Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Ready for April 21-22 CAPE, the Cornwall & Area Pop Event

Photo with the author and
Lord Vader, CAPE 2016.
The Dark Side is calling me once more to the April 21-22 Cornwall & Area Pop Event (CAPE), a comic-book and pop-culture geek haven, where I'll be with my literary horror book Town & Train and Anita Dolman's stellar short story collection, Lost Enough (Morning Rain Publishing). I anticipate dueling with Benoit Chartier and trading Jedi gossip with Liam Gibbs.

Many thanks, Carol Sauve and Randy Sauve, for organizing the saga. I've been going to Randy's Fantasy Realm since '85. In Town & Train, in fact, seventeen-year-old John Daniel visits a fictionalized version of the Realm. The store may merit an appearance in the two follow-up books that I toil on.

Shout-outs also to Matt Bright of Inkspiral Book & CoverDesign for my brand, spanking-new promo posters and Steve Berman (aka the Duke) of Lethe Press. Steve's short story edits can cut like a Sith Lord's lightsaber, sometimes striking down but only making the work stronger in the end.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Break from Social Media

Effective now, I am taking a break from social media because I have too much to do and I'm uncertain if I am reaching anyone effectively via social media platforms. My efforts might be better focused in other arenas and not a spectrum of overloading and over-stimulating media.

I need to withdraw, retreat, and question just how useful my whole writing shtick is, whether I have anything relevant to say, whether there are too many voices already out there, whether other voices might be better suited to telling stories than me, whether my voice enriches the world or merely adds to the cacophonous white noise of everything already out there, either in print or online.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Take an Arc Walk for World Poetry Day in Ottawa

Why not celebrate World Poetry Day with Arc Poetry Magazine's first Arc Walk in Ottawa, lovingly guided by rob mclennan, who has done so much for Ottawa's, and Canada's, poetry community? The walk will begin at 4:30PM in front of 248 Bank Street, and will continue to sites in Centretown. During the hour-long walk, participants will visit five locations where they will hear about some of Ottawa’s contemporary poetry history, and hear from a special guest poet (Jennifer Baker!).

This walk will be an introduction to Ottawa’s literary history, visiting sites significant to poets of the National Capital Region such as John Newlove, William Hawkins, Judith Fitzgerald, Thomas D’arcy McGee, Michael Dennis and jwcurry, among others.

Come prepared for rain or snow or shine!

For more details, go here.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Return to the Tree Reading Series, as Audience Member

Thanks to literary event organizer Pearl Pirie, here's a pic of me reading at last night's Feb.27 Tree Reading Series at Black Squirrel Books & Espresso Bar. My voice was rough, and I have been having some rough times, having lost a friend recently. Still, l wanted to attend a series I once ran from 2000 to 2005 - but this time as an audience member. 

On that note, MC Chris Johnson did an admirable and affable job hosting. Jennifer LoveGrove, whose novel Watch How We Walk (ECW Press) I admittedly champion, delivered moving poems from Beautiful Children With Pet Foxes (BookThug, now Book*Hug) about supporting someone close to you who has mental illness. Nigerian poet and performer Segun Akinlolu involved the good-sized audience in his charming, folksy and roots musicality. 

I was heartened to see familiar writerly faces, including Grant Wilkins, Sandra Ridley, Michelle Desbarats, and Brian Pirie. And, of course, I got to meet Jennifer LoveGrove for the first time (and shamelessly comp her my book Town & Train after I bought another copy of Watch How We Walk for her to sign).

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Constantine: The Hellblazer: Volume 2: The Art of the Deal: Great Ideas, But A Disappointing Mixed Bag of Art

Ming Doyle’s and James Tynion IV's Constantine: The Hellblazer: Volume 2: The Art of the Deal has great ideas and a portrayal of street mage John Constantine as openly bi, but title is enduring a harsh identity crisis that takes readers along for the confusion. And the confusion isn't about John liking men or women, it's about how John looks like a different guy in each issue.

The revolving door of artists on the book is a big part of the problem. The roster, including Riley Rossmo, Eryk Donovan, Brian Level, Joseph Silver and Travel Foreman, portrays the protagonist in vastly different styles. This is a jarring medley that isn’t working. Constantine appears, in turns, as a grizzled middle-aged man, a Nancy Boy in skinny pants and short leather coat, a spunky twenty-something, and a kid who is perhaps in his late teens. Rossmo’s lush covers feature the emaciated Nancy Boy version. Foreman has the dubious distinction, in his splash-page shots, of drawing blank-faced figures that resemble mannequins instead of people. The drawing appears unfinished. Where’s George Perez when you need him? Donovan’s Constantine looks adolescent, with stark musculature and boyish features. and very cartoonish. Cartoonish is admittedly an odd critique to make about a comic book/graphic novel, but the style is cartoonish and whimsical and disproportionate in a children’s book style or Saturday morning cartoon style, and not at all suited for a tale about  hardened rogue Constantine.

One wonders why DC Comics is making such an effort to make Constantine appear so young. He is the only DC character who has the noteworthy distinction of aging in real time and getting into his sixties by the end of Hellblazer volume one.

These art complaints and character depiction complaints aside, Doyle’s and Tynion IV's writing is close to the mark for a Hellblazer story. Constantine: Hellblazer brims with great ideas, if at time they get a little convoluted. The great ones include New York being an epicentre for magic that average civilians search out. The antagonist, Hell lord, Neron, is getting the souls of those people desperate enough to trade their souls for a taste of the real thing. He impinges on turf in the Big Apple, evicting all other magic users.

Doyle and Tynion IV also get bonus points for portraying Constantine as openly bi, desperately trying to make a seemingly doomed love affair with a fellow named Oliver work out. It is unfortunate then, that Doyle treats hunky Oliver as a man-sel in distress and little more. Their arguments about whether or not to stay together come across as contrived at times. Oliver is Constantine's Lois Lane, but with muscles, and children. Doyle and Tynion IV also get points for bringing Deadman, Zatanna and Swamp Thing into the mix and showing how Constantine wheels and deals, always at others’ expense. 

John Constantine being cute.There's the Oliver in question.
The writers do, though, reduce Constantine to kid saying “RULES ARE *$%ING STUPID” while he is doing serious spell-work. This seems a laughably petulant and teenage attitude for the streetwise street mage. And it doesn’t help that  Constantine looks all of 15 when he utters/thinks the statement.

In short, DC Comics is making headway, rescuing the Constantine character from the watered-down, milquetoast New 52 version. Yes, he’s an incorrigible, chain-smoking, booze-swilling cad again (although I thought he did not stray from his beloved pints), and he's dating men and women. However, the artistic portrayal in Constantine: Hellblazer: Volume 2: The Art of the Deal is wildly inconsistent, sometimes hard to look at, distracting, and makes his actual age impossible to guess.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Arc's Poem of the Year Contest Deadline: Feb. 15

Don't forget - Arc: Canada's Poetry Magazine's Poem of the Year contest extended deadline is Feb. 15. 

Your poetry's worth a shot at the cash prize. How much of a prize, you ask, dear reader? 

Well, the first place prize is $5,000 CDN. 

$500 CDN for the Honourable Mention.

There will also be a shortlist of ten to 12 poems, selected by Arc’s editorial board, that will be eligible for the Readers’ Choice Award. The Readers’ Choice poem is chosen by Arc’s readers through online voting. The winner receives $250 CDN. Visit the Arc webpage in March to read the shortlist selections and cast your vote

All shortlisted poems will also receive paid publication in an upcoming issue of Arc and on the Arc website.

And, to top it all off, the contest fee includes subscription, so you can't go wrong. You get a crack at a cash prize and a subscription to Ottawa's prestigious triannual literary magazine, published in in the nation's capital since 1978.

For more contest details, go here

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

My Year in Comics: Joe Ollmann's The Abominable Seabrook, Monstress, The Less than Epic Adventures of T.J and Amal, & More

As I contiune My Year in Comics, I describe, amongst other gems, the totally unexpected but welcome weirdness of Alex de Campi’s Archie vs. Predator, Charles Burn's X’ed Out and The Hive, Canadian writer and artist Joe Ollmann’s The Abominable Mr. Seabrook and E. K. Weaver's The Less than Epic Adventures of T.J. and Amal. As well, I mention two big disappointments, The Dark Knight III: Master Race (Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello, Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson) and Cinema Purgatorio (Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill et al.).

Totally Unexpected but Welcome Weirdness

Alex de Campi’s Archie vs. Predator
Dark Horse Comics and Archie Comics Crossover, 2015
The title of this abomination says it all. The 1980’s action-horror motif meets the ol’ Riverdale gang and carnage ravages their ranks. As always, the talented de Campi is merciless, and skewers tradition (in more ways than one). She also keeps a dandy of a feminist subversive theme beating at the centre of this gory beast. The art’s classical, but the story is decidedly not. No one is safe, least of all Veronica’s beloved “Archiekins”.

Charles Burn's X’ed Out and The Hive
Pantheon Books, 2010 and 2012
William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch surrealism meets Hergé meets underground comics meets teen angst in the second and third parts of his masterful and disquieting X’ed Out trilogy. The first volume was Sugar Skull. Among the unnerving symbolism are pigs, worms, projected identities, and deformed monsters. It's also non-linear storytelling from first page to the last. Burn’s use of sex and violence and emotional distance are exceptional and uncomfortable. Charles Burns is not messing around, and leaves a mark on the reader.

Joe Ollmann’s (writer and artist) The Abominable Mr. Seabrook
 Drawn & Quarterly, 2017
Ollmann has pulled off a balanced and honest depiction of the tragic journalist William Seabrook. Seabrook was a gonzo journalist before there was gonzo journalism, and somewhat worshipped by Hemingway’s lost generation because he was writing about his out-of-country experiences after living them. The early twentieth century traveler's notable accomplishments include abandoning every successful venture he took on, coining the term “zombie”, going on safaris, and witnessing voodoo rituals firsthand. This biographal subject, however, is afloat in alcoholism from his formative years to his decline. Seabrook's fascinating-yet-cautionary tale is reminiscent of Jack Kerouac's meteoric literary career. Both writers go from open-minded adventurer to hardened and defeated alcoholic. Prepare to have your heart shattered to bits, faithful reader. Abominable isn’t always easy to handle, but constantly enlightening and fascinating. Ollmann's treatment is exhaustively researched. In the appendix, Ollmann lists Seabrook's novels in order of preference. This is a noteworthy and thoughtful gesture for readers unfamiliar with Seabrook's opus.
Aw, William, put down the drink. Agh...

Noteworthy (read: rather brilliant) comic-book artist and writer Seth has called fellow Canadian Joe Ollmann "criminally underappreciated", and there’s no argument from my corner. Ollmann depicts the everyday human struggle, from the mundane to monumental, follows life-like and very flawed characters and depicts mercilessly realistic settings and situations. All of this puts Ollmann in the same room as American comic-book writer icon Harvey Pekar, in my opinion. 

Required reading of  Joe Ollmann’s oeuvre includes Mid-Life, Science Fiction, and Happy Stories About Well-adjusted People.

Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: Stories, Ben Katchor (writer and artist), Michael Chabon (contributor)
Little, Brown and Company, 1996
The plight of loner and urban observer/historian Julius Knipl is indie-art-meets-urban-angst. Katchor is sentimental, quirky and offbeat. At the end of some tales, about doomed storefront businesses or solitary characters or the urban infrastructure as a living creature, your heart aches. Katchor makes the reader long for the fleeting moment, the transient urban structure, as though it is part of them that is lost.

Titans Hunt, Dan Abnett (writer) et al.
DC Comics, 2016
Abnett Stephen-Kings (Is that a verb? Because I just made it one. - The editor) this whole DC Comic rebirth/reboot, with great success. Abnett uses the King's tried-and-true techniques such as the recurring nightmare motif, a dastardly villain crossing the country in search of the heroes, and a cast of disparate characters who have seemingly never met but unite to figure out just what the hell is going on. Why can't Wonder Girl, Aqualad, Robin, Speedy and the remainder of the heroes remem this healthy influence of Dean Koontzesque supsense building, and seductive exploitative art, along with the traditional superhero attitude of let’s-fight-and-figure-out-why-afterwards, Titans Hunt is a great and unexpectedly enjoyable yarn. This is sort of tiding me over until I can find season three of Young Justice, a remarkable show that I learned (very recently) has returned, much to its cult following's delight.

Totally Unexpected Beauties

Wonder Woman ’77 Volume One trade paperback
DC Comics, 2016
Marc Andreyko (writer), Drew Johnson, Matt Haley, and Cat Staggs (artists)
Charming through and through, Andreyko’s weird lovechild of the 1970’s accurately depicts Linda Carter in all of her fine features, and feels like the network T.V. show. For those of us who watched Carter in her star-spangled tights the first time, this book is a real delicious retread, and it's trippy for all its familiarity. As well, there's not a single budget constraint, because this is a comic book, my friends. For newcomers, this is a great conversion camp to the cult of T.V.’s First Lady of Amazon Island.

Page from The Less than Epic Adventures of T.J. and Amal by E. K. Weaver.
The Less than Epic Adventures of T.J. and Amal, E. K. Weaver (debut as both writer and artist)
Iron Circus Comics, 2015
Indie-film-meets-comic-book-page in this stunning and heartfelt debut from Chicago writer-artist E.K. Weaver. Two fellows, T.J. and Amal, take a cross-country trek, a sure-fire art-house motif that sings beautifully, from landscape depiction to quiet moments between two young men, who are questioning where they are at in the world, and who may or may not get together, and the secrets they carry with them. Beautiful in many instances, this is the first creature of its kind I’ve seen.

Monstress Volume One: AwakeningMarjorie Liu (writer) and Sana Takeda (artist)
Image Comics, 2016
Lovecraft, anime and Tolkien blend like orchestral music in this beautiful saga with art that knocks you back. Lui spotlights a heroine the reader with a monstrous side whom the reader can get behind. There’s so much beauty in the painted artwork that you have to reread panels, or stare at them until you have had your fill.

Image from Monstress Volume One: AwakeningMarjorie Liu (writer) and Sana Takeda (artist).

Mark Waid’s The Unknown Volume One trade paperback
BOOM! Studios, 2010
What seemed like such a promising premise with heroine Cat Allingham falters badly. Unlike, for example, Alex de Campi’s, Semiautomagic, this is a lacklustre John Constantinesque character. Artist Minck Ooosterveer uses every available opportunity to showcase the character’s bosom. However, Ooosterveer's style fails to make the protagonist beautiful. She's just stylized, unlike Michael Gaydos' renderings of Jessica Jones in Brian Michael Bendis' Alias series, where Jones appears beautiful in many instances, but not exploited for a (presumably imagined) male gaze. Erik Jones’ covers, on the other hand, do show Allingham as beautiful, but they are lurid and sexy and don’t match the carpet (i.e.: Ooosterveer’s pencils inside the book). It’s like the writer had a vision, the artists saw cleavage, and the result was a solid story with unnecessarily exploitive art that undermines Waid’s considerable storytelling talent.

The Dark Knight III: Master Race, Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello (writers), Miller, Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson (artists)
DC Comics, 2015 to 2017
What Miller did in The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again, he does here again. And again. In this dystopia, Miller further deconstructs Bruce, Clark, Barry and other DC Comics characters. While readers initially hope that co-writer Azzrarello and artists Kubert and Janson will temper any possible bloat in the narrative, this hope dims to nothing as the story runs amok.  The Dark Knight just keeps rising again, and again, ad nauseam. The momentum that builds is a tiresome, mundane exercise of rattling the reader with progressively more outrageous depictions of comic book heroes. It was better the first time around, and certainly better when Alan Moore did it in Watchmen and, closer to DC Comics fans’ hearts, better when Mark Waid deconstructed the whole works in his brilliant Kingdom Come.

Cinema Purgatorio, Alan Moore (writer), Kevin O’Neill (artist), and Kieron Gillen, Garth Ennis, Max Brook et al.
What started out at as a brilliant anthology series with four continuing stories in a magazine style has devolved into a spinning of tires. Readers can’t leave Alan Moore’s cinema literary conceit (a first-person narrative that involves a different deconstructed film each time, shot through with arcane cinematic history) any more than the characters in all the other stories can move on with their quests. Most of these quests, in fact, involves giant monsters. I have nothing against giant monsters, but when three of the five feature stories about these beasts, it's just too much sugar. The early issues, up to about number six, are fine. However, once the reader realizes they’re duped and the storylines are without end and, in fact, repeating themselves, the book becomes decidedly a-one-trick-pony by issue eight.