Truths and Half Truths

Proactive Insurance: The Pros

When I met him earlier this month at Rose City Comic Con, Steven Stormoen gave me the worst pitch I’ve ever heard for his (or any!) comic series: “If you’re into insurance companies, you’re going to love The Pros.” He was dramatically underselling it.

Pros 1 Cover

The Pros has a decidedly cynical premise. It stars a group of covert agents working for an insurance company to fix events ahead of time in high risk scenarios in order to give the company foreknowledge about how said scenarios will turn out. The company doesn’t care what the agents do or whether the scenario has a happy or tragic conclusion, it just wants to know the outcome ahead of time so it can plan accordingly––and make a lot of money. It’s the kind of set up that can only come from a place of deep despair regarding the state of contemporary culture.

Proactive Insurance Explained

But here’s the thing: The Pros was clearly created by idealists. Stormoen is acknowledging the seeming hopelessness of our current state of affairs, affirming all our suspicions about the inherent corruption in our society and then making an argument for the only moral response to these facts: resistance. Even if you fail, you have to push back.

Don’t get the wrong idea here though. This is a fun book. Beautifully crafted by artist Jelena Dordevic. It’s farcical, cathartic fun. Which makes it all the more impressive an accomplishment that it is also a book about something.

You can pick up all four available issues of the first story arc at moreweight.net. …and you should.

Pros Camping scene



Mad Doctors

How do you read an indie comic? In my view, if you approach an independent creator’s work the same way you approach a mainstream comic, you’re going to miss what’s extraordinary about it.

 Mad Doctors #1

Mad Doctors #1

Mad Doctors, by Matt Blairstone, has all the hallmarks of an indie comic and yet subverts the expectations implied by such a presentation. The art is whimsical, stylized with larger-than-life character designs like something from back in the golden age. The page layouts and overall compositions possess a rough sensibility, complete with small pagination imperfections. Holding the print edition of the book in my hands, it has the overall the aesthetic of one of those morose, hand-crafted comic zines.

But Mad Doctors isn’t one of those lyrical autobiographies about a depressed illustrator; it’s a weird tale. Very weird. It imagines a world were evil geniuses, in the vain of Dr. Doom, rule the planet and hatch machinations to undermine each other's mad science empires. It’s dark sci fi; by the second issue I began to suspect that the cartoony style is intended to soften the blow of its bleak setting. Yet, for every scene of dystopian political intrigue, there might be a battle between a t-rex and a muscle bound cyclops or else some ironically banal office repartee. Whenever you think you have Mad Doctors pegged, it shows a different side of itself.

So, how do you read an indie comic like Mad Doctors? You take it on its own terms. I guarantee you’ve never read anything like it.

You can find Mad Doctors in book stores through Emerald Comics Distro or on Comixology.

Small Press Finds From San Diego Comic Con 2016 - Fanbase Press and The Arkham Sessions Podcast

Wandering the SDCC showroom floor looking for literally anything is a great way to meet people. If your rule is “talk to anyone who engages you,” it opens up so many unexpected doors––some leading to “meh” but others to really, really great discoveries.

And this is how I stumbled upon Fanbase Press. Fanbase Press founders Bryant and Barbra Dillon radiate optimism and genuine love of all nerdy media. They have a small, select line of independent comics worth checking out––but they’re much more than publishers. They’re the very nexus of a community of creators and fans who support each other to do creative work and promote the products of that work.

Turns out Fanbase is a podcast network, as well. (They even do radio plays!) The show from the network that immediately captured my interest was The Arkham Sessions.

The Premise of The Arkham Sessions is so simple and so obvious, I’m actually surprised no one else has done it before 2014 when the show launched. Here it is: Clinical psychologist Andrea Letamendi and co-host Brian Ward discuss the psychological pathologies in play with the characters in Batman the Animated Series. They take on the cartoon episode by episode, starting from the beginning. And it’s amazing!

Co-host Brian Ward is great, and brings a critical knowledge of television production to the show. But, obviously, Dr. Letamendi is the star of the show. Ward goads her with alternate theories and teases out hidden facts from the show bible; he’s a perfect Watson. Good humored and smart.

Of course, Letamendi is Holms and she plays that role with a cool professionalism that doesn’t mask her enthusiasm for what has to be a perfect combination of nerd passions. (If only everyone could be so lucky as to find a way to unite their professional and fan-based interests in one creative enterprise!) She brings a staggering amount of specialized knowledge to each episode. I wish I had this show back when I was working in the mental health field; it’s a genuine education. Truly informative.

I think the key to Letamendi’s insightfulness, with regard to the Batman characters, is her clear love of and respect for the material. Yes, Batman’s a kid's show and there are lots of outlandish and improbable aspects to it that do not go unnoticed by Ward and Letamendi during the podcast. But the reason the animated series resonates with so many fans is that the characters are all too human. Letamendi gets that. She puts herself in the world of Batman to analysis the characters from her office in Gotham City. (Which happens to also be literally true...er...literarily true?)

I’m about 10 episode into this show, and I see myself listening to the entire series. If you’re interested, I recommend dipping in at episode 2, “Christmas with the Joker.” While Letamendi and Ward come out of the gate strong with episode 1, the second episode is a better example of what makes the show so damn good.

The Arkham Sessions is an impressive introduction to the creative community that is Fanbase Press. There’s a lot of other content and entertainment on offer at the Fanbase website, too––looks like I’ll be hanging out there for awhile.

Small Press Finds From San Diego Comic Con 2016: Hex11 #7

This year at SDCC, I spent a lot of time at the Hex11 booth. I’m kind of a fan. I even hired their colorist, Samantha Carrasco, to work on my own book, Ion Grip. So, of course I picked up the newly released 7th issue of the series.

Issue #7 is the start of a new story arc that promises to explore the cryptically hinted at realm of the Hex-verse known as the Verge. As it is the very tip of a narrative iceberg, I don’t have much to say about it just yet, save a couple stray thoughts. But I’m intrigued, which is exactly what one wants from the first issue of an story arc.

Stray Thought Number One. While Hex11’s first story arc starts with protagonist Elanor struggling with her own disappointing orinariness, here Elanor can’t quite get comfortable with the fact that she might actually be quite extraordinary––a situation reversal that leaves her every bit as relatable as she’s always been. It’s a nice touch. She’s still a bit too self-conscious and self-righteous, but writer Kelly Sue Milano gives the reader’s own thoughts voice via the criticisms of heartthrob-demon-made-flesh Osrick who never misses an opportunity to call out Elanor’s faults.

Stray Thought Number Two. Speaking of said hot demon: this issue also pushes forward the dynamic between Elanor and Osrick, while keeping the tension in place. There’s a real Pride and Prejudice feel to Elanor and Osrick’s developing relationship––which, incidentally, is one of my favorite of the romantic narrative archetypes. (It’s far better than the star-crossed lover tragedies or the misunderstanding-that-keeps-them-apart comedies. Hell, if Nora Ephron had written a comic about a witch and a demon, I suspect it would look a lot like Hex11.) Now I’m not saying the two of them are definitely going to get together in the end, but there’s definitely more than a shipper’s dream going on there...not that I’m shipping those two...I’m just saying...nevermind.

You can pick up a floppy of Hex11 #7 at hexcomix.com or get the digital version a Comixology. And if you haven’t read 1-6 yet, the trade paperback is now available, so go ahead and pick that up too.

Small Press Finds from San Diego Comic Con 2016 - Native Drums

Native Drums (17Machine Studios) is like a Greek epic poem, but with a cabal of corporate masterminds in their orbital Olympus rather than a pantheon of gods and a genetically enhanced super-soldier in place Perseus or Odysseus. It has that straight-forward heroic adventure appeal that belies the depths of many a great narrative. Several days after finishing the first trade of this independently published comic series, I’m left pondering the significance of the question at the core of the heroine's journey.

The protagonist is agent M17, a resilient warrior as strong as she is smart. Writers are often advised to “start with action”––which, in my opinion, is just as problematic (for the purpose of engaging a new audience) as starting with a character portrait or a doxology on the nature of man. Why do I care about what’s happening? What’s really at stake? Native Drums jumps into the action at the start of issue #1, and it’s the protagonist herself that pushes the reader past any apprehension about the worthiness of the tale. Artist, Vince Riley, designed an instant charmer. Far more than just a ‘babe with a gun,’ M17 emotes with every panel, leading the reader’s feelings with her expressive eyes. She’s clever and quipy, thanks to Chuck Pascall’s dialogue; if you’ve been missing Buffy on the small screen (and already burned through the comic follow-up) M17 does not disappoint. It’s important that the creative team succeeds in making you like M17, because the central conflict revolves around the question of whether goodness––as personified in her character––can ever triumph over the pragmatism available to the truly evil. You have to believe in her as your moral stand-in for the story to work––and you do!

This question at the core of the Native Drums is a subtle but powerful one: two agents strive against each other, one encumbered with the burden of moral virtue, the other willing to do anything, hurt anyone, to accomplish the mission––which agent wins the contest? On this level, Native Drums is less a philosophical exploration than it is an affirmation of our shared human values. It allows the reader to root whole-heartedly for M17, while pondering the genuine seductiveness of abandoning one’s principles when it’s convenient to do so. In other words, as the epic struggle plays out on the pages of Native Drums, it also plays out in the reader’s heart and mind.

You can pick up the digital version of Native Drums on Comixology and the print version from 17 Machine Studio's online store

The Adventures of Woodrow the Wicked

My new YA Fantasy novel, THE ADVENTURES OF WOODROW THE WICKED, is now available for digital download on Amazon. You can listen to an audio performance of the first few chapters on the Lies and Half Truths Podcast. (See players are below.)

Now, let me entice you with the book description:

In Woodrow’s world, the moon is shattered against the vaulted sky. It serves as a constant reminder of his own broken life. At fifteen, he’s seen his father murdered and his hometown burned to the ground. He escaped the destruction on his genius father’s greatest invention, a mysterious airship.  But everywhere he goes, a bad reputation precedes him. Woodrow the Wicked, they call him. They say he killed his father and burned his town.

Woodrow is not without allies, such as they are: a self-interested feline pet, a “guardian” angel who does little to protect the boy (but has tried to kill him on one occasion), and a robotic golem––caring, but cowardly and mute. And then there’s Cassandra, a young pirate-in-training; she’s charming, but can she be trusted?

Now Woodrow and his crew find themselves pursued across a fantastic world by a family of aristocratic sociopaths bent on obtaining the ship for their own sinister gain. Will Woodrow become the wicked boy the world thinks he is? Or will he find  a way to rise above his reputation? 

Oh, and by the way: from April 1st through April 5th, 2016, it will be FREE! 

 Cover by Lance MacCarty and Ivan Vidovic

Cover by Lance MacCarty and Ivan Vidovic

McKenzie Stubbert

This Friday, we begin the first installment in a four-part story called The Witch of Hamilcar, TX. Besides being an exciting horror/mystery/adventure story, this episode marks the first in, what I hope will be, a long-standing collaboration with award winning composer McKenzie Stubbert. In the above preview, you can hear a sample of some on the original music he has composed for this podcast. You can also stream or buy his album, Ex Libris, by clicking on this link. One of my favorite things he's done is this waltz cover of David Bowie's "Let's Dance" for a Boxtrolls featurette. Have a look.

Hex11

An independent comic by Lisa K. Weber (artist) and Kelly Sue Milano (writer), Hex11 stands out against the sea of digital comic offerings over there at Comixology. It's beautiful, it's engaging and it's fun. 

Hex11 Cover

The story centers around a witch apprentice, Elanor, who stumbles into deadly combat with a powerful demon. She unwittingly binds the demon, and in so doing disrupts the machinations of a powerful, secretive corporation pulling the demon's strings. The shady corporation is not amused and deploys their magical, sociopathic assassin, in response. 

Maybe the above sounds like fairly typical genre fiction fair, but it's immediately captivating and stands apart, due to the craft employed by Hex11's creators.

The world of Hex11 is a sort of magical ghetto--the exact nature of which is yet to be revealed. It's a hemmed-in place, a labyrinth of dark allies; you almost never see the sky and when you do it's a grey haze. The feat accomplished by Weber (no relation to me--that I know of) is that she makes this world one you want to inhabit. Wonderful lighting turns the environment from foreboding to intimate. But I think her biggest strength as an artist is evidenced by the charming, unique and expressive characters she's designed and populated the world with. 

These great characters are well written, too--in particular, Hex11's likable protagonist, Elanor. At the beginning of the first issue, she does a little self-conscious complaining/dreaming right before she kicks some major ass--which makes her the ideal proxy for all us every-men/women who wish we could do the same. 

I could go on; but you get the idea. I like this book. I've subscribed to the news letter. At the time of this writing, Hex11 is going for 99 cents an issue on Comixology. When you consider the care and craft with which this book was written, that's a goddamn steal. So just go buy it. Do it now. 

ION GRIP

I've been working on an original comic series with an amazing artist named John Gajowski. It's called ION GRIP. What's it about? The short preview comic below explains. 

At the time of this posting, the first issue has been completed. I'm really proud of the way it turned out and I know John is, as well.

We have a lot of cool stuff planned for these characters and this world, so we're steaming ahead; but we're still looking around for the right publisher. I'll let you know as soon as we nail something down, though.

Excelsior! ...er... what?

Ben Biondo, Graphic Artist, Crazy Person

The other day, I found myself working next to a graphic artist named Ben Biondo. I determined two things about him within a couple of hours. One, he works crazy fast. Two, he’s crazy good.

I clicked around on Ben’s website–kind of covertly, because, God forbid I should flatter someone with my interest–and it revealed an intriguing story. He’s an artist discontent with past output. For awhile, he was updating his site with new work almost everyday; he’d finish something and throw it up there like a note dashed off and magnetized to the fridge. It’s all narrowing in on something. Something I needed him to explain.

We talked and I saw why certain people get good, while other people’s work stays stagnant and dissolves. I’m convinced, in many cases, this is determined by mental illness. Here’s a guy who won’t stop working. He works to relax, to celebrate the things he loves, to tell little, visual jokes. His early work is big and beautiful, layered with details; it’s paint in the real world–the sort of thing you wrestle with for a whole semester of art school. But that kind of piece can’t support the compulsion of an artist perfecting his craft. He has to finish something and move on. It’s neurotic.

When Ben articulated all this to me, I’ll admit to being a bit disappointed on at least a couple levels. I know I’ll never be as precise at my craft as he is at his. I’m just not focused enough. That’s the first sense in which I was disappointed–if only I had Ben’s particular brand of insanity. Here’s the other thing: what his work is focusing in on is purely aesthetic–he refuses to concern himself with high concepts. Ben doesn’t care if his pictures speak truth to power or grapple with one’s growing sense of mortality. He just doesn’t give a shit about any of that noise. I wish he did. He’s talented and if he ever wanted to jump in the deep end, I swear to God he’d make a splash.