Sunday, August 30, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mary Shelley

Of all the classic authors, those no longer with us, I think Mary Shelley is the one I'd most like to have known.

She certainly is the most influential to me, particularly through her novel Frankenstein, Or the Modern Prometheus, first published in 1818 which--very fortunately--has never been out of print. This cautionary myth of an unearthly, unwanted child was one of the earliest popular works of science fiction and remains the greatest example of its kind ever written. Remarkably, Mary composed the monstrous epic while still in her teens.

I was hooked by the cinematic versions of her tale from a very early age, then the Classics Illustrated comic book grabbed me, and finally the actual incredible novel itself, which I first breathlessly read when I was eleven years old, and have revisited many times since.

I was never the same again.

Mary's tragic, horrific adventure even inspired me to write my own graphic novel adaptation early in my professional writing career, atmospherically illustrated by Patrick Olliffe. It was a dream come true and remains one of my all-time very favorite projects.

I've no doubt in my mind that without Mary Shelley, I'd be doing something very different, and a lot less interesting, right now.

So, thank you, Mary, from the bottom of my heart.

And, Happy Birthday.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Long Live "The King"

Today would have been Jack Kirby's 92nd birthday.

Although the undisputed King of Comic Books left this dimension in 1994, Jack is probably more popular today than ever before. It's always heartening to me to hear young artists at conventions name him as the chief inspiration for following their dreams, and to see that distinctive excitement in their eyes when they talk about Kirby and his work.

Kirby was a special muse to me, too. His creative influence sparked a very precious part of my childhood that has never left me. Now, all grown up (more or less), I find myself enthralled by his accomplishments even more.

Jack Kirby will live forever.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Tall Tale Reborn

We recently enjoyed a brief summer getaway to Paul Bunyan Land, in Brainerd, MN. I'd never been there before and, although we inadvertently chose a rather grey stormy day, Lisa and I had a lot of goofy fun. (She still wouldn't go into the Haunted House with me...but I can't say I blame her. It looked precariously spooky.)

However, it was the gigantic Paul Bunyan statue that creeped me out. I already knew that he could speak directly to the park's visitors, sometimes even calling them by name, but I didn't know that the statue could move! When his big-as-melon eyeballs rolled toward us, branch-like lower lip opened, and enormous car-sized hand gave us a ponderously good-humored wave, we suddenly knew what Fay Wray must have felt like.

(Click on the pics for a much bigger image.)

The main purpose for the trek was to get my picture taken, at the request of editor Donald Lemke, for my new The Tall Tale of Paul Bunyan children's book due out from Stone Arch Books for the holidays. Apparently, they are planning something weird and fun with the "About the Author and Artist" page, and I certainly wanted to contribute.

Of course, the fact that there were dinosaurs also prowling around close by made this a perfect day, thunderstorms and all.

I always relate that there's a perennial nine-year-old residing inside me, and it was liberating to publicly let him loose for awhile.

No one there seemed to mind.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

If A Clown...

This poem gave me the shudders...

If a Clown

by Stephen Dunn

If a clown came out of the woods,

a standard-looking clown with oversized

polka-dot clothes, floppy shoes,

a red, bulbous nose, and you saw him

on the edge of your property,

there’d be nothing funny about that,

would there? A bear might be preferable,

especially if black and berry-driven.

And if this clown began waving his hands

with those big white gloves

that clowns wear, and you realized

he wanted your attention, had something

apparently urgent to tell you,

would you pivot and run from him,

or stay put, as my friend did, who seemed

to understand here was a clown

who didn’t know where he was,

a clown without a context?

What could be sadder, my friend thought,

than a clown in need of a context?

If then the clown said to you

that he was on his way to a kid’s

birthday party, his car had broken down,

and he needed a ride, would you give

him one? Or would the connection

between the comic and the appalling,

as it pertained to clowns, be suddenly so clear

that you’d be paralyzed by it?

And if you were the clown, and my friend

hesitated, as he did, would you make

a sad face, and with an enormous finger

wipe away an imaginary tear? How far

would you trust your art? I can tell you

it worked. Most of the guests had gone

when my friend and the clown drove up,

and the family was angry. But the clown

twisted a balloon into the shape of a bird

and gave it to the kid, who smiled,

let it rise to the ceiling. If you were the kid,

the birthday boy, what from then on

would be your relationship with disappointment?

With joy? Whom would you blame or extol?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bela Lugosi’s TALES FROM THE GRAVE (Press Release)


Celebrated writers, comic book professionals and Hollywood horror veterans offer their imagination for the highly anticipated terror anthology series

Hurst, TX – August 1, 2009 -- Comic book and horror fans are ecstatic over the incredible talent lining up for Bela Lugosi’s Tales from the Grave, which is scheduled to premiere in early 2010.

The new full-color anthology – to be done in the classic EC and Warren tradition – will have each fantastic tale hosted by iconic horror film star Bela Lugosi. The book will be the premier publication from Monsterverse Comics, which will launch other horror and monster related titles in the months ahead. Editors Kerry Gammill (Powerman and Iron Fist, Deadly Foes of Spider-Man, Superman, THE OUTER LIMITS) and Kez Wilson (Hammerlocke, Scarlet, Power of the Atom, SPACE JAM) will be adding their artistic talents throughout the series, along with associate editor and writer Sam F. Park (Horror films: HALFWAY HOUSE, DEATH’S DOOR and the upcoming “The Need” for screenwriter turned producer Stiles White of BOOGEYMAN and KNOWING).

In addition to leading comic professionals, several famous horror filmmakers will also be contributing to help celebrate Bela Lugosi’s new role as presenter of these weird tales of terror.

The stellar roster of artists and writers includes two major names among comic book fans.

Premier horror writer Steve Niles (30 Days of Night, Gotham After Midnight, Dead, She Said) will be crafting a new story to make readers’ skin crawl.

Top artist John Cassaday (Planetary, Astonishing X-Men, Captain America) will be writing and drawing a story as well as providing an alternate cover for the first issue.

The cover will be a portrait of Bela Lugosi by legendary horror magazine cover artist Basil Gogos (Famous Monsters of Filmland, Monsterscene).

Other writers, artists and filmmakers that readers can expect to see in future issues of the series include:


Rick Baker, make-up artist/sculptor (AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, THE RING, HELLBOY, THE WOLF MAN)...

Mick Garris, film director/writer/producer (MASTERS OF HORROR, THE STAND, TALES FROM THE CRYPT)...

Bruce Timm, artist/producer (BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, Vampirella)...

Stiles White, screenwriter (KNOWING, BOOGEYMAN, POLTERGEIST remake)...

James Farr, creator of XOMBIE, the highly successful online animated series and comic book. Soon to be a major live-action feature film from DreamWorks...

Brian Denham, artist (Iron Man, The X-Files, Nova, The Avengers)...

Rick Klaw, writer (Weird Business)...

Joe R. Lansdale, writer (Weird Business, Savage Season)...

John Lucas, artist (Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, Star Trek, Weird Business)...

Rob Brown, artist (Bane of the Werewolf, Marvel Comics Presents, Spider-man, Conan)...

Erik Gist, painter (Upper Deck, DC Comics, Boom! Studios)...

Neil Vokes, artist (The Black Forest, Superman Adventures, Untold Tales of Spider-Man)...

Robert Tinnell, film director/writer (FRANKENSTEIN AND ME, The Black Forest, The Wicked West)...

Larry Blamire, film director/artist (THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA, Tales from the Pub, Steam Wars)...

Frank Dietz, cartoonist/animator (Sketchy Things, Disney's TARZAN, TREASURE PLANET)...

Terry Beatty, artist (Ms. Tree, Scary Monsters).

Martin Powell, writer (The Spider, Scarlet in Gaslight, Frankenstein, The Phantom, Sherlock Holmes in the Lost World, Evil of Dracula)...

Stay tuned...!

All Illustrations by Kerry Gammill

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Happy Birthday H.P. Lovecraft

The eldritch master himself, Howard Philips Lovecraft, was born today, one hundred and nineteen years ago, and imaginative fiction has never been the same since. Thank goodness.

Lovecraft was, in fact, largely responsible for shifting my own creative energy from acting in the theater, and illustrating, to writing fiction. I still vividly remember snatching up HPL's Del Rey paperback series, pictured here, with their brilliantly atmospheric Michael Whelan cover art. I was instantly hooked. Soon afterward, I even upgraded my Lovecraft collection with Arkham House hardcover first editions, which are still prominently displayed upon my bookshelf.

Never before, and perhaps never again, has there existed an author of such original terrifying cosmic power as H.P. Lovecraft. His is the long and ponderous shadow by which all modern horror writers are measured. There have been many times, I confess, when the heights of his imagination have left me with the feeling that my own work is quite insignificant. I love this guy.

Special thanks to my old pal, fellow Lovecraft enthusiast, and writer of the weird, Christopher Mills, for reminding me of the significance of August 20th. Otherwise, I would never have forgiven myself.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

DRACULA Returns!

I just received the very welcome news that Moonstone's new horror anthology, VAMPIRES: Dracula and the Undead Legions, has gone to press and will be available in time for Halloween!

My short novella, The Evil of Dracula, is the lead feature, a prequel of sorts to Bram Stoker's classic novel, and follows my own past continuity for Count Dracula.

Here's my original pitch, after being approached for the story by editor Dave Ulanski:

Count Dracula invades the fog-shrouded streets of London seeking blood, power...and retribution. As the most terrifying creature on Earth, he has only one fear; the eternal damnation that inevitably awaits him, an unending agony haunted by teeming masses of his murdered victims. Having lived far more than a single lifetime, the Count knows there is no escape from Hell.

Van Helsing, with the aid of Dr. Henry Jekyll, are secretly on the threshold of a phenomenal discovery, which will eclipse the greatest achievements in history--erasing forever the hold of Evil upon the soul of humanity. Suddenly, even for the ancient vampire, there is Hope.

A pact is formed of blood and honour, but even as the magic of Victorian medicine is mixed into the dark nature of Dracula, a greater horror is hiding in the shadows.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Summer of Halloween

Here in Saint Paul, Minnesota, as the outside temperature climbs into the 90s, for possibly our hottest day of the summer, I'm longing for the cool briskness and colors of autumn. It seems fitting for me to reminisce about another summer of long ago, which found me excitedly anticipating a special quest for Halloween from "Captain Company", the mail order service offered in the back pages of every issue of Forrest J Ackerman's Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.

In the many years since they permanently closed their doors, the truth is that I'’ve frequently heard disheartening, even downright disturbing tales regarding the mail order experiences from other readers of the Warren mags. Apparently, more than a few sadly experienced having their orders go unfilled, telling tales of the carefully mailed coins that would never return. One guy told me that he’d ordered a special back-issue only to have to wait almost a full year for it to be delivered. When it did finally arrive, he was utterly disappointed to discover that it wasn’t the magazine he had sent for, but was instead the current issue which he had already bought from the newsstands. His mom wrote an angry letter of complaint, detailing the error and tardiness to Captain Company. About three months later another envelope arrived containing a fresh copy of the exact same issue as before, no explanation enclosed!

But, surely, none of this confusion was the fault of Forry. You sent your money, and you took your chance.

Like most kids, I suppose I got as big a kick out of looking over all the cool monster items in those ads as I did from actually reading the magazine itself. I always sighed longingly as I imagined ordering dozens of back issues, stacks of horror paperbacks and scary record albums, and a battalion of monster model glow kits, all the while being very keenly aware that my pockets were quite uselessly empty.

Even so, there came a time when an idea sparked in my brain...a sinister scheme that could enable me at long last to purchase what was, at least in my ten-year-old mind, the Unholy Grail of all Captain Company items— namely, a "Super De-luxe heavy rubber Monster Mask from Don Post Studios"!!

It was another long hot summer, and I'd just picked up an issue of FM from the neighborhood drugstore before leaving on a family vacation. At that time I had been occupied in the weekly ritual of mowing various neighborhood lawns for a buck per yard. It occurred to me, quite suddenly, that if I saved my money throughout the entire summer, and if found enough grass to cut, then maybe, just maybe, I could earn enough cash to actually buy one of these really cool monster masks! And it would be just in time for Halloween! I'd be the scariest, coolest, most Hollywood-realistic movie monster in the entire neighborhood! Brilliant!

Okay now, these masks were listed as $34.00, way back when, (plus $1.50 postage...heck, a yard and a half to mow just for mailing me the darn thing!), which might as well have been thirty-four hundred dollars to me at that time. Still, if I was careful, and didn't buy too many comic books or monster mags over the summer, I figured that I might actually be able to pull this off.

In the meanwhile, I needed to plan carefully. Which mask would I chose?

My original choice would have been the Frankenstein Monster mask based on Glenn Strange (y'know, the one featured on the Monster World magazine Christmas issue cover, wearing the Santa Claus hat). Now that was a monster mask! The scars, skull clamps, and grayish green mummy-wrinkled skin were just too beautiful to behold!

But...the current sales ad in FM no longer featured that mask. Drats.

My second choice would've been the Dracula mask, a cool blue-green Lugosi likeness with gruesome blood-stained lips. However, I quickly noticed that it was no longer for sale either. Argh! Foiled again.

Well, that was okay. I had a lot of time, and there were still plenty of great masks to pick from. Right? Absolutely!

There was another Frankenstein Monster mask, a very different one clearly modeled in the likeness of Boris Karloff from Son of Frankenstein, which I'd newly appreciated by having watched the film for the very first time that summer (on Saturday's “Fright Night” in Louisville, Ky., hosted by The Fearmonger). That Karloff mask was very nicely spooky, even in its grainy b&w newsprint photo. There was a very scary Wolf Man, too, and a fierce-faced Phantom. The menacing Mummy was also still available. A creepy Creature, the monstrous Mr. Hyde, and a great Gorilla mask rounded out the cast. All of them were very ghoulishly stylish. Each mask devilishly wanting to be mine.

Ah, but which one would come to rest upon my shelves, displayed next to my luridly painted Aurora models? Well, I still had all summer to decide that, didn’'t I?

And I did mow lots of lawns that summer. And I did miraculously manage to save a full $40. I was ready to order, at last! Then...the “Curse of the Monster Collector” hit me for the very first time.

I couldn't decide which mask to buy.

I tried to decide, then tried again. I even sought the advice of a couple of friends who were also into this stuff. No real help there. Perhaps, like many of you, when I was ten years old, my "favorite monster" was usually whichever one I'd last watched on TV. Which would it be? The Frankenstein Monster? The Wolf Man? The Mummy? The Creature? I just couldn’t decide.

I worried myself almost sick, thinking that I would somehow betray all the other monsters over which ever mask I finally chose. I wanted them all…, but could only afford one! How could I ever possibly choose??

What a crazy kid.

Ultimately, somewhat sadly, I never did send for that Don Post Super Deluxe monster mask. I do remember using a bit of that summer's plunder to buy several of Aurora's Prehistoric Scenes plastic model kits, and found a very cool Caveman rubber mask from Johnson Smith Company for only $3.95. Fun stuff to be sure, but somehow not quite the same.

Sometimes, I think about that summer on days like this. And, I want to kick myself. I really should have bought a Don Post monster mask. Any monster mask! Who knew that they would become almost-impossible-to-find collector's items, nearly as rare as fossil dinosaur bones. But, I just couldn’'t decide.

I wonder...which one would you have chosen?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Meanwhile, Back in Oz..

My new graphic novel adaptation of L. Frank Baum's THE WIZARD OF OZ has just been published! This was always my favorite story when I was a kid, so I was very excited when Stone Arch Books asked me to retell Dorothy's grand adventure for a new generation.

This a classy hardcover perma-bound edition, and should be in all major bookstores and libraries very soon.

Hope you'll give it a look.

ISBN: 9781434215826/ 1-4342-1582-2

Friday, August 7, 2009

Mummies, Magic, and Halloween

Yesterday, while taking Trudaloo on her evening walk, one of the neighborhood kids said something that rather disturbed me. It was, in fact, the second time I’d heard her say it. The girl was playing in her front yard with her younger brothers when she turned suddenly and saw the beagle and I strolling on the sidewalk.

“Trudaloo!” she ran over excitedly, surprised to see us. “Where did you come from?”

I smiled and responded that it was magic.

“There’s no such thing as magic,” she duly corrected me.

“Sure about that?” I snatched a quarter from behind her ear, just to make my point.

The girl gawked at me for a few seconds in utter perplexity, then grinned shyly, and romped away to join her brothers in a front yard free-for-all.

As the beagle and I ambled away, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for that girl and her brothers. Their parents are the types who staunchly believe that The Wizard of Oz and Harry Potter are the minions of Satan. Obviously, I’ve never given the kids any of my books of Fairy Tales featuring wizards and gnomes and talking animals. I suspect I’d be burned in effigy in the middle of the street.

It’s really none of my business how people decide to raise their children, but I can’t help feeling rather sad at all the fun they’re missing.

For example, they don’t “believe” in celebrating Halloween. When I was a kid I lived for October 31st the way most of my friends anticipated Christmas or summer vacation. It’s still the most magical time of the year for me. Oh, yes, magic is real. I can feel it in every autumn breeze that makes the orange and yellow leaves appear to follow me.

I’ve felt like this for a very long time, even before I started school. Already I was collecting comic books, model kits, and monster magazines. I'd learned to read rather early just so I could check the TV movie listings in the newspaper for the next science fiction movie that might be lurking around the weekend corner.

In those days my family lived just down the block from a couple older girl cousins (all of 19 and 20) who had just struck out to be on their own. I can still remember how excited they were to rent their own place. My mom made certain that they had dinner with us at least two or three times a week. I'm sure she suspected that they were starving. My dad just acted really amused by it all.

Shortly after they first moved in, their apartment was burglarized. I distinctly remember that this was my first experience with the concept of real crime. I listened very intently as my cousins related the situation to my parents. The mere idea that someone we didn't know could also break into our house and steal things from us absolutely terrified me.

I loved my cousins, and I thought that they had a really fun new place, but I absolutely dreaded visiting them from that moment on. In fact, there were times that I stubbornly refused to even cross over the threshold. What if the bad guys came back while I was there? It was too creepy to even consider.

A while later, a few days before Halloween, one of the girls, Mary Jean, noticed my newly built and painted Aurora model of The Mummy monstrously displayed on my shelf. She said that she thought he was really cool. She had a costume party coming up for the weekend and she'd just decided what she wanted to be. You guessed it—The Mummy!

I must've pondered the possibilities of girl cousins posing as mummies for a day or two, then I saw her again and she told me that she'd bought a "Mummy Costume Kit" at the store and invited me to drop by her apartment on Saturday evening to watch her be wrapped up with the bandages. That really sounded neat, but this was the same scary apartment where bad people had broken in and stole stuff. I still had the creeps about that.

I fretted all week long, wondering just what kind of mummy costume it was. Was it like the kind I saw in ten cent stores, cloth one-piece suits with a really cool picture of The Mummy across the chest part, including a spooky plastic mask with a rubber string over your ears, painted moldy green and a dripping bloody eye? Or could it be something even cooler? A monster suit for grown-ups! That's just gotta be really amazing. Maybe it will look just like the one in the movies! I had to see it!

Ultimately, I faced and conquered my fears and that Saturday afternoon my mom and I watched as Mary Jean was slowly transformed by her sister Joyce into a living bandaged Mummy right before my eyes. It was an awesome sight to behold. The image of that day has never left me and I was so thrilled that I doubt I gave much consideration at all to thoughts of burglars and bad guys.

To this day I still wonder exactly what that "Mummy Costume Kit" actually was. Best that I can recollect, it came in a very nifty illustrated cardboard box. The kit seemed to consist not only of various yellow-white and grey cloth wrappings but also included plastic bags of fake blood, too! Once Joyce spattered all that bright red stuff on the moldy-looking bandages I thought I was looking at the greatest thing I'd ever seen.

(A few years later I tried duplicating the effect for my own Halloween costume, supplemented with that greenish grey Ben Cooper plastic Mummy mask with the bleeding eye. I looked great for about a block from my house. Then I began to rapidly unravel. It was as if I was actually rotting and falling apart from the imagined weight of the centuries beneath the glow of the modern street lamps, my unfettered bandages dragging a raspy trail across the front yards of crunchy leaves.)

So, in my case, The Mummy helped me deal with my five year old burglar phobia. My love of monsters actually made a very real fear fade harmlessly away.

Just like magic.