From the “Chadwick Forever: A Stepping Off Point” File by Sean E. Ali

“Is this your king?”

Stick a pin in that, I’ll get back to it.

During the promotional tour for BLACK PANTHER, Chadwick Boseman was asked if he had directly experienced the social impact of the film, and did it affect how he approached the role. At this point in his life, Boseman had already been diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer and was privately undergoing surgeries and chemotherapy to combat it. Without revealing that, here’s how he answered the question…

“There are 2 little kids–Ian and Taylor–who recently passed from cancer. And, throughout our filming, I was communicating with them, knowing that they were both terminal. What they said to me, and their parents, is they’re trying to hold on till this movie comes. To a certain degree, you hear them say that and you’re like: ‘Whew. Wow. I’ve got to get up and go to the gym. I’ve got to get up and go to work. I’ve got to learn these lines. I’ve got to work on this accent.’

“To a certain degree, it’s a humbling experience because you’re like ‘This can’t mean that much to them.’ But, seeing how the world has taken this on, seeing how the movement, how it’s taken a life of its own, I realized that they anticipated something great. I think back now to [being] a kid and just waiting for Christmas to come, waiting for my birthday to come, waiting for a toy that I was going to get a chance to experience, or a video game…I did live life waiting for those moments. So, it put me back in the mind of being a kid, just to experience those 2 little boys’ anticipation of this movie. And, when I found out that they…”

Boseman suddenly seemed to feel the full weight of the experience and was unable to continue, because the end of that remembrance is that Ian and Taylor were unable to hold on until the film’s completion. They, despite this relationship they had built, passed away before BLACK PANTHER was finished. Boseman breaks down in tears and eventually he had to excuse himself from the discussion, leaving his cast mates and director to finish up that particular part of the junket.

But the clip, which I posted below is powerful because that man and that vulnerability is an insight into who Chadwick Boseman was. It’s an openness that was rare for him, but it was also very telling about the man’s conviction to carry on. And through this story and countless visits to other children like Ian and Taylor Boseman never let on that there was a deeper meaning to him, a need to not only fight for his own life, but to also be there to comfort the generations that would follow him.

If you watch the man behind the roles, Chadwick Boseman comes across as a man of purpose, passion and conviction. He lived his life unlike most entertainers with a certain sense of obligation and responsibility to not just achieve but to exceed expectations, to create and portray characters on the shoulders of those that sacrificed and fought the battles on the behalf of future generations like his who would pick up the torch and carry it. During an address at Howard University in 2018 as their commencement keynote speaker, Boseman recalled how he, as a student at Howard at the time, had encountered The Greatest – Muhammad Ali as he was crossing a courtyard. Ali who was in the last years of his life, but still every bit of the man and legend he was, locked in on Boseman and assumed a sparring stance. For a few moments Boseman had the unique honor of trading a couple of light jabs with The Champ before Ali’s security and assistants moved the legend along to whatever point in history they were headed to next. Boseman recalled that he left “floating like a butterfly”. For Boseman, the encounter was one he told the students he would have to draw upon later.

He spoke to them of how he was impacted by teachers and actors and the unique chances and opportunities he got as he was raised on the shoulders of those that came before him. How he left Howard and found almost immediate success landing roles and rapidly climbing to his first real TV acting job on a soap opera he doesn’t name where he found himself cast as a character some would say was stereotypical: A young, but angry, man who is directionless but eventually attracted to a gang and their lifestyle. Boseman relates how he was “troubled” about the part and, after a couple of episodes in the can, was invited up as he was filming the third one by the producers who wanted to share their satisfaction with his work and put forth the offer to let them know if there was any concerns or needs on his part because they were looking for a long run with him. So he questioned some of the motivations of his character by asking for background info. The first question was where was the character’s father?

By the time he’d gotten to the second question dealing with why was the character’s mother deemed unfit which led to his character and the character’s brother going into foster care, they were re-reading his resume like they’d missed something. The meeting ended amicably enough, he went back on set and finished shooting for the day…

…and he was let go the following day.

He used his own doubts and questions of that event and how the reality of losing that job gave him a reputation as “difficult to work with”. I’ve been there myself. I’ve got a doozy of a story about my first graphics job which lasted about 14 hours total. So I get exactly how he must’ve felt.

What I enjoyed about watching that address is the appreciation he got eventually for standing by his convictions and questioning the role despite the outcome. Given the people he went on to play and the heights of his career, he made what would become a solid call. What brought him back to himself was his encounter with Ali. The few moments The Champ had called upon his past to recall the fighter he always was even in fun in those few glancing jabs. What he concluded was that in a sense Ali was giving him a gift – a transference of the fighter’s spirit that Ali called upon so often in victory and defeat to face impossible odds and rise above in victory or fall in defeat with the promise to not quit and get back on your feet so you can get back in the fight. If you take time for it, the address is an inspiring half hour and delivered with a sense of awareness, passion and urgency to be up and doing. To not just represent, but also respond.

And if you find another two or three minutes, as I did, check out Boseman’s tribute to Denzel Washington at the latter’s API Lifetime Achievement Award celebration. Boseman’s being in awe of Denzel along with the gratitude given to one of the greatest actors of his generation by his direct contribution to Boseman’s Howard and acting experience that allowed him to study and act in Britain. His praise and earnest appreciation moved a usually stoic Denzel to tears and a standing ovation that you could see was genuine because he was blown away by Boseman’s sincerity as he said there would be no BLACK PANTHER if it wasn’t for Denzel responding to the call to raise the next generation.

People often look at folks who lionize the passing of an entertainer saying they do not rate the level of attention given them. That it’s celebrity worshipping and shouldn’t be voiced or encouraged. In some cases that is generally true. You mark their passing say it’s a shame and move on.

But Chadwick Boseman isn’t one of those. Go look at his body of work, the icons he played, the roles where he would not allow content to be compromised for fame’s sake. For embodying all of the lessons learned at Howard, the values from his upbringing in his family, his humility gained through failure and success, his respect for the past, his passion for the present, his responsibility to the future, and a sense of urgency bought about by knowing his time was short so his actions had to matter.

“Is this your king?”

You better believe he was.

And, in a very real sense, always will be simply because he was trying to be the best man he could be. We could learn a lot from his example.

“Everybody is the hero in their own story. You should be the hero in your own story.”

And that’s who Chadwick Boseman was at the end of the day: the hero of his own story.

And for a time or two, he even saved the world to boot.

While it was sudden to us, it was his time. I hope he finds the veldt King T’Challa spoke of when he said…

“In my culture, death is not the end. It’s more of a stepping off point. You reach out with both hands and Bast and Sekhmet, they lead you into the green veldt where you can run forever.”

He will be missed for much more than BLACK PANTHER, but he leaves behind a brief but impressive legacy.

And consider it a stepping off point to pick up the torch and carry it forward.

And I wish him a Peaceful Journey.

Chadwick Forever.

And the clips I mentioned above can be found below…

Be good to yourselves and each other.

And The Battle Continues: An Essay by Sean E. Ali

Emmett Till should have turned 79 today.

Till was just 14 years old when he was abducted and brutally murdered because of an accusation by Carolyn Bryant, the white married proprietor of a small grocery store in Money, Mississippi. Till was accused of flirting with or whistling at Bryant. In 1955, Bryant testified Till made aggressive physical and verbal advances towards her which deviated from her original story. The jury did not hear the judge ruled that her testimony was inadmissible and the jury never heard it. In an interview given in 2008, Bryant admitted that she had falsified part of the testimony, specifically the part where she accused Till of grabbing her waist and uttering obscenities, saying “that part’s not true” on the record.

His murderers, Carolyn’s husband Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam, claimed they were innocent of the crime and they were acquitted by an all white jury. The decision by the jury was rendered after a 67-minute deliberation. It was reported that one juror said, “If we hadn’t stopped to drink pop, it wouldn’t have taken that long.”

A year later, with assurances that they were protected from double jeopardy, Bryant and Milam admitted that they had indeed lynched and murdered Till, saying that they had originally intended to beat him and toss him off an embankment into the Tallahatchie River, but allege that Till “forgot his place” by calling them bastards, claiming he was as good as they were, and he had been sexually active with white women…

Again, at the time of his death, Till was only 14-years old.

Over the years, Bryant and Milam would change their stories and vacillate between admitting they killed Till to denials of having done anything depending on their circumstances. But in the interview with LOOK Magazine, Milam stated:

“Well, what else could we do? He was hopeless. I’m no bully; I never hurt a nigger in my life. I like niggers—in their place—I know how to work ’em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, niggers are gonna stay in their place. Niggers ain’t gonna vote where I live. If they did, they’d control the government. They ain’t gonna go to school with my kids. And when a nigger gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he’s tired o’ livin’. I’m likely to kill him. Me and my folks fought for this country, and we got some rights. I stood there in that shed and listened to that nigger throw that poison at me, and I just made up my mind. ‘Chicago boy,’ I said, ‘I’m tired of ’em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble. Goddam you, I’m going to make an example of you—just so everybody can know how me and my folks stand.”

The murderers had involved two black men in Milam’s employ, Levi “Too Tight” Collins and Henry Lee Loggins who may have been direct witnesses to the lynching and murder of Till. The prosecution was unaware of their involvement prior to the trial and the sheriff, Clarence Strider, had both men arrested and jailed to make sure they weren’t accessible to serve as witnesses for the entirety of the trial. Strider would also do his part to cloud the issue by changing his definite identification of Till when his bloated and mutilated body was pulled from the river after being tossed over the Black Bayou Bridge in Glendora.

It should be noted that during the trial Sheriff Strider regularly welcomed black spectators coming back from lunch with a cheerful, “Hello, Niggers!”

Because he was a polite, classy guy.

Strider also suggested later that the recovered body had been planted by the NAACP. He speculated the corpse had been stolen and Till’s ring placed on it to solidify identification. Strider changed his account after his comments were published in the press, later saying: “The last thing I wanted to do was to defend those peckerwoods. But I just had no choice about it.”

Identification was difficult due to the state of the body when it was found. Till’s head was very badly mutilated, he had been shot above the right ear, an eye was dislodged from the socket, there was evidence that he had been beaten on the back and the hips, and his body weighted by a fan blade, which was fastened around his neck with barbed wire. He was nude, but wearing a silver ring with the initials “L. T.” and “May 25, 1943” carved in it. His face was unrecognizable due to trauma and having been submerged in water.

Till’s mother, Mamie Till Bradley, insisted that Till’s body not be buried in Mississippi, but returned to her in Chicago. The officials in Mississippi were trying to rush bury Till to put the issue to rest; they had already packed Till’s body in lime and had him in a pine box when they were compelled to comply with Till Bradley’s request to return the body to her. It’s been said that when the body reached Chicago and was opened at the funeral home to be identified before preparing the body for burial, the stench was said to be detectable at least two blocks away from where it was. Till Bradley, based on the condition of her son’s body decided to have an open casket funeral saying: “There was just no way I could describe what was in that box. No way. And I just wanted the world to see.” Images of Till were published in the black and white periodicals of the day and received worldwide attention with regard to the caste system and institutionally backed racism, and racially biased brutality brought to bear against Black Americans.

The counter charge by the officials with a vested interest in maintaining segregation and perceived white racial superiority was that groups like the NAACP were instigating discord and not interested in race related social justice as much as being agitators attempting to “radicalize” the local black community. There were conspiracy theories, reports of riots in the area and vandalism that didn’t happen but were meant to influence public reaction by misrepresenting the intent of outside groups who took an interest in Till’s death and the greater racial and social issues that were raised by it…

…sound familiar?

The admission of Bryant and Milan that they did, in fact, Lynch and murder Till changed their fortunes in an ironic way. The community turned on them despite their nearly unanimous support despite the overwhelming evidence they had a hand in the crime. Both men were compelled to relocate to Texas and take up new professions.

Milam tried to return to farming after his business was boycotted and he was forced to close. He secured a loan and got land, but was unable to coerce any of the black workers, who were the primary labor force in that line, to come and work for him. He’d eventually have to pay higher wages to secure white workers which led to financial problems that closed the new farm. He moved to Texas to try for a fresh start but his reputation and infamy followed him. He eventually returned to Mississippi where he’d be tried for various offenses like writing bad checks, credit card fraud, and assault and battery…

…for folks needing a modern day counterpart to relate: see George Zimmerman.

Roy Bryant’s store where Till encountered his wife leading to the murder was boycotted by the black community (who turned out to be the majority of his customers) and was forced to close it and file for bankruptcy. He’d later move to Texas, have his reputation and infamy make him return to Mississippi where he’d eventually divorce his wife, and open a new store where he would get caught and convicted for food stamp fraud a couple of times. He gave an interview in the 1980s In a 1985 interview, he denied that he had killed Till, but said: “if Emmett Till hadn’t got out of line, it probably wouldn’t have happened to him.” Bryant wanted to avoid the boycotting of his new store so he lived a private life and refused to be photographed or reveal the exact location of his store, explaining: “this new generation is different and I don’t want to worry about a bullet some dark night.”

A couple of years before he died, in 1992, Bryant was interviewed about his involvement in Till’s murder. Bryant was unaware that Till’s mother had been invited to listen in on the conversation in another room so he would feel comfortable to speak freely. During the interview, he asserted that Till had ruined his life. Expressing no remorse, Bryant reportedly said, “Emmett Till is dead. I don’t know why he can’t just stay dead.”

Till’s death is said to have been the tipping point that would inspire what would become the Civil Rights Movement because it was one of the first cases that showed how deeply ingrained racism was and how swiftly local governments and the white community moved to protect his murderers based on the racial component being that “white is right” above all else.

A battle that’s still being fought 65 years later come August.

Incidentally, just last month a bill to make lynching a federal crime, was blocked by a single Republican Senator.

And the battle continues.

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From The “Feeling The Heat In Miami File” by Sean E. Ali

Yes, there’s some art for a book I’m not attached to, but felt compelled to create because…

Well, therein lies the tale…

Since coronavirus came to town my world in particular had gotten crazy and uncertain…

But on the upside, my days aren’t nearly as stressful as say coming home to find the place ransacked and picked clean of profits from something you worked pretty hard to get through means you’d rather not discuss…

…It’s criminal what a guy has to go through.

And what makes it worse is that it happens in the last place you’d expect things like this to happen: a quiet suburb just outside of…

…Miami.

Especially when you just settled down there after retiring from your last job in Las Vegas. But as you’ll soon discover, whatever happens in Vegas, could have consequences you never expected.

Which is a set up for Van Allen Plexico’s all the fun you’ll find in this second helping of professional heisters Harper and Salsa as they find themselves putting in work in MIAMI HEI$T.

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Heist stories, as I’ve said on numerous occasions, have a special place in my heart. They’re entertaining, tricky to plot and execute, and offer some insight into what motivates people to take what doesn’t belong to them and the extremes they’ll engage in to get the job done. And Van, bless him, chose the 1960s to set these up in where these guys were both brutal and cool thanks to films like the original OCEAN’S 11 and books like the series featuring professional criminal Parker written under the pen name Richard Stark by the late, great Donald Westlake. There’s nostalgia and a wonderfully tech free world to work in carry your action without the fear that one of your crew will be posting up video to social media and blowing the job.

So when we last saw our heroes, John Harper and Saul “Salsa” Salzman have successfully managed to get out of Vegas in one piece and considerably richer than they were going in…

…given they were a team of four at the start of the caper, there were a few hitches.

Well we are now months and miles away from Nevada and deep underground on the sun splashed beaches of Miami where Harper has adopted a new name, bought a new home he’s rarely at in Flagler Beach, and picked up a (presumably) new girlfriend Connie Perrigen – who is aware of what Harper does and has none of the issues expected of grad student, and a new Camaro which has brought him back to said new home after leaving (presumably) new girlfriend down at a South Beach hotel after getting a message sent to his new adopted name letting him know someone, somehow knows exactly who he is, where he lives and what he has

…from that time in Las Vegas.

When Harper gets to his house, he finds that his stash with his money from Vegas is long gone from where he hid it. He checks in with Salsa who got an earlier message from Harper that sent him, not to his stash to check his loot, but to the house of Lois Funderburk, who was the finger for the job in VEGAS HEI$T and is now Salsa’s steady girl. By the time Harper gets to Salsa’s office, he finds out Salsa’s been cleaned out too. Lois, being a practical woman, had the bulk of her cut tied up in legitimate investments or it’s in the bank earning its interest on more faith than Harper and Salsa has for those institutions. As despair and desperation kick in, Salsa brings up a job that Harper passed on earlier tied to a local but solitary spot known as Ruby Island which houses an old estate converted into a casino and a legend that there may be gold hidden away in the grounds.

Gold that came there by way of a Nazi submarine during World War II.

Harper and Salsa have a limited crew of themselves and the ladies and while scouting the job they come across a second crew looking to pull a straightforward robbery run by Big Bob Bigelow, a local planner who is talked into supporting Harper’s effort, but is a little annoyed to find the pay day may not be as nice as his team co-opting the job for their own for the risks they’re taking. Harper himself wasn’t too keen on the job from the beginning, and the number of red flags he’s noticed and ignored haven’t helped any.

But with their Vegas money gone and no idea of who took it and where to find it, Harper and Salsa have to play some long odds and go for broke.

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Now, I’ll stop with the summary because I caught myself about to reveal things you shouldn’t know about if you plan to read the book, or details you may be a little fuzzy about if you haven’t bought/read VEGAS HEI$T, which this book leans on heavily to set things up to tell its tale. I want you to check in without spoilers of any sort on my end.

As to how I felt as it played out though?

Yeah, I can share that with you…

Heist stories are solid because most folks think of them as two major acts: everything up to the heist, and the heist itself and everything that follows. You watch the job get planned, you see it executed, you wait for whatever fallout comes of doing what they did and any flagged aberrations that will flip the circumstances in different ways, and you hope all of the above is executed in such a way that you feel you invested your time well. But the thing about heist stories and the folks who occupy them is nothing’s ever according to plan with a nice neat finish. Look at some of the best literary heisters and con artists and in a lot of cases the antihero be it a “gentleman thief like Raffles, or Earle Stanley Gardner’s Lester Leith, or Westlake’s Parker, or TV shows like LEVERAGE and HU$TLE, you’ll find a certain element of chaos that adds to the tension of the story as everything goes off the rails making the crooks we’re rooting for got to work on trying to get everything back under control. The thing is that the bulk of these guys keep their cool and tend not to be reckless as they adjust. And while that’s all well and good, what you almost never see is what happens when your guy pulls off the big job, gets away…

…and it still blows up later.

What MIAMI HEI$T does is take that exact route, if snatches away a successful job with a messy finish in VEGAS and turns this tale into a heist, a caper…

…and a getaway story of sorts. Which is a part of the whole heist genre that gets overlooked as a subcategory a lot. In this case, things don’t just go wrong, but they’re going wrong from the last job which is spilling over into how this job is put together. It’s a nice play of controlled panic and desperation where all concerned are pushed well out of their comfort zone from the folks we met in VEGAS and the new members of the cast who turn up in MIAMI. You get the feeling right away that Harper’s winging this more than he wanted to because he has no safety net, but everyone around him thinks he’s got it together.

It is a beautifully put together character examination of Harper over the rest of the cast where he’s fleshed out a bit and slight divergences from his spiritual father of Westlake’s Parker are starting to show up. Mostly because Parker wouldn’t have gone this route with so many potential holes in the plan. Van also shows some subtle things with Salsa who still wears his feelings on his sleeve, especially where Lois is concerned, Connie may be a keeper, her role in this left me wondering how she and Harper hooked up and exactly what kind of life she had led up to this introduction. There are great character bits, small stuff that puts some weight to Salsa being thought of as a partner more than a convenient associate. Van makes it understandable why Harper works with Salsa and even gives us a sort of Salsa moment from Harper which could very well lead them into their next big job after going to a movie. I also like that I’m personally uncomfortable with Lois being involved as she is. Her use in this book and the way Van plays with her interactions with everyone makes her the same sort of question mark she was in VEGAS but maybe more so given the callouts to the first book. But this is more Harper’s story than anyone else’s and you get inside his head a little with him being more desperate than in control.

The cast is a bigger than the last book as moving parts go, but it was well worth it because, like any good heist story, you’re trying to figure out exactly where the twist is…

…and I’m telling you now, you’ll never see it coming.

…or that other one…

…and definitely not the one…

Well, you get the idea.

Get a neck brace though, you will get whiplash trying to follow all of this after the heist when everything gets WILD!

Plus there’s a lot of loose ends dangling that could (and should) be followed up and at least one guy I’d like to see the crew catch up to on camera as opposed to off. That guy turned out to be slicker than a kitten on skis.

No need for a spoiler alert, that’s the bulk of the cast in this book.

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If there’s any complaint it’s that the McGuffin was gotten to pretty easily, but it set up some really nice sequences after the job was done. Also, though it works from a marketing standpoint, you really should pick up VEGAS HEI$T to really appreciate everything that happens this time around. And you can find that definite gem of crime writing at a link like this one: https://www.amazon.com/…/ref=pd_aw_sim…/146-2096148-8091948…

Also, if you’re so inclined by what I said above, check out MIAMI HEI$T. I picked up a copy for my Kindle app right here:

https://www.amazon.com/Miami-Heist-Harper…/…/ref=mp_s_a_1_1…

Available in ebook and hard copy. Sadly we don’t get a movie version, but hey never say never…

Now, did I enjoy this one more or less than VEGAS?

Let’s just say I doodled a lot more this time around.

Until next time…

…Be good to yourselves and each other.

Oh yeah

As for the doodling inspired by this…?

Told you there were a lot…

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From The “Making An Impression” File by Sean E. Ali

So, FINALLY, Tommy Hancock over at Pro Se has done his reveal of three author imprints where I got to do the initial logo designs…

The plan was to reveal them over the weekend at the convention that hosts the annual Pulp Factory Awards in Chicago.

Not that I’ve ever been, but I’ve won one to my complete surprise.

So the three authors involved with this part of the reveal were Kimberly RichardsonFrank Schildiner and my good friend and partner-in-virtual crime Derrick Ferguson. All three are authors in something called “New Pulp” but really that’s kind of a narrow definition of their particular brands of storytelling. All three are well regarded, they’re unique in their own rights, they all have their followings who eagerly await their latest projects and all of them have happened to be offered a chance to exercise their prodigious imaginations under their own brands with Pro Se.

And lucky me, I get to contribute by building the first part of that brand with these imprint logos…

So, though you’re probably not asking, how does that work? Well I’m glad you didn’t ask, let me tell you the intricate planning that went into each one of these and the meticulous work we in the independent publishing game go through to make our talent shine…

Last weekend, Tommy hits me up on Facebook with no warning whatsoever and says he needs some author imprint logos for this show in Chicago: “can you do it?” I ask for details because obviously I’m just getting to a party already in progress, and he kicks out the rough ideas for Kimberly and Frank…

…which, BTW, for a guy so full of ideas and stories and plans was woefully light on details just generalities, and he turns me loose after I inform him I’ll talk to Derrick who had already contacted me. Derrick and I do all our stuff more like a couple of guys shooting the breeze on the front stoop on a Sunday afternoon. Yeah we work, it’s just more of a relaxed thing where we kick back and chat and at some point we, usually accidentally, hit on the right thing. I love our process because when we do chop it up, I never fail to end our conversation without a smile at the end and at least two good belly laughs from the soul.

Which is pretty much how his brand POWER PLAY! was done. I, in the course of our discussion run an idea of what I’d like to use as his look and he shows me the very thing I had in mind, which in an odd bit of coincidence was sitting on his desk: a gold clenched fist with that 1960s/70s Soul Brother/grindhouse film vibe as the logo. In my head, what you see as the POWER PLAY! logo was a black light velveteen poster stuck to a ceiling between some mirror tiles with a fish net full of fake starfish.

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It was the 70s, you had to be there.

So he was easy and POWER PLAY! was done in one. There are colored variants and, as a last minute thing, I added the tag line “Old School New Pulp” which is what Derrick does. He’s got an updated Men’s Adventure/Action Hero/Thriller feel to a lot of his projects, so it felt right.

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Now Kimberly’s came with the most detail from Tommy. Crossed guns, gothic mansion, emboss this, something something that…

So I did that first and like an old “Men On Film” sketch: “Hated it!” It didn’t matter how many ways I crossed the 20 pistols I put together, none of them looked right. So instead I went to work on the manor house bit and abandoned the guns. Nice… but generic. The house was sitting on a cliff, so I pulled the cliff, threw in a really basic shield, colored it all black… better, but still needed something. I uncrossed the guns, used them as a frame and was there.

But then I wanted to make it hers. Any schmuck could build a lady a house but it needs to be HER house. So I took a look at the lady I was building the house for since I’ve never had the pleasure IRL or online of getting to know her. First thing I noticed, which is the first thing I notice about a lot of women in photos, were her eyes…

…that, kids was the hook, she’s got great eyes. I stared at those eyes and attempted to be as accurate as I could be despite simplifying them for an illustration. Stared at them for so long, I think I owe her dinner and one failed rom-com running through the airport scene. I tossed an oversized moon in the background added the eyes and I was in love…

…with the final product.

So PULP GOTHIC gave me the Lady of the House, a touch of Stephen King in the mansion, got the guns in and it all was an echo of the old paperbacks that used to come with the mapback covers telling you about the location of the story.

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Last, but not least, came Frank Schildiner. His was done first, I really didn’t like it but I took Tommy’s rough idea too literal. Frank and I aren’t online running buddies, but he and I enjoy decent fight techniques, he’s a martial artist and instructor (in addition to being an author) and I’m immensely impressed by his focus and skill. Unfortunately the logo I came up with didn’t really reflect Frank or his work. It was sort of a hero shot that reminded me of a rejected logo for the old fitness guru Jack LaLanne. It was passable, but it wasn’t Frank. As Friday rolled around I still wasn’t happy with it and it’s hard to put out something I’m not in love with as I send it out. Tommy’s looking for logos and I’m one short. But it was also something Tommy said that sparked an image early on: “Frank’s work goes everywhere.” The image that invoked was pure Jack “The King” Kirby. If you don’t know Jack and his work in changing the face of comics as we know them with Stan Lee…

…move out of that cave so I can get you some help.

So the image I came up with was a complete re-do which is inspired by guys like Kirby and the late Darwyn Cooke and we had something worthy of Frank in particular and his work in general.

And I FINALLY learned how to DIY the famous “Kirby Krackle”…

…yeah, whatever, it’s a big deal to me.

So SCHILDINER’S WORLDS final look is probably more due to Tommy’s summation of Frank’s work than anything else. I had the image in my head, but thought I had to do the other thing based on his explanation of what he said the look should be.

So I did what he said over what he asked.

I submitted both though, as I did with the manor only version of PULP GOTHIC, because you should give a guy options…

I’m glad he chose the ones he did.

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Bet you’re wondering where that planning aspect went that I mentioned at the start, right?

Tommy and I refer to this as the “Butch and Sundance”…

If you’ve ever seen how BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID ends for them, you’ll get it.

Sometimes we just have to take a leap, man…

So, if you follow these folks and missed Tommy’s press releases…

…big things are coming from some of your favorite folks…

Get ready to have your minds blown.

The rest of you, as you were…

…and move out of that cave so I can get you help.

Be good to yourselves and each other.

“What’s My Name?” A Remembrance of Muhammad Ali by Sean E. Ali

From the “WHAT’S MY NAME?!” File…

“A man’s true wealth is the good he does in the world.” — Mohammad

Superman died June 3, 2016.

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That is not hyperbole, not romantic nostalgia, not a delusion, not exaggeration – it’s a fact as sure as you’re breathing in and out.

I’m going to wander a bit as I reflect on the passing of a Titan among Titans. A man who walked with legends and giants in his sport and kept stride before taking point and leading the way.

You probably know him by other names, the Kentucky Kid, the Olympic Medal winner, the Louisville Lip, the Mouth, Cassius Marcellus Clay, or maybe by the first name he bestowed upon himself before he went out into the world and made believers of everyone he encountered…

…The Greatest.

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The second name he took ownership of, the name he fought under and fought for is the name we all know him by best after that first one – Muhammad Ali.

There was power there. There was power and dignity in the choice made. The name was bestowed upon him by the Nation of Islam, led at the time by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, but he took ownership of it. It was more than a badge of racial pride or rebellion – Muhammad Ali was the embodiment of who he was, the culmination of the search and successful establishment of an identity that wasn’t a product of oppression, social and racial inequality, or the gift rewarded to his lineage from some forgotten slave owner in the heart of a segregated so-called democracy. The name was his; it was his before he knew he was looking for it, and he would not go back to confines of anything else that may have made him more palatable to the conventions of a society that did not accept him or include him in the first place.

“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”

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That was the question he set out to answer when, while he was still known as Cassius Clay, he was asked by a reporter about the meaning of his name and Clay responded that he would have to find out…

…but I’m getting ahead of my own recollections, let’s back up a bit.

When he was a little boy, Cassius Clay had a bike. He went out one day, stopped off somewhere, parked his bike and when he returned, someone had stolen it. Clay and his mother reported the theft and the officer he spoke to just happened to run a program that taught boys how to box. Clay jumped on the chance to learn to fight because when he found out who stole his bike, he wanted to be able to beat him up…

…it was a different time, when we settled things with fists over bullets. Yeah, you might get hurt, but you lived to fight another day.

Clay grew, became more proficient at boxing and eventually represented the United States in the Olympics bringing home the gold medal before turning pro and building a career that would be legendary. Clay was fast, he was powerful; he was strong; he was brilliant, and he knew it…

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“It’s not bragging if you can back it up.”

When Clay was coming up in the ranks, he gained another reputation. They described him as brash, bold, a loudmouth, a fool, cocky…

…in other words, he wasn’t liked very much.

We revere him now, but at the time? Cassius Clay was a showboater who would walk into his comeuppance one day. That expected day was when he fought for his first title bout at the age of 22 against Floyd Patterson. There’s a great story from a reporter who was sent by the New York Times to cover the bout that he was to run a loop from the site of the bout to the nearest hospital because they wanted to be sure he was on hand when Clay was sent into the intensive care ward by Patterson…

…that guy was probably disappointed by the outcome.

Patterson was cut down by Clay’s speed and power and the world had a new champion who loudly proclaimed who he was and would be for the remainder of his life…

“I MUST BE THE GREATEST!”

That night, he really did shake up the world.

And it wouldn’t be the last time he did that.

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As Clay continued to fight the question he hadn’t been aware he was asking persisted until it moved to the forefront of his association with the Nation of Islam. The Nation was considered a hate group by mainstream media in the heart of volatile times that would eventually be the Civil rights movement. Fronted by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and his outspoken, dynamic protégé – Malcolm X, Clay finally confronted the question…

“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”

The answer became Muhammad Ali.

And no one outside of the Nation and Clay’s fans were cool with that. Reporters continued to call him Clay, which Ali would correct every time. Every. Single. Time.

He was Clay in the press, Clay to his critics, Clay on the billing of the bouts he had, and Clay to his opponents…

…in particular Ernie Terrell, the holder of the next belt that Ali had to claim on his mission of unifying the title to be the undisputed heavyweight champion.

Terrell called Ali Clay through the weeks leading up to the fight. Ali warned Terrell that if he kept calling him out his name that he would pay for it. Terrell persisted…

…Ali kept his promise.

“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”

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This was the mantra chanted over and over again during that bout. Every time Ali laid into Terrell, he ended the exchange with that question. Ali would put Terrell on the edge, he would set the man right on the verge of a fight ending knockout…

…and then he’d back off, look Terrell in the eye as one man to another and bellow through what had to be a fog of pain and a haze of agony the question…

“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”

And then he’d open up on Terrell again. Step back to observe his work shake his head with dissatisfaction and ask again…

“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”

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And the beatdown would resume in earnest…

…Ali dragged that beating out for 15 rounds.

It’s in strong competition for the meanest, most brutal fight I ever saw in my life, the other being Mike Tyson’s first title match.

And actually, Tyson was more merciful in that bout, he put that guy away much faster than Ali torturing Terrell.

But the end result was quiet and profound.

He was never called Cassius Clay again by anyone, friend or foe.

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However, it wasn’t the last time he’d have to stand up and fight for who he was and who intended to be.

“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”

There’s a reason I reflect on this particular battle and what follows almost immediately over the others. Ali had chosen to adopt a name, a religion, a culture that was as opposed to most of his numerous other achievements in and out of the ring. There’s a reason why this brutal ballet and the bigger battle in the offing – Ali’s refusal to be drafted stand out as I reflect on his life and what he was to me as a fan and a young Black Man coming up.

Ali took that stand knowing, absolutely knowing that he’d lose everything he fought so hard for. He’d lose the status, the money, the fame, the title, all of it because he chose to be true to his faith, principles and name by taking an unpopular stance.

But just like Superman, he stood there and waited for the bullets to fly. And for many that was it, Ali refused to step up and that made him unpatriotic at best, a traitor and a coward at the worst. This was before he became a hero to the mindset of the general public, before he put away men like Frazier and Foreman three and a half years later. This was a time when a man who was a Muslim, true to his faith, true to his name, and dedicated to doing no harm that involved taking lives for a cause he did not believe in or support was not only unpopular, it was considered unAmerican.

“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”

It was an unspoken question, a new mantra, the click of a pendulum keeping time against the backdrop of bloodshed and rioting and the fall of voices of a generation. It was the cadence Ali kept time to as he stood tall despite his material losses. As he explored other avenues as a public speaker for the Nation after Malcolm X’s split from the organization. He was terrible at it initially, but as he had done in his previous life, he persisted until he became adept at it. The raw talent was there in his taunts and poetry in boxing matches, and like his fists Ali found precision in his words which only extended his reputation in the Black community as “The People’s Champion” and “The Greatest”.

“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”

He rebuilt himself in his time away from the ring. He answered that question conclusively to himself, his circle, his faith and Allah. He stood his ground, refused to be bought by offers of restoration of everything he lost through apology of wrongdoing and compromise for expediency’s sake. He was right in his heart, he believed what he believed.

He wasn’t in this fight for compromise, he was in it for a win.

The US Government didn’t know who they were fooling with.

The only people surprised by the eventual overturning of his conviction and restoration of his license to fight seemed to be the very people who condemned him and eventually vindicated him when they realized Ali could not be brought down.

“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”

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That question has been answered. It was a name he chose, a name he owned and a name he fought for.

It was an example of what happens when one man believes in himself and has the presence of mind to remain true to himself as he discovers who he is.

“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”

That is the question I toss out ahead of me because the name Muhammad Ali chose belonged to my great grandfather who came to America the end product of a line that traveled through Iran, Iraq, India, Ethiopia and eventually Northern California starting in Sacramento and migrating down into the Bay Area.

It’s the name continued to be passed on to my grandfather and my father. It’s a name I wear proudly despite the drawbacks that come with it in a post 9-11 world.

It’s a family name I hold on to and when asked by more than a few folks, “Wouldn’t it be easier to change your name? Maybe take on your mother’s maiden name or something?”

Yes, it would be easier.

But it wouldn’t be the truth.

It wouldn’t be who I am and who I will always be.

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Muhammad Ali was my example a long time ago. He not only wanted to find an identity, but in pursuing that identity, he went to Africa and embraced the many cultures across that continent; he traveled the globe as an ambassador of sorts and never tried to deny who he was, or where he felt he fell short in his life.

These days, you talk to a younger generation and they draw back at the history they could avail themselves to, the discovery of something more than the narrow confines of the neighborhood they were born into and no farther. They are fronted these days by guys like Floyd Mayweather who asks what Africa ever did for him as opposed to what he could do to make the world a better place outside of an expensive sports car in his driveway.

They look across the horizon but don’t see anything as if learning about these places, cultures and people diminish being part of the USA (since that’s where I am) – their end all be all.

They missed what Ali discovered by asking a simple question loudly…

“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”

It wasn’t about being self-absorbed or self-serving for Ali, he was too busy trying to give of himself while discovering himself to become a complete human being.

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.”

He stood with pride and dignity even as Parkinson’s diminished his ability to speak and move. He continued to show up, be counted, to give well past his part, if things like that could be measured.

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He didn’t hide. He didn’t walk away. He didn’t abandon who he was because the road would suddenly be easier if he just went along to get along.

He is, because his influence in my life is a forever kind of thing, my hero. He is the example I strive for still.

He is that for a lot of young men of my generation who, when heroes were in short supply, had the real Superman…

…and he looked like us.

And in my case, he wore my name when he could’ve gone back to his old one.

“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”

He is Muhammad Ali.

And he is the Greatest.

“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”

That’s a question I never have to ask, because just like Ali…

“I know where I’m going and I know the truth, and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want.”

That was the lesson he taught me. And when I step into the ring daily, that lesson’s a part of the gloves I lace up.

Now…

“WHAT’S MY NAME?!”

And more importantly, what’s yours?

Peace be upon you. And upon you be peace.

Peaceful Journey, Champ. You will be missed but not forgotten.

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Sean E. Ali Double Downs On VEGAS HEIST

From the “Viva, Lost Vegas” File…

Like the artwork?

Nah, it’s not a job I’m on, this was just me doodling on my down time inspired by something I read recently.

Occasionally the grind of life gets you down, you’ve gotten in a rut, and it seems like all you do is go do your job so you can go home and wait to go do your job and then go home and…

Well, you get the idea.

Then, out of the blue, you get a call from a guy you know who wants to get together and he can invite you and a couple of other guys out for a trip so wild…

…it’s criminal.

Which is why it helps that the destination that this guy has in mind is…

…Las Vegas.

This is really one of those times where you’re gonna want what happens in Vegas to stay in Vegas. In fact, this situation takes place in the early days of the Strip in 1965, so it’s possible this is the thing that happened that stayed where it happened in the first place.

Which is a breezy primer for Van Allen Plexico’s fun little crime tale VEGAS HEIST.

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Now, as I’ve said before: I love heist stories and their second cousins caper stories. Give me a crew of thieves with an eyes bigger than their stomachs crime on the schedule with seemingly impossible obstacles and toss in a couple of twists and I’m good. Toss in some of that classic Sinatra/Rat Pack “Ocean’s 11” and mix liberally with nods to other characters of that era in crime fiction and I’m not only in, I want a window seat. So Mr. Plexico is swinging in the right direction for me right out the gate.

So let’s break down the plot just a little. We start with John Harper, who is in the middle of putting his foot down on a loose end from a job he pulled prior to the start of our story: an associate who feels his take should’ve been bigger. Roughly Harper’s share of that job bigger. Harper disagreed with that assessment of the situation…

…rather forcefully.

As this exchange is going on, Harper gets a call from another associate whom he’s had a more positive relationship with: Saul “Salsa” Salzman, an attorney who occasionally moonlights as a heister, a roper, and an inside man who fingers potential jobs based on keeping his eyes and ears open and seeing an opportunity when it presents itself. Salsa’s got a lead on a job and it would require a first rate planner to work out the angles. Harper agrees to a meet, and gets back to what he was doing. Later, and in as neutral a locale as you can find, Salsa drops the caper on Harper: he’s got enough inside information on a mark that he wants Harper’s help to pull off a heist…

…in Las Vegas.

He has a crew: Bobby Donovan, an old school “jugger” (safecracker) who has been knocking knobs off of safes long enough to be considered one of the best. Besides being their vault man, Donovan also has a way to bankroll and arm themselves for the job without being on the line to another party who’d take a cut as his pay back on the vig, or the principal investment, plus the juice in the form of interest. There’s a catch, but nothing he, Harper and Salsa can’t handle. Plus Donovan brings with him Brett Rooker, a former boxer and wrestler who hires out now as muscle to crews who need it for a cut of the take. Rooker asks few questions, keeps himself to himself to a degree, but he’s hitched up with Salsa’s caper because of the notoriety of this particular crew’s individual reputations.

After they secure their money and weapons, the crew hits the road and move on to Vegas.

And they have a plan to break the bank while they’re there.

Now, I’ll stop there because it was really hard not to spoil the bits of business above with more details, but let’s get down to cases. VEGAS HEIST is a story you’ve seen, heard, read, probably even wrote at some point. It’s a little bit of Sinatra’s “Ocean’s 11”, it’s a little Richard Stark’s Parker, it’s all been done, yes, that too.

However…

…it’s all about execution that lets you know if you’ve got a hack job or really nice piece with the flavor and feel of a nice 1960s era crime flick with enough twists and turns in all the right places. Van hits the latter over the former, VEGAS HEIST is just a lot of fun. It’s a departure from Van’s usual bailiwick of superhero action adventure and space operas, but he really stepped into this genre with an obvious affection for it. If this continues on as a series of stories, I’m going to assume his characters will be fleshed out a bit more. Not too much, I don’t need an origin story or two, but it’ll be nice to see them develop past their obvious inspirational sources into distinct characters with unique voices. Still the way Van wrote these guys you get some subtle insights into how they see the world around them like Salsa’s gregarious nature having him presume that Harper’s a friend, while when he writes Harper’s point of view, Salsa’s more like a reliable associate he can trust not to stab him in the back. Plus, the other characters involved in the plot do have specific and distinct places in the narrative and the action.

And the twists, Lordy lord the twists in this tale are so much fun to see play out. There were plenty of places where I figured out the twist early but then Van would toss in something I took my eye off of and do something you kind of saw coming…

…but not like that.

Folks, Van kind of nails it.

So, VEGAS HEIST was a lot of fun for me, so much so, I decided to fool around with a what if scenario and make up one of those old house style ad like pieces that might’ve made it into a magazine or a movie marquee if HEIST got that kind of traction.

So, if you’re so inclined, check out VEGAS HEIST. I picked up a copy for my Kindle app right HERE.

Available in ebook and hard copy. Sadly we don’t get a movie version, but hey never say never…

Oh yeah, from left to right at the bottom of the image you’ve got Donovan, Rooker, Harper and Salsa…

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…because much was made of Salsa’s hat in his initial visual description…

Until next time…

…Be good to yourselves and each other.

 

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