Saturday, January 20, 2018

I'm Operations Officer for Arc: Canada's Poetry Magazine!

True believers, here's the news of my new gig. I'm now officially the Operations Officer for Arc Poetry Magazine (Canada's Poetry Magazine), a triannual literary magazine established in 1978, publishing poetry and prose about poetry.

With the ink dried on the contract, I can finally announce my new gig. Thank you, Arc crew. I'm raring to come up to speed. And I'm thrilled to be here.

Here's the official announcement from Arc:

"Arc is proud to annouce that poet, horror author and ex-Tree Reading Series director has joined our team as our new Operations Officer. Read his full bio on our Arc People page."

"Arc was excited to tell the world about our new Operations Officer, James K. Moran. However, in this time of transition, we are sad to announce the departure of Monty Reid from his role as Managing Editor after six years. 

Arc’s Coordinating Editor, Chris Johnson, will also be transitioning into the newly defined role of Managing Editor. For full details on these changes, please visit the Arc website."

Monday, January 15, 2018

My Year in Comics: Best Reads, Part One

Wonder Woman Volume One: The Lies, Greg Rucka
This Wonder Woman  ispart of DC Comics' whole Rebirth retcon/return to what works with flagship characters. Princess Diana succeeds here because of  Rucka's sly writing but also the artwork, which, at every chance, depicts Steve Trevor displaying his six-pack. Diana swoops in to save him more than once. The Amazonian warrior remains heroic while the male supportig role remains helpless. This is grand subversion that Rucka executes well, with glorious exploitative and kinetic artwork by Liam Sharp and Nicola Scott.

Cover of issue # 1
from the AfterShock Comic website.
Cover art by Wilfredo Torres.
Mark Waid’s Captain Kid
Mark Waid’s penchant for turning all he touches to gold is familiar to readers of his run on Daredevil, the new Captain America, Black Widow, The Flash and, I have it on good authority, All-New, All-Different Avengers and Champions. And, oh, Kingdom Come as well for those in the class who want to go back and see how apocalyptic is done, aside from The Dark Night Returns and Watchmen.  Captain Kid’s art by Wilfredo Torres and Brent Peeples is somewhat uneven, but the premise is fertile ground. Instead of orphan teen Billy Batson saying a magic word and becoming a godlike adult figure (Captain Marvel or Shazam!, depending on which side of the longstanding legal battle you want to fall on), Waid posits the reverse scenario. What if a depressed, middle-aged man pronounces a magic word and becomes a virile teen hero? This clever subversion of the Shazam! mythos flourishes under Waid’s Midas-touch talents, resplendent with commentary about an older hero trying to reconcile his younger view of himself as a hero. The protagonist even has to contend with hormones clouding his judgement when he is in adolescent form.

Cover of Volume # 1. Published by Oni Press.
Artwork by Matthew Southworth and Rico Renzi.
Greg Rucka’s Stumptown 
Volume One: The Case of the Girl Who Took her Shampoo (But Left Her Mini) 
Volume Two: The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case
I know what you’re thinking. Another take on Portland? Rucka’s yarn features randy protagonist Dex Parios, a private detective who is immersed in the character of Portland, Oregon. The series draws its name from an early nickname for the sparsely populated lumber-and-trading hub. From architecture to local characters, Stumptown is film noir drenched in weird locale. Think Raymond Chandler, reincarnated and walking the streets of Portland in a haze of illicit smoke. The hero, similar to Brian Michael Bendis’ Jessica Jones of Alias, has a more open outlook and devil-may-care attitude. Ths series is remarkable because Portland's architecture, from sidewalks to brick storefronts, is much a character as the aloof-but-tough Dex. Strong character, a classic mystery motif and a keen self- awareness of locale make for spicy storytelling.

Art by Tyler Paige. 
Chicagoland Detective Agency Book 1: The Drained Brains Caper Trina Robbins
Wonder Woman scholar, comic-book scribe and artist Robbins has a great little series in Chicagoland.  Thirteen-year-old Megan Yamamura, who narrates and speaks in haikus, possesses a healthy fear of adult authority. Sure, the teen notices everything adults overlook, but that’s the audience and the story is fun and smart for kids ages eight and upward, or adults. Throw in Bradley, a talking dog obsessed with pulp detective films and a plethora of horror-and-action-film references, and one sees how Robbins reaches young and grown-up readers with hilarious and self-referential aplomb.

Still to Come:
Alias by Brian Michael Bendis, vols. one through four
Paper Girls vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan

Totally Unexpected but Welcome Weirdness
Alex de Campi’s Archie vs. Predator
Charles Burns' X’ed Out, The Hole
Joe Ollman’s (writer and artist) The Abominable Mr. Seabrook
Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, Ben Katchor
Titans Hunt, Dan Abnett

Totally Unexpected Beauties
Wonder Woman ’77 volume one TPB, Marc Andreyko (writer), artists Drew Johnson, Matt Haley, and Cat Staggs
The Less than Epic Adventures of T.J. and Amal, debut by E. K. Weaver (writer and artist)
Monstress, Marjorie Liu (writer) and Sana Takeda (artist)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

My Year in Comics: Alex de Campi, Writer of the Year

I've been digging around and finding much gold and some fool's gold. Not confining myself to mainstream books or small presses, I find good art wherever I find it, and am thankful and enriched for it. Whether I find a great little story in the big houses or a beautiful and dark wonder at a smaller one, there's a bumper crop of great creations out there. Admittedly,  I have a predilection for writers who also draw their works, and for artist/writer teams who act as a symphony and counterpoint to one another, creating something greater than the sum of its parts. Consider what Alan Moore and artist Jacen Burrows did in the 12-issue series Providence or what E. K. Weaver, artist/writer did in the stunning The Less than Epic Adventures of T.J. and Amal. Or you might consider writer Marjorie Liu's and artist Sana Takeda's breathtaking Monstress

To start my Year in Comics off, however, I want to bring scribe Alex de Campi to your attention. She's important.

Writer of the Year: Alex de Campi
Dark Horse Presents # 4, featuring
the debut of  Alex de Campi's
and Jerry Ordway's Semiautomagic.
Original cover artwork
Alex de Campi has proven she has the chops for retro-grindhouse exploitation and horror including the shameless Grindhouse series and Archie vs. Predator. In both books, she channels 1970’s and 1980’s B-and-C-movie drive-in fare. As well, de Campi likes her protagonists strong and female. Alice Creed, heroine the unsettling and immersing Semiautomagic series, is a wayward John-Constantinesque mage fighting the forces of darkness at terrible and inevitable costs. Semiautomagic was borne of the third incarnation of the monthly variety comic book, Dark Horse Presents, and collected into trade paperback via a Kickstarter fundraiser. With the mind-bending, phantasmagoric artwork of the brilliant Jerry Ordway (Yes, that Jerry Ordway of Superman and Shazam! fame) and Semiautomagic is a winner, and sometimes hard to find.

Also of note—de Campi treats her fans well. She sent me a last spare copy of the Semiautomagic slipcase edition along with some freebies, copies of the monthlies Astonisher and Mayday. Mayday is a cold-war spy thriller in the vein of Atomic Blonde. It’s a bastard child Tarantino would approve of, replete with music, cover spy assassinations and hallucinogens. There’s a 1970’s soundtrack on Spotify for Mayday and de Campi has several other story arcs planned. I don't use the word "cool" very often, but here I might make an exception in describing both the music and concepts for Mayday described in the column at the back of the book. They're like liner notes from vinyl records. So, yes. Cool. But if de Campi can’t alchemize her ideas into other comic series, she says she’ll make these stories into novels. After all, she wrote her first novel in 2017, a milestone achievement.

Cover of Mayday issue # 1
by Tony Parker.  From the
Image Comics website.
And guess who will read her books, from her debut novel to any stories not appearing in the fine comic-book medium, to her comics, fair reader? Me—that’s who.

Also, de Campi blogs a superb strip, Hell’s Kitchen Movie Club, featuring Frank Castle (aka the Punisher) and James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes (aka the Winter Soldier) drinking beer and watching movies together. What she started as a lark has become intelligent commentary on hero fatigue, PTSD, and trying to connect to your best friend. It's touching and moving at times. At others, it's just two friends shooting the breeze.

If that isn’t enough, de Campi fights the good fight, from the sexism in the industry to calling a spade a spade in the big houses to speaking out against detractors of great comic books to encouraging artists over 30 not to ditch their dreams.

In short, Alex de Campi’s work is a testament to strong women doing strong stuff in the graphic novel/comic book business. There’s more to the business than guys in tights, and de Campi delights and immerses readers by blowing the lid off conventions and by bringing exuberance and mercilessly entertaining storytelling to any book she does.

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.