Wednesday, November 26, 2008
There is, of course, the whole "giving thanks" aspect, too, which is nice.
So what am I thankful for? Two things. Want to guess what they might be?
Here's one hint.
Got it yet? Well, here's one last hint.
So that's me. Sure, I'm also endlessly grateful that I have the opportunity to write books and stories, and that there are publishers willing to print them and readers willing to read them. (I have my dream job, honestly, and what could be better than that?) And I'm lucky to have such terrific friends and family, who have supported me along the way. But if I had to sum up everything I'm truly thankful for, it would be those two girls up there.
How about you? What are you thankful for?
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Pot Cookie Monster
Monday, November 24, 2008
The World of Supreme fansite
One of those websites represents what is probably one of the most fannish things I ever did, at least in public. Sure, I taught myself a smattering of Klingon (and was for a while a card-carrying member of the Klingon Language Institute), which may be slightly more fannish, but that was something done in the privacy of my own apartment, and not plastered on the interwebs. The "World of Supreme" site, a fansite for the then-ongoing Alan Moore superhero series Supreme, was the meticulously researched tip of a fanboy iceberg that is still calving chunks of ice floating around in my head even now. (I think that metaphor got away from me a little there.)
Here, in all it's Web 1.0 glory, is The World of Supreme, just as I first posted it online in January of 1998. Complete with eyestrain-inducing starfield background, the occasional typo, and my transient insistence on using my complete middle name (a tendency I toyed with once or twice in college, again in my late 20s, and then abandoned forever after).
And if you can't take the white-text-on-starfield (and really, who could blame you), here is a sample of what you'd have found, if you'd been one of the handful of people to have stumbled on the site in its brief life, ten years ago. I've not corrected any errors of spelling (or of fact), so consider yourself forewarned.
by Christian Roberson
If you who are reading this do not know who Alan Moore is, stop reading now. Go to your local comic shop or Barnes and Noble, and pick up any or all of the following: Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Miracle Man, Swamp Thing, The Ballad of Halo Jones, Skizz, A Small Killing, The Bojeffries Saga, From Hell, Whatever Happened to the Man of Steel?, or 1963. Bring them home, get comfortable, and read. Then come back. Go ahead, we’ll still be here.
You’re done? Good. If you’ve gotten this far, you have some idea who Alan is. You may even have realized his importance. But in case you haven’t, I’ll spell it out for you: Alan Moore is the finest writer even to work in the field of comics. Ever. Period.
I make the former statement with confidence, have reviewed the options. The comics field has known it share of fine writers, both in the mainstream and the alternatives: Dave Sim, Neil Gaiman, James Robinson, Frank Miller, Kurt Busiek, Mark Waid, Seth, Matt Wagner... The list goes on and on. None, however, has the far reaching ability, and the sheer native talent of Alan Moore. Alan can beat anyone at their own game, whether it is the most mainstream of superhero comics (see his work in Wildcats and on the occasional issue of Superman) or the most challenging of the alternatives (see From Hell or Big Numbers). Alan (and I call him Alan not out of any personal familiarity, but out of respect.... and so I don’t have to keep typing his full name) has a talent more versatile than any in this, or any other industry. He created the vogue in “Dark Fantasy” through his work on Swamp Thing in the eighties, presented the field with the most ground-breaking of the revisionist superhero comics in Miracle Man, and gave what everyone though was the final word in superheroes with his Watchmen. Many in the industry, including Alan himself, felt that after Watchmen there was simply nothing left to say about superheroes. It had all been said. But the comics kept right on talking.
Other creators, of lesser imagination, picked up on what Alan and Frank Miller had done in their superhero Last Will and Testaments, but they picked up on all the wrong elements. Thus, trying to capture the magic and gravity of those books, their own books became dark and disturbed. This dismal period was characterized by books known as “Grim and Gritty.” What was astonishing was that this phrase was used as a selling point, as a badge of honor. Look, the titles said, Batman used to just arrest people, but look at Shadowhawk: He breaks their backs. In this morbid atmosphere, the majority of the more talented creators turned away from the genre all together. Miller went on to do Sin City and Martha Washington books, and Alan turned to working on more mundane subjects.
It was at this point that Alan paraphrased J. Ballard, noted science fiction author, and said that no writer could imagine anything more alien and strange than the person living next door. The real trick, he essentially said, was to write about normal people, in normal settings. No more aliens, no more swamp monsters, no more heroes who could extinguish the sun with a single breath.
But superhero comics were still being made, and they only got darker and darker.
Eventually, Alan looked at the genre, and what superheroes had become, and felt a measure of personal responsibility. In many ways, the more complex psychological themes he introduced to the superhero had resulted in the sad state of the superhero in later years. To the surprise of everyone, Alan returned to superheroes, but not in the way most might have expected.
To be truthful, part of Alan’s motivation must have been monitary. His more esoteric projects were not the cash cows his mainstream projects had been, and his early attempt at self publishing through Mad Love had proved a failure. The return to the mainstream, then, allowed him to continue producing his more challenging work.. 1963, in particular, can be seen as a quick cash grab for all the creators involved. (And it paid off. With the profits from those six Image books, Rick Veitch was able to publish Rare Bit Fiends, Steve Bissette brough out Tyrant, and Don Simpson was able to launch Bizarre Heroes.)
However, Alan’s later superhero work can also be see as a kind of penetance. Having inadvertantly brought the superhero to such a lowly state, Alan felt that younger readers were left without a safe haven. The sense of wonder engendered by the comics of Alan’s own childhood were completely lacking in these books, filled to full page bleed with guns and knives and huge splashes of blood.
Alan produced work both for Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee, scripting Spawn specials and issues of the Wildcats. He would still not work for the Big Two, however. Things had not changed that much. The issues that had driven him away from the mainstream in the first place... labelling, creator rights, etc... were still very much present. At Image though, free from those constraints, Alan could produce the kind of work the Big Two would never have let him do. Straight, simple, superhero comics.
After a few years of such assignments, Alan began to work for Liefeld’s Extreme Studios, scripting the character Supreme. Always a blatant copy of Superman, Alan took the character one step further. No longer a copy of Superman, the character became Superman. But not the Superman of false deaths and cyborg duplicates and teenage clones, he became the forgotten Superman of bottled cities and phantom criminals and super-powered dogs. Through Supreme, Alan recreated the strange and wonderful world of Mort Weisinger’s Superman, with all of the silliness and solemnity that entailed. Along with penciller Rick Veitch, Alan created flashbacks to the golden and silver ages of Supreme, presented as though they were reprints from never-published classics of the fifties and sixties. The writing was perfect, the pencils perfectly capturing the look. Bookending these flashbacks was the story of an amnesiac Supreme, rediscovering his past. Through these stories, Alan introduced a whole new world of heroes and stories, an entire universe, launching fully blown from Supreme’s head as though it had always existed and we just had never heard about it.
Supreme has become, in essence, everything that DC Comics should be, everything that it w as and no longer is. Dinosaur islands and giant chimpanzees, floating cloud fortresses and evil duplicates. Alan has populated this world with characters at once familiar and strange, Professor Night and Twilight the Marvel Girl, the Fisherman and Skipper, the Allied Supermen of America and Zantar the White God of The Congo. It is a big world, a world of wonders, presented every month in the pages of Supreme (and Judgment Day, and Youngblood, and soon to be more). Do yourself a favor. Pick up an issue, and then get lost inside. You may never come back out, but you won’t mind the trip.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Comes the Deluge
The official site for the World Fantasy Awards has been updated with the information, and already this week I've started receiving books for consideration in the mail (technically not the first I've received, since I was handed a couple of books for consideration at the convention itself).
I'm going to be doing a lot of reading in the next year...
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Secret Services: Q
For those of you who've been following along at home, I'm using "secret services" to define those ubiquitous clandestine government agencies that investigate the supernatural and the occult. I've been tackling them more or less in chronological order based on first appearance (though I'm fudging a bit with a few notable exceptions, as will eventually be seen). We're now up to those halcyon days of 2000, when an eager world got its first glimpse of Paul Grist's Jack Staff.
Now, as I've told you, and told you, and told you (and told you and told you) before, Jack Staff is the best superhero comic on the market today, and that everyone who doesn't hate goodness owes it to themselves to pick it up. But I won't retreat what I've already said before about the unremitting awesomeness of Jack Staff. Instead, I'll be focusing on one particular aspect of that awesomeness--namely, "Q."
Who, or what, is Q? Well, here's how they were first introduced, on page 17 of Jack Staff Vol 1. #1.
Helen Morgan(Make a note of that letter, will you? It will turn up quite a few more times in future Secret Services entries.)
Three unusual people caught up in a world where the bizarre is commonplace.
They are the guardians of the gate between reality and unreality.
They are the investigators of the unexplainable.
The question mark crimes.
They are Q.
One of the things that Grist does in Jack Staff that makes the book so good is the dense layering of story, with breadth--a large cast of characters and many ongoing plotlines--and depth--backstory and flashbacks that reach back decades, centuries, and longer. This is in evidence from the very first issue, which introduces the patriotic working class hero Jack Staff, his WWII era teammates in the Freedom Fighters, "girl reporter" Becky Burdock (soon to be vampire girl reporter), Tom-Tom the Robot Man, vampire hunters Bramble and Son, and the members of Q.
And like those other characters, the three members of Q feel somewhat familiar, even in that first appearance. That's because the world of Jack Staff is peopled by types, characters that can be boiled down into brief Homeric epithets. "Vampire Girl Reporter." "Working Class Superhero." "Victorian Escape Artist."
But more than that, the characters are, by and large, analogues of specific characters from British popular culture. Most (but not all) of the referenced characters are from mid-20C British comics (though Bramble and Son, for example, are vampire-hunting variations on Steptoe and Son, the British comedy about father and son rag-and-bone men that later inspired the junkyard father-and-son pair in Sanford and Son), in many cases being virtually identical to the originals. (If you can slide a piece of paper through the original Spider and Grist's version, I'd be surprised.) But in the case of Q, Grist has done something a bit more interesting.
(And as a brief caveat, I'll point out that a reader's enjoyment of Jack Staff doesn't depend at all on familiarity with the characters being referenced. There were quite a few references that shot right past me when I first read the book, Anglophile that I am, but I was still hooked from page 1. The characters are recognizable as types, and in fact work on their own as fully-formed characters in their own right, even if the reader has no notion that they're analogues for other characters. Contrast that with Leah Moore and John Reppion's Albion, which depended entirely on the reader's familiarity with moribund British comics characters. Ian Edginton's Establishment, on the other hand, used a very similar approach to Jack Staff, employing figures from 60s and 70s genre television, primarily, to good purpose; well worth hunting down.)
Helen Morgan, Ben Kulmer, and Harry Crane are not analogues for any specific characters that have previously appeared. Instead, they are new characters that have been impacted by analogues for previous characters.
Let me try that again, from a different angle.
In the 60s there was a British strip entitled "Kelly's Eye", about a guy who finds the "Eye of Everlasting Life" while traveling in South America, a gem that protects its wearer from any and all harm, rendering them effectively immortal. Around the same time another strip featured the "Steel Claw," a superhero able to turn invisible and channel electricity thanks to the metal claw that gave him his name.
In the world of Jack Staff, the "Eye of Everlasting Life" is known as the "Valiant Stone," and it was once worn by an adventurer just like Kelly of the strip. But that adventurer came to a messy end when the Stone itself was shattered, broken into tiny shards. One of those shards came into the possession of Helen Morgan, who is now cursed with immortality until she can gathered all the scattered shards together again.
And a small time thief named Karl Stringer steals a steel claw from a museum, only to have it bond directly to his hand. Unable to remove it, he finds that he can turn invisible and channel electricity. Recruited by Q, he is given a new name and identity, but as time goes on, he finds himself drawn inexorably back to his former ways.
Harry Crane, for his part, is a former policeman who receives psychic visions of past events. (If he's related to any previous character, it's not been revealed yet.)
As the storylines in Jack Staff have progressed, it has been slowly revealed that while Q is recognized as some kind of official body by the police and other authorities, it doesn't seem to be directly affiliated with the government. For example, when Helen encounters Colonel Adam Venture ("Britain's first man in space--not that you'll find that in any official record!" -- see what I meant about types?) and the rest of the Starfall Squad (Their motto, "If it falls from the sky, it stays on the ground!"), Venture has no idea who she is. In the best tradition of clandestine secret services, though, Helen doesn't even bother to explain, but carries on with the investigation.
It's been gradually revealed that there are two supernatural forces at work in the world, the "Green" and the "Red." It was Mister Green who set Helen the task of recovering the pieces of the Valiant Stone (and who tried unsuccessfully to recruit Jack Staff as one of his agents). Just what the Red is, we've not yet discovered.
I should probably stop now, before I start recounting the plot of the entire series to date. In short, Jack Staff is the best superhero comic currently on the market, and the cryptic adventures of Helen Morgan and the rest of Q are a key ingredient in that mix. Check it out, unless you hate goodness.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Monty Python on YouTube
I think this is a terrific idea. And I would love to see more creatives do exactly the same thing. I'll be watching this with interest.
Escape from Hell! preview
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Race to Witch Mountain
I have very fond memories of the original two "Witch Mountain" flicks Disney did in the 70s. I've returned to the idea of a twin boy and girl with powers on the run from dark forces time and again, though I've always abandoned those projects before they made it out of the development stages. (Which is one way of saying that, if you should come across the idea in one of my stories sooner or later, you'll know where I've stolen it from.)
I don't mind at all the idea of reviving the concept as a 21st century franchise. I am, though, a little concerned that the focus here appears to be on the adults, not the runaway kids. That could just be the way the trailer is cut, and the actual film might have the boy and girl as the principal POVs. But at the outset, it's looking like a red flag to me.
But come on, psychic kids on the run from the government? That's a tough idea to get wrong.
Here, as an added bonus, is the opening credits for the original Escape to Witch Mountain, which is surprisingly atmospheric for a low-budget mid-seventies children's flick.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Batman: The Brave and the Bold
Me? I love it. Batman as a full-on science fictional hero, complete with a lightsaber hidden in his utility belt, jetpacking from the surface of the Earth into orbit, only to fall into a wormhole that throws him to the far side of the galaxy where he has to save cute little aliens from Kanjar Ro, the Slaver of Space. What's not to love?!
Here's a clip from the premier episode, which aired last Friday.
I'm guessing that it comes across as whistles and clicks, right?
Now, listen to this wav file.
Easy enough to understand, right?
Now, listen to the first wav file again.
Interesting, right? For more about what's going on, check out Matt Davis's Introduction to Sine-Wave Speech. There are also a few more sine-wave/clear-speech examples to check out (though the effect is less dramatic the more examples you hear, I found).
Friday, November 14, 2008
New Cenotaxis Review
Set in the same universe as his Astropolis books, Cenotaxis is a short story that takes place after Saturn Returns but before Earth Ascendant. As it's told from Jasper's viewpoint it's an interesting story, we see Imre and his colleagues differently, although each are still unmistakable. Jasper is also a good character, one that can live future parts of his life before ones in the past. This is surprisingly easy to read and the way he experiences time fits the story very well.Check out the link above for the full review.
I'd recommend Cenotaxis without hesitation, although how it fits into the overall story arc is not yet clear to me - it comes across as an extended prologue rather than a stand alone, but I couldn't tell you whether this will be related to Earth Ascendant - that's one I'll be reading fairly soon to find out.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
The Trouble With Superman
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Aw, Shucks (and WFC, too)
It's true, I do bang on and on about WFC being the hub around which my year turns, constantly. I also referred to it more than a few times this year as a "calendrical Disneyland, the Happiest Time of the Year." That one didn't catch on as well, I think. Still, I think that Graham Joyce takes home the ribbon for most apt description of the con.
A few years ago in Madison, giving a few words at the World Fantasy Awards banquet in his capacity as one of the guests of honor, Graham referred to World Fantasy as a kind of Brigadoon, a community that emerged from the mists once a year for four days, only to fade away again at the close of the weekend. Much better than a "calendrical Disneyland," no? That's why he's the guest of honor and I'm just a drunk in the bar, folks.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
The Thousand and Second Night -- A Fables Slumber Party
Following is a press-release sent out this morning by the good folks at Austin Books & Comics, my very favorite comic shop on the planet. (My attendance isn't tentative any longer, as it happens, and I'm 99% certain that I'll be there.)
The Thousand and Second Night -- A Fables Slumber Party
Saturday, Nov 15th 8pm-11pm
With Bill Willingham, Matt Sturges and Chris Roberson
[click for a larger image]
But like Snow White with the Sultan, there won't be any time for sleeping, because it will be a night of stories instead. Even Sleeping Beauty in a house full of sharp needles couldn't snooze during this event.
When: Saturday Night, Nov 15th, From 8pm to 11pm
Where: Austin Books
Dress: Pajamas, Robes and Slippers. Those who attend properly dressed will receive 25% off ALL Vertigo graphic novels and hardcovers, including Fables.
Bill Willingham (Fables, Jack of Fables) will read from his forthcoming Fables prose novel, Peter and Max (to be published in November of next year).
Matthew Sturges (Jack of Fables, House of Mystery) will read from his forthcoming novel Midwinter (out soon from Pyr Books).
Chris Roberson (Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love) will also read from one of his many novels or short stories (Chris' appearance is tentative, depending on the availability of babysitters and such).
And of course they will be signing their books.
"What?! Why haven't I heard about this until now?"
Well, that's because we just found out. Willingham's stopping by Austin next weekend to meet with Fables collaborators Matt Sturges & Chris Roberson, and he wants to have a pajama party. He's on the way back home after spending the last few months writing the Fables novel and would like a chance to thank his fans in Austin with a signing / book reading. That's right, folks, be the first Fables fans anywhere to get the scoop on his Fables prose novel, Peter and Max.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Mighty Men & Monster Maker
I've also been trying to catch up on what the internets got up to while I was traveling. Just before Halloween the nostalgia blog Plaid Stallions posted a bit about a toy I'd completely forgotten about owning. Behold, "Mighty Men & Monster Maker":
Looking back now, I realize I probably spent more time futzing with this thing than any other single toy I got as a kid.
The idea was simple but brilliant. In the box you got all of these little bits of plastic, on each of which was stamped a head, torso, or legs. You could mix and match them to creature different figures, and by putting them in a little plastic frame with a piece of paper clamped down under it, you could do a rubbing, creating a little print of that figure. Then with pencils, markers, crayons, what-have-you, you could fill in the details as you liked.
When I was a kid I filled my room with pictures cranked out on this little plastic lathe, characters from comics and movies as well as my own creations. (I remember in particular a spectacularly ill-advised "updating" of Lone Ranger in the modern day that I cooked up at age nine or ten.) I have no idea what became of my "Mighty Men & Monster Maker", but I'm now deeply tempted to hunt down a second-hand set on eBay or elsewhere. And what's this? According to the internets and his official site's checklist, the figures stamped on the plastic were the work of Dave Stevens?! Holy cow!
Thursday, November 06, 2008
Ill Met in Elvera
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Yes We Did
For those up to speed on our family travels, Allison is bleary and exhausted after last night in Chicago, and is heading home to Austin tonight. (For those not up to speed, while Georgia and I headed home yesterday, Allison flew off to Chicago to watch the election results come in with the Obama-Biden folks. Are any of you as jealous of that as I was?)
(Oh, and WFC was ridiculous amounts of fun, as always. Calgary appears to be filled with little more than restaurants that close early and homeless people, but we had a good time nonetheless.)