Truths and Half Truths

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.

Graphic the Valley: Some Thoughts on a Novel

I recently read Peter Brown Hoffmeister’s latest book, Graphic the Valley, and I have some thoughts about it. In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you I know the guy. We’re not friends, but I do like him. One time, at the birthday party of a mutual friend, he and I got to talking about writing. Everyone was ordering expensive micro-brews from the bar like suckers–except Peter. He had a twelve-pack of some piss-water beer in his backpack. It’s hard not to admire a guy like that.

So, the book.

Graphic is a re-telling of the Samson and Delilah narrative in the biblicalBook of Judges. This serves only to structure the narrative and not as any sort of moral compass. In place of Israelites, we have the original inhabitants of the Yosemite Valley, and instead of Philistines, it’s the Indian tribe that sold them out to the American military. It’s an interesting reversal; if a straight allegory were to be made, the originals would be the Philistines, Samson would be fighting for the usurpers and the American Military might be a stand in for God. But the hero of Graphic has a more naturalistic claim on the land, rather than a divine one–his people were there first. Nature stands in the place of God throughout the book, in fact.

The core of the story’s conflict lies in the tension between two versions of the human ideal. On the one hand, you have man existing as a part of a natural ecosystem. On the other, you have man as a political or social animal; he finds his place in a social ecosystem. It reminds me of Nietzsche’s Genealogy Of Morals, the Apollonian and Dionysian dichotomy, the triumph of the herd over the charismatic strong man. I picture the Homeric heroes breaking like waves against interlocked Hoplite shields.

In one of my favorite passages, Graphic’s narrator (the stand in for Samson) talks about the encroachment of a fast food chain into the Yosemite Valley Park. He knows the restaurant represents some form of evil but can’t reconcile that fact with how good the french fries smell–even nature’s freedom fighter is powerless to resist the draw of refined civilized technique. Indeed, his quest is to rid the Valley of defiling civilization and yet he lives off the food scraps civilization leaves behind. He, like Samson, fails morally by not fully forsaking the enemy’s charms.

An act of God, nature itself, finally redeems the Valley–it’s a conceit at the end of the book, but, remarkably, it’s what makes the story ring true in regards to human nature. Even as the book judges us for the evils of our society, it recognizes that any one individual is powerless against those evils. It would take a miracle to untangle the mess humanity has made of itself and put us back in our proper place in nature.

 

 Image and Design by  Courtney Stubbert

Image and Design by Courtney Stubbert

The New Fiend - "The Mastodon"

The New Fiend is “a collaborative publication between Brenton Salo and Colin Smith.” Or, so says the first page of the latest volume. As for Salo and Smith, I’m not certain those are their real names. I’m pretty sure they’re a couple of jet-setting anarchists living in an abandoned nuclear silo hidden somewhere in the Cascades. They experiment with mind altering substances and run a think-tank of like-minded artistic geniuses who pool their collective mental processing power for the greater good of all humanity.

The New Fiend Volume V: An Issue of Identity

I submitted a short story called “Night Life” some time back. Salo contacted me through a custom bred carrier pigeon to let me know they accepted the piece, but that it wouldn’t fit with the theme of the upcoming issue. I sent the bird back with a cocktail napkin upon which I scrawled, “What’s the theme?” “Identity,” the next bird told me, so I shoved it in my coat, Gob Bluth style, and ran home to write something fitting.  I released the bird a couple days later with a draft of “The Mastodon” on a thumb drive.

I like this one.

My story closes out the issue, right before a gallery of evocative portraits by Smith. The other contributors are great, by the way; Quinn Amacher stands out from the get go, and Danielle Kordani’s work is remarkably brave. You can read/view the magazine–and all the back issues–for free online. You can also download a copy of it–you know, if you’re planning on going off the grid for an extended period of time, or whatever.