulted an innocent Cheyenne girl with fetal alcohol syndrome.  When the judge lets them off with a light sentence, it only serves to heighten the tension between the local white community and residents of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.  No sooner are the men released from prison then one of them is found shot to death and Longmire finds himself saddled with a case wherein the majority of the county has a motive; revenge.

One of the distinguishing peculiarities of the case is that the victim was murdered with a classic Sharps Buffalo rifle capable, in the hands of a marksman, of hitting a target at long range distances.  This one piece of information shortens the sheriff’s lists of possible suspects to a small handful to include Henry Standing Bear.

Johnson’s writing is brilliant and he combines the classic traits of a standard police procedural with the homey affectations of a western adventure; the beautiful Wyoming setting becoming as important an element of his tale as his characters.  He is also unafraid to add elements of Indian mysticism which lend a truly unique humanity to the story not found in most mysteries.  “The Cold Dish” is a masterful book that is both enjoyable and captivating and once finished, had this reviewer all too eager to find the next book in the series.  Honestly, it is that good…and then some.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Table Talk: Pulp Team-ups and Medium Mixers

Pull up a seat and strap yourself in for another edition of Table Talk, the (semi) regular column where New Pulp authors Barry Reese, Bobby Nash and Mike Bullock answer questions and offer their viewpoints on a wide array of topics relating to New Pulp Fiction.

 This time out, the guys tackle team ups and mixing mediums.

(Question) What old pulp character do you think would be a great partner for one of your own New Pulp characters and why? 

Mike: Obviously I’d pick Black Bat, which I did with the Moonstone Return line, and partnered him with Death Angel. I think the two characters fit together well and have enough ‘salt’ in their make-up to create some neat tensions between them. Both are night-stalkers of a sort, both are highly driven to meet their missions and both have enough ego to push themselves beyond the edge of where lesser heroes might go.
I wish the opportunity to get those tales done properly would have existed, and hope we can at least complete the graphic novel story arc begun in The Black Bat #1 someday.

I’d also love to do a Xander/Phantom tale sometime, as both characters have such a long lineage that it’s very conceivable they could have had adventures just about anywhere on the planet in the last five hundred years.

Barry: I’ve been able to team my heroes with most of the public domain characters that I like so I guess I’ll be moving into the unlikely areas of licensed characters next…

With The Rook, I’d love to have Max Davies encounter The Shadow. I think the two heroes have enough differences in how they operate that it would be an interesting crossover.

For Lazarus Gray, obviously, an encounter with The Avenger would be illuminating. Lazarus was birthed out of my love for The Avenger but I think any team-up would focus on the differences between the two – and there are actually quite a few.

To echo what Mike said, I’d love to have any of my heroes meet The Phantom – I did a pastiche of the character in my Rook series but it would be fun to have The Rook meet The Phantom for real.
Bobby: I think it would be a hoot to have Lance Star: Sky Ranger team up with either G-8 and his Battle Aces or Captain Midnight. And, like you guys, I think it would be fun to team Lance up with The Phantom. Rick Ruby would make for a good team up with Domino lady, I think.

(Question) With so many pulp characters coming to comics in recent years, which pulp character would you like to see move into comic book form? Which pulp characters work best in comics? Which pulp characters don't translate as well to comics?

Mike: I REALLY want to do some Captain Future comics. I love science fiction comics, but recognize the artist has to be a special breed to bring that sort of excitement to the comic page. But, I think if done right, the Captain and his crew would make for some great comics.

As for which ones have been done best and worst, I don’t want to point fingers, but some of the recent Distinguished Comics that came out were pretty bad. And to be quite candid, I'm very disappointed with the aforementioned Black Bat graphic novel I penned. On the flipside, I think just about any pulp character can translate to comics if written well and drawn with energy and excitement.

Barry: Well, I agree with Mike that the First Wave stuff was awful. I don’t think it was because of the characters and their transition to the comics page - it was because the writers and editors obviously didn’t understand the characters.

I’d love to see The Avenger handled properly in comics – despite a few odd choices they’ve made with The Shadow and The Spider, I do think that Dynamite has a couple of hits on their hands so maybe they could do Justice, Inc. the right way.

I think characters whose stories are based around characterization, detection, the slow building of tension, etc. are the ones who can easily transition into comics. Yes, You need action and so forth but comics are a static medium so you can’t just rely on the quick action to carry the day. For example (and this is really mixing mediums), I love Indiana Jones. But even the best Indiana Jones comics are ‘off’ because you can’t have the quick-moving action that you can in the movies or even in prose, where a skilled writer can make you feel that things are moving ‘faster’ than normal.

Bobby: Although the character has been adapted to comics before, I’d like to see Remo Williams AKA The Destroyer come back to comics. In fact, I would love to see a new Remo Williams movie too. What a great character.

Any character can work in comics, I think, but the powered characters obviously benefit from the art and colors.

Mike: Yeah, I’m really surprised there aren’t any Remo Williams comics. I’ve pitched that idea a few times, but never seem to find anyone interested in it.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Undercover Review: Dossouye

The Dancers of Mulukau
By Charles Saunders
Sword & Soul Media
320 pages
Review by Ron Fortier

Fantasy adventure writer Charles Saunders is often compared to Robert E. Howard as his Imaro is very much as strong a barbarian hero as is Conan; the difference obviously being that Imago’s world is not that of Howard’s Hyborian era but rather that of Africa’s mythological past. Since the 1970s his tales of Imaro have thrilled legions of readers and continue to do so to this day.

Still, if Howard’s Conan had the fiesty Red Sonja, one would fully expect Saunders to offer us a black female warrior to co-exist in this particular setting. Several years ago he did just that in bringing to life the amazing, beautiful and truly mesmerizing Dossouye; a native of the kingdom of Abomey, where women warriors are as prominent as their male counterparts. Then Saunders went Imaro one better by giving this sexy, independent amazon a very strange pet; Gbo the war-bull. From their first appearance in print, this duo has fired the imagination of fantasy lovers and rightly so.

Now comes this full length novel that takes the pair to a foreign country far from their homeland.  Dossouye is hired as a bodyguard, along with a troop of male mercenaries, to accompany a group of magical entertainers known as the Dancers of Mulukau on their journey to the city Khutuma.  In Khutuma, the well water is contains special rejuvenating properties which provide the people with long, abnormally healthy lives.  Yet at times the wells run dry and only the magic of the Dancers can replenish them; thus the urgency of their mission.

But the trip across a barren desert is fraught with dangers both natural and supernatural; the latter because of the Dancers physical condition.  They are all hermaphrodites; possessing both male and female organs. Whereas the majority of people from the neighboring kingdoms do not concern themselves with this fact, one particular group of mountain dwellers known as the Walaq are very much aware of it.  The Walaq are religious zealots whose extremist ideology sees the Dancers as freaks of nature who, according to their deity, must be completely exterminated from the face of the world.

As you can see by this very delicate social subplot, this isn’t your typical sword and sorcery fare.  Which comes as no surprise if you’ve read any of Saunders past works. Charles Saunders is an insightful, gifted adventure writer who uses his story-telling talents to not only entertain his readers, but to enlighten them in the process; to dispel the curtains of ignorant prejudices that still encumber our society and continues to perpetuate needless suffering and pain on others all for the sake of some subjective “norm” that truly doesn’t exist.

“Dossouye –The Dancers of Mulukau,” is a fast moving, thrilling and original fantasy adventure that breathes fresh air into this long established and often times too familiar genre.  His writing is flawless, his characters captivating and in the end he delivers a truly satisfying reading experience like few others working in the field today.  And here’s my prediction, gleaned from being one of his staunches fans from the start, no one will be able to read this book without, upon finishing it, having the urge to go out and collect all his other books.  Do yourselves a favor, don’t fight the urge.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

So Why Pulp? Ephemeral Hit Or Enduring Classic?

Ephemeral Hit Or Enduring Classic?

One of the first things I learned, once I stuck a couple toes into the deep and bottomless pool that is the pulp world, is how many devoted fans there are. Pulp writing is a bohemian art form that resonates with many because the stories sing in our blood. Pulp is about heroes and villains that are easy to differentiate, doing exciting things in exotic places. There’s a lot of it out there too, whether you’re talking rollicking adventure fiction in the golden era of the inexpensive magazines of yesteryear, or the New Pulp of this electronic age of print-on-demand books read via wireless gizmos. Pulp is still wildly popular, not just with longtime fans, but in general, for many people I’ve talked with about it had no frame of reference until I started mentioning classic characters and settings. Then the eyes light up, and you get that ‘Ah-ha!’ moment; because who doesn’t love gumshoe detectives, larger-than-life adventurers, war heroes, jungle warriors, outer space explorers, barbarian chieftains, creepy horror, western shootouts, etc—all entwined within the innocence of a simpler age? To endure like they have, pulp and its cast of characters had to resonate on some deeper level than just cheap entertainment that could be read and tossed away. Certainly, the stories and their unforgettable characters stayed popular over many decades. The best of them have been reprinted and made into graphic novels or movies, and they’re still coming back in one form or another. So it makes me wonder, what is the blueprint for a New Pulp best seller?

Dang, I wish I knew! There must be a formula out there somewhere. As a writer, I wrestle with that every day. I can’t believe the folks that created these amazingly enduring works of speculative fiction simply churned out whatever slush was oozing out of their heads and forgot all about it, like a machine stamping out parts in some factory. Oh, I know some of the best were team written from outlines, but somebody had to come up with a grand idea, and someone else’s expertise made it come alive on the page. Maybe in their day, the classic pulps were pawned off as disposable amusement, but to have been adored all this time says something more about the impact they had. These are beloved tales with characters that still fascinate us over 60 years later. Somebody was doing something right.

I’d settle for that!

I don’t think it’s any secret, most of us in the New Pulp movement aren’t here because we’re getting rich from our writing. If this was my only source of income, I’d be out begging with my tin cup, and eating in soup kitchens. We do this because we love what we create, and hope that someday, the money will follow. In the meantime, you don’t quit your day job, and I’ll tend my garden and make sure there’s something healthy on the table. Don’t even get me started on the lack of acceptance issues, because there’s been a lot more criticizing than praising, once you get outside our inner circle of supportive peers. There’s a sense of frustration and futility across the board as everyone is vying for the same customer base, and purist pundit fundamentalists pop up faster than dandelions in a spring lawn. Classic pulp connoisseurs, devoted to the hacked-out darlings of bygone days, can be total bluestockings when it comes to keeping the breed untainted. I’ve seen New Pulp trashed and pooh-poohed more often than it’s been applauded for keeping this style of writing alive. You have to have a lot of guts to hold your head up high and soldier on when the message comes across that you’re sullying pulpdom’s sacred soil with your inferior brain droppings.

Hallowed ground indeed! Aren’t we all just pandering to a populist crowd? In mainstream writing, which is clearly focused on the ‘literary’ end of fiction as well as non-fiction how-to, celebrity tell-all biographies, fad diets, self-help, endless cookbooks, and rigidly formulaic genres of standard novels; pulp is viewed as that backward country cousin with the buck teeth and lisp everyone else jokes about and refuses to admit to having invited over. In other words, they don’t want to admit to even knowing any of us, classic or nouveau, and they still control the mass marketing machine. So to me, these New Pulp critics are simply disgruntled insiders looking to break out into a broader audience, but all they do is divide our small but loyal pulp readership even further, which benefits no one. In all honesty, we are still a very small part of the shrinking book market, even if the tales of yesterday have become the memorable movies of today. And that is the reason you won’t see ‘John Carter’ and ‘Mars’ on the same marquee. Someone in management who doesn’t understand pulp’s rich cultural history is afraid that today’s savvy moviegoer will see it as just another B grade science fiction flick and pan it. So go educate them, and stop dunning us for trying to keep pulp alive! Madison Avenue will trumpet the trendy Twilight or Harry Potter films to the max, and why not? Through endless promotion efforts, these stories have captured the flea-like attention of the masses, which will spend their coins hither and yon on tie-in products, and then flitter over to the next big thing being hawked to them. It’s a numbers game, and someone is getting rich with that. Critics need not apply, because the public knows what it wants.

I believe they want our stories. I really do.

Advertising is everything these days, and because we pulpsters don’t have the mass distribution of the bygone era, we’ve got to find some unity so that we can hitch up to that wagon. Without that widespread availability of the pulp of the past, lack of outside the community ad space promotions are probably the next biggest issue for those of us in the New Pulp world. We need to build wider audiences and make new fans if we are going to survive. Unfortunately, that kind of attention-getting comes with a hefty price tag. Cue up the naysayers to knock down your efforts at every turn, and you might as well hang up your keyboard. Constructive criticism pointed within the market is helpful, but loud and authoritative panning by self-made experts hurts all of us. While the tomes of the old days might be seen as the measuring standard, they too could be formulaic, overly wordy, filled with typos, and sometimes just plain poorly written knock-offs. The patina of age doesn’t hide that too well once you start actually reading them, as beloved as they are.

Well… there are conventions, which bring together people from all over the place who love what we do. From what I hear, you can sell very well at cons. Sadly, they are expensive to travel to and attend, and they take time away from writing, work, and family obligations. To you con-warriors, I say hooray, you’re my heroes; because you’re not just promoting yourselves, but New Pulp as a whole. I’d love to join you, but my meager budget only allows for one convention a year. I can’t leave my family to go on endless working vacations either. Until they start paying my way through plenty of sales, cons either have to be within commuting distance or otherwise subsidized. It’s Catch-22, and I’m not holding my breath.

The old pulps used to be very visible. They were for sale on every corner newsstand. Like comic books when I was growing up, you had no trouble stumbling across one, because the astounding cover art was hard to miss and the price was low. Well those days of cheap reads everywhere are gone. Even mainstream comics are relegated to specialty shops at a premium price and greatly reduced in content. The inexpensive paperback spinner racks of the drug and convenience stores have all but disappeared. Bookstores have increasingly become a trendy, big business outlet, and they only carry mass market material they know they can return unsold. The big retailers tend toward the splashy, high end items, and to keep folks coming in, they feature reading lounges and cafes. Little by little, these brick and mortar edifices are evaporating too. There’s just too much stuff competing for our attention, with cable TV, blockbuster movies on demand, DVDs, gaming consoles, MP3 players, tablets, and phones that do everything but make toast (and there’s probably an app for that…). People with little time on their hands and less cash to spare can walk over to the rental vending machines or cutout bins for movies and games. You can now boot up streaming videos at home, buy whatever books you want heavily discounted online, or download them for an electronic gizmo. Sadly, new fans are not going to stumble across us if we aren’t out there hawking our wares 24/7, and not everyone can do that. There’s just so much stuff competing with us.

It’s not all hopeless, though I still haven’t figured out how to do better marketing of my own work than by word of mouth. That’s something I think about every day though. In the meantime, I keep writing the best stuff I know how to produce, and promoting it and the work of my contemporaries as often as I can manage. Unlike my counterparts of the golden age of pulp, I’m not getting paid X-amount per word or per story. I’ve had to settle for back-end royalties, though I’m not complaining, because it’s better than leaving work sitting in files unread. But it’s a tough market to crack, and it’s flooded by folks just like me, wanting to share their ideas with a wider audience. We all have the dream of making at least a modest income through writing. I hope I live long enough to see that become a reality.

But you know what really motivates me to get back to the keyboard? Thinking about how maybe—just maybe—someday down the road, when I’ve drifted back into the primordial dust, someone will still be reading my stories and sighing happily. Having a big hit must be wonderful, at least while it lasts. Knowing you are leaving a legacy of good reading behind you is even sweeter. I don’t want these books I labor over to die with me.

If I leave one lasting impression on this Green Earth, let it be something positive, like a story well told that not only entertains, but captivates and inspires a whole new generation to go out and seek more of the same. Sometimes you just can’t measure success in dollars and cents. Classic Pulp has survived the ages not because it’s fine art, but because it’s a grand way of telling exciting and heroic tales that has captured the hearts of its fans. That’s my definition of success. Should be yours too. Maybe neither one of us will ever be wealthy, but we’ll be richer in other ways for it. In the end, we’re not taking anything with us we didn’t bring into this world, and we’re leaving behind all that we did and were. If they call me a hack writer in the mainstream world, I’ll shrug and accept that. If someone puts their nose in the air and says what I write really isn’t pulp, oh well… As long as somebody is still reading what I write and wishing for more, I’ll keep on writing it, and you can call it anything you prefer. I love what I do too much to worry about what the bean counters say, and I figure we’ll all get by somehow. The numbers are against us anyway, so I’ll shoot for the longevity angle and hope I get lucky. Costs less than playing the lottery and I get more satisfaction from it.

Never let the ‘experts’ get you down. Give the people who love your writing what they want, and carry on. We’re all in this together folks.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Boxing Pulps on the Comeback Trail: the Fight Card Series

New Pulp is not just catching on; it's catching fire. There is more exposure to the classic pulps every day, and more authors publishing new pulpesque material. This year I caught wind of a new series resurrecting a long-forgotten pulp genre, and just had to check it out.

The series is called Fight Card. It is a throwback to the boxing pulps of yesteryear, brainstormed by Paul Bishop and Mel Odom. All the novellas in this series are set in the 1950s, which just seems to fit perfect for stories with a hardboiled noir edge. Odom, Bishop, and others are using the "Jack Tunney" house name to write under, in true pulp-writer style. The first e-book in the series I read was Bishop's Felony Fists, which I reviewed on the Two-Fisted Blog. I've read most of the series (on my smart phone during lunch breaks and such) so far, actually, but have not yet found time to review them.

Heartfelt apologies to all for my absenteeism of late. My effort at redemption is below, and will hopefully be a treat for fans of New Pulp: a brief interview with series co-creator Paul Bishop. Bish is a thirty-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, a blogger, contributor to Fight Fictioneers Magazine, an experienced crime novelist, and, of course, a pulp fan.

HANK: When did you first discover pulp/how did you become a fan of it?

BISH: I discovered the detective pulps in my twenties.  I’d been aware of it before then, but hadn’t sought any out to read.  However, once I got into the Black Mask and other pulp detective tales I was hooked.  From the detective pulps, I moved on to the hero pulps, the aviation pulps, the western pulps and finally to the sports pulps

HANK: What was your introduction to the boxing pulps?

BISH: I began collecting original issues of Fight Fiction Magazine after reading a few of Robert E. Howard’s Sailor Steve Costigan yarns.  Once I focused on fight pulp stories, I began to see how they permeated the sports pulps of the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, and I began reading more widely.

HANK: Boxing films were popular in the 1930s, the '50s, and enjoyed a resurgence in the '70s and '80s after the success of Rocky. It doesn't seem that fight fiction ever shared that popularity, except in the pulps of the 1950s. Maybe I'm mistaken, but if not, do you have any theories why that is?

BISH: Like many of the other magazines, the sports pulps died out with the advent of television.  Folks were getting their fight and sport action on the box in their living rooms instead of the pulp pages.  Also, people became disenchanted with the fight game as it became clear how tied into organized crime it all was.  However, while the proliferation of fight fiction was reduced to a trickle, there has always been authors who have told these stories.  Currently, there are a number of fight pulp-style stories being published (mostly in e-book format), with the Fight Card series at the vanguard.

HANK: Share the genesis of Fight Card.

BISH: Surfing, I came across a new fight pulp style e-novelette, Smoker, written by Mel Odom – a prolific writer in the manner of the original pulp writers.  I tracked Mel down via his website and we hit it off immediately.  We had a ton in common including a shared love of the fight pulps.  By the end of our first phone conversation, we had hatched the idea that would become the Fight Card series … 

HANK: I saw a cover image for Smoker on your blog, and have to add that one to my towering To-Be-Read Pile. 

 Describe the series, the stories that are in it... and going to be in it. Has your (and Mel's) vision been well-realized so far?

BISH: The Fight Card series consists of monthly 25,000 word novelettes, designed to be read in one or two sittings.  The stories and stylings are inspired by the fight pulps of the '30s and '40s – such as Fight Stories Magazine – and Robert E. Howard’s two-fisted boxing tales featuring Sailor Steve Costigan.

Currently, each Fight Card story is set in the 1950s, with locations anywhere in the world. PG-13 language and violence.  The main character does not have to be a boxer (reporters etc. are fine), but boxing HAS to be at the heart of the story and its resolution – usually, the BIG fight.  Stakes can be high or low in the big picture, but obviously high for the characters involved.  One of the main characters also has to have a connection to St. Vincent's Asylum For Boys in Chicago (an orphanage), where Father Tim, the fighting priest, teaches the 'sweet science' as a way to become a man. 

We’ve now had seven Fight Card stories published and there are four more completed tales ready for publication and another half-dozen in various stages of being written.  I have been delighted by each and every one of them.  It has been a pleasure to see how the Fight Card team of writers have each taken the simple concept and made it their own – the variety of plots and characters has astounded me.

HANK: Even though each different "Jack Tunney" has his own style, I think they've all nicely captured a distinct pulp flavor in the ones I've read. And they've got the action and characterization to keep your nose buried in the pages. I've never once been tempted to skim, or so disgusted by the stupidity of a protagonist that I set one down and moved on to another book (believe me: this has happened many times with other books--an unfortunate by-product of the ease of publishing during the Digital Age, I guess). 

 I'm curious why, for a series anchored in the 1950s, why the "house name" you chose is a composite of two heavyweight champions from the 1920s. Any rhyme or reason to that?

BISH: There is no specific purpose behind the composite pseudonym.  At the time, I’d just finished reading both a new biography of Gene Tunney and an issue of Jack Dempsey’s Fight Magazine (a ‘30s pulp to which the great champion lent his name) – the pseudonym just clicked.

HANK: I think it has the extra appeal of being an "in joke" for those who know something about boxing history.

Were you (or are you) a boxing fan? How about Mixed Martial Arts?

BISH: I’ve been a casual boxing fan for many years.  Sonny Liston has always been one of my favorite fighters and I have a great retrospective appreciation for Muhammad Ali.

I didn’t take to MMA in the early years of the sport.  However, as I’ve come to understand the technical aspects involved, especially the grappling techniques, I’ve come to appreciate it more and more.  In fact, we’re considering adding a couple of Fight Card:MMA titles next year to bring a contemporary side to the Fight Card series.

HANK: That would be cool. I've had an idea for an MMA story germinating in my mind for years now. I've also read the opening chapter of another writer's work-in-progress which has much promise.

As a fan, I'm almost the opposite of you: I loved MMA in the early years and couldn't get enough of the UFC. It was the kind of thing I had fantasized about, having dabbled in the martial arts enough to be fascinated by the contrast in forms and disciplines. Although the MMA fighters now are very dangerous, tough men, I just don't enjoy the homogenized styles as much.

You're a veteran of the LAPD, and have written many crime novels. In fact, your first Fight Card entry, Felony Fists, was a fusion of the detective and boxing genres. A very entertaining one, I might addno doubt your interest in vintage pop-culture helped you capture the atmosphere of the era. Do you see yourself fusing the genres again in future installments?

BISH: Absolutely!  My follow up to Fight Card: Felony Fists will be a sequel, Fight Card: Swamp Walloper.  The storyline follows my boxer/cop hero, Patrick Flynn, as a murder investigation leads him to New Orleans and a confrontation with a crooked penitentiary warden staging fights to the death between the inmates.

HANK: That's just loaded with potential conflict. I'm salivating, here.

There are a lot of sports fans in the world, but only a portion of them watch boxing, other than super-hyped match-ups (and this portion seems to be losing ground fast to the UFC/MMA fans). I would guess not many of them are avid readers. And vice-versa: not too many avid readers are fight enthusiasts. Then again, pulp fans are only a small portion of the reading population.  And yet it seems you've built a loyal and appreciative following in the short time since introducing this retro-pulp fight series. Is there a magic formula at work somewhere behind the scenes? Do you have any theories for why this series is resonating with readers?

BISH: Fight Card’s team of authors have delivered fast-paced two-fisted action which has resonated with the reviewers.  The characters in the Fight Card novels are everyday ‘Joes,’ with whom the readers can both identify and respect… The advent of e-publishing has given us a way to reach our niche audience, and it is their enthusiastic involvement in blogging, Facebooking, tweeting, and use of other social networking sources that has expanded the audience.  No magic formula other than strong characters, fast paced storytelling, and attention to plotting.

HANK: I'm a relative newcomer to the author business, and so far am still spending most of my time on a "real" job and with family, but I've made an effort to get inside the circle of the New Pulp movement, and so am pleased with the contacts I've been making. Seems like you know everybody I know, though, and then some. Do you consider yourself part of the New Pulp movement?

BISH: I am delighted to be associated and involved with the New Pulp movement.  There is a tremendous amount of unselfish support within the New Pulp community as almost everyone is a fan as well as a professional.  The level of idea sharing and cross-platform support for New Pulp is really unprecedented in my experience, which is both gratifying and very, very, cool.

HANK: In my opinion this is nowhere better exemplified than by you and Mel (Odom) and your Fight Card stable. They seem to have you solidly "in their corner" (pun intended). Kudos!

Do you have plans for any other retro-pulp series, or any other forgotten genre resurrections?

BISH: I’ve been commissioned to write several short stories for various pulp revival anthologies built around existing pulp legacy characters.  Pro Se publisher/writer Tommy Hancock and I will also be editing a series of pulp anthologies under the Pulse Fiction banner for 2013 publication.  These will feature new pulp characters in retro-settings from all pulp genres.

I’m also editing an anthology of new ‘60s spy fiction (back when spying was fun) inspired tales. These stories are being written by the members of C.O.B.R.A.S. (Coalition Of Bloggers wRiting About Spies)– a loose knit group of espionage enthusiasts.

HANK: That all sounds really cool. Looks like you'll be busy, but that's the kind of "busy" I'd take any day!

Finally, here's your chance to talk about Bish's Beat (and any other cool blogs) as well as plug any new books you're sending to the presses.

I do a lot of blogging ( and social networking (Twitter@Bishsbeat).  While I do some promotion on these platforms, I mostly use them as a way of sharing my love of the many eclectic interests (vintage covers, lounge music, ‘60s spies) that strike my fancy.

Next up on my writing schedule is the first book in a new contemporary series, The Interrogators, making use of my extensive experience ‘working in the box’ (aka: the interrogation room), and more Fight Card titles.

HANK: Many thanks, Bish, for taking the time to answer my questions, and best of luck with all your endeavors.

Hank Brown is the Two-Fisted Blogger, as well as mac-daddy of Virtual Pulp Press. His military thriller Hell and Gone has earned accolades from Midwest Book Review, Post-Modern Pulps, authors Jim Morris (War Story, The Devil's Secret Name), Jack Silkstone (the PRIMAL series) and Jack Murphy (Reflexive Fire, the PROMIS series). He has also authored a smattering of new pulp, including his own soon-to-be-released novella for the Fight Card series.


Saturday, July 14, 2012



July 13th , 2012, Mt. Laurel, NJ - Dynamite Entertainment is proud to announce the The Art of Painted Comics hardcover, containing the first all-encompassing retrospective covering the entire history of Painted Comics.  Featuring art by Alex Ross, Greg Hildebrandt, Frank Frazetta, Joe Jusko, Michael William Kaluta, Bill Sienkiewicz, Neal Adams, Julie Bell, Joseph Michael Linsner, Glen Orbik, Simon Bisley, Dave Dorman, Phil Noto, Greg Horn, Brian Bolland, Ashley Wood, Charles Vess, Mark Teixeira, Arthur Suydam, Dave McKean, and MANY MANY MORE!!

Overseen by Alex Ross, The Art of Painted Comics is the art book which offers a complete history of painted comics.  It is an overview of the topic: a glimpse into a world that has, to date, been regrettably overlooked; a sampling of artistry that will foster an appreciation of the mastery of the men and women behind the images that have long held our collective imagination.  Make sure to pick this amazing book this coming October!
"Several years ago, Dynamite Entertainment had, at my urging, begun work with writer Chris Lawrence and me to finally create a book devoted to the art of painted comics," says legendary comic book creator Alex Ross.  "I've always found that painted art in comics is regarded by most people as a recent application and not a mainstream part of how comics are made.  Painted covers and stories for the comics medium has been around for decades, with some of it going back to the beginnings of the art form. This much labored-over, lushly illustrated book will finally set the record straight and expose the reader to a rich history of how painted art has shaped the popular art form of comics."
"When Alex [Ross] and I first discussed ‘The Art of Painted Comics', we talked about it as a magazine article - a retrospective feature, to be more precise," adds writer Chris Lawrence. "Then we began brainstorming, and - in no time at all - our ‘must-have' list of artists, projects, and paintings (more than 27 pages in length) made it abundantly clear we had to think bigger. A lot bigger. The end result is absolutely astounding - a gorgeous volume that is equal parts art book and comics history. With hundreds (if not thousands) of images drawn from the collections of artists and comics aficionados from around the globe, this book represents a one-of-a-kind visual timeline of an artistic approach that's played a role in comic books for...well, for almost as long as there have been comic books. It is the story of painted comics, told by those who have studied its lore, by those who have found inspiration in its artistry, and by the artists themselves.  Assembling the art required a Herculean effort, but Alex and the team at Dynamite proved they were up to the task, putting together pages upon pages of paintings that will captivate readers for hours. Once those readers discover the stories of the men and women behind the brushstrokes...after learning how the images influenced the artists and painted comics they love...they'll look at the paintings again with new eyes. And they'll be captivated all over again."

"This book started out as us wanting to do a retrospective book on the distinguished career of Alex Ross," adds Dynamite President and Publisher Nick Barrucci.  "Alex preferred to go another route by instead creating the ultimate definitive book of the art and history of painted comics.  This project involved lots of work and research since it is the first of its kind, and we are all proud of The Art of Painted Comics!"

Undercover Review: Head Games

Head Games by Craig McDonald
Review by Greg Daniel

I have always been a fan of the writer as protagonist. So imagine my delight when I chanced across a book with a pulp writer as hero in an honest-to-goodness pulp adventure.  No, I am not talking about The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril nor even The Astounding, The Amazing, and The Unknown.  I am talking about Head Games by Craig McDonald.

Head Games (a 2008 multiple award nominee) features Hector Lassiter, a two-fisted writer for Black Mask, who lives a gonzo noir existence reminiscent of the Thompson Boys, Jim and Hunter.
The tale opens in 1957.  Lassiter has dragged a young writer, sent to interview him, to a cantina south of the border where an old acquaintance needs his help in dealing with the MacGuffin of the story: Pancho Villa’s skull.  Their tete-a-tete about Villa’s tete is interrupted by a shoot-out with the federales.  And then … things get weird.

Take a trunkful of skulls, the federales, a secret society, the CIA, Orson Welles, Marlene Dietrich, Ernest Hemingway, the progenitor of a presidential dynasty, and more historical figures, mix liberally with guns, cigarettes, booze, car chases, and an escalating body count and you are just beginning to get an idea of what is in store for you (and Lassiter) in Head Games.

McDonald, who cites Lester Dent among his influences, manages to provide an action-packed tale full of twists and turns that never lets up while still delivering multiple conspiracies, a history lesson or two, and a look at the onion layers of the writer’s mind and tortured soul that hides beneath Lassiter’s hard-boiled exterior.  He does all of this with a dark humor-tinged full bore voice and style (Lassiter’s) that is pure new pulp: a truly modern novel that will remind everyone of what attracted them to the pulps in the first place. 

The character of Lassiter shares traits with Hemingway but seems to be more directly influenced by a couple of other writers that may be familiar to pulp readers, Brett Halliday/Davis Dresser (creator of Mike Shayne) and Jonathan Latimer (creator of Bill Crane).  It is the latter influence that adds a slight touch of screwball comedy to this volatile cocktail of tale. It is the former who, like Lassiter, lied about his age to ride with Black Jack Pershing.

Head Games is the first, but chronologically the second, in a planned series of seven Hector Lassiter novels. Three others, Toros and Torsos, Print the Legend, and One True Sentence are in print with Forever is Just Pretend coming next.