Saturday, October 24, 2020

Halloween and October Comic Reading

Here are more comics I recommend reading for October and Halloween time.

The Occult and Supernatural
Hellblazer: Bloody hell, guv'nah! Everyone's Favourite Bi Street Mage only Going to Issue 12
Hellblazer (DC Comics, Sandman Universe) 
I have already said this, but it bears repeating. Hellblazer is the best it has been in years, on par with Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison and Jamie Delano’s tenures. Scripted by British scribe Simon Spurrier and bolstered by gorgeous art from Matías Bergara and Aaron Campbell, the title is spooky, moody, timely and more than clever,. There is a twisted Little Mermaid subversion, everyone's favourite bi street mage John Constantine being out of touch with contemporary London to his newfound pal from the local pub, Nat the bouncer. Unfortunately, the series is too good for this world. Hellblazer never found a large enough audience or the necessary sales during the pandemic to make it an on-going series. Scribe Spurrier talks about it on his blog, here. Thus, it will be a limited 12 issues, much to the chagrin of readers, critics and its creators. The first trade, though, is already available, John Constantine: Hellblazer Vol. 1: Marks of Woe, collecting The Sandman Universe Presents: Hellblazer #1, John Constantine: Hellblazer #1-6, and Books of Magic #14. The second trade, collecting issues seven to 12, appears to be forthcoming in late March 2021.
First panel by Aaron Campbell. 
Second panel by Matias Bergera. 
Cover by John Paul Leon.

Young Adult
Blackwood (Dark Horse Comics)
To call Blackwood a Harry Potter premise with sharper teeth, taking readers down a dark, sometimes twisting road, is to sell it short. Creators Evan Dorkin (of Beasts of Burden) and double-teaming artists Veronica Fish, and Andy Fish have crafted an interesting motley crew of outcasts getting into occult misadventures at Blackwood College. They are supposed to be learning about witchcraft, but the real lessons are, of course, after class. Dorkin’s work is interesting as he uses established tropes and subverts and plays with them. The use of colours, in particular, is garish, almost impressionist. The art riffs seriously on pre-Comics-Code-Authority E.C. Comics horror fare. It is a retro, exploitative paintjob with decidedly modern trappings and sophisticated writing. There are consequences.  Characters die, and gruesomely. Readers familiar with H.P. Lovecraft will also detect a whiff of eldritch horror, here, which only adds another layer to the enjoyable narrative. In other words, it's a comic for early teens, ideally read on a leafy autumn evening.  
The first trade, Blackwood, came out in 2018. The new four-issue series Blackwood: The Mourning After just released in trade.

Monster Fightin' and Racism
Bitter Root (Image Comics)
Artist Sanford Greene and writers David F. Walker and Chuck M. Brown are part of the all-black or African-American creative team behind Bitter Root. The premise is that the Sangerye Family holds a longstanding tradition of fighting monsters, monsters fuelled by hate, and it’s set in the Harlem Renaissance. It is no surprise that this monthly series is now selling out, given the current political climate in the U.S. They take up arms and fight in the street and are clearly the protagonists in this dynamic. The Red Summer Special occurs during the Tulsa race massacre. The back-matter material is absolutely stunning, with essays on the history of civil rights. The artwork is mind-bendingly good, which is no surprise as Walker, Brown and Greene did such an amazing and fun job on their disappointingly short-lived stint on Power Man and Iron Fist.

Panel from Bitter Root # 3, page 4. Sandford Greene's pencils are just kinetic and full of life.

LGBTQ+ Horror

Theatre of Terror: Revenge of the Queers! (Northwest Press)
Edited by William O. Tyler and Justin Hall, Theatre is a wonderful queer grindhouse/Tales from the Crypt-style horror anthology featuring a frightful cover by artist Phil Jimenez, perhaps best known for his Wonder Woman and The Invisibles work.
The whole works is framed by San Francisco midnight movie drag queen impresario Peaches Christ haunting a post-apocalyptic Castro Theatre, forcing uninvited guests to watch each story unfold. With this classic McGuffin, readers get a lot of bang for their buck, with a wide range of LGBTQ+ art styles and stories.
In the spirit of grindhouse cinema, the most amusing fake horror movie posters appear between the pieces. My only qualm is that there is no table of contents, so it can be difficult to remember where you left off, or to find a certain story you are, uh, dying to read. There is also requisite gore, sex, violence and monsters aplenty, here.
Theatre of Terror came out, so to speak, in December 2019, so it just missed the mark for Halloween, so I am giving it an extra, much-need push here. Stand-outs include “Mer-Maid Story”, Justin Hall's “Full Moon” and “Frankenwhein”, Robyn Adam’s “Dead Name No More!”, featuring a transgender ghost hunter, Tina Horn and Jen Hickaman’s (known for SFSX) “Barrier
, “Werekat”,  “The Vulture” and “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)”.

Panel from writer/artist Robyn Adam’s story “Dead Name No More!” featuring Lorelei Fontaine, transgender ghost hunter!  I really hope to see more of her. 

Panel from Justin Hall's "Full Moon", a randy werewolf yarn...or tail?

Friday, October 23, 2020

Positive Notes during Covid-19

Getting through as best I can. My partner just returned on Sunday from a near-two-week stay in Alberta due to a family crisis. We are all trying to settle into a normal routine (or whatever we can consider normal under Covid-19). 

I have some positive new routines. Driving my son to school to avoid the whole school-bus-distancing thing gets me out into the world. I run errands and torment the manager of Movies N' Stuff, a local video rental place. We have a good deal. I recommend purchases (which he takes) and post brief online reviews and tag M N' S on social media. In turn, Pete, once convinced of a particular show or film's merit, orders them with me in mind, giving me first-rights refusal, remains extremely flexible loan times, tells me when items of interest arrive and, sometimes, even delivers. Meanwhile, I revise Horror Novel Number Two, Monstrous, sometimes sharing breakthroughs with unwitting readers from Russia here on my blog (My focus has improved these past weeks, but still not where it was pre-pandemic). 

My freelance shop is open again. I am penning reviews for Arc: Canada's Poetry Magazine and casting a wide net to include the spec-fic and biography.

Here's my new pandemic greeting, which sounds very Irish - Hope you are having more good days than bad in this thing.

Hallowe'en film, comic and book recommendations of yesteryear

Autumn, for me, is the most beautiful and in some ways, the saddest, season. I'm in the same school as Ray Bradbury and Jack Kerouac on this one. While I certainly don't subscribe to everyone Kerouac suggests, I did journey through a significant Kerouac phase. Bradbury I have never fully recovered from. In fact, I am currently reading Jonathan R. Eller's Bradbury Beyond Apollo, the third biography in the astonishingly well-done series, the first being Becoming Bradbury and the second, Ray Bradbury Unbound.

For me, inspiration runs to a fever pitch even as the leaves turn, fall, and  the, heady wine-like smell seems to pervade the world. I used to always pen a Halloween story, from grade six or so onward, up through university, and afterward. It is no coincidence that my first novel, Town & Train, was literary horror. So, I am always seeking out Halloween viewing and reading. 

Over the years, on this blog, I have made the strong case for Hallowe'en films and comics and books. You can find links to all of these posts below:  

- From 2015: Scary Halloween readingLisa Morton, Halloween aficionado extraordinaire *
Town & Train: A Good, Spooky Halloween Read*
                      It Follows is Astonishing and Creepy: A Film Review*

* = Shared recently on social media

Thursday, October 22, 2020

October Halloween Picks: Films, Books and Comics 2020

Halloween may not involve trick-or-treating this year, but there is still time to get some spooky and unsettling viewing and reading times in as the days darken earlier, the leaves  turn and that old division between the spirit world and the material weakens on October 31 and November 1. Here’s what you could inspect in time for this Halloween season. The films I list below, in bold, are available for rent from the ever-industrious Pete, manager of Movies N’ Stuff in Ottawa. 

One Heck of a Halloween Yarn
Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree (animated)
After years of script and adaptation development, Ray Bradbury’s trip through Halloween history, originally a 1972 fantasy novel, finally hit the small screen in 1992, 
with Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, a mysterious figure voiced by Leonard Nimoy, leading a group of boys on a quest to save their friend Pipkin on Halloween night. The eight kids journey  through ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, Celtic Druidism, the Notre Dame Cathedral in Medieval Paris, and The Day of the Dead in Mexico. The Halloween Tree carries that Bradburyian touch of wonderment, a poetic soul with an underlying macabre spirit, not to mention the sort of dark twists that readers know from his best horror work in the pulp magazines such as Weird Tales in the 1930’s and 1940’s. 
Fun fact: Ray wrote The Halloween Tree as a response to the 1966 animated Halloween special, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!, which he was disappointed with because it circumvented the imaginative power of Halloween (and also, I believe, because the titular Great Pumpkin never actually appears). Chuck Jones, American filmmaker and cartoonist, challenged him to do a better version.

Monster Mash
Sea Fever
This is an Irish horror film, which is a genre I have a soft spot for. If the 
Rue Morgue review I read for this flick had emphasized that or if Pete at Movies N’ Stuff had told me from the outset that this was an Irish horror film, I would have seen it much sooner. This often beautifully shot tale of fatalism posits that young marine-biology student Siobhán sets out from port with a fishing trawler crew only to discover aquatic life that has yet been undocumented. It is a biologist survivalist or to us, a nearly incomprehensible horror. The production overcomes the budgetary constraints of the film with effective acting, exemplifying that sometimes, as in the best fiction, less is more. A word of warning: this is a quarantine film, however. I myself felt a little burned by Willem Daffoe-and-Robert Pattinson vehicle, The Lighthouse, which I mistakenly watched during the outset of the pandemic (and found claustrophobic and uneven). In Sea Fever, the range of Irish accents you might need to acclimatize to, but it’s worth this strange trip. 

The Immortal Hulk
(Marvel Comics)
Writer Al Ewing and Joe Bennett's all-out horror take on this title has a full head of steam as it careens toward the end of its third year. Ewing mines Hulk characters from decades of The Incredible Hulk comic mythos and from The Incredible Hulk T.V. show that ran for five seasons from the late 1970’s to the early 1980’s. Minor players return, taking on significant supporting roles including shrink Doc Samson and sidekick Rick Jones. Ewing and Joe Bennett riff off the monstrous vibe of  the Hulk's beginnings, in Tales to Astonish # 60 published, appropriately in October, 1964 turned out by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
. In Immortal, Ewing develops Bruce Banner's Dissociative Identity Disorder, a condition established by writer Peter David during his 12-year tenure on the book and drawing on the Roger Stern and Bill Mantlo depictions of young Bruce suffering abuse at the hands of his father. In his current incarnation, a different persona takes the wheel when Bruce wants to check out, the Devil Hulk, the World Breaker, Savage Hulk and Joe Fixit among them. The horror-rendering visuals by Bennett  hugely elevate these concepts and together, this team makes it all work, disturbingly so, from body horror to gore to the hero doing heinous deeds. This Hulk can smell when someone's lying, he's smart, and he plays for keeps. Marvel may be going through tough times during the pandemic  (as everyone else is in business across the board), but fans and critics alike seem to agree; the Hulk hasn’t been this good in years, or perhaps hasn’t ever been this good. Alex Ross' drop-dead gorgeous main covers don't hurt, either. Most of the series so far is collected in trade. You would need to start with the first, Immortal Hulk Vol. 1: Or is he Both?. The latest is Immortal Hulk Vol. 7: Hulk Is Hulk

Lost Boys and Lost Girl Vamps 
Vampires vs. Brooklyn (Netflix)
A funny, fast-moving, fantastic ode to vampire cinema, Vampires vs. the Bronx features a refreshing setting, good story beats, solid acting and is even a little sexy. It has a great cast (older and younger) and a fun meta-reference-laced script. Gregory Diaz IV, in particular, does a fantastic vamp expert Luis, an absolutely fun role in this romp of a film. Having Luis read a new edition of Stephen King’s Salem's Lot is a wonderful, if not subtle, nod. Vampires vs. Brooklyn is sort of a The Lost Boys or Salem's Lot for these times, with the menace of white supremacist monsters moving in and gentrifying the ‘hood, with hints of The Monster Squad and Attack the Block. Method Man, familiar from his turn as a fast-talking pimp from The Deuce, is well cast as tough-as-nails priest. But the sexiness comes from Coco Jones as videographer (Ed. note: do we still call them videographs if they use their touch phone? Just curious.), Judy Marte as mother Carmen Martinez and Zoe Saldana as salon owner, Becky.

Dracula, Motherf**ker! (Image Comics)
The long-awaited hardcover is a lavishly visual, trippy exploitation-vibe riff on the vampire mythos set in 1974 Los-Angeles. Comics scribe Alex de Campi, who can writer across the board, from grindhouse to sci-fi to espionage (such as the superb Mayday, set in the early 1070's Cold War ear) teams up with artist Erica Henderson, best known for the zanily self-referential and meta The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. They deliver the goods in this off-the-wall and nicely feminist stab at Dracula lore. It's good fuel for this horror writer's October dreams as he revises his second horror novel in his favourite month of the year. 

Hack and Slasher Flicks
Knife + Heart (Un couteau dans le coeur)
The dream-like, phantasmagoric, dizzily trashy, exploitative, deeply queer-horror slasher flick that I found by way of queer horror author Christian Baines' most rewarding referral. Absolutely worth watching and maybe re-watching soon after.

We Summon the Darkness

We Summon the Darkness is not predicated on a supernatural premise as I originally thought, I was surprised, wooed and delighted at many turns by the dynamite young cast and the subversive twists. They are mostly unknowns (to me) and look like they are from '88, when the film is set. Alexandra Daddario is a surprising revelation as Alexis and not just another pretty face in this dark number. Keean Johnson is particularly authentic, looking the part of a late 1980’s metal-head and nice guy, Mark. There is also solid late-1980's music, including some heavy metal, a clever script that gives the players chances to really move, all carried by a surprising and subversive premise. We Summon the Darkness carries a deep dark sensibility à la Heathers (one of my most favourite black-as-black comedies). Great fun! 

Slash and Action Time
The Hunt 
Betty Gilpin of the T.V. show Glow soars (and kicks and bludgeons and punches) as the heroine in this marvelous, albeit controversial, dark satire. Why controversial? It concerns a group of conservatives who are kidnapped and hunted for sport by sadistic liberals. It's merciless, detonating Hollywood action flick tropes and giving characters the laissez-mourrir Hitchcock treatment. Gilpin shreds it up. But if you have ever watched Glow, you know she is capable of, both in terms of acting chops and wrestling ability. Absolutely a guilty-gorey pleasure.

Weird Horror
Picnic at Hanging Rock
Shout-out to Christian Baines for also recommending the 1975 Picnic at Hanging Rock a ways back. Arguably this is the birth of Australian gothic, undeniably drenched in sexual hysteria, a study in weird horror, all packaged with great performances and an unsettling score. All the gothic trappings are there, from the foreboding and ominous school, even in broad daylight, the bizarre configurations of the boulders at Hanging Rock, and the fervor with which the schoolmaster tries to keep the girls in line. Everyone needs to loosen up at this private school, but in the meantime, what wonderful tension and underlying dread pervades this surprising, enchanting film. 

Jesus and John: A Novel
 (Lethe Press)
Adam McOmber
This weird-horror novel is a queer re-imagining of part of the New Testament. It is unsettling, and shot through with cosmic horror and, at times, a Biblical cadence and a scriptural allegorical quality.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Writing and Despair in Covid-19

While I continue the revisions on my second horror novel Monstrous, I have admittedly begun to despair as I valiantly attempt to stave off depression, anxiety, lack of focus, anger, and the general feeling that either the world or the walls are closing in.

The continually bizarre adjustments one must make during Covid-19 are wearing me down. Everything seems complicated. I'm talking about adjustments besides the necessary sensible ones like wearing a mask when you pass someone on the street or staying distant in all interactions. I am working progressively more at home, trying to juggle family life and being cloistered on the home front amid a lack of in-person socializing. The news out of the U.S. just getting stupider all the time. 

Managing my bad habits has become a task, as my habits have developed their own bad habits. I call them bad habit barnacles, or B.H.B.'s. They are often words that begin with the letter 'P'. In fact, I have a holy trinity of bad habit barnacles, the three P's; one stands for 'pints'. You can draw your own conclusions about the others, but they all get along very well in a room.

Trying to focus on the revisions to Monstrous. Admittedly, between family estate law research and talking to a nice customer service rep at Greyhound in Missouri, this research has had an inevitable ripple effect of consequence on most events in the book in terms of realism or verisimilitude from this point onward (this point being chapter four).  I am over a third through the manuscript in terms of revisions, and cutting significantly to make the story the best that it wants to be, but I am mired in doubts of completion date, readership or potential audience. 

It's horror, creeping, supernatural horror with a dramatic core, a literary sensibility, full of characters I have not published before, including protagonist Sara Jasmine, now a university instructor, and John Newman, a longtime werewolf character. Love the characters, but I just can't see the other end of the process right now. 

Despair has gripped me, after failing to sell short fiction these past six years. Maybe my spec-fic is too literary or maybe my spec-fic should go to literary markets. Regardless, my short fiction isn't placing, which has knocked me back significantly in terms of confidence. 

My time on the Monstrous revisions has also continued well beyond what I expected. I thought I would complete them in summer and turn over the manuscript to beta readers (trusted first readers who look at a manuscript and  give ,writer hopefully invaluable feedback). Instead I was delayed, yet again, in the faint hope of having the book in shape by the late fall. Well, it's early October and I do not see the revisions ending even by November.

So between the pandemic and the arduous, intense revisions, I am going through a lot of emotions a lot of the time. I know that it is unbecoming to complain. I am not fighting for my life in the streets or lying near-death in hospital or fearing for my life if a cop pulls me over or stressing about balancing tele-schooling on top of teleworking or wondering if I will have a roof over my head in the future. 

Still, it is hard to see any darkness in this light, and even the possible finish line for the revisions.  I will try my best to muddle through, I guess, and keep going and try to get enough sleep at night, but I feel leaden as I continue.


Sunday, October 4, 2020

Revision breakthrough researching Canuck estate law: Enter the Codicil

Another revision breakthrough with my second horror novel Monstrous occurred as I talked to a family law expert and discovered that a codicil is a change or addition to a last will and testament. Also, I discovered that a will, under Canadian estate law, does not have to be read aloud to the family or or other beneficiaries.  More later. And I know that in a different life, I could probably talk to a friend who has intimate knowledge about some aspects of Canadian family estate law but, alas, I can't, hence the call to our lawyer.

In my book, I already have a videotaped testament that is separate from the reading of the will, and occurs months after the bulk of the estate has been divided among family, friends and employees. So, I have inadvertently written this verisimilitude into the story quite by accident. My characters need to be shocked and surprised by this new information. Further, a significant plot point hinges on this videotaped confession. The story beat, luckily, remains intact, because it is crucial to the infrastructure of the book. Fortunate novelist!

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Ted Mann I talked to, Ted Mann in Bradbury bio: A Startling Coincidence

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of discussing Canadian estate law with Ottawa lawyer Ted Mann as part of my research and revisions to my horror novel Monstrous

While wearing my book reviewer's hat last night, reading Jonathan R. Eller's Bradbury Beyond Apollo, I discovered this passage on p. 29 about Bradbury trying to adapt his stories for film.

"Both men had a point, but the uneasy relationship became even worse when Ted Mann bought into the project.

Mann was the dynamic cinema-franchise owner and entrepreneur who would soon buy one of Bradbury's favourite Hollywood landmarks, Grauman's Chinese Theatre and place his own name on the marquee. He had also moved into film production, and his first producing credit was Warner Brothers' 1969 production of The Illustrated Man-a project where Bradbury felt as if he were an outside in all aspects of production."

This is simply the kind of startling coincidence that I cannot make up, but it certainly looks like I have.