Monday, November 11, 2019

ChiZine Publications founders Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory step down

In a stunning move for an independent Canadian publisher, but not an unexpected one, ChiZine Publications founders Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory have stepped down.

Their statement on the the ChiZine site is here.

High Fever Books is doing an admirable job of keeping up with the stories that continue to come out from complainants. Kelsi Morris is the latest person to come forward with a story about bullying, uncomfortable rape jokes, and being on the inside of the machinations at ChiZine.

The link to High Fever Books' regularly updated blog is here.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

ChiZine Publications Authors and Others Come Forward with Complaints

Well, wow. Just... wow. For those not in the know, ChiZine Publications is a fairly well known independent Canadian publisher that has published weird, subtle, surreal, disturbing dark SF, fantasy since 2008.
Last week, ChiZine author author Ed Kurtz came forward with a grievance, claiming he has not been paid in full his due royalties from the independent publisher. Kurtz's complaint, as though finding a flaw in a dam, encouraged a floodgate of not only other writers, but employes, editors, and acquaintances to also come forward with their stories of mistreatment at the hands of the publisher.
The most striking commonality for me is that the grievances and stories are across the board - from not paying royalties, not paying staff, mistreating people, alienating people, and bullying people. One of these stories would be damning enough. Together, they're a maelstrom.
If you're interested, here's context - a reasonably cogent summary of the number of the people airing their stories from High Fever Books.
This week, U.S. horror author Brian Keene will be discussing the entire ChiZine debacle on his popular The Horror Show With Brian Keene, of which I am a follower. Needless to say, I'll be listening to this, however surreal it will be to hear an American podcast analyze a Canadian small speculative fic press' controversy.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

All Hallow’s Eve Checklist

I had a rough start this Hallowe'en - just a lousy morning. Derek Newman-Stille inspired me with his tweet:
"Remember that today is also Samhain, a holiday dedicated to the blessed dead and the memory of those who have gone on from this life. Remember those who you have loved and who have died and set aside a place for them in your thoughts."

And I made this All Hallow's Eve Checklist to try and turn my day around.

·         Read issue of The Samdman Universe Presents: Hellblazer (by Simon Spurrier). Came out Oct. 30. Those clever monkeys at DC Comics know the way to my heart, dammit. Consider why all the rogue comic-book protagonists that I follow tend to suffer.
·         Begin prep of mummy meatloaf.
·         Look at many decorations (in-door and out).
·         Carve second jack-o’-lantern.
·         Listen to Mike Oldfield, starting with Tubular Bells (then Hergest Ridge, OmnadawnReturn to Omnadawn).
·         Be ready to welcome the lost ones. Remember them.
·         Start with Hugh DeCourcy. He introduced me to Oldfield tunes, Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October and H.P. Lovecraft. Hugh believed in my writing and my book Town & Train when it was a mere 100 pages, typewritten, foolscap and dot Smith-Corona-printed pages and all.
·         Let them know they are missed. Perhaps they already know. Iet Dolman (also believed in me, my writing).
·         Meditate on this as I finish the long journey of rewriting my second novel, Monstrous. Cry when needed. Alternatively, rage and curse. Be friends with the book; it’s tell you what it wants to be. Let it.
·         Remember them - Robert Delorme, Ian Dennison, Keith Morgan, Guy Tremblay, Phil Robertson, Paul Robineau, J.P. Craig, Lori Jean Hodge, Helen Mullen, Anis Dahbar, Angus Archer, Leah Weber (sibling of best friend of my youth),. All departed too soon (an opinion that is a luxury for the living only).
·         Light jack-o’-lanterns to guide them.
·         Be there for my son and my loved ones here now.
·         Greet disguised spirits of a younger and different variety.
·         Keep your heart open and your mind receptive
·         Have fun; these spirits want acknowledgement, but they also want to party.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Notes on Washington Irving's magic-infused 1819 The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

I finally read Washington Irving's magic-infused 1819 The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. And I never realized that Brom Bones, Ichabod Crane's rival for Katrina van Tassel's affections, could have rigged the whole thing. Brom intimates at the conclusion that he knows more about Crane's passing than he is letting on. He is of burly, athletic stock and could posed as the giant Headless Horseman. Crane's vanishing conveniently clears the way for Brom to court and ultimately wed Katrina.

There are some other interesting facts, as well as differences between the 1819 novel and the 1949 animated Walt Disney adaptation.

Unlike in the Disney animated adaption, a pumpkin, not a jack-o'-lantern, was the featured weapon in the climax of the book. There is no incendiary scene on the haunted bridge in the novel.

Arthur Rackham, illustrator of the recognized classical 1928 edition, crammed each drawing with fairies, spirits, witches, etc., but did not depict the climactic scene, nor the galloping Hessian, the Headless Horseman.

The greatest surprise of the book is that the actual encounter between Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones lasts only a scant two pages after all the exposition and set-up and atmospheric establishment.

The Sleepy Hollow narrator is not omniscient, does not always know Crane's motivations - as in why Crane bolted from Katrina's castle that evening. Still, this unreliable narrator presides, presumably closes the postscript as well.

Ichabod figures as a curious suitor - living nearly as a pauper and hungry social climber and admirer (one might argue fetishist) of all things colonial Dutch. Crane was arguably just as in love or more in love with the trappings and comforts of Katrina's estate and wealth than with her.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is drenched in magic, charmingly so, which I am not sure if the Disney adaption succeeded at conveying. It's an ethereal, atmospheric locale where locals adore spinning yarns about apparitions.
Irving successfully fuses Indigenous folklore, German folklore to brew heady American mythology to match European myth, with unseen-before Halloween elements. (As Richard Bowes prefaces for his story "Knickerbocker Holiday" in Ellen Datlow's and Nick Mamatas' anthology, Haunted Legends.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Notes on "Jack’s Back” (1988), starring James Spader

Admittedly, "Jack's Back", the 1988 James Spader vehicle that I presumed was unfortunate, actually has some merit. Spader plays twin brothers. One brother, John Wesford, is a doctor and a humanitarian. The other brother, Rick, is dark, brooding and unhinged with a scar on his face (what we would call an emo method actor today). In a ludicrous stretch of our suspension of disbelief, the film informs us that dark and handsome manages a shoe store.

Spader as Rick is detached, cool, and seems preternatural, knowing more than the cops investigating the murder of his brother. He claims to share a mental bond with his good brother. At every opportunity, he is shirtless (i.e.: wakes from a nightmare, sweat-drenched), or lies in bed, displaying bulging underwear (Editor's Note: Bugle Boys? It was the 1980’s and the brand was running a campaign). Various artful posing shots abound of Spader looking sexy and cool. He smokes and drives a lot, looking detached and cool. Ah - the 1980's obsession with looking cool. Still, it’s a fun film, even if the director insists the characters look cool, even racing down a staircase.

The supporting actors do an admirable job of exhibiting sexism (beat cops), anger management (black police chief), comic relief, and dejection (the latter tasks fall to the black co-worker, pulling double duty). Spader's co-worker's are also sexually charged and either openly flirtatious, suggestive or lascivious or breathless around him. The male, effete, hypnotist Dr. Carlos Battera on the case drools over Rick with obvious attraction (and the director Rowdy Herrington too, perhaps?). Naughty, both, then.

The musical score by composer Danny Di Paola is brooding, simmering, with pop music undercurrents that echo Miami vice and other crime fare of the era. Some shots remind one of "To Live and Die in L.A.", another flawed masterpiece of note. But “Jack’s Back” is must-view for James Spader completists. It’s a fascinating and mixed 1980’s serial-killer flick, praised at the time by Roger Ebert. “Jack’s Back” is like a moving fashion magazine layout for young and hot Spader. Thanks go to friend Helen for recommending.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Lovecraftian Novels That Are Both Loving and Crafty: Part One

I don't always go in for H.P. Lovecraft pastiches and tributes, where authors or artists get to play with the Provincetown's denizen's Cthulhu mythos and have fun with his monsters, but lately, I have been drawn to them and have started seeking them out. The Lovecraft game is a fun one, and it goes like this; the majority of H.P. Lovecraft's work is n the public domain, hence the annual deluge of Lovecraftian goods, including books, short stories, statuettes, plush toys, video games, role-playing games and films. So any author who wants to play with his toys can.

In my recent reading, I have discovered some Lovecraftian tributes that are enjoyable treasures for anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the old boy’s Cthulhu mythos. These are Nick Mamatas’ Move Under Ground and I am Providence, Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country, Stephen King’s Revival and Victor Lavalle’s The Ballad of Black Tom. While each book is noteworthy in its own right, here are my impressions and analyses of Nick Mamatas’ novels. I'll get to reviewing the others in good time.

Nick Mamatas’ Move Under Ground (Simon & Schuster)
When I explained to a good friend that someone published a book that mashes up the Beat Generation holy trinity of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, and the Cthulhu mythos, my friend assumed that book was written solely for me. This book is Move Under GroundIn Move Under Ground, Mamatas tells the yarn from Kerouac’s voice, jettisoning the use of Sal Paradise and other fictionalized names and pseudonyms that Kerouac employed in his sprawling, cadent works. Picking up at about the beginning of the novel Big Sur, Mamatas blends Lovecraftian monstrosities and cosmic horror with the rambling, run-on sentences and musings of a writer who has drunk too far, and is helpless to halt or even slow his decline.

Mamatas, on the horn, blows the tune in long, winding solos that carry Kerouac and Neal Cassidy across the U.S., pitting them against the cosmological forces of darkness that are sweeping across the country and, presumably, the world. Some sections are a little dense, but others are rewarding and beautiful, fusing facts about Kerouac’s life  and the Old Ones, the Deep Ones and Nyarlathotep. In one such instance, Kerouac treks into San Francisco from Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s cabin at Big Sur. However, Jack cannot hitch a ride from likely the very same people who snapped up On The Road, ensconced now in a middle-class suburban lifestyle and raising kids. This failed hitchhiking scene segues into an attack of the undead, with Kerouac trying to fend workaday zombies off. 

Spoiler Example of Solid Speculative Writing:
Hands down, my favourite scene involves Jack and Bill Burroughs trying to hop a train and ride the rails. For Ti' Jean, it's old hat to run up to a moving train car and leap on. But for Burroughs, this proves a complicated and daunting physical feat. Jack resorts to running with Bill and throwing him, actually freaking throwing him, at train cars, and concussing him  as a result.
End of Example of Solid Speculative Writing. Carry on....

It’s some trick to carry for an entire novel, but Mamatas nails Kerouac’s voice, his alcoholism and his musings and wanderings and wonderings, free-spirited sex, drugging and desperate quest for calmness, grounding it all in an all-out confrontation with old gods come to take back the Earth at last. The ending is bittersweet for anyone with knowledge of Kerouac’s decline. As it’s fall in the book and real life and I know that after Big Sur, Kerouac was too far down in an abyss of alcoholism to recover, living in the home he bought for Mamère with royalties from On The Road, and this inevitably saddens me. Still, I am impressed with the bizarre fusion Mamatas has succeeded at alchemizing. If only I’d thought of it first....

Nick Mamatas’ I am Providence (Simon & Schuster)
Clearly, Mamatas loves him some Lovecraft, even though Providence came out in 2016, twelve years after Under Ground, and in the acknowledgements he claims this will be his last Lovecraftian mythos novel. Here, Mamatas mercilessly satirizes the conference-going subculture set with a whodunit murder mystery set in Providence, Rhode Island, at the Summer Tentacular (a name I cannot help but grin about each time I consider it). As many other reviews have already indicated, the story has two beats, the murder victim whose face was sliced off in their hotel room, and Colleen Danzig, a conference-goer and up-and-coming weird fiction writer.

Many readers of the book draw comparisons between the lambasted fans or editors or writer and academics and the frequenters of these conferences (i.e.: the annual Necronomicon). A disclaimer: While I am progressively more familiar with Lovecraft’s work and him as a subject each passing year, I have never attended any of these events. However, I do recognize Danzig as a possible composite avatar (a Dean Moriarty/Neal Cassidy, if you will, as she is the novel's heroine) for prominent weird-fiction writer Molly Tanzer. The murder victim Panossian I see as a possible fictionalized Mamatas. Mamatas gently balks at these comparisons between his characters and real-life personalities, and that’s alright. Readers can draw their own conclusions. I should also add that I have never met either author.  

The book received flack from the Lovecraftian community, with some members railing against the thinly veiled composite depiction of its members. The novel has not endeared Mamatas to many of the Lovecraftian set, galvanizing some into the anti -camp or amusing readers in the pro-camp who enjoy the inside jokes and how Mamatas pokes fun at everyone, including himself, it should be noted. However, as a piece of fiction, it must stand on its own, and considered on its own merits.

The hilarious stand-offs between fans and writers, the depiction of theme parties where guests must guess which story the party theme is based on, and the panels arguing about Lovecraft’s sexism, which dismiss any female opinions in the room, however, ring true from other conferences I have attended.

Still, satirical or not, Mamatas writes with a keen eye for human foibles, a thread of post-mortem nihilism and sadness, and with an almost British sensibility for the absurd in describing his subjects. The ending’s a jilting one, but arguably reflects the perspective of the deceased. The cosmic horror aspect of the book is subdued background for the tableau of characters that Mamatas mercilessly satire. There’s fun in here, and sadness, and an obvious and tempered and conflicted love for Lovecraft. This, at the core of the novel, makes it worth the trip.

Both Move Under Ground and I Am Providence are dense with references and are worth pursuing, whether you are a fan of Jack Kerouac's writing, of the Beat Writers, of Lovecraft, of horror, or of whodunits. If you enjoy all these things, then you're in for rich and entertaining reads.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Chip Zdarsky hits Daredevil: Know Fear story arc outta the park

I've said it before... Zdarsky'd again! 

In my heart of hearts, I envision a fictional scene in which a surly and moustached newspaper publisher yells at Canuck comic-book artist and writer Chip Zdarsky.

“Zdarsky!” the publisher barks. “Get you mangy, bearded hipster ass in here. 

“What's the word, boss? 

“Tell meare all you Canadian freaks into craft beers and indie music? 

“Not necessarily. It's a fairly wide demographic. The term 'hipster' can be applied a little broadly... 

“Alright, enough already. Get me a piece on horn-head, that freakish devil of Hell's Kitchen!”

“It's uncanny," Zdarsky replies with a quick tug of his beard. I was just headin' down to the docks to get the word on D.D.'s whereabouts. 

“Well, head outta my office. And since when did we start calling him double-D? It's horn-head, for #$%&@#'s sake, not a bra size!

“The devil, you say,  Zdarsky replies. On it.  Zdarsky heads out, ducking pre-emptorily en route.

And ooh boy, did our accomplished Toronto comic-book artist/writer deliver. Daredevil Vol. One: Know Fear hits all the fan buttons, D.D. eras, and tributes John Romita Jr. and Frank Miller throughout.

Chip Zdarsky is very much passionate about the classical canon of Spider-Man, admittedly his favourite Marvel character and now, I see from Know Fear, Daredevil. Zdarsky's what I consider an (arguably) neoclassical writer in the same league as, say, Mark Waid. That is, he plays with an established character but takes them in new and unexpected directions that still jive with continuity and the character's fairy considerable history.

It's interesting to note that reader reaction thus far to Zdarsky writing Daredevil has been surprise for the most part. This makes sense, though. After all, he is known for his offbeat humor, quirky art, which he himself undervalues, and zany concepts.

For Daredevil, however, he nails the dark, gritty tone. Matt Murdock suffers, through his Catholicism, and otherwise. Matt's flawed and horny. He hits villains and obstacles a little too hard and must tussle with them, so there's great tension. The story arc also raises the question of what constitutes judicious use of violence. Zdarsky, to his credit and despite his comedic reputation, does not back down from answering that question, and developing Matt's reaction to a grave mistake. Accompanied by the often gritty pencils of Marco Checchetto, the book has a comic-book noir look, from New York architectural detail to exquisitely rendered facial expressions to bloodied square jaws. 

In other words, the book's tone is in-line with the Netflix series, and touches on multiple landmark eras of the title, from horn-head's early days in the yellow costume on up to now.
Zdarsky knows how to draw on the well of established characters (see notes about liking canon) Foggy Nelson, Wilson Fisk (aka the Kingpin), not to mention other heroes (whom readers can delight at discovering for themselves) and, of course, the Catholic Church.

I'm not religious by any means, but make no mistake; the Netflix interpretation of Daredevil may have ended, but it made clear, as has the comic book, that Irish Catholicism constitutes a prominent character in the Daredevil universe. Matt Murdock's struggles with faith have always added layers to the title. Arguably, the protagonist has not wrestled with his beliefs since legendary Marvel writer/editor Ann Nocenti's late 1980's-to-early-1990's writing run on Daredevil. This is also Zdarsky's favourite Daredevil run (and, coincidentally, mine, aside from Frank Miller's influential Born Again story arc).

Now, getting back to Zdarsky. He possesses a startling set of talents; a singular riotous sense of humor, which pervades his work, and firm grasp of character, also ever-present. His one-shot character study issues earn him acclaim (such as the Eisner for Peter Parker: Spectacular Spider-Man #310). Before Spidey, the writer/artist cut his teeth on Howard The Duck, in which he gleefully lambasted the Marvel Universe. Around that time, he also established Jughead of Archie Comics as a groundbreaking openly assexual character. Zdarsky also draws the provocative and unexpectedly successful Sex Criminals (with writer Matt Fraction) unexpectedly successful because the duo did not expect the book to run for more than a few issues. Sex Criminals' panels are crammed with Zdarsky's visual jokes, from storefront names to sex-toy products to character actions.

Zdarsky also does his own projects including the mind-bending space opera Kaptara, which I maintain should come with a warning label/disclaimer, as it detonates and undermines a fair number of precious sci-fi and space-opera tropes. Then there's Monster Cops, the title which won him the attention of the big houses. Haven't read it, but heyevery serious comic-book aficionado needs at least one remaining gem to hunt down.

Marco Checchetto's pencils bolster the book, complementing Zdarsky's script. His panels revere recognizable groundbreaking Frank Miller shots (most notably the influential Born Again storyline, arguably the best Daredevil arc), but also legendary John Romita Jr. who was the penciller on the book for several years (for much of the Ann Nocenti run, in fact). As Zdarsky recently said in a podcast (Steg-Man and his Amazing Friends), Checchetto cannot help but depict all his characters as beautiful. That's an accurate summation of Checchetto's style. A fascinating quirk, that.

In short, Chip Zdarsky is proving that he has the chops to write comic-book noir, the trials of Matt Murdock, drawing on pre-established mythos. I am keen to see where Zdarsky takes Matt Murdock and Daredevil next, with Marco Checchetto remaining his comic-book noir partner-in-crime.
Geez—even the photo of the multitalented comic-book artist/writer looks Canadian.
Check out the winterly backdrop. Looks cold and winterly.
I keep wanting to tell him to put on a tuque.
Photo from