Monday, October 30, 2017

Halloween Reads: Alex de Campi's and Jerry Ordway's Semiautomagic, de Campi's Grindhouse

For Hallowe'en, I'm recommending some spooky reads and views as time permits. First up are the comic books, Semiautomagic and Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight Volume One: Double Feature.

Semiautomagic by Alex de Campi and Jerry Ordway

Cover art by Jerry Ordway.
Copyrght 2016, Dark Horse Comics.
I have been a fan of Jerry Ordway's artwork and writing since I was a teenager devouring Superman titles. Ordway has worked for a prodigious number of DC Comics titles, including Crisis On Infinite Earths. He also wrote and shared the art duties on the 47-issue run of The Power of Shazam!. In particular, I followed Ordway's run on Adventures of Superman and his contribution to the Superman in Exile story arc. So, for me, finding Semiautomagic was a golden discovery.

Here, Ordway gets to draw interdimensional Lovecraftian beasties and monsters of all varieties. His attention to detail, his line work, are masterful. Jerry Ordway remains one of the most criminally underemployed comic-book artists of today, but I digress.

The story concens heroine Alice Creed, a modern-day warlock. Alice, a Jack-Constantine-esque rogue with a penchant for hard drinking and tortorous self-doubt, is locked in an ongoing struggle with otherworldly foces. The problem is, Alice Creed is human. She makes mistakes, and when she does, innocents die. Like a private detective's flaws add layer to a classic P.I. story, Creed's humanity brings texture to this character-driven series. Alice fights all sorts of nasties using occult magic, opening up beautiful opportunities for twisted and phantasmagoric artwork, and testing her conscience and her fallibility.

The author, Alex de Campi, also a filmmaker, writes manga, mystery suspense and young adult-themed comics such as No Mercy, which was once an ongoing Image Comics book. Moreover, what piqued my interest was reading that de Campi is a woman who writes horror comics. I repeat - a woman who writes horror comics. Hearing that moniker, I was almost won over already. In a field often dominated by men, I was delighted to learn the byline "Alex" was that of a woman.

And I was vindicated in reading her because de Campi has the chops for horror. She puts Alice through the ringer, and does not relent. The author also knows how to play with horror tropes, particularly the codes of occult magic, revitalizing them so that while the story feels familiar, it also feels fresh and relevant. The story takes heady inspiration from H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulu mythos and Hellblazer comics (the aforementioned John Constantine's long-runing title) to name some influences. Semiautomagic also has great timing, coming soon after DC Comics relaunched the John Constantine character as part of the New 52 reboot and giving readers a lighter, diluted version of  a chain-smoking, nihilistic, aged-in-real-time British street mage.

Semiautomagic is so pleasurable that I am re-reading it. My only qualms are minor. Alice Creed has a masochistic streak, a facet of her personality hinted at but not fully developed. I suspected she was a cutter or suffered a pain-inducing sickness, but could not draw a firm conclusion aside from her self-medicating with hard liquor, an employed trope of the hard-boiled detective that still works well regardless in this context. As well, because this series appeared as a serial in the monthly Dark Horse Presents, the story moves along at a fair clip with very little room to breathe. It ends abruptly. When I finished reading Semiautomagic, it felt like having a fling with somenoe, and a rather amazing fling at that. You want to see them again afterward. But there's only one problem; they didn't leave you their phone number. 

If I find any more of Semiautomagic or Alice Creed out there, anywhere, I will snap the book up.

Copyright 2014, Dark Horse Comics.
Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight Volume One: Double Feature
by Alex de Campi and Chris Peterson

de Campi has the requisite chops to make great horror and exploitative comics, as I discovered in her Grindhouse double feature. 

Grindhouse, in fact, is also fine spooky reading in the spirit of the grindhouse and exploitative flicks of the 1970's and 1980's. I've read the first two trades, which are shamelessly violent, sexy, sleazy, and horrifc. Reading Grindhouse, you feel like you are at the drive-in. You can almost hear the crickets sawing their legs, smell the popcorn, the sickly sweet pop, the summer air, the hint of marijuana and beer drifting over from other cars at the show. Each story in this anthology format is charmingly presented as a different short film. In other words, Grindhouse is great fun, in fact much more fun than many films out there now, particularly in the horror genre. There are several collected trades out of Grindhouse there that are on my to-read list.

Luckily, neither of the above books is tied to a Halloween theme, so you can read them year-round for an excellent dose of comic-book horror.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Halloween fans who like a spooky read - my horror novel Town & Train, a tale of "creeping supernatural horror" received great reviews, and is a chilling October read, available in small bookstores and on Amazon. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Woke in the middle of the night after writing, hard

On Monday, I had a late evening of getting under the body of my novel-in-progress (second draft, resplendent with previously unseen possibility). I rolled up my sleeves and tackled a fundamental scene that affects much of the book. It is, without exaggeration, a crucible. The experience is tough on all the main players involved, from two best friends to someone who becomes a greater antagonist to a figure from the past. I worked hard. Later on, in the middle of the night, I awoke, with a start. In a dream, I was confronting someone in my own novel, using armlocks and Aki-jitsu holds and exchanging punches. I was, in fact, faring better than my young heroes did in the scene I immersed myself in a few hours previous. My partner had to calm me down and tell me I was dreaming and soothe me back to sleep.
I guess that means I'm onto something.
Or that I should not write so deeply before sleeping.
It certainly means that I should I stay with my partner.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Grateful in solitude

You know, I can be angry and frustrated that I am working the Thanksgiving Weekend and missing dinners for my family on both sides. Or I could be grateful for what I have. As I was talking to a newly arrived co-worker this afternoon, I failed to notice, at first, that they were wiping tears from their eyes and that my co-worker looked rung out. Their father passed away suddenly and shockingly about six weeks ago. This is their first Thanksgiving without their dad. My attempts to comfort my co-worker were wholly inadequate. (My efforts to buoy them, later on, however, were more successful.)

My partner also lost her mother in April so this, too, is her first Thanksgiving without her parent.

I should consider how often I have made my co-worker laught these past weeks, trying to help.

I should also know how lucky I am to have know my partner's mother Jacomina "Iet" (as I knew her) Dolman, a fine and fiery spirit whose spirit animal was the wolf. She was lovely and unconditionally supportive of my writing career, and I miss her.

I should also be grateful for what I’ve got, from family that I will not see immediately, but soon enough, with luck. I should be thankful for even the quarrels and disagreements I have with my parents or father-in-law. These are the richer contrasts of family life that hands about.

Grateful, too, that I’ve a fairly good job, all things considered.

Instead of bemoaning my struggle in editing my second novel, I should be grateful to have a novel to rewrite. (And, lesson in the novel-writing craft.)  self-doubt and some underlying mythological infrastructural reworking that is a

I should be grateful, even, for the long delay at the drive-thru at St. Hubert’s, where I was gifted with more
strong and true ideas about the underlying roots of my book's mythology and the be grateful that I can get drive-thru, for that matter.

I should consider, too, that a family member was waiting for me to return, even if this family member is furry and has four legs.

I guess it’s about considering what you’re holding and not what you’re coveting.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Glen Hirshberg on fine Castle of Horror Podcast

The Castle of Horror podcast did a fine interview with my friend, the ever-gracious Glen Hirshberg, about his second (of a trilogy) vampire novel, Good Girls, and the writing process. I love how he says he is a full-time dad, and a full-time teacher. As always, Glen is an inspiration to me.
"I’m on the whatever-gets-this-book-that-I’m-working-on-written track. I have really done it a lot of different ways, to be honest. I’m a full-time Dad, I’ve been a full-time teacher for some 20 years. Good Girls is book number seven. One of the things that has made it possible for me is I get up every day and I find a way to fit some writing in, no matter what."
Glen Hirshberg, on the writing process

Monday, September 4, 2017

Mad Weekend, A Note for Hugh

This is a mad weekend for me, with birth, love, and marriage all represented. I got hitched on this weekend in 2006, and still am, with gratitude.
One of my three best friends' birthdays also occurs this weekend.
On a sadder note, I unexpectedly lost Hugh DeCourcy, a beloved friend, mentor and kindred spirit on this weekend back in '96. He had a heart attack.
I have no online photo of him. I do, though, keep a framed picture on the bookcase by my writing desk. It is the last photo someone took of Hugh before he moved away from Cornwall to go out west and teach high school in Vancouver. Hugh is standing under a tree, in August evening light, nonchalantly, as though to say, "This is me. I'm happy to be going. Here's a tree. There's that."
Sometimes, if you're lucky, restless and growing up in a small city, you can meet someone who changes the course of your life, and influences you still later on. Hugh was that someone for me. He introduced me to the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and showed me that I could pursue my passion no matter what everyone else thought. Hugh taught me that you can be an hobby guitarist, a keen chess player, an amateur painter, a cross-country runner, a close observer, and a writer of infinite passion and curiosity.
This one's for you, Hugh.

Friday, August 11, 2017

WROTE podcast reviews Town & Train

Last week there was a fascinating review of Town & Train by the fine folks at the WROTE podcast. Jayne Lockwood calls me a speculative realist writer (a first for me), calls my protagonist John Daniel a teenage dirtbag (a term he would argue vehemently against) and suggests that my portrayal of pedophile villain Mortimer Winslow was meant to draw sympathy. Like I said - fascinating. Still, admittedly, Lockwood has given me much to think about, whether or not I agree with all of her observations.
"I loved the inventiveness of the plot, the building of atmosphere, the genuinely scary moments a la James Herbert or Stephen King. There are Koontz-esque scenes of banal normality set against an increasingly glowering backdrop, and a sense of impending doom as both David and John independently try to figure out how to prove that the town is being haunted by a ghost train from hell."
-Jayne Lockwood, WROTE podcast