I finally got around to reading JONATHAN FOX IN “THE MONSTER OF EGYPT” and the first thing that immediately comes to mind is that I wish I hadn’t waited so long to do so. Don’t you make the same mistake I did. Pick this one up at your earliest opportunity. I got the digital version because…well, to be honest, I didn’t know what I was getting and if it turned out I didn’t like it I didn’t want to be stuck with the paperback. I know, I know…that sounds kinda cold. But there have been far too many times I’ve sprung for full price for a product and gotten burned. I’m delighted to be able to say that didn’t happen this time around. The day after finishing the digital version, I ordered the paperback. Because John McClellan is an artist/writer of undeniable talent with a great character who I’d like to see more of.
Jonathan Fox is a master thief who works for your typical shadow intelligence agency that doesn’t exist. He’s extraordinarily capable, resourceful and highly dangerous. He gets involved trying to prevent a devastating terrorist attack on America in a plot that for me was highly reminiscent of 1980s Action Movie and the Timothy Dalton James Bond movies. And I do mean that as a compliment as those who know me know that 1980s Action Movies are a big influence on my own work and that Timothy Dalton is my second favorite James Bond.
The story moves along a rapid pace like a man who is late picking up his paycheck. And the artwork is simply fun to look at. I myself tend to see a Steranko influence in the way the panels are laid out and in the slam-bang action action scenes which are cinematic, to say the least. This whole book might as well be the storyboard for a movie.
And it may seem like a small thing, I know…but it’s those small things that tend to make me smile while I’m reading a graphic novel and I appreciate an artist who can not only draw engaging and exciting fight scenes but also party scenes where people wear clothes that have wrinkles and hang on their bodies like clothes are supposed to hang. There’s a panel where Jonathan Fox is just standing there, wearing a white suit but dang if John McClellan doesn’t draw that suit as if it had some weight to it. Mr. McClellan also remembers that clothes flap about, tear and retain bloodstains during and after a fight.
And Mr. McClellan also remembers that he’s supposed to be telling a story. There are way too many artists out there now that are more interested in how elaborate or intricate they can get with their storytelling but John McClellan understands that sometimes less is more. He’s out to put down an Action Movie on paper and for me, he did just that. if it sometimes seems as if he’s falling back on the tropes we’ve seen in other spy/adventure thrillers of this type that’s only because in this kind of stories there’s certain tropes you expect to see. You read a Western you expect there to be six shooters and horses, right? You read a romance and sooner or later somebody gonna kiss, correct? So I see no reason to fault any other genre for exploiting the elements we read that particular genre for.
If there is any complaint I have is that while Jonathan Fox continually maintains that he’s just a thief, they guy has a set of combat/tactical/strategic skills that would make Navy Seals envious. But I’m confident that in future adventures, John McClellan will reveal Fox’s full story. But in the meantime, if you’re down for some full tilt boogie Old School spy stuff, do yourself a favor and check this one out.
You can get yourself a copy of JONATHAN FOX IN “THE MONSTER OF EGYPT” at:
First off, can I say how good it was to hold an actual-to-Stan Lee Comic Book in my hands again? Most of my comic book reading of the last ten years or so has mostly been digital. Either on my Kindle or on my computer. I’ll re-read one of my graphic novels once in a while but this is the first single issue of any comic book I have held in my hands in ages. Just having that feeling of excitement and anticipation just before opening the cover come back to me again was worth reading U.S. MARSHAL BASS REEVES #1 for. That the story was well worth my time reading was an added bonus.
Wyatt Earp. Doc Holliday. Bat Masterson. Buffalo Bill. Charlie Siringo. Cole Younger. John Wesley Hardin. Wild Bill Hickok. These are names that we still remember and are renowned as legends of the Old West, the Wild West. The Wild West that has long since become as mythologized as the 1930’s of Doc Savage and The Shadow or Blaxploitation New York of the 1970s. Because their stories have been told and retold in novels, movies, comic books, radio dramas and TV shows until they’ve become integral threads in the great and grand tapestry of American Mythology. But where is Bass Reeves in this tapestry? Where are his comic books? His radio dramas? His movies? His TV shows?
Fortunately, Bass Reeves is become more and more well known by mainstream pop culture and his legend is enjoying the renown it deserves thanks to movies, print and television. And now we have a new comic featuring the great lawman to enjoy. And it’s a solid, entertaining beginning to what I hope will be a long run.
The various elements of Bass Reeves are well-highlighted in “No God West of Fort Smith.” We see him as feared bounty hunter, father/husband/family man and the start of his professional/personal relationship with Judge Isaac Parker, the infamous “Hanging Judge” of the Western District of Arkansas. Saying that the territory is lawless is an understatement. The Judge needs a new kind of lawman to tame this territory and he thinks Bass Reeves is it.
However, Bass has recently retired from bounty hunting and while he appreciates the offer, he’s made up his mind to settle down and raise his family in peace. Circumstances soon show Bass that in a land this savage and untamed, peace can only be maintained by strapping on his guns again.
This is billed as Season 1/Episode 1 and indeed, it does have that feel of a pilot for a television series. Reading this I got the same vibe I do watching Classic TV Westerns of the 1960s and as I do so love those Westerns, that indeed is a good thing.
I only know Kevin Grevioux from the “Underworld” movie series and after reading this I need to seek out his other comic book work. He knows how to keep a story moving along at a nice clip and I liked his dialog, as to me, it does the things dialog is suppose to do: reveal character, provide information and keep the story moving. Now, dialog doesn’t have to do all of these things at the same time but to my mind, that’s what the best dialog does. I wasn’t crazy about Bass reciting his Biblical screed before committing mayhem as I was reminded way too much of the Bible passage Samuel L. Jackson’s character in “Pulp Fiction” would recite. But it’s something I can live with if used in future issues.
I greatly enjoyed the artwork of David Williams, especially the lean angular bodies of the figures. These aren’t people who sit around all day watching Netflix and bitching on Twitter. These are muscular people who live a hard life, working from sun-up to sun-down and their bodies reflect the life they lead. There’s one panel of Bass Reeves, having just received his badge and his commission with him looking down at the badge pinned to his vest with his wife standing behind him and the expression on their respective faces says more that any amount of dialog could. That is what I call artistry.
So should you read U.S. MARSHAL BASS REEVES #1? Absolutely. Those of us who have been into comics since who laid the rails know that Comic Books are way more than superheroes and are capable of telling stories in all genres. The Western has a long and respected history in this entertainment medium and I for one intend to continue the ride for as long as it goes. Enjoy.
There’s a 2019 Bass Reeves movie available on Amazon Prime: HELL ON THE BORDER. If you’re interested, you can find my review HERE.
Airship 27 has been publishing a prose anthology series about the legendary lawman: BASS REEVES, FRONTIER MARSHAL all of which are available via Amazon as paperback, ebook or audiobook.
Here’s the thing; I love The Internet. I truly do. Yes, there’s a lot crap out there that gets in the way of the good stuff but the good stuff is there. It just sometimes takes me a while to get around it. Take for instance the webcomic WARBIRDS OF MARS that has been around for a goodish amount of time now. I, however have been woefully ignorant of it until I was made aware of the anthology WARBIRDS OF MARS: STORIES OF THE FIGHT and while it’s a hefty introduction to the situation and principal characters at the heart of the series it is one well worth reading due to the interesting mix of talent involved.
The set-up is fairly easy to get hold of: Invaders from outer space attack The Earth while it’s engaged in World War II. The alien invaders actually aren’t Martians but what the hey, WARBIRDS OF MARS is a great title so let’s not spoil it with minor details. The Martians have chosen this time to invade as for years they’ve had agents on Earth, half-alien/half-human fifth columnists working behind the scenes to make the invasion easier. And with the world powers fragmented and not able to work together it’s not long before many major cities and nations are conquered and under control of the invaders. But there’s still hope: human resistance forces are fighting back with every weapon and resource at their command to take back the planet.
The core characters of WARBIRDS OF MARS: STORIES OF THE FIGHT! are an elite cadre of resistance fighters known as The Martian Killers. The leader is Hunter Noir, a fedora wearing, trenchcoated man of mystery who keeps his face bandaged. Jack Paris is your typical wisecracking, two-fisted pilot/adventurer. Josie Taylor is the team’s femme fatale and Mr. Mask is a human/alien hybrid who has joined the resistance, proving to be a valuable asset to the the team due to his having been trained by a samurai master.
These characters all get plenty of time to strut their stuff both in solo stories and in stories where they work together but WARBIRDS OF MARS: STORIES OF THE FIGHT! also takes the opportunity to show what is going on with other people trying to survive in this hellish brave new world in various locations around the globe and through the eyes of characters both human and alien.
“Hunter Noir” by Scott P. Vaughn leads off the anthology with the origin of the leader of The Martin Killers and how the invasion began. It’s a good origin story with the only bump in it for me is the sudden decision by the protagonist to become a masked man of mystery while being hunted by the enemy and whipping up a costume and new name for himself in no time flat but y’know what? That’s just me. It’s that kind of story and you either go along with it or not. It wasn’t enough to make me stop reading the story and that’s the main thing.
“In The World Today” by Megan E. Vaughn is one of my favorite stories in the anthology as it concerns a small-town movie date and the effects the Martian Invasion has on it. It’s a short slice of small town American life kind of story but it doesn’t skimp on the characterization.
I love the weird western comic book “Desperadoes” written by Jeff Mariotte so it’s no surprise that I loved “Southern Cross” even though it wasn’t set in the Southwestern United States as I might have expected. (Ron Fortier takes care of that part of the country…we’ll get to it soon…be patient) No, Jeff takes us out to the South China Sea for this one as Jack Paris gets involved in Oriental skullduggery.
“The Deadly Triad” by Alex Ness is a nifty little look into what’s going on with the Chinese and Japanese and I greatly appreciated the break from the slam bang adventure of the previous story to take time out to see what was going on elsewhere in the beleaguered world.
Sean Ellis has long been one of my favorite writers who never fails to disappoint and he doesn’t do so with “The Farmboy’s Adventure” which has an ending that I truly did not see coming and when it did I immediately went back to the beginning of the story to see if there were any clues that I had missed. I’m betting you’ll do the same.
“The Bitter Edge” is by Kane Gilmore and is another origin story. This one concerning Mr. Mask, so called because he wears a German gas mask constantly. He’s a lot of fun to read about as I kinda get the idea that Kane’s inspiration for the character was G.I. Joe’s Snake Eyes. But with Mr. Mask being a Martian/Human hybrid training how to be a samurai warrior brings an added dimension to the character that moves the story into an exploration of identity and self-respect that lifts it a notch above just another action/adventure entry.
As promised, Ron Fortier serves up a wild west romp with “The Monsters of Adobe Wells” which takes The Monster Killers way out west to team up with Sioux warrior Charlie Three-Feathers, a character I wouldn’t mind seeing more of if there are future WARBIRDS OF MARS anthology. And again, the changeup in setting provides readers with another aspect of the war against the invaders. The international aspect of this anthology is one of the best things about it and a western story fits in here just fine.
Megan E. Vaughn returns for “The Skull of Lazarus” which is a story that makes me wonder if Megan is a “Thunderbirds” fan as her Lady Doyle and Jerry reminded me strongly of Lady Penelope Creighton and her bodyguard/chauffeur Parker. This is an adventure built for nothing but sheer thrills and like Ron’s Charlie Three-Feathers, I hope to see more of Lady Doyle.
“Red Sky Phoenix: The Rise of Free Russia” is another snapshot from Alex Ness as to what’s going on in yet another part of the world. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have even more of these prose postcards in future anthologies.
“Human Guile” by Chris Samson is where I finally hit a major bump. I’ve read this story twice and still can’t quite wrap my head around what the story is about. It just seemed to me like there was way too much plot and way too many characters doing things I just didn’t understand why they were doing them. For me, motivation is a Big Deal in my fiction. It’s not necessary for me to like or dislike the characters but I do demand that the writer establish why they’re doing what they’re doing and I simply didn’t get that here.
“Surprise” by Stephen M. Irvin is indeed that as I didn’t expect to find a hard-boiled noir story in here but I as I continued reading more and more into this anthology it soon became apparent to me that this concept could and did support a variety of genre stories very well indeed such as J.H. Ivanov’s “The Road Out of Antioch” and “Shipwrecked” by David Lindblad, both of which are out-and-out horror stories with “The Road Out of Antioch” approaching Lovecraftian proportions of cosmic dread. It’s that good, trust me.
“Refined Elegance” by Scott P. Vaughn takes us home and if I had to make a choice between this one and “Hunter Noir” I’d have to go with this one, much as I liked “Hunter Noir.” It’s told from the point of view of Josie Taylor. The Martian Killers have been doing that for quite a while now, the war appears to have no end in sight and Josie is starting to ask herself and her teammates some hard questions the dangerous missions they routinely go on.
The stories are complimented by strong, solid artwork from Jean Arrow, Adriano Carreon, Mike DeBalfo, Bill Farmer, Matt Goodall, Christian Guldager, Robert Hack, Rob Hicks, John Lucas, Paul Roman Martinez, Nathan Morris, Dan Parsons, Nik Poliwko, Richard Serrao and Jason Worthington that serve the needs of the stories they were drawn for, successfully evoking the mood and tone of the prose.
So should you read WARBIRDS OF MARS: STORIES OF THE FIGHT? I certainly think so. One of my concerns about New Pulp is that it not fall into a rut. Masked avengers of the night and scientific adventurers are cool as hell, no doubt about it. But New Pulp can’t survive on a steady diet of those. Stories such as the ones in WARBIRDS OF MARS: STORIES OF THE FIGHT! that gives us mashups of war stories mixed with science fiction, horror, day in the life, hard-boiled noir and other genres provide a refreshing new dish for the palate of our imagination to taste and savor. It’s a solid package as you get a lot of story and art for your money and time. Enjoy.
Atlanta, GA—In the wake of Georgia’s shelter in place order, many folks find themselves at home looking for ways to occupy their time without spending a lot (or even any) money. For readers and fans of sci-fi and fantasy conventions who normally get their fix of meeting their favorite authors and listening to them do readings during the con, that stay at home can be doubly difficult during what is normally a strong and busy convention season.
That’s why Lawrenceville-based writer Sean Taylor created Indie Authors Read, a website devoted to providing video “convention reading” for those stuck at home. “Panel readings are one of my favorites things to take part in at conventions, both as a writer and as a fan. Knowing I’m not alone in that, I asked several fellow writers from my ‘convention family’ if they’d be interested in helping out with a project where we could just sit at home and read our stories as if we’d been at the big shows at the local convention center. The response has been humbling, and many have joined the group,” said Taylor.
Although the project has its creation in the closure of sci-fi and fantasy conventions, the stories included on the site will include various genres beyond just those two. Fans can expect action stories, thrillers, drama, horror, romance, and everything in between.
“I love this idea and am honored to be part of it. Especially now, when the arts are more essential than ever,” said Bobby Nash, whose story “Beyond the Horizon” actually does fall into the fantasy category.
The website launches April 6, and fresh readings will be added weekly.
“All that oohing and aahing, that cringing and crying, that laughing and wowing you’re expected at the con is missing from your life. This is a taste of it,” said Robert J. Krog, who contributes a Cthulhu-themed tale to the site’s launch.
Sean Taylor is an award-winning writer of stories. He grew up telling lies, and he got pretty good at it, so now he writes them into full-blown adventures for comic books, graphic novels, magazines, book anthologies and novels. He makes stuff up for money, and he writes it down for fun. He’s a lucky fellow that way. For more information visit his website at http://www.thetaylorverse.com.
This is the first run-through of the “city planning bible” for Frontier’s shared-world imprint. I haven’t done any editing. You’ll notice a lack of things like: “Monkey City: A place where monkeys RULE!!” I want it to come across as much like a real city as possible. As I see it, there aren’t any superheroic/supernatural/science fiction elements in this world until we introduce them in the actual series.
It’s about the size of Chicago. Like Chicago, it’s unofficially divided into halves – here, it’s a matter of the West and East sides. The Union City Bridge – a bridge not unlike the Golden Gate (albeit smaller) – connects them: The West end spills you out into a seedy little neighborhood called with apparent irony Greater Denbrook, and the East leads you to downtown.
Don’t ask me why a city called Denbrook has a bridge called Union City. It makes sense if you think about it, but only then…like a lot of things in Denbrook.
Anyway. Before we get into that. The Union City Bridge stretches over Hopkins River…it’s a sheer hundred-foot drop into some very cold waters. Hopkins feeds into Lake Erie, accessible from Denbrook’s north shore. Cross the lake, you’re into Canada, which is useful info if you’re the kinda guy who does things like flee from the police. Business types use the lake for fishing, off-shore coal mining, things like that…there are some pretty big boats out on the water, though fewer yachts and the like. Denbrook isn’t the kind of city that attracts folks with disposable income, and that water is too frigid and choppy even in summer to be all that much fun. Still, there are sparsely populated beaches here and there – the lake is fine to swim in, though no one trusts the river. That current’s a bitch and toxic dumping made it poison for decades. It’s clean now, but…
Okay, remember the bridge? Cross it headed east, but instead of going downtown, take a left and head back the way you came…this time headed down a downward-slanted street called Hopkins Drive. This’ll lead you into the Barrens. There used to be a lot of industry here in Denbrook, and this is where most of it was located – on the banks of Hopkins River. The burned-out shells of factories, ancient rusting hulks of iron mining machinery…it’s all still here, and picturesque in an urban decay sort of way. But this isn’t why you’re here.
See, you have to drive a mile or two before you come up on the old industrial sites. Between you and them, you have what citizens think of when they think of The Barrens – which is to say, bars, night clubs, strip joints, the whole nine yards. The river runs alongside all of it. People come here to party. During the week, it’s kinda nice; Friday through Sunday, The Barrens are flooded with weekend warriors, a lot of them kids from the suburbs. Every now and then, someone gets drunk, hits their head, and falls into the Hopkins. Sometimes they get pushed.
Motor back up Hopkins Drive and you find yourself on Superior, a great big street that takes you straight through downtown Denbrook. I’ll point out some stuff along the way…
First, to our left, a street branches off Superior at a right angle to The Barrens, Matheson Avenue. Matheson is the gateway to the Warehouse District, which is –you guessed it- composed of warehouses. Most of those have been converted into apartment buildings. This is a fairly high-income area, but the give breaks to young professionals and the like. You find a lot of yuppies, a few bohemians and a scattering of senior citizens who are not pleased by the weekend activity in the slightest.
Head up Superior another three blocks and on your right you’ll spot Denbrook Tower. You can’t miss it. It’s the city’s second tallest building. Built in 1902, it was home to several department stories in its heyday. That heyday was back in the ‘50’s when the subway got put in…see, the Tower was conceived as Denbrook’s hub, and the crisscrossing subway trains that traverse West and East Denbrook are all accessible from a train station in the basement. But more and more folks tended to (a) drive and (b) stick to the suburbs, so the Tower went to seed.
But in the late ’80’s, some billionaire industrialist or other bought the place, gutted it, and more or less turned it into a seven-story shopping mall. Thirty stories of offices above that mall are still mostly unoccupied, but the shopping center thrives. The train station and the two floors above it are both underground, which means the stuff on the fourth floor is actually at street-level. Anyway, you’ll find a lot of chain retail/restaurants on the lower floors, and swankier stuff the higher up you go.
Drive up Superior another block, and you’ll see the main branch of the Denbrook Public Library. I know, you’re like, what the hell? But check it out: We’re talking one gorgeous, ornate building constructed in 1905, connected to a 1999-era glass-and-steel monster by means of an underground passageway. Kinda really fucking huge for a library, don’tcha think? The ’99 leviathan was built out of necessity: Denbrook’s collection is among the largest in the country, probably on the planet. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here…friends, it don’t exist. The newer stuff you’ll find the new building. The old stuff…some of it quite old indeed…you’ll find in a variety of collections scattered throughout the other one. You want a library card.
Six blocks up, we come to Cathedral Street, on our left. The Cathedral of Saint Paul the Apostle, built in 1855, jumps out and says hi. Look past it a block or so, and you’ll see a glass-and-street enclosure that looks a bit like a hothouse: This is City Center. Every bit as appropriate as calling a slum Greater Denbrook. Basically, City Center is yet another big shopping mall, built in 1987. But when the Tower re-opened a month later, that was effectively the end of City Center as a profit-making entity. City Center does a brisk lunch trade, but that’s about it. Its four stories contain about eight businesses, and all of them struggle. City Center cost about fifty mil to erect. This is what’s known as a white elephant.
So who goes there for lunch? Folks who don’t wanna walk all the way down to the Tower. .. i.e., folks who work here, in the business district. The side streets from E. 10th to E. 22nd are all banks, office buildings, corporate headquarters, etc., etc., ad infinitum. Scattered in there you’ll find a few pizza shops, a bar or two, but for the most part…Corporate America.
From E. 23rd to E. 26th, we’re in the Theatre District. Like the Tower, the Theatre District is yet another tale of resurrection: Denbrook’s grand old movie palaces were the rage for decades, but fell into disrepair in the ’60’s and ’70’s. The last of them – a third-run movie house by then – closed its doors in 1983, as a result of roughly 875 firecode violations. But in the late ’80’s, all of the old places were bought up, renovated to a state approaching their original magnificence, and were re-opened as playhouses (and one opera house) in the early ’90’s.
On E. 28th, you find Howard Phillips University. Huge. A college with a host of controversies, it’s really the only game in town for those who’d like to obtain a four-year degree. The campus occupies four blocks and has a student-operated radio station – WHPC, at 88.3 FM. Its student paper is the Vanguard.
Hop on the shoreway and let’s buzz through the East Side real quick …
Coming off E. 55th, you’ll notice a ghetto that looks a little more like Beirut. If we were gonna slow down a minute, you’d notice that no one seems to be on the street. That’s because this whole area of town was bought out by corporate interests. Eminent domain, though I can’t imagine the residents were really all that sad to go.
You run out of East Denbrook at E. 185th. Out past here, you’ve got Denbrook Heights, a suburban community that gets richer and more lily-white the farther you get from the city. If you’d left East Denbrook and gone northeast instead, you’d have found yourself in Ruckerville, a pretty dilapidated community that’s high-crime, low-income. Neither Ruckerville nor Denbrook Heights are part of the city proper, but a lot of Denbrook’s workers commute from these areas.
Cross through downtown Denbrook, back over the Union City Bridge, and now here we are, back in Greater Denbrook. Denbrook’s west side is more blue-collar, homier, and (as far as its East Siders are concerned) totally devoid of culture. Greater Denbrook’s homes date back, most of them, to the early 1900’s, and this whole section of town has the Historical Preservation Society all over it like white on rice. Brave yuppies have moved here for the architecture and because Greater Denbrook is cheaper than the Warehouse District, and the neighborhood is a sometimes uneasy mix of races and incomes, of newcomers and those raised here. The wealthy tend to head to the suburbs when they have kids…but not all of them. This can be a rough place to live, but it’s more welcoming.
But let’s back up for a minute. If you leave the Union City Bridge headed west and keep driving straight down Superior, you’ll take in Greater Denbrook in its entire splendor; but instead, let’s turn left and head down W.25th. This is a long block of pawn shops, secondhand stores and mom-and-pop retail. It terminates at the W. 25th Market, a lovely old brown brick building erected in 1911. On the street, there’s an open-air fruit and vegetable market. Head inside, and you’ll find various meat-market stands. The yuppies get a real kick out of how quaint it all is; the longtime residents have shopped here for generations.
Head past the Market, make another left, and trundle downhill over a few small, rundown bridges with no names. The main street is Violin Road; somehow that became the name of the whole place. This little community – just a few miles around, and still a part of the city – was once populated by folks who made their trades in the factories and mines. Now there’s nothing left but the bars … at least four on every block. The current population is a mix of old-timers who barely get by and young bohemian types who’ve come in from other communities. Wild dogs roam the overgrown park at night, and homeless people and runaways live under those bridges.
Turn around and head west. The neighborhoods between W. 25th and W. 117th are mostly unremarkable: Largely poor, all pretty much the same. At W. 117th, we enter Blackwood – not quite another town, not exactly an official part of Denbrook proper. Middle-class, mostly white but increasingly integrated, Blackwood does curiously have its own police force…a police force that is notoriously unfriendly to “outsiders.” But in fairness, Blackwood is a safe place to raise families, and quiet; a slightly more urban alternative to a truly suburban community. And it doesn’t completely lack for excitement.
Downtown Blackwood is a haven for Blackwood’s youth culture scene, mostly an odd combination of kids into hip-hop and the kind of kids who look like the ones who shot up Columbine. Both types congregate at Ground Zero, a large coffee shop. There’s also a smallish venue for (mostly local) music: The Arcade. The Arcade’s second floor is a concert hall; its ground floor (accessible through a back door) is a goth dance club called the Mausoleum. A ton of smaller clubs and bars dot the landscape, as well as an occult bookstore or two.
Head further west. The paved streets will lead you out of Blackwood, but take a right at Hiassen Road. This isn’t a shortcut – this is the scenic route. Hiassen runs downhill into the Valley: Several miles of forest. Officially, the Valley is a public park, but there’s no real question about it – you’re in the woods. By day, there are hikers and picnickers and bicyclists; by night, you can be arrested if you’re seen wandering around outside of a moving vehicle. But even in Blackwood, that’s not much of a concern … you aren’t too likely to encounter a cop down here. Your headlights are reflected back at you from animal eyes in the trees: There’s a gigantic deer population, despite the seasonal efforts to hunt them down to a more manageable level, and an unusually high number of owls make the Valley their home.
It takes about ten minutes to get from one end of the Valley to the other. The road leads uphill to Bankcreek Lane, and now you’re 1n Westfall. Like Blackwood, Westfall is a semi-urban area, but this is definitely a suburb. This part of Westfall is also youth-oriented, and not much different from the place we left previous to our journey through the woods, albeit a bit more … dirty.
Beyond Westfall, the cushier suburbs – but you don’t want to live there. Not really. Not when you’ve got the city…
Since his arrival on the fantasy adventure scene back in the 70s, Charles Saunders has been recognized as one of the most successful African American writers in the field today. His action/adventure hero Imaro has been featured in a half dozen novels all of which went on to inspire generations of young black authors.
In 2011 Saunders wrote “Damballa” the first ever black pulp hero for Airship 27 Productions. Operating out of Harlem in the 1930s, Damballa employs unique African magic to battle gangsters and crooked politicians. Two years later Saunders introduced the Jungle Witch Luluma in his short story “Mtimu” which appeared in the Pro Se Production’s bestselling anthology, “Black Pulp.” At the start of the tale, the beautiful Luluma is a servant of a villainous hunter but by the story’s end she realizes his true nature and regains her independence thanks to the hero, Mtimu. Atypical of Saunders talent, she is a powerful character worthy of her own series.
Now Airship 27 Productions is proud to announce their creation of two new on-going book series, “Charles Saunders presents Damballa” and “Charles Saunders presents Luluma.” Managing Editor Ron Fortier elaborates. “In recent years, Charles Saunders has been extremely busy working on a truly unique black fantasy saga. So much so that it became impossible for him to devote any time to his other creations. When we suggested the possibilities of continuing both Damballa and Luluma with other writers, he was very excited about the concept and gave us his approval. Have no fear, he will be overseeing each series as they progress.”
Writing the first ever Lulama novel will be writer/publisher Milton Davis of MVmedia LLC. “I’ve known Charles Saunders for eleven years and had the privilege to work with him on a number of projects. I’m excited to have the opportunity to develop a novel based on one of his characters. It’s a dream come true.”
While Pulp Factory Award winning writer Derrick Ferguson will write the all new Damaballa adventure. “One the things that has always overwhelmed me in my New Pulp career is that I have gotten to meet with so many professionals whose work I have enjoyed and to my utter astonishment and joy I have found myself embraced and welcomed as a fellow professional.
“To say that I am honored to be given the opportunity to write a character created by Charles Saunders with his blessing is truly an understatement. Charles Saunders is one of the reasons I am writing today and to be working with him is an opportunity I never would have dreamed could have taken place. I pray that I do justice to the magnificent character of Damballa.”
At present there is no specific time set for the release of these new books. “Our plan is to move forward with full length novels first,” Fortier continues. “Later, if there is an interest, we may also produce anthologies featuring both Damballa and Lulama. We’ll leave that up to our network of pulp writers and the response of our readers. We see some truly amazing possibilities in the future for both characters and are greatly indebted to Charles’s faith in us.”
AIRSHIP 27 PRODUCTIONS – PULP FICTION FOR A NEW GENERATION!
John Linwood Grant: I’m an old soul, which isn’t a spiritual statement – I only started submitting short stories at the age of 58. My timing may have been a little off, as I suppose I should have tried this slightly earlier. I’m large, bearded, covered in discarded dog hair, and pretty easy going. I grew up next to sheer chalk cliffs and the cold North Sea, and although I have traveled around Europe and North Africa, I’ve basically lived in Yorkshire all my life; I’m rooted to this Northern land of ours. I currently live on the edge of Yorkshire Dales, with dogs – and occasionally a family.
DF: Where do you live and what do you do to keep the bill collectors away?
JLG: I would like to say that the dogs keep the bill collectors away, but unfortunately, they’re far too friendly. So, I survive through a complicated blend of writing/editing income and various small annuities (I have agoraphobia and a panic disorder, which I presume I was given to add some excitement to my life).
DF: What’s your philosophy of writing? Do you even have a philosophy of writing?
JLG: I’m not sure I do – or if I have one, it’s too deeply buried for shallow minds like mine. Maybe I’m trying to present, and empathize with, different aspects of humanity, in its various glories and failings. People are The Thing, and I’m old enough to have met a lot of people. I suppose you might call my writing humanist – some of it I produce to ask questions about ourselves. I’ve made many mistakes in my life, and believe in exploring purpose and redemption – but let’s face it, other stories are only there to entertain.
DF: What keeps you motivated to write?
JLG: The cost of dog food, and a lack of Impostor Syndrome. I write reasonably well, which is the sort of thing you’re probably not supposed to say, and I enjoy doing it. There are always days when I can’t quite grasp what I’m trying to convey, but there’s always something else at the back of my mind which makes me think, “Hey, that would make a great story.” Usually seven or eight somethings at once. Occasionally I accept that it’s not a topic or theme I myself should be writing. Maybe I don’t have enough insight there; maybe there are other writers who are better placed to express the concepts. I hang back on some ideas, and go full steam on others. If I was sitting in an ancient market square, I would just make up stories for anyone who wanted to hear them.
DF: How would you describe your style of writing?
JLG: I suspect I write weird fiction which isn’t quite fancy enough to be in vogue; horror fiction which isn’t gross enough for horror fans, and adventure which isn’t wild enough for many of the pulp fans. You could say my writing is very character-based, often with limited descriptive elements – I try to capture the ‘feel’ of people and situations at a glance. The tilt of a hat on someone’s head is more important than listing the hat’s material, size, manufacturer and all that stuff.
I love strong imagery and use of language – and playing with those- but don’t go for the unnecessarily thesaurus-hugging nature of some ‘literary’ fiction. The well-placed short word is usually better than the uncommon archaism you have to look up. Oh, and I love pithy and unexpected dialogue. And semi-colons.
DF: Have you found an audience yet? if so, how did you do it? If not, why haven’t you?
JLG: I’ve found several audiences, which reflects my utter failure to plough ahead in only one genre. I reached a lot of people by the simple ploy of putting two or three short stories up on Smashwords for free, and then using them as teasers and seed-fiction. They gave a hint of my style, what people might expect of me, and went down well. After that I went straight for paying markets, being a Yorkshireman. I also started greydogtales.com, a website which was theoretically a promotional platform, but which filled up with nonsense, articles on weird, horror and detective fiction, and lots about dogs. I got bored of talking about me and my work, and just went mad on it, which is probably why the site’s so popular.
My online series “Lurchers for Beginners”, which I did because I love lurchers, became a huge hit entirely by accident (if it helps, a lurcher is a British thing, a very fast dog which is a deliberate cross between a sighthound and a working dog, with a long history over here). It’s fun – and occasionally informative – stuff about the dogs. Much to my surprise, some of the dog people also bought my books, and they’ve been great supporters. To make a site work for you, it either has to be a useful resource or a work of genuine enthusiasm. Greydogtales is both – on a good day.
I also have, inexplicably, a lot of fans who just follow the folklorish Weird Wolds stuff, two thirds of which is based around a mad village called St Botolph-in-the-Wolds. I describe it as Enid Blyton meets H P Lovecraft, with a lot of added very British Girls’ Own fun – Mr Bubbles, the slightly psychotic pony who fights evil; J Linseed Grant, the miserly writer, and a troop of feral Girl Guides who go on metal polish and lemonade fueled rampages. I even got a mention from Ellen Datlow for one of the more serious Weird Wolds stories, which was unexpected.
DF: You definitely have a love for Horror, Weird Fiction, Dark Fantasy, Gothic Horror and related genres. Where does that love come from?
JLG: I grew up in a large converted farmhouse full of ominous furniture, in a village too small to have a church or a pub. I was an avid and precocious reader. I devoured books by Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, William Hope Hodgson, Conan Doyle, H P Lovecraft, Saki, and loads of other writers from an early age, and just loved it all. I also wolfed down every EC comic I could find, and the darker folklore stories. I think it all embedded itself, whether I wanted it to or not. I’m not a great one for hack’n’slash horror – I prefer the ominous intrusion of the strange into the real – that shadow in the wrong place on the wall, the woman who says something you don’t understand when you buy the morning paper. Minutiae which form a whole.
DF: What do you say are the main differences in how Brits and American writers view Horror/Weird Fiction?
JLG: Nowadays, I’m not so sure. The lines are blurred. I find it interesting that one of the big yearly events in Britland is Fantasycon, which is in fact a pleasing blend of fantasy and weird/horror fiction enthusiasts. I sometimes get the feeling that Americans see horror as a more specific field, whilst weird is a niche, quite literary zone (in the best sense), and fantasy is something else altogether. The UK can have a wry, nuanced style which I don’t think always travels well, but when it does, it makes a real mark. I’m probably not a good person to ask, because almost all of my work has been published from North America, not Britland. I have no idea why. Maybe Statesiders find my work ‘quaint’ or ‘different’ which is fine if it sells books. Those dog bowls, as I’ve said, don’t fill themselves.
DF: Tell us about OCCULT DETECTIVES QUARTERLY
JLG: We would need a small novel to cover that one. The late Sam Gafford and I co-founded the magazine in 2016, as a mad venture covering the sort of stories we liked, and pretty much everything has gone wrong along the way, though every issue has been well received. It’s again a niche market, hugely popular with its fans and woefully unnoticed by the larger world. The magazine is also not exactly pulp, not necessarily high literature, not quite pure horror, and yet we take all of those if the story’s strong. So you might find a good old-fashioned supernatural mystery right next to a piece of powerful weird fiction, followed by a rip-roaring occult adventure. There must be a mystery, and there must be someone who looks into it, whether that be out of choice, role, or dread circumstance. The lead character might be a world-weary PI, a disturbed young onlooker, a bemused cop, a dubious mystic, an occult expert, or an amateur sleuth – any of those and more.
We’ve been blessed with some very loyal fans, as I say, and some great artists and writers, who have been hugely supportive despite every disaster (our first publisher folded, and then Sam died, for starters). We’re relaunching it this Autumn/Winter from the UK as OCCULT DETECTIVE MAGAZINE, which is still ODQ in all but name and will be our sixth issue – ‘Quarterly’ sounded ambitious, though you never know. Dave Brzeski, a Brit editor and enthusiast who was a vital part of ODQ, is my co-conspirator in keeping the tradition going.
DF: You edit and you write. Which one is harder?
JLG: I find editing interesting but exhausting. Every so often it does bring great pleasure – an exciting project; a completely new writer discovered; a fabulous take on a theme. I prefer Open Calls, to seek out a diversity of contributors and give opportunities to fresh voices, but those do add to the workload. “Hell’s Empire” the anthology I completed earlier this year, was a surprising joy, because the writers were so inventive and co-operative. It’s a terrific and unusual book, though I say it myself.
I’m a writer first, and so it can be hard to be an editor – I see potential in so many stories that aren’t really market-ready, and I often want to do something to help get them across the finishing line. There isn’t usually the time, unfortunately.
Writing itself, on the other hand, is what I do, and there’s a good feeling which comes from every story I finish to my own satisfaction, whether or not anyone else wants it.
DF: Tell us about your upcoming projects. What should be looking for from you?
JLG: I’m pushed in a lot of directions. At the moment I’m finishing edits on a two-volume anthology for Belanger Books – “Sherlock Holmes and the Occult Detectives”. I’m tempted to try another project with my very talented friend writer and artist Alan M Clark – we’ve worked very closely over the last couple of years, and combined two separate novels of ours into the interleaved novel “13 Miller’s Court”, concerning the last recorded victim of Jack the Ripper. It’s not necessarily the take you’d expect, and is very much about the impact on the lives of the woman involved, with little interest in the murderer himself. It also involves Mr Edwin Dry, the lethal Deptford Assassin, who has gained a lot of followers in his own right.
I have an almost finished Tales of the Last Edwardian novel kicking around – murder, madness and the supernatural in the early 1900s. Then a collection of my directly weird fiction is doing the rounds (I might just publish it myself if I get bored). I ought to put out a collection of my 1920s Mamma Lucy hoodoo tales, and maybe a full book of St Botolph’s stuff, which people nag me for. I’ll no doubt write some more Holmes stories, and I want to add to my weird portfolio. It all sounds too complicated and like hard work when I say it.
DF: What is the one novel or story that you would recommend to someone who doesn’t know a thing about you or your work that they should start with?
JLG: If you like strange, cosmic horror type stuff, then “Messages” in Cthulhusattva, from Martian Migraine. If you prefer disquieting contemporary fiction, then “Records of the Dead”, in the recent Haverhill anthology ‘The Twisted Book of Shadows’. My collection “A Persistence of Geraniums and Other Worrying Tales”, from IFD Publishing, is probably the best introduction to my general style, though, and it introduces a number of recurring characters.
DF: Drop some Words of Wisdom on all the aspiring young writers reading this who are thirsting for your knowledge.
JLG: Ha-ha. Perhaps the thing I notice most is that a lot of submitted work simply isn’t ready for consumption, as I mentioned earlier. You can’t see it, and your friends won’t tell you. Develop the ability to sit outside yourself, and read everything you produce as if someone else did it. Read other books and stories a lot, and compare your work to what you read – on the broadest level. Not “Is mine as good as that one by so and so?” but “Is mine actually good enough for the marketplace?” That may sound harsh, but it’s useful. Read outside your own genre to observe craft in action.
Much of what you write will be too long, whether it’s a short story or a novel. Writers indulge themselves. They fall in love with their own ideas, and the pleasure of words and phrases, but some of those just don’t need to be there. I have a terrible habit of drifting into the lives of secondary and tertiary characters, which fascinates me, but sometimes the readers don’t care. They want the story. There are exceptions where the style of delivery is as important as what the story tells, but trimming is frequently in order.
Also, assume lots of things will go wrong in your search to get published. If you start out that way, you get hurt less. Agents will have too much on to give you attention, even if you genuinely deserve it. Editors will not get what you were trying to achieve, or won’t be able to find a slot for you because of other factors. Publishers will merge, go bust, or realize that however much they love your work, their Marketing Department can’t see a way of making money out of you. You will get screwed over on at least one contract, at some point. Once you know these things, they become less personal, and just part of the way things are for many thousands of other writers.
These really apply, of course, if you are deliberately writing to sell and be read by others. I have no beef with those who write purely to express themselves, to get something from their head out onto paper (or screen). You can always write only for yourself, and let the rest of the world do its own thing.
DF: What’s a typical Day In The Life of John Linwood Grant like?
JLG: Extremely badly planned, and constantly interrupted by two large lurchers (the dogs). I spend a lot of time mending the awful plumbing in our house and trying to keep the dogs out of the fridge. In between, I write.
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should know?
John Linwood Grant: Nothing I’ve said is necessarily true. I make stuff up for a living.