If you’re among those who saw BLACK PANTHER and loved it…
…and if you didn’t love it I’m not sure we can still be friends. But I digress…
…you’re probably salivating and looking forward to more adventures of King T’Challa and wondering how you’re going to fill your entertainment hours with more of the same. You desperately crave for more fantastic tales of black heroes and heroines to feed your stimulated imagination now that your creative juices are flowing and your soul seeks to enrich itself with legends and stories of heroes and heroines who can stand shoulder to shoulder with T’Challa, Princess Shuri, Nakia, Okoye and M’Baku.
Look no more.
There’s a legion of staggeringly creative black writers and artists that have been working like gubmint mules for years producing just those kinds of stories. Some of their names you know. Charles Saunders. Milton Davis. Balogun Ojetade. Gerald L. Coleman. Valjeanne Jeffers. Jeff Carroll. Nicole Givens Kurtz. Toi Thomas. Alicia MCalla. Thaddeus Howze. Brian W. Parker. Ronald T. Jones. Mshindo Kuumba. Jarvis Sheffield.
Some names you don’t. But that’s okay. There’s two places you should start to learn the names you’re not familiar with.
So now you don’t have to wait. Because there is more wonder and adventure out there than I think you didn’t know existed. And I envy you the discovery. Wakanda is not just a country. It is not just a warrior spirit and code. It is not just a technology. Although it embraces and celebrates all of these.
Wakanda is also a family of imagination. Because we can dream our future into reality.
And in this…we are all this day and forevermore citizens of Wakanda.
“Wakanda will no longer watch from the shadows. We cannot. We must not. We will work to be an example of how we, as brothers and sisters on this earth, should treat each other. Now, more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence. We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.”
There’s a wonderful story told about the filming of the classic 1946 Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall murder mystery “The Big Sleep.” The plot of the book was so convoluted that in translating it from print to screen, director Howard Hawks and his screenwriters William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman discovered that not only were they not entirely clear as to who the killer of Sean Reagan was, they also had a dead chauffeur on their hands and they couldn’t figure out who killed him. In desperation they contacted the writer of the book, Raymond Chandler to ask him who killed Sean Regan and the chauffeur and Chandler had to admit that he himself didn’t know.
Indeed, there’s a terrific bit of business right in the middle of “The Big Sleep” where Bogart’s Philip Marlowe is called into the Los Angeles D.A.’s office to explain the case to him and by extension to the us, the audience. Because by the time we’ve reached that point of the movie the filmmakers felt that there needed to be some kind of summary of what happened so that audiences back then could take a breath and feel they were up to speed on what the hell this movie was all about.
I feel kinda the same way about Raymond Embrack’s impressively deranged BARRACUDA: A PETER SURF NOVELLA. Halfway through it needs somebody to hold up both hands, yell “Hold everything, please!” and summarize the plot. And trust me, I mean that in a good way. Because in the same way that “The Big Sleep” is now regarded as a classic of the private eye genre, I think that BARRACUDA in its own way is going to become a classic. And Raymond Embrack is a writer to watch.
Peter Surf is a private eye living and working in Blonde City, a California city that seems to be entirely made up of linked beaches each with their own distinctive personality. Blonde City itself is one of the best characters in the story, inhabited by gangs such as The Schoolgirl Mafia who commit thrill killings while hopped up on Hentai-14 and The Beach Mafia whose members worship The Beach Boys to the extent that all of them have the last name of “Smile” in honor of Brian Wilson’s epic project. It’s a city that seems made up out of equal parts of 1950’s, ‘60’s and ‘70’s pop culture with a healthy heaping dose of whatever the hell Raymond Embrack felt like throwing in and believe me, he makes it works. And for me watching him make it work was one of the fun things about reading this story.
Peter Surf himself is…well, the best way to describe him is if you imagined Mike Hammer created by Quentin Tarantino instead of Mickey Spillane. He lives and works out of a converted, arsenal filled service station and he doesn’t so much as do straight up detective work as wreak havoc among his enemies until somebody yells “uncle” and tells him what he wants to know.
And the havoc is profane, sexy and violent and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The story begins with Surf investigating a terrorist group called T-Unit. They’re terrorizing the private eyes of Blonde City. They’re running some out of town and outright killing others. They make the mistake of terrorizing Surf instead of killing him. From then on, Peter Surf becomes a one man wrecking crew on the warpath of T-Unit.
How this is all tied with the DEA, a particularly dangerous man named Gronsky and Blue Mermaid, a type of maryjane so mythical it’s supposed to be able to heal people I would not dream of telling you. Just be advised that by the time you reach the halfway point of BARRACUDA you may be tempted to say, “Hold everything, please!” go back to the beginning and start reading all over again just to make sure you know exactly what is going on.
That’s because Mr. Embrack writes like this was the only book he was ever going to write in his life. There’s an astounding amount of vibrantly alive characters, situations and concepts that other writers would have spread out over a trilogy. BARRACUDA is never boring and never lags due to the constant and unending stream of sheer delightfully WTF plot twists Mr. Embrack throws at us with glee.
The dialog is pure classic P.I. genre porn where everybody talks like a dame or a smartass or a tough guy. And Mr. Embrack allows himself to have fun with his concepts, his prose and the dialog. I like to think that I can tell when a writer had fun writing a story because that fun can’t help but translate into the prose. And if Raymond Embrack has half as much fun writing BARRACUDA: A PETER SURF NOVELLA as I did reading it then he had a big ol’ barrel of fun indeed. Highly recommended reading.
I do gotta point out that this is not for those of you who are PC minded or who object to graphic language, violence and/or sex. But if you want to read a really good crime/P.I. story that reminded me a lot of “Sin City” on crack you can’t do better than BARRACUDA: A PETER SURF NOVELLA.
Having read four of his books now and one of them twice I think it’s safe to say that I’ve become a fan of Raymond Embrack. It’s always such a pleasant surprise to discover a writer who really makes me sit up and pay attention to what he’s doing and Raymond Embrack certainly does that. Why do I like his writing so much? I think it’s because he has that Swing For The Fences quality I always enjoy reading. Each and every one of his books I’ve read so far reads as if he’s afraid he’ll never write another one again and so they’re stuffed with off the wall characters, wild ideas and wilder concepts. Add to that playful dialog married to descriptive passages and labyrinthine plot twists that I do think he gets carried away with at times. But we’ll get into that later on. Right now let’s get into the plot of EL MOROCCO.
It’s the swingin’ hepcat 1960’s and Guy Roman is a hot up-and-coming comic working Atlantic City. He’s not quite big time yet but he’s on his way. Until he gets derailed by New Jersey wiseguy wannabe Jackie Rockafero who blatantly hijacks Guy’s comedy routine as he thinks it would be fun to trade leg-breaking and loan sharking to be a stand-up comic. Naturally Guy takes exception to this. Jackie offers Guy gold or lead. Guy takes lead and winds up left for dead in a filthy A.C. alley alongside the ridiculously gorgeous showgirl Tess Revere who has also pissed off Jackie in a way I would not dare dream of revealing here.
Once he recovers, Guy, along with the brain damaged but still recovering Tess heads to Los Angeles where Jackie has become a comedic megastar. Guy’s intention is to not only take back his act but to make Jackie Rockafero sorry he was ever born. The conflict between them escalates into a major war that before it’s over involves the Hollywood film industry, celebrity gangster Mickey Cohen, crooked gossip columnists, high powered agents who are little more than scam artists and the West Coast Mafia a.k.a. The L.A. Set.
One of the things that makes EL MOROCCO so much fun to read is Raymond Embrack’s affinity for the language, attitudes and feel for the 1960’s. His characters all have a wonderfully smart-ass way of talking and yet he manages to not have them all sound the same. Everybody’s a smart-ass in their own way, if you know what I mean. And the characters and tone of the book are totally authentic to the time period. So those of you who are actively PC should be warned. The people in EL MOROCCO talk, act and think like people who lived in the 1960’s talked, acted and thought and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m actually more comfortable with that than with books that are supposed to be set in the 1930’s, 40’s, ‘50’s or ‘60’s but are peopled with characters from the ‘00’s.
What else can I say to recommend the book? Raymond’s way of writing is one where he’s clearly having fun with language and with words. He obviously enjoys the way he’s telling the story in the language and style and rhythm of the dialog and description. It’s really enjoyable to read his prose as it sings and swings with the patois of 1960’s hipster jive talk.
What’s my only quibble with the book? Remember earlier when I mentioned that Raymond gets carried away with plot twists? The plot twists at the conclusion of EL MOROCCO come so fast and there are so many of them that I felt he was pushing it and I was wondering if he was deliberately trying to see how many plot twists he could throw in there before they collapsed under their own weight. But that’s okay. Above all, I like and admire Raymond Embrack for his sheer audacity and willingness to take the chance of going too far with his bizarre plots and outrageous characters. It’s always more fun to read a writer who isn’t afraid to Go There instead of one that offers up easily digestible prose that is no more exciting to read than recycled oatmeal is fun to eat. He’s an extremely entertaining writer and if you’re going to start reading him, EL MOROCCO is a great place to start.
If you’re a fan of New Pulp and active on social media then you’ve no doubt heard about LEGENDS OF NEW PULP FICTION and how it came into literary life. It would be damn near impossible for anybody interested in New Pulp to have escaped or avoided seeing the news about it. After all, at the time of its publication in 2015 it was a totally unprecedented event in the New Pulp Community. And an event that I believe once and for all establishes that the new Pulp Community is a Community in every sense of the word.
But for those of you who don’t know the story, here’s what happened. Tommy Hancock (and if I have to tell you who he is then you’re in the wrong place) had to be hospitalized due to congestive heart failure. This was a source of horrendously bad news to everyone in New Pulp. You know that game; “The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”? It’s based on the Six Degrees of Separation concept which puts forth the notion that any two people on Earth are six or fewer steps apart. Well, Tommy Hancock is kinda like that. Just about everybody and anybody in the New Pulp Community can be connected to Tommy in one way or another. Just follow the steps and I guarantee that somehow, someway, whoever you name can be hooked up with Tommy Hancock.
It was Jaime E. Ramos and Ron Fortier that came up with the brilliant idea of a benefit anthology to assist in defraying the medical costs Tommy’s treatment would incur and sent out the call for writers and artists to submit stories and artwork. Sixty writers and thirty-six artists answered the call, including Yours Truly.
So now that I was in, what exactly was I going to write? I didn’t want to contribute a Dillon or Fortune McCall story. That would have been too easy. And in keeping with the title of the book I wanted to write a story about a pulp legend/archetype. One that has fascinated me for a very long time: The King of The Jungle.
The best known one is Tarzan, of course. Everybody knows him. Marvel Comics had Ka-Zar, Lord of The Savage Land who himself was based on a Classic Pulp hero, Ka-Zar The Great. There was Bomba the Jungle Boy, Polaris of The Snows who basically is Tarzan raised in the Arctic (the stories are actually pretty good and well worth looking up) Ki-Gor and comedic versions of Tarzan; the best known and most beloved being George of The Jungle. There were even female versions of Tarzan: Sheena, Queen of The Jungle, Jana of The Jungle, Rima and Shana The She-Devil.
But no matter how high or low I looked, I couldn’t find a black King of The Jungle with a pack of bloodhounds and a search warrant. As a kid discovering Classic Pulp during what I refer to as The Big Pulp Boom of The 1970s, I had gotten used to not finding any black pulp heroes so I didn’t hold out any hope I would find a black King of The Jungle. Even though that would seem to be a natural, wouldn’t it? I mean, in Africa you expect to trip over black Kings of The Jungle every ten feet or so.
The best advice my father gave me when I started out writing came about during one of our conversations about James Bond where I asked him why wasn’t there a black James Bond. My father replied; “Well, when you become a writer I guess you’ll have to make one up.” And in the spirit of that simply yet brilliantly profound wisdom I decided that my story for Legends of New Pulp Fiction would feature a black King of The Jungle.
Here’s where Lou Mougin enters the picture. He’s written for number of prominent comic book companies including Marvel where he wrote what stood for many years as the definite origin of The Swordsman in Avengers Spotlight #22. But that’s far from his only professional credits. Observe: View a chronological list of Lou’s work
Lou and I bonded over our mutual love of fan fiction years ago. He’s written plenty of it and I read as much of it as I could find. I didn’t know he was Lou Mougin then. I knew him under the name he used to write fan fiction and its probably a good thing I didn’t as talking to professional writers makes me nervous as hell. By the time I knew who Lou was, we’d become good online friends and nervousness didn’t even enter into our conversations. Lou is also an astounding historian and is always steering me to fascinating characters and creators that I have never heard of and I’ll always be thankful to him for pointing me in the direction of Matt Baker and Voodah.
Matt Baker (1921-1959) is generally acknowledged as being the first successful African-American comic book artist here in America. The majority of his work was done during the 1940s and 50s where he took over the Phantom Lady, redesigned her into the incarnation we best know her for and drew her for about until a dozen issues until it was cancelled. Matt Baker was the foremost artist of what was then known as “Good Girl Art”: artwork depicting gorgeous women in sexy, skimpy outfits and often in provocative poses and situations. Much of his Good Girl Art is highly sought after today as collector items, particularly his Phantom Lady work. He also drew a significant amount of romance stories and the adventures of Sky Girl, an aviation heroine.
But it’s his King of The Jungle character Voodah that interests us. Lou asked me if I’d ever heard of Voodah and I replied that I had not. As he is wont to do, Lou obligingly sent me links so that I could download copies of Crown Comics, which is where Voodah appeared. The truly fascinating thing is that while Voodah was depicted as being a black man in the stories themselves, on the covers he was portrayed as being white. Indeed, after a few issues, in the actual stories Voodah suddenly switched from being a black man to a white man.
After reading the stories and letting the character marinate around in my brain cells for a few days, I got the notion of re-imagining Voodah for a modern day audience (as he’s a public domain character now) and perhaps in that way honoring the memory of Mr. Baker’s original character. It would also fall in line with my idea of presenting a Classic Pulp archetype in the Legends of New Pulp Fiction anthology.
And that’s the long and short of how “Voodah of Thunder Mountain” came to be. On so many levels it’s one of the most satisfying stories I’ve ever written and it’s such a pleasant surprise that to date I’ve had at least half a dozen readers contact me to tell me how much they enjoyed the story and Ron Fortier has asked me if I’m going to be writing more Voodah stories. At this point I don’t think I have a choice in the matter. Am I right?