Summer Spectacular!

 

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The problem with regular blog updates is that I prefer to actually have something to post about rather than a series of disconnected observations, opinions or personal anecdotes.

So, sometimes there’s a lengthy space between blogs…partly due to the fact that in the field in which I work, progress rarely moves at speeds other than arthritically slow.

But now, as spring edges into summer, I have a number of things to post about.

First and foremost, the long-awaited KING SOLOMON’S MINES graphic novel by the legendary Pablo Marcos and myself is finally on sale—first on Amazon and soon just about everywhere else.

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Beautifully designed by Melissa Martin Ellis (best-selling author and not so coincidentally my wife), KING SOLOMON’S MINES showcases Pablo’s strengths as an artist and mine as a visual storyteller.

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I worked with Pablo using the thumbnail/layout method rather a script. I find writing comic scripts a very dull and mechanical process…not to mention, it’s very easy to write script telling the artist to draw 500 Zulu warriors…if the writer takes some of the labor upon himself, he’s able to have more input into the finished page.

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I’ve worked this way in comics for years, and most of the artists I’ve collaborated with prefer it to full script.

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Published in association with Stephan Friedt’s Ying-Ko Graphics, our take on H.R. Haggard’s classic tale is filled with savage adventure in the dark heart of late 19th century Africa but with a few twists…particularly with the introduction of Princess Ignosa.

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Even if I say so myself—and I do, I do—KING SOLOMON’S MINES is a colorful, action-packed action-adventure…but It’s also a love story.

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You can order the print edition from Amazon here:

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Also—THE FALCON RESURRECTED audio book has been released!

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The print and Kindle editions came out last August and were very well received.  With the audio book, Lance R. Axt has done a fantastic job with both the narration and production.

THE FALCON RESURRECTED is a thriller with a race-against-time plot to save Europe from a nuclear holocaust—but it’s a little more than that since the book features the return of a once-very popular adventure character from the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

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The Falcon might be described as a blend between The Saint and James Bond. In fact, The Falcon predates James Bond but has a rather strange connection to The Saint. You can learn more about him—and the book—here:

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You can order THE FALCON RESURRECTED audio book at this link:

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I’m a little hesitant to post about the possible return of THE JUSTICE MACHINE, since there’ve been several “almosts” over the last four years, finally culminating in the release last June of THE OBJECT OF POWER graphic novel.

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Since then, particularly as the Avengers: Age of Ultron premiere drew near, I’ve been queried (even pestered) by numerous parties about the movie/digital and gaming rights to The Justice Machine.

Those of you who are Facebook friends might have read some of my posts about the bottom-feeding nature of most of these queries. Rather than repeat them here, let me recap—my creative history with the Justice Machine goes back to 1989 when I took over the scripting reins of the title.

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I’ve owned the rights to the Justice Machine for the last 24 years and I’m very aware of its value as an intellectual property…more so now than ever before.

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As the first super-hero team published at the dawn of the independent era in 1981, The Justice Machine possesses a substantial chunk of cachet, particularly when you factor in all the back issues which represent a potential digital gold mine. It’s also one of the few major super-hero comic properties NOT owned by a corporation.

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So when a few of these guys approached me with the opening gambit that the Justice Machine was worthless and they’d be willing to take the property off my hands for the equivalent of a soiled wig and a bag of ribbon candy, they seemed hurt when my reaction was somewhat less than cordial. A couple of them got kind of crybaby about it.

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I mean, c’mon…if it’s not worth anything, then why do you want it? If you want it, then it stands to reason it’s worth something. You don’t think I’m gonna make that connection?

Recently, it appears that trend might be on its way to being reversed.  A third-party partnership deal is pending, and if goes through, we’ll be starting off with new editions of THE JUSTICE MACHINE: THE CHIMERA CONSPIRACY and the OBJECT OF POWER.

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THE CHIMERA CONSPIRACY is the two-parter that unwittingly served as the last storyline of the Justice Machine comic series from 1992.

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Featuring great artwork by Darryl Banks, both parts will be digitally enhanced and repackaged as an affordable TPB and eBook…the story is also the direct lead-in to the OBJECT OF POWER graphic novel, which will be released shortly thereafter as a two volume set.

After that, the plan is for new Justice Machine material to be produced on a regular basis as well as making all the back issues available as digital downloads.

I’m cautiously optimistic that these projects will see fruition in very near future…like within a month or so.

Hopefully, I’ll have more detailed information before too much longer…and I can post another Summer Spectacular blog. Another summer treat to look forward to, huh?

The SAINT.

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SuperCaliFragiNonsense

As everybody knows, Birdman won the Best Picture Oscar for 2014…a film that has a tangential connection to super-hero films….whereas both Captain America II: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of The Galaxy—box office blockbusters—were ignored.

In my opinion, Birdman was a lugubriously paced, self-indulgent and altogether unengaging movie about NOTHING…the total opposite of Cap2 and Guardians.

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In January, film critic Kevin Maher wrote an article for Esquire complaining bitterly about the flood of movies derived or adapted from comic books, as if they were drowning all the intelligent and literate films out there…presumably instant classics like Blended and Horrible Bosses 2.

As it is, the tone of his whiny screed reminds me of a line from Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night: “I suspect that the review above was written by a pansy full of brandy Alexanders.”

Read it for yourself then come back.

http://www.esquire.co.uk/culture/film-tv/5481/supernonsense/

Here’s the way I feel about it…

Bad comic-book derived films are no more an affront to the sensibilities than bad comedies or bad dramas. Asking why the American public needs six Spider-Man movies in the last 12 years is like asking why the American public needs three Hangover movies in the last five. There’s no answer except the most obvious one. People want to see ‘em.

There are quite a few movies based on comic book properties I’ve not just disliked, I’ve outright despised—Kickass, Sin City, Batman and Robin come immediately to mind…but there are a lot more movies NOT based on comic book properties I’ve despised just as much—and I’m not talking about beloved bad movie classics like Plan 9 From Outer Space, either. I mean the overwrought, big-budget highly acclaimed extravaganzas, such as Les Miserables and The Aviator.

Just to go on record—in case somebody is keeping one—my absolute favorite film of all time is Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo…so it’s not like I’m hard-wired to prefer movies featuring people parading around in tights over any other type.

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However, I submit that the best of the comic book-derived films–like the last six years worth of Marvel Studios movies produced by Disney–are so far and away superior to pointless claptrap like Birdman, the comparison is almost laughable.

The two Captain America movies, the Iron Man trilogy and even the pair of Thor films manage to feel like they are actually about something…even if it’s only the suggestion  we’re all part of a larger universe and there are things which may be more important than our day-to-day needs.

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The first Avengers film in particular stressed a major recurring theme of the Marvel Age of Comics—that heroic people have ordinary concerns and more importantly, ordinary people can be heroic.

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On that note—what a lot critics of comic book movies don’t comprehend is that a substantial percentage of the ticket-buying audience grew up reading about all of these characters…and in a lot instances, they did more than just read about them, they cared about them and felt that Tony Stark, Peter Parker, Steve Rogers, Thor, et. al were friends.

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The movies produced by Disney are ingeniously structured to bridge the gap between people who have never picked up a Marvel comic in their lives and satisfy those of us who may’ve spent way too many hours of our childhoods collecting ‘em and poring over ‘em.

The characters are recognizable to us—unlike the most recent cinematic reimaginings of Batman and Superman, we know that The Avengers are presented as the same characters whose adventures we read about growing up.

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The recognition factor is one of the pleasures of watching these films, despite the changes in the transition between the printed page and a movie script. Cap is still Cap, The Hulk is still the Hulk and Thor is still Thor…and Loki as portrayed by Tom Huddleston is even more viciously lovable in the movies than he was on the printed page.

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So, in some ways when we go to these movies, it feels like we’re visiting old friends or –in my own case–recapturing some of the few happy memories I have of childhood.

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Also—by anybody’s standards, these are technically brilliant pieces of work. The production values are fantastically high, the acting is top-notch, and Joss Whedon’s script for The Avengers is probably going to be the Gold Standard by which all other super-hero movie screenplays will be measured against.

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Moreover, almost all of the Marvel Studios films are grounded in a form of an enhanced reality…and like the old comic books, they’re filled with humor and humanity, sprinkled throughout with little gems of true charm.

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Even as a kid I knew that super-hero movies couldn’t be made believable until special effects technology caught up with the concepts. The first two Christopher Reeve Superman films were encouraging, but it was patently obvious there was still a long way to go.

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Now that hurdle has finally been leaped. The special effects supplement and compliment the story without anything too obviously fake dragging the audience out of their suspension of disbelief.

So, I find it significant that if a movie adapted from a comic—whether it’s super-hero or not—doesn’t perform well, the critics crow in gleeful unison about the imminent death of comic book movies…but they don’t apply that attitude across the board. They don’t think that the failure of say, Jupiter Ascending, spells doom for future entries in the Star Wars or Star Trek franchises.

Yeah…right. Like that will happen never.

Accept it–comic book movies in general and ones based on super-heroes in particular are now mainstream genres. They’re no longer the opiate of fringe-dwelling nerds nor are they going away…because from here on out, there will always be a growing audience for them.

Unlike the current comics with incredibly twisted continuities appealing to a tiny readership of mainly middle-aged collectors, the movies are geared to keep a general audience coming back and growing, using the James Bond franchise as a template.

Granted, sometimes I really don’t know how I feel about super-heroes…although I own The Justice Machine –the first super-team published in the independent comics era, well over 30 years ago–the whole set-up of super-suits and super-powers occasionally strikes me as intolerably silly…on other days it doesn’t.

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I dunno…maybe it’s just a side-effect of getting older, like hair sprouting in your ear canals

But still, even the most snobbish, pretentious film critic has to agree the output of Marvel Studios is always of high quality but like anything else, there will be hits and misses along the way.

I’m sure the Kevin Maheras out there have their fingers and toes crossed, praying the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron will be a box-office catastrophe…which doesn’t seem likely.

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Still…if the Kevins continue to delude themselves into thinking that the super-hero movie genre is on life support…that really is SuperCaliFragiNonsense.

The SAINT.

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Writing The Detectives

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Although it’s not widely known (and why should it be?), my first foray into establishing myself as a “serious” writer was with a hard-boiled detective novel.

Through the spring and summer of 1978, I was laid up with a broken leg. I lived in Central Florida at the time, so having my left leg encased in about 20 pounds of plaster-of-Paris from ankle to upper thigh in 95 degree heat (with about that much in humidity) didn’t make me want to exert myself overmuch. Not to mention, I was zonked out on pain-killers.

So…to pass the time I read, and what I read primarily were detective novels. It was kind of a switch of genres for me. Although I was pretty much an omnivore as reader, I preferred SF and heroic fantasy, although I loved Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm series and Edward S. Aaron’s Sam Durrell secret agent books when I was younger.

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I was no stranger to detective and mystery fiction, since both of my parents read everything from Erle Stanley Gardner to Rex Stout to Richard Prather (when I was a kid, I was forbidden to touch my dad’s collection of Shell Scott and Mike Shayne novels, so I had to sneak-skim them).

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Of course, detective TV series were a staple of my household while growing up:Perry Mason, Mannix and later, my particular favorite, The Outsider, starring Darren McGavin. I’d also seen all of the hardboiled noir classics: Murder My Sweet, The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon and a lot of lesser known films too, likePitfall and Dead Reckoning.

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Since I was convalescing at my parent’s home, I picked up a couple of books at random, just to pass the time. The first was a Raymond Chandler anthology,Trouble Is My Business. After reading Chandler’s very entertaining foreword, I was hooked.

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Once I completed the entirety of Chandler’s novels, there was Hammett, then MacDonald…both Ross and John…as many of their books as I could find. I did more than read them–I studied them…the different techniques, the pacing, the balance between plot and character development. After a couple of months of reading a book a day and intense study, I decided to try my writin’ hand at the detective genre.

I knew I didn’t want to go the standard route of the tough guy PI in a seedy office in LA…even though that trope had been handled in a fresh way by Timothy Harris in his excellent Kyd For Hire, which came out as a paperback that same summer.

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Being an avid fan of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series, I decided to make Florida my milieu…but not the tourist Mecca Florida of beach-bunnies and lavish hotels.

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No, my setting was the “real” Florida…I went far inland from West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale into the central section of the state…cattle and citrus country. It was a Dark Continent of blazing heat, phosphate mines, swamps, and nigh-endless tracts of rattlesnake-infested palmetto scrub—also known as Cracker Country.

As the old axiom goes, “write what you know” and I knew central Florida…as much as I wished I didn’t.

There’s a bit of dialogue spoken by Pat Hingle’s Judge Fenton character in Hang ‘Em High that adequately sums up the character of Cracker Country: “A happy hunting ground filled with bushwhackers, horse thieves, whiskey peddlers, counterfeiters, hide peelers, marauders – they’d kill you for a hat band.”

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He was talking about the Indian Nations of Oklahoma in the 1889, but by substituting drug smugglers, cattle rustlers, pot growers, Klansmen and outlaw bikers, the judge’s description fit the central Florida of my own experience pretty much to a T.

It was–and still is–a place of cultural extremes—just a few miles inland from a major metropolitan area like Tampa Bay, you’ll be rolling through little towns that haven’t changed since the surrender at Appomattox…for that matter, a lot of people in those little towns refused to acknowledge the surrender.

(For years, I thought this license plate was issued by the state since so many vehicles sported ‘em)

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For my detective hero, I went in another direction, too—not a professional PI, but a man who knew the dark heart of the region and struggled to keep it from corrupting him. He became involved in cases because of his reputation as a man who could hold his own and deal with scum on their own terms if necessary.

To teach myself the craft, I wrote five short stories, one of them of novella length. I had no intention of placing them since I viewed them as learning exercises.

Once I felt I had mastered the form sufficiently, I wrote a novel featuring my detective hero and his milieu—in fact, it was my first full-length work. With this manuscript, I managed to secure an agent with the prestigious Connie Clausen literary agency in NYC and I thought my future as a detective novelist was assured.

Uh-uh.

It was my first—but unfortunately not my last—lesson about literary agents. Just because a writer is repped by a well known agent, a sale to a publisher doesn’t necessarily follow.

So, while my agent shopped that manuscript around, she urged me to write a second book about the same character, thinking it might help to sell the whole thing as a series.

To make a long story short, although we came close, it never happened. Ironically enough, Raven House, Harlequin’s then-fledgling mystery imprint made an offer but my agent turned it down because it was too low (shoulda looked at that as a sign of things to come). A couple of years later, she quit the literary agency to practice law.

By that time, I had already moved on to the more immediate concerns of simply making a living. My two detective novels and five short stories were consigned to a box.

Fast-forward a lotta years and a whole lotta published work, including over 50 books, most of them SF/action-adventure novels.

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I became a fan of the TV series Justified. It’s a tough, adult and intelligent show with its own unique vision. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the closest thing to a television version of the old Fawcett/Gold Medal paperback originals to have been produced in decades. The last, in my opinion, was The Rockford Files. 

One reason I like Justified so much is that there’s an air of authenticity to it, particularly with the hillbilly crime syndicates that US Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens is often forced to deal with in his stomping grounds of eastern Kentucky.

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I  easily recognized that type, but by the same token, the cackling, sociopathic criminal cretins I knew in Central Florida made the Crowders, the Bennetts and the Dewey Crowes seem like the senior faculty of Cambridge University.

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Anyway, watching Justified reminded me of my own hard-boiled detective hero contending with his own po’ white trash villainy. So, I pulled out the box of manuscripts and went through the short stories…and to my surprise, with all of these years of hindsight, I concluded the novella didn’t suck.

Obviously, the story required revision, particularly adding technology like cell phones and so forth and also fixing up some plotting flaws that my 20-something year old self didn’t catch. Fortunately, I was able to rely on a great editor this time around.

I also changed the detective hero’s name to Bonaparte “Bone” Mizell, inspired by a real Cracker cowboy whose exploits in the early 20th century Florida cattle trade had become local folklore.

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In fact, the famed Frederic Remington was so impressed by the tall tales of Bone, he painted his portrait, calling it “A Cracker Cowboy”.

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Rag Baby, the first Bone Mizell Mystery is an 18,000 thousand word ebook available for Kindle for the exceptionally reasonable price of .99 cents. The cover is designed by Melissa Martin Ellis, who is not only a best-selling author in her own right, but she’s also a professional graphic designer…not to mention she’s the great editor I referenced earlier.

Here’s the Rag Baby description and the link:

SEX, BLACKMAIL  AND MURDER IN THE DARK HEART OF THE SUNSHINE STATE!

Bonaparte “Bone” Mizell, formerly of the DEA, has a problem on his hands; Dale Bristline, his 400 lb. client with a beautiful ex-stripper wife needs help dealing with a blackmailer — Brandy’s first husband has returned from the dead and is making outrageous demands…and she mustn’t be told about it.

When drug-dealer turned sex club owner Bristline needs some help dealing with the blackmailer, cash-strapped Bone accepts the case…and he quickly learns that behind the sunshine and laid-back lifestyle is a dangerous jungle, where sex is big business and jealousy can lead to murder. Bone deals with bikers turned bodyguards, scorned strippers and a lovely Latina sheriff, all out to get him – in one way or another.

As a DEA agent, Bone was used to hitting all the wrong places at just the wrong time. Now a cast of bizarre characters and a storm of violence traps him in a mystery that will take all of his resourcefulness to solve – and survive!

You can also read a sample for free at the same link.

http://tinyurl.com/RAGBABY

The audio book edition is now available, too! Depending on various factors—not the least of which is time—I’m planning on more Bone Mizell Mysteries. 

 

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Gold Eagle Folds Its Wings

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I tried out a couple of headlines—like “Gold Eagle falls from the nest” or “I Watched An Imprint Kill Itself” but neither really worked for me.

For the non-cognoscenti, Gold Eagle is/was an imprint of Harlequin Publishing, being formed in 1980 to publish Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan The Executioner series. In 1981-2, it became the full-fledged “Men’s Adventure” imprint of Harlequin…conceived as the male answer to bodice rippers.

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Gold Eagle spun off three series from Bolan. The Bolan series itself sold about a million copies a year. By steadily adding new series to its roster and with a direct-distribution arrangement with PXs on military bases all over the world, Gold Eagle became the leader of the men’s-adventure market. Gold Eagle was king of the mid-list and soared high throughout the 1980s.

But by the early 90s, with the closing of many military bases, the imprint started losing altitude and faltering badly. A lawsuit Harlequin had filed against Don Pendleton backfired expensively and even hilariously. Competition from other men’s adventure series bit into their market share.

They began experimenting with different types of series, all but a few dying a-bornin’.

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Over the years, Gold Eagle released close to two dozen of them, some of which lasted only two books but the average was four.  One of them was called OUTLANDERS, which I created in early 1996 and wrote until 2009. In an earlier series of blogs  I described how I began writing for Gold Eagle in 1995.

http://markellisink.com/blog/outlanders-genesis-part-one

As I stated in that blog, OUTLANDERS was GE’s first bona-fide success since the launch of the Deathlands series in 1986. During my many years writing it, OUTLANDERS sold over a million copies—at least according to GE promotional material—and often alternated with Deathlands for the top spot of GE’s best-selling series.

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But in 2008, due to several factors, the then-senior editor did not renew my contract. Our relationship had become extremely toxic over the previous three years and although I wasn’t blameless in how contentious our interactions had become, by 2008 I was totally fed up. Dealing with him on even minor issues became stress-inducing and often ugly exercises.

However—and maybe to the surprise of some—this blog entry won’t be a litany of how Gold Eagle Done Me Wrong. Maybe that will come later.

I try to be fair-minded in most things, and regardless of how my interaction with the senior editor turned out, my relationship with him and the imprint wasn’t all bad—in fact, I owe him and Gold Eagle a degree of thanks.

Although I dealt primarily with editor Eva Kovacs during my first four years with Gold Eagle, there could have been a lot more roadblocks thrown up in the way of implementing my vision of  OUTLANDERS than there actually were.

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OUTLANDERS wasn’t like any series Gold Eagle had ever published, regardless of the backdoor connection to Deathlands. I was given pretty much carte-blanche to write the series the way I saw fit and I suffered from very little editorial interference—however, I should note that when I did suffer from it, the interference was major and always arbitrary.

Despite that, my time with Gold Eagle didn’t start turning irretrievably bad until 2006. As I noted earlier, I have to share some of the responsibility for that,  but I still maintain the situation could have been remedied before the senior editor and I reached the point of no return.

Regardless of what some people have put forth, I did not “quit” writing OUTLANDERS. When the editor didn’t offer me another contract at the point he should have , I realized he was either hoping I’d beg him to permit me to stay on the series I had created—a tactic he had used on other writers– or I’d just let the matter lie.

I chose the latter option. After I turned in my last book,  that was it. The editor never contacted me and OUTLANDERS was turned over to a couple of scribes…a move which at least showed awareness on his part that OL was too complex to be tossed into the multiple-author blender like all of GE’s other series.

At the time I wasn’t too upset…my novel CRYPTOZOICA had been accepted by a start-up publisher called Variance and everything was in place except for signing the contracts. Also, our daughter Deirdre was just beginning the long process of recovering from a life-threatening illness and I was still grieving over the very recent death of my best friend Jim Mooney.

Therefore involving myself again with the stress of dealing with GE’s editor didn’t appeal to me at all. I figured if he wanted me back, he’d call me. Besides, after all of those years writing pretty much nothing but OUTLANDERS, I needed a break.

Then came December 6th of 2008 and what became known as “Black Wednesday”.

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For all intents and purposes, the entire publishing industry imploded. Many senior editors were laid off, book contracts were canceled by the score and advances slashed, in some cases to the bone.

This was basically an industry-wide “Night of The Long Knives”, and I’m sure it was a concerted, cooperative effort among the large publishing houses. A number of the smaller ones dutifully followed suit, pointing to what their Big Brothers in NYC did as the precedent.

CRYPTOZOICA was a casualty of that implosion. Variance reneged on its commitment to publish it.

Needless to say, 2008 was about the worst year I’d experienced in a very long time, with professional and personal traumas taking center stage.

I turned my attention to reframing several of my comics properties as graphic novels.  In cooperation with Gary Reed’s Transfuzion imprint, the endeavor was a fairly successful one—at least for awhile.

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I kept waiting for the publishing industry to improve—but it didn’t.  In fact, conditions worsened.

I went ahead and took the plunge into self-publishing…something I had heretofore sworn to never do. I published CRYPTOZOICA and it was about the wisest professional decision I ever made.

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The book would have never been published in its current form under the Variance banner. It came out exactly as I envisioned it, thanks to artistic and graphic design skills of the ever-awesome Jeff Slemons and multi-talented Melissa Martin Ellis.

Still, the unresolved situation with Gold Eagle continued to hang over my head—I often felt like Al Capp’s Joe Btfsplk

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The cloud remained, even after the senior editor “retired” in 2009. Yes, the quote marks are deliberate—maybe I’ll revisit the reason why they’re there later.

The replacement(s) for the editor didn’t seem inclined to engage with me and I didn’t feel inclined to reach out. I figured if they wanted me, they knew where to find me. They’d been calling for years, after all.

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Still, being prevented from returning to characters and concepts of my creation felt like a wound that refused to heal.  It took me a long time to grasp just how depressed I was over the situation—not being able to go back to Kane, Brigid, Grant, Domi and the all of the rest of my characters became an ongoing source of stress, particularly when efforts were being made by one of the replacement writers to diminish my claim as the series creator.

Later, I learned that the even current Gold Eagle editor was the under the impression that a retired Harlequin executive had created OUTLANDERS.

Whether by accident or design, it certainly appeared the credit for creating OL was being intentionally obfuscated, if not co-opted, all the while trying to sweep me as far back into the shadows as possible…what I called “Has-Been Haze.”

Although GE was contractually obligated to continue doing so, my “created/developed by” credit was removed from the indicia of the books.

The entire situation made me very sad every time I thought about it…and unfortunately, I thought about it a lot. Brooded, I guess. I experienced considerable emotional pain which I realized later was probably a manifestation of separation anxiety.

Over the next couple of years, I determined—using my own royalty statements as a baseline—that not just the OL sales were dropping steadily but the entire GE line. I couldn’t understand why they were keeping any of the series going…except for inertia.  I knew it couldn’t continue.

Then in May of this year, I learned that HarperCollins (owned by NewsCorp) would buy Harlequin and all of its imprints. I knew in my gut the sale did not bode well for Gold Eagle or any under-performing imprint.

I have some experience in the real world business environment…more often than not, when one company buys another, out come the new brooms, sweeping away deadwood. From what I could tell, there was no wood deader at Harlequin than Gold Eagle.

The grim sweeper shows just how clean a new broom could sweep.

I also noted that the Gold Eagle “Blog” (if it could be called that), hadn’t been updated in well over a year.

When I suggested that GE might be a casualty of the purchase, I was on the receiving end of a considerable amount of denial-based snark from several GE writer-types.

Well, last week, the announcement came through that the Gold Eagle imprint and all of its series would indeed be cancelled by HarperCollins next year.

I admit I indulged in a few “I toldja so’s” which weren’t well received by some. Mea Culpa.

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Despite a pettish accusation from one GE scribe, I did not “revel” over writers being thrown out of work or anything of the sort. I won’t say I was unhappy when my suspicions were confirmed, but I wasn’t overjoyed either.

My strongest reaction was a profound sense of closure…and relief that now, years later, a painful wound can begin heal and the fate of the characters and concepts of my creation won’t be left up to others…or consigned to limbo.

Still and all, it’s the end of an era in publishing…the final signpost that the midlist in mainstream publishing is thoroughly dead.

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But if I learned any kind of a lesson here, it’s that events usually work out in the way they’re intended to.

Variance, the company who was supposed to publish CRYPTOZOICA is long gone and CRYPTOZOICA is still selling and finding new fans.

The senior Gold Eagle editor with whom I had so many clashes has kept such a low profile since since leaving the company in 2009, he might as well have set up housekeeping in the Phantom Zone.

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But my characters and concepts as published in the OUTLANDERS series continue to find new readers. The series that was originally predicted to last only four books will have been consecutively published for 18 years…a remarkable milestone shared by only a handful of other paperback original series.

Someone opined it’s a long publishing history by genre standards–no, it’s a long time by any standards. OUTLANDERS managed to live through four generations of editors. If the series had been published by any other company, we’re probably talking on the order of eight generations of editors, especially post-Black Wednesday.

Yes, I do feel a degree of sadness that Gold Eagle, which was an important part of many people’s lives for so many years will be no more.

GERIP

Still,  I’m convinced its passing will not leave a vacuum, but a niche that can—and will–be filled.

More on that later.

The SAINT

 

(Thanks to Tim Van Zile for the RIP illustration!)

 

 

 

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KICKSTARTIN’ KING SOLOMON

For once, I’ve got a number of things to talk about but not enough space. I’ll spread those things out over the next couple of blogs.

First, I want to talk about

KDMLOGOLogo

This is a 48 page graphic novel that I’ve been working on with the legendary artist, Pablo Marcos, for quite some time. When the original publisher couldn’t adequately finance its production, work on the project stopped.

Both Pablo and I had more immediate concerns to occupy us…like making a living. Neither of us was happy with the choice to backburner it, since the book was so close to completion… unfortunately we had few options.

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As I reported in a blog earlier in this year, pulp and comic historian Stephan Friedt of ComicsPriceGuide.com (http://www.comicspriceguide.com/) loved what he had seen of the graphic novel and offered to create an imprint –Ying Ko Graphics–to see the project completed and published.

Now the art is complete and production has begun in earnest, like lettering and preparing the pages for print. To have QUATERMAIN: KING SOLOMON’S MINES published in the way it deserves, Ying Ko Graphics has initiated a Kickstarter campaign to fund the printing of different editions.

AKSM

An irrefutable fact of publishing nowadays is that it has changed considerably from what it was even seven years ago…and not for the better. The comics field has been in a state of flux since The Crash N’ Burn of the early 1990s. A similar upheaval happened in traditional publishing, starting in December of 2008. Neither have recovered to any level approximating health since that time.

The comics/graphic novel field in particular is still on life-support.

Therefore, creators have turned to various crowd-funding sources in order to complete their higher-end projects and that’s what we’re doing with QUATERMAIN: KING SOLOMON’S MINES.ALANCLOSE2

Obviously, I’m very fond of this project —partly because there’s never been a take quite like this one on Quatermain and his late 19th century African milieu, but mainly because I’m collaborating with Pablo Marcos, an artist whose work I’ve enjoyed and admired since I was in my teens.

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I’ve had the privilege of working with a number of great comic artists and illustrators over the years–Darryl Banks, Don Heck, Jim Mooney , Adam Hughes, Mike Herring and Jeff Slemons to name just my favorites.

Working with Pablo has been an honor…and I’m exceptionally proud of the final result of our shared vision.

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Our interpretation of HR Haggard’s classic tale stays true to the heart and the spirit of the original 1886 novel, but we’ve streamlined the plot and reframed some of the characters.

First and foremost, we trimmed over twenty years from Quatermain’s age and made him more of a dynamic “Tarzan In Pants”  jungle hero, with touches of a womanizing rogue to his personality.

ALANACTION

Another change is the evil witch Gagool–traditionally  depicted as a dwarfish, wizened crone, she appears in our version as a beautiful, sexy sorceress–at least at first.

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The most obvious change was transmuting the exiled Zulu Prince Ignosi into the exiled Zulu Princess Ignosa. This was daring step and it’s one that has never been taken in all of the different movie adaptations of the novel.

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Usually, a female lead is created out of whole cloth and played by white actresses such as Deborah Kerr and Sharon Stone. Quatermain had no romantic interest in the original book.

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QUATERMAIN: KING SOLOMON’S MINES presents an interracial romance for the first time in all of the many adaptations. A love story seemed like a natural step once Ignosi became Princess Ignosa.

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I should point out she’s not a simpering heroine who needs to be rescued but a character who is as tough and as brave as Quatermain.

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In fact, the triumvirate of Quatermain, Ignosa and her cheetah Gajeema, could easily be spun-off into a whole new series of adventures.

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And as long as we’re on the subject…

The KING SOLOMON’S MINES graphic novel is just the first of several connected universe projects (with Ying Ko Graphics) featuring “reimagined” classic adventure heroes. We call the imprint Classics Reimagined.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s CHALLENGER rendered here by the ever-awesome Jeff Slemons, Jules Verne’s NEMO by the uber-talented Steven E Gordon and of course, more adventures of HR Haggard’s QUATERMAIN by Pablo and myself…including SHE.

Sepiathree figure

So, please check out the link to our Kickstarter campaign and pledge whatever you can. I guarantee that at whatever level you make the pledge, you’ll come out a winner!

KING SOLOMON’S MINES Kickstarter:

http://tinyurl.com/KSMKICK

(Keep in mind that no funds actually change hands until the project reaches its goal…if it doesn’t, then you’re out nothing…there is no real risk involved).

IngnosaByebye

 

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The Falcon Takes Wing Again!

The 1930s and 40s were more than the Golden Age of pulp and comic-book characters…they were also the heyday of movie and radio heroes…many of them served as the templates for what became known as “action heroes.”

There was Boston Blackie, Bulldog Drummond, The Lone Wolf, Nick Carter and even the Man Called X.

Among the most popular was the mystery man known as The Falcon.

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The character first appeared in the 1936 novel, The Falcon’s Prey by Charles H. Huff, under the pseudonym, Drexel Drake. Two more novels followed—The Falcon Cuts In and The Falcon Meets a Lady as well as a short-story, “The Falcon Strikes.”

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A freelance adventurer and detective who went by the name of Malcolm Wingate, The Falcon was very similar in attitude and action to Leslie Charteris’ Simon Templar AKA The Saint. Wingate’s assistant and comic foil was an ex-police detective named Steve Hardy, but who answered to “Sarge.”

Like The Saint, Wingate even had his own personal signature illustration—his was in the form of a falcon wearing a top hat.

A version of The Falcon was brought to the screen in a 1941 RKO film as a replacement for its popular movie series starring The Saint. The debut film, the unfortunately titled The Gay Falcon, was sufficiently successful to give birth to nearly a decade’s worth of sequels.

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The first three starred former Simon Templar impersonator George Sanders as Gay Lawrence and nine with Sanders’ real-life brother, Tom Conway as the Falcon’s brother, also named Tom. Upon the death of Gay, Tom adopted his sibling’s avian nom du guerre.

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The success of the films led to a radio series that premiered in 1943, and was broadcast for the next ten years on various networks. The Falcon, now calling himself Michael Waring, worked first as a wise-guy insurance investigator. As the series progressed, Waring became a special investigator for US Army intelligence.

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A number of the radio episodes presented The Falcon in Indiana Jones-type milieus, involving stolen artifacts and treasures in exotic, foreign settings.

The Mike Waring incarnation of the Falcon was made into a series of three low-budget films starring John Calvert.

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The movie and radio incarnation of the character was adapted in the mid-fifties as a short-lived syndicated television series,  Adventures of The Falcon.

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Charles McGraw starred as a less sophisticated and more hardboiled Waring.

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His occupation this time around was as an undercover agent who traveled the world on “hazardous missions”, according to the promotional material. He was one of the earliest secret agent heroes in mass media.

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When both the TV and radio series ended, The Falcon seemed fated for obscurity, although the RKO movies became staples of late night TV for the next twenty years.

Even though The Saint enjoyed renewed popularity in the 1960s due to an internationally distributed TV series starring Roger Moore, The Falcon was eclipsed by Mike Hammer, Peter Gunn and James Bond as the new faces of adventure heroes.

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There never was a revival of the character, except in occasional retrospectives. The Falcon became an orphan, waiting  to be adopted, cleaned up and modernized.

After my decade-plus long stint writing the best-selling Outlanders series came to a close, I wasn’t sure about creating a new series…I knew if I did, I wanted to go a little more retro and a lot less complex than Outlanders… I had in mind a series closer in spirit and structure with the books, movies and TV series I’d enjoyed growing up–straightforward action-adventure with a spy-fi slant…The Saint, Doc Savage, I Spy, T.H.E. Cat, The Wild Wild West and of course, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

I’d written the last comic incarnations of both The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Wild Wild West and I’d always yearned to write something similar in tone, but in prose.

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Unlike Outlanders, I didn’t want an ensemble cast of characters. I preferred to craft a series focusing on a central hero with a minimum of a supporting cast and who was basically on his own…similar to a modern-day take on Paladin from Have Gun-Will Travel. Like Paladin and The Saint, he would be a man of mystery, who only hinted at a dark past.

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I thought about how Dr. No, the first Bond film, actually created a new genre…or subgenre. In that inaugural outing, Bond operated independently with only a couple of allies as he faced off against a genuine super-villain who had the backing a large organization.

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Tonally, Dr. No was as different from subsequent Bond films as it was possible to get and still be part of the same series. It was a straightforward action-adventure film with far more focus on the backstories of Dr. No and Honeychile Ryder than Bond himself…and that was okay. Bond worked best as a dark, somewhat ruthless “man who was only a silhouette”, to quote Ian Fleming.

Unfortunately by late 2008 due to an industry-wide implosion, no mainstream publisher seemed interested in producing books featuring that kind of character. Since it’s highly unlikely they will ever again, I decided to do it myself…mainly because I know there is audience for that kind of character.

When I thought about all the men of mystery heroes who once populated books, pulps and movies,  The Falcon kept flying to the forefront of my mind—he was a true mystery man. We didn’t know his real name–since he had so many–where he came from or even when he was born. The Falcon simply existed…complete and fully-realized.

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Rather than cast about for a character “like” The Falcon, there was no reason not to go with the genuine article, but reframed and streamlined, with my own personal stamp on him—still a modern adventurer,  although more in line with contemporary action heroes. Oblique references to a past that alluded to his earlier incarnations would take the place of the tedious origin stories which are so popular in Hollywood as of late.

(A two-hour backstory for The Lone Ranger? Really?)

Using the paperback originals produced by the legendary Gold Medal imprint as a model and inspiration, The Falcon: Resurrected is the first entry in a series of tightly plotted and tautly paced thrillers showcasing what I do best and what I’m known for: blazing, cinematic action, exotic heroines, stylish, colorful heroes squaring off against a Rogues Gallery of larger than life villains, Countdowns to Doom and some smart-ass dialogue sprinkled liberally throughout.

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Two more books in the The Falcon series are already in production and  another is in the plotting stage.

The Falcon: Resurrected can be purchased as an affordable paperback edition and/or ebook at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and pretty much all booksellers.

http://tinyurl.com/RETURNOFTHEFALCON

The cover art is by the brilliant Rob Moran and the book’s designer, Melissa Martin-Ellis.

If you enjoy action-adventure with a focus on the “action”, I guarantee The Falcon series will more than meet expectations.

I think it was Rex Stout, creator of Nero Wolfe, who said: “If I’m not having any fun writing a book, no one will have any fun reading it.”

In case you were wondering…  I had a lot of fun writing The Falcon: Resurrected.  I’m looking forward to more of the same.

NewShadedFalcon.

Categories: Blog | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

THE JUSTICE MACHINE GEARS UP AGAIN!

Those of you who have followed this blog and my Facebook pages are aware of the long and complicated road to the publication of The Justice Machine: Object of Power graphic novel.

If not, everything you need to know about The Justice Machine can be found here: www.JusticeMachine.com

But to recap: The Justice Machine was one of the most popular comic titles of the 1980s. It debuted from Noble Comics in 1981 at the very dawn of the independent comics era, featuring an iconic cover by John Byrne.  The team holds a place of significance in comics’ history as the first super-hero group produced by an independent publisher.

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The initial series only lasted five issues (plus an annual) but such luminaries as John Byrne, Bill Willingham, Joe Rubinstein and Jack Kirby made artistic contributions to it.

In 1986 Comico published The Justice Machine Featuring The Elementals four-issue series, which at the time was Comico’s most successful series ever. After that, The Justice Machine became one of Comico’s flagship titles, lasting a respectable 30 issues.

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When Innovation picked up the Machine in 1989, the team was reintroduced as The New Justice Machine in a three-issue mini-series. During that time and when the title became a full series, I worked with artist Darryl Banks on establishing a new direction and even a slightly new look for the characters.

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Shortly thereafter, as the editor and one of the founders of Millennium Publications, I purchased the Justice Machine property outright from creator Mike Gustovich and again with artist Darryl Banks began work on a new series. Unfortunately, only two issues were produced by Millennium Publications before the comics market crashed in 1993. Like Comico, Innovation and may other publishers, Millennium became a casualty of the industry-wide nosedive.

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Fast forward nearly twenty years—Justice Machine artwork was featured in the 2009 how-to book, The Everything Guide To Writing Graphic Novels and that jump-started interest in the property from various quarters.

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Inspired by the renewed interest, we published a compilation through Gary Reed’s Transfuzion imprint– The Justice Machine: High Gear Edition Volume One. The TPB reprinted the Innovation New Justice Machine mini-series.

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The reprint edition raised the Machine’s profile even higher.  After its release, I turned away a couple of offers from RPG game producers and Dynamite Entertainment…actually, I twice turned away offers from Dynamite.

Eventually we accepted a deal from Moonstone Books.

The Justice Machine: Object of Power was originally scheduled to be put out as a mini-series in 2011, on the thirtieth anniversary of the team’s debut—but I had doubts about the format from the very beginning.

Drawing upon my own experiences as comic publisher, I knew that the first issue of a miniseries might garner better-than-decent orders from retailers, but there was an inevitable a drop-off with issue two, and if you were really lucky, there’d be an upswing with the third and fourth issues.

Since the Moonstone JM miniseries was only three issues, we were severely curtailing the possibility of an order upswing. In the early 90s, when there were over a dozen distributors and between four to six thousand comic shops, that second issue drop-off phenomenon could be weathered.

But by 2011, with Diamond as the only distributor and less than two thousand comic shops (recently, I was told the current number is closer to 1500), I didn’t feel  the miniseries approach was best.

I suggested to the Moonstone publisher that we reintroduce the Justice Machine as a 48 page special to test the waters. I pointed out  if we went the miniseries route, most likely the issue#2 order drop-off would be so sharp, we wouldn’t be able to publish the second and third issues in color, which would then necessitate cancelling those retail orders and resoliciting through Diamond…which would lower the numbers even further.

The publisher blew me off, basically saying he knew best and that my experience was out-of-date.

Hm.  My experience as the co-founder and editor of a company that at one time was ranked #12 out of a field of a 120 didn’t rate even a moment of semi-serious consideration?

Peculiar attitude from a publisher whose best-selling title Millennium would have cancelled with the first issue due to lousy orders.

Needless to say, when the Diamond preorders came in for the inaugural issue of the Justice Machine miniseries, it became apparent that after we factored in the second issue dropoff, the scenario would be EXACTLY like I laid out above—the scenario which the publisher had so brusquely dismissed as unimportant.

What little confidence I might have had in Moonstone totally evaporated. So–let me extend a little advice to publishers…if you’re dealing with a creator who has hard, proven experience in the same arena as you, instead of reacting with a threatened ego, just turn down the volume of your inner control freak voice and give that creator enough R-E-S-P-E-C-T to listen to him.

That might save you a lot of hassle and hard feelings in the long run(yeah, I’m talking to you too, Nick).

In any event, over the next couple of years the Justice Machine project staggered around in different directions until the contract term with Moonstone finally expired.

Not quite a year after that, Darren Davis of Bluewater Productions and I came to an agreement to publish the Object of Power mini-series as a full-color, 100 page graphic novel.

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The release date is June 4th and you can order here:

http://tinyurl.com/JUSMACHOBJECT

The ebook edition can be ordered from Comixology, Barnes and Noble, iTunes and Amazon.

http://tinyurl.com/OBJECTOFPOWEREBOOK

It’s quite the relief for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, as a creator I hate having the specter of uncompleted projects hanging over me, especially when they are so close to being done. Dealing with Darren Davis has been refreshingly straightforward.

Secondarily, this graphic novel is a labor of love. With front and back covers by the awesome Jeff Slemons and interior artwork by David Enebral, Ivan Barriga, Jason Jensen, Kirsty Swan and of course, Darryl Banks, there’s nothing NOT to love about the book.

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Also, to let my nerd flag fly for a moment—I really love The Justice Machine. I think there’s something ineffably cool (from a nerd’s point-of-view, that is) about owning a super-hero team with the 30-plus year cachet of the Machine.

As an added dash of coolness…I equate my most enjoyable comic-book reading periods with the summer…when I was kid, that was the season Marvel and DC came out with their giant-sized annuals, and you had the time to kick back on sunny days and enjoy them fully without the distractions of schoolwork and chores.

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So, having The Justice Machine return in June, on the eve of school being out for summer vacation, just seems so appropriate, I almost get the goose-bumps. Almost.

The Justice Machine: Object of Power is not just a new adventure of the team. The over-arching plot explains, expands and rectifies long-standing  mysteries of the convoluted backstory.

In the third issue of The Justice Machine produced by Noble Comics, the team joined New Haven, an Earth organization operated by a mystery man named Hammet Dash. The intention was for the Machine to learn that New Haven was as totalitarian as the Georwell government had been, but those stories were never told. In 1983, after publishing five issues of The Justice Machine, Noble comics folded.

Texas Comics published the Justice Machine Annual #1, which continued the Noble continuity. Another issue was completed, but printed several years later by Innovation as a “Summer Spectacular”.

In 1985, when the Justice Machine was picked up by Comico, it underwent a reboot, partly to accommodate the inclusion of Bill Willingham’s popular super-team, The Elementals but also because of the two-year publication gap between The Justice Machine Annual and issue #1 of The Justice Machine Featuring The Elementals.

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In the Comico version, the team joined New Atlantis, a utopian society located on an artificial island created by Dash Hamilton. Despite the similarities to the Noble comics backstory, the continuity established in the Comico series is the one considered official. It’s the one I followed when I wrote the Machine for Innovation and Millennium.

I always had a germ of an idea about blending the two continuities, but I never gave it too much thought.

When Dynamite Comics approached me about either licensing or purchasing the Justice Machine property but with the caveat they had the right to reboot the series, I turned down the offers–twice. Although there were other  issues affecting my refusal, I didn’t care for the proposal of rebooting The Justice Machine yet again.

As far as I was concerned, it wasn’t necessary– the original concept of Georwell had never been adequately explored…or its weird connection to George Orwell’s 1984 ever explained.

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Granted, it would have been easier just to start over—and maybe do away with that whole exiles-from-a-totalitarian-world origin—but I felt those underpinnings were integral to making the Justice Machine unique among countless other super-hero teams…not to mention making them so fondly remembered after 30-plus years.

However, I did want to make some changes—first and foremost with the Justice Machine’s costumes. Always in the past, the members of the Machine wore individualized outfits but this time around I wanted more a uniform look.

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To that end, I wanted them to wear a unifying insignia, a scales of justice within a gear wheel, first designed by Darryl Banks and refined by Melissa Martin-Ellis. The insignia is functional, serving a variety of purposes.

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Artist Roberto Castro came up with several renditions of new uniforms for the team, but I preferred the final designs by Preston Asevedo, although he had gone in the direction of individualized costumes first as well. When the new design was finalized, Preston and color artist Deirdre DeLay-Pierpoint stayed as close to the original color schemes of the characters as possible.

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While the visuals were being  worked on, I crafted the basic storyline, knowing all along the prologue would pick up a year after the last issue of the Millennium series.  From there, we would move forward to create a new continuity without violating anything that had come before—including the five issues published by Noble so long ago.

Object of Power introduces a retooled Justice Machine and basically returns the team to square one.

So, where does The Justice Machine go from there?

Anywhere, actually…but when and where is something I can’t predict.

However, we are planning to release new compilations and make available the entire Justice Machine series as ebook editons.

As always, the gears of the Justice Machine keep rolling.

The SAINT

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New Year, New Stuff!

It’s taken me over a month, but I’m finally managing to make my first blog entry of the New Year…there are a number of reasons for the delay, most of them not very interesting but simple procrastination played a significant role.

First up is a review of Will Murray’s latest entry into his new series of Doc Savage novels, The Phantom Lagoon.

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Not only is the title evocative of the classic Doc adventures, the cover by Joe Devito is beautiful and suggests all manner of weirdness. If I’d seen that cover on one of the Doc paperbacks on the spinner rack  I would have had the same geeked-out reaction as when I saw the cover of Brand of the Werewolf at age ten or so.

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The Phantom Lagoon delivers all of the goods—it’s very fast-moving, action-packed, with a number of different exotic locales. There’s a long battle sequence with consequences that I don’t think any Doc fan ever expected to read. That section was equal amounts thrilling and poignant.

Because they’re working for hostile foreign power, the villains of The Phantom Lagoon have access to  resources which few of Doc’s villains ever had—the Man of Bronze and his crew are really hard-pressed just to stay one step ahead of them, much less in a superior posture. Taken by surprise, Doc finds himself in a new situation—he’s outclassed.

Pat Savage (Doc’s beautiful and tough-as-whalebone cousin) has a strong role—in fact, she’s instrumental in helping Doc, Monk, Ham and Long Tom to get as far as they do when they push back against the villains.

There are also two exceptionally entertaining and irritating female characters who don’t quite meet the definition of heroine, but the mystery of Honoria and Hornetta Hale dominate the book, even when they’re off-stage.

Speaking of mystery—the so-called U-Men or Mermen add an appropriately creepy note to the whole adventure. With echoes of Lovecraft’s Deep Ones, the U-Men present a monstrous problem to overcome in a plot that strains the ingenuity of Doc and his crew to the breaking point.

The Phantom Lagoon is a superior Doc Savage adventure, full of the prerequisite blazing action, exotic settings, razor-sharp characterizations and mystery—not to mention just the right amount of humor…which in my opinion has been partially instrumental in keeping Doc Savage alive while most of his pulp contemporaries faded into obscurity.

And speaking of fading into obscurity…

It appeared for a time that the King Solomon’s Mines graphic novel by the legendary Pablo Marcos and me was heading for that exact same fate. Both of us were unhappy with the arrangement with the original publisher and we’d more or less back-burnered the project, even though it was close to completion.

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Quite fortunately, pulp and comic historian Stephan Friedt of ComicsPriceGuide.com (http://www.comicspriceguide.com/) loved what he had seen of the graphic novel and offered to create an imprint (Ying Ko Graphics) to see the project completed and published.

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So Stephan’s actions have been a big >phew< of relief to Pablo and I as well as a reachable goal in 2014.

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I’m personally very fond of the King Solomon’s Mines project for a variety of reasons—partly because there’s never been a take quite like this on Quatermain and his 19th century African milieu, but mainly because I’m collaborating with Pablo Marcos, an artist whose work I’ve enjoyed and admired for many years.

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And as long as we’re on the subject of graphic novels—production on The Justice Machine: Object of Power is proceeding apace. The explosive return of this beloved super-team is on track for spring of this year from Bluewater Productions (http://www.bluewaterprod.com/).

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You can check on updates at www.JusticeMachine.com.

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That’s all for now. I’ll be back soon, so don’t wreck the place.

The SAINT.

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Nosferatu Rises Again–Digitally!

Nosferatu_Logo (1)

“If there was ever in the world a warranted and proven history, it is that of vampires–the evidence is all embracing.” —Jean Jacque Rousseau

In the lexicon of vampire characters, there are surprisingly few who have transcended the works in which they originally appeared to become icons. Only two names are genuinely recognizable and both are archetypes: Count Dracula and Nosferatu. That shouldn’t be surprising since the two characters started out as one in the same.

 Although modeled on Dracula in behavior, Baron Graf Orlock, the Nosferatu (which means plague-bringer in Greek…the word is only mentioned once in the novel Dracula as a generic term for vampires), was much more monstrous in appearance.

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The Count Dracula of Bram Stoker’s book was far removed from the debonair nobleman as portrayed by Bela Lugosi, but he was still recognizably human, apparently even cooking meals for Jonathan Harker.

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In stark contrast, Orlock was an inhuman monster and became the direct template for another vampire type. Dracula and Orlock provided the pattern for almost all portrayals of the undead in the 20th century. In fact, Orlock might even be a tad more influential.

The concept that sunlight destroys a vampire first appeared in the film, Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Garuens ( A Symphony of Shudders) and that was picked up by the  generations of writers and film-makers who followed. n the original novel, Dracula’s supernatural powers are limited by daylight, but the sun is not deadly to him. Orlock was a completely nocturnal creature.

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The director of Nosferatu, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, wanted to film Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, but he didn’t want to pay Stoker’s widow for the privilege. Hoping to avoid charges of copyright infringement, he changed all the character and place names: Harker became Hutter, Count Dracula became Baron Orlock, London became Bremen and so on.

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Unfortunately for Murnau, his changes weren’t enough to satisfy or fool Mrs. Stoker. She won a judgment against Murnau in international court. All copies of the film were ordered destroyed, but the master prints remained intact.

Although more polished productions dealing with vampires were made around the same time (such as Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr), Nosferatu still had a uniquely primal quality that was never duplicated. It continues to have, as one reviewer put it, to evoke “a chilly draft from doomsday.”

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The film lay largely forgotten until new prints were struck from the master in the early 1960s but its rediscovery lay primarily with film students and children.

If you were a child in the 1960s, you were surrounded by monsters and monster imagery—Shock Theater, Creature Feature, monster comic books, magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland, Monster World, Castle of Frankenstein as well as TV shows such as The Munsters and Dark Shadows.

When I first came across a picture of Orlock in the back pages of Famous Monsters  I had no idea he was linked to Dracula…all I knew was that he didn’t look like any other picture of cinematic vampires I’d come across.

I think it was in this issue:

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As portrayed by German actor Max Schreck, Orlock remains one of the most frightening visuals in horror movie history. I was revolted, yet fascinated. There was nothing of the European nobleman about him.

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It wasn’t until much later when I saw the complete film that I realized Graf Orlock was characterized as a folkloric vampire…a hellish creature not remotely human or romanticized in any way. He slept in soil infected with the bubonic plague. Death, disease and horror followed in his wake. Rats were his servants.

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Despite his iconic appearance, the Nosferatu version of the vampire wasn’t popular with most film-makers of the time. In pop culture, the most terrifying quality of the vampire became their appearance of humanity except for pale skin and maybe a pair of extended canines. An opera cloak was optional.

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An Orlock-like vampire didn’t appear on screen again until the late 70s, in a made-for-TV adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot. Remaking Barlow, the master vampire, into an Orlock lookalike (or was he indeed Orlock?) was a divergence from the book, but it made the scene where he first appeared the most memorable of the entire production.

Salemlot

Around the same time came Nosferatu: The Vampyre, starring Klaus Kinski in the title role.

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Although patterned on the original silent version, the film used the names of the characters in Stoker’s novel.

By the early 1990s, with the world-wide popularity of Anne Rice’s Lestat novels, vampires had been recast as tortured Byronic heroes. They were no longer corpses bloated with the blood of innocents who lived in filth, but elegant, misunderstood predators who often gnashed their fangs in angst before they fed on their latest victim.

At that point in time, I was the editor and main idea-man of Millennium Publications. I knew that the company should produce a vampire comic of some sort.

Millennium was enjoying a great deal of success with our comic series based Doc Savage, The Wild Wild West and HP Lovecraft.

Innovation Comics had a hit with their adaptation of The Vampire Lestat and Millennium was adapting Anne Rice’s The Mummy Or Ramses the Damned, but I had no interest in creating a comic about vampires who attended dinner parties or dressed like leather fetishists from Goth clubs.

Nor did I want to revisit Dracula, primarily since Marvel had pretty much covered everything that possibly could be covered with the Count in their long-running Tomb of Dracula and Dracula Lives titles. Once you present Dracula fighting Spider-Man and The X-Men, you know you’ve gone about as far as you should.

giant-size spider-man #1 dracula

Then I remembered Orlock.

Since Orlock had always been viewed as little more than Dracula with a name change, I decided to create a story that established once and for all that they were two separate and distinct characters.

 I also wanted to make Orlock something more than a just another bloodsucker. I saw him as a monstrous entity that did not suffer from the same weaknesses as others of his kind—he did not shrink from crucifixes or Holy Water or even silver bullets.

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My vision of Graf Orlock was that of a creature of ancient evil who perpetuated himself over the centuries, gaining greater sustenance from man’s cruelty to his own kind than from mere blood. He may have supped on blood, but he feasted on hatred.

When Orlock passes on his undead curse, the physical body changes little but the soul is corrupted.

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I retained Orlock’s connection to plague-bearing rats and also gave him an ongoing adversary in the person of Sir William Longsword, but Longsword was not a stand-in for Dr. Van Helsing.

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Millennium published the four-issue Nosferatu: Plague of Terror miniseries during 1991-2, using a two-color process to achieve a specific spooky mood.

By going in this direction, the Nosferatu miniseries became one of the most profitable titles the company had ever produced. It was also critically acclaimed…which is always nice. It was even included in J. Gordon Melton’s reference work, The Vampire Gallery.

Now, over 20 years after I first conceived Nosferatu: Plague of Terror, vampires are still popular, although they’ve changed to meet the cultural expectations of a new generation.

The current rule of thumb seems to be that vampires are not inherently evil, they’re just misunderstood victims of circumstance who have no choice but to perform dark deeds in order to survive—much like the angst-riddled boyfriends of dewy-eyed teenaged girls.

I suppose my tastes were fixed by an early exposure to Christopher Lee and Bram Stoker’s original novel, but I’ve never been a proponent of humanizing supernatural monsters. Seems to me that it dilutes the whole purpose, but then again, I’ve never understood why incarcerated serial killers are inundated by marriage proposals, either.

Nosferatu: Plague of Terror is my homage to monsters who really are monsters—my small protest against vampires who hang out at The Gap and go by the starkly undramatic names of “Bill.”

But more than anything Nosferatu: Plague of Terror suggests that you don’t have to be a vampire to be a monster.

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The complete Nosferatu: Plague of Terror miniseries is now available as two ebooks for Kindle…we divided the four-issues into two volumes. Books one and two feature artwork by Rik (Captain America) Levins, Richard (New Warriors) Pace, Frank (Nightstalkers) Turner.

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The art has been digitally (and beautifully!) enhanced by Millennial Concept Studios. Both books have the great Kindle features like panel zoom and crisp resolution.

Nosferatu:Plague of Terror is the first of many graphic novel ebooks with digitally enhanced artwork produced by Millennial Concepts.

It’s been an ongoing frustration that we’ve had all of these graphic novel and comic assets but finding a viable way to make available them as ebooks—not as downloadable PDFs—hasn’t been easy.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all conversion program…but now that hurdle has been cleared, so there is lots more to come.

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Order Nosferatu: Plague of Terror  Ebooks One and Two here–

http://tinyurl.com/kgukn8b

And the trade paperback here:

http://tinyurl.com/PlagueTerror

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OUTLANDERS GENESIS–Part Three!

Another “note” Eva passed onto me from somebody at Gold Eagle with editorial aspirations was a suggestion to change the code-name for the so-called alien organization from “Archon Directorate” to “Argon Directorate.”

In Gnostic lore, Archons are otherworldly entities who act as jailers for the human spirit to prevent a full communion with the divine…the Demiurge.

Archon

Substituting the name of an inert gas was so dumb, Eva didn’t even bother to respond to whoever made the suggestion.

To be fair, not all of the suggestions that came my way were dumb. For example, the character of Domi was originally conceived as a tattooed half-feral wild child from the Outlands. Eva’s idea was to make Domi an albino, like the character of Jak Lauren in Deathlands. I resisted the suggestion for awhile, then ended up liking the visual.

The prototype for Domi reappeared in Cryptozoica as the Maori girl Mouzi…depicted here by the awesome Jeff Slemons.

MOUZI

You can order the Cryptozoica TPB or ebook here: http://tinyurl.com/ct3tfnz

(Yeah, that’s a plug. My blog. I’m allowed.)

Just for the sake of being thorough, I’ll state that the prototypes for Brigid, Kane and Grant had appeared years before as The Miskatonic Project in the H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu comic series. Here, depicted by the inimitable Darryl Banks, they were named Fleur Averoigne, Justin Sabbath and Augustus Grant. Yeah, that’s right…Grant.

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Due to my background as a comics creator, I crafted many elements in Outlanders based on their visual impact.  Known in the days of radio drama as “shiny things for the mind”, it was a way to provide the imagination of the listener with strong imagery. A good example are the Lone Ranger’s “shiny” accoutrements—mask, white hat, silver bullets, white stallion, Indian companion, so forth and so on.

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So for Outlanders, I came up with the black Magistrate armor with the red-tinted visor and bright red badge…

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…as well as the Sin Eater firearms which slid out of forearm holsters–a tip o’ the Stetson to The Wild, Wild West, where the whole thing began.

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There were props like the Mnemosyne, vehicles like the Deathbirds and the Sandcats and of course, the creepy Barons/Imperators, their creepier hybrid servants and of course…the last “Archon” himself–Balam.

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From the actual storytelling standpoint, I knew from the outset I wanted to go in the opposite direction of most Gold Eagle series, which were told in a stand-alone, very episodic formula. In Deathlands, I found the formula particularly stultifying—most of the plots were small and simplistic (some less charitable observers might say simple-minded) and the books almost always ended where they began. Very often characters were defined by catch-phrases like “By the Three Kennedys” and “Hot Pipe!”

Just as an aside…as far as I’m concerned, when you give characters catch-phrases that they trot out on cue, you’re not writing books…you’re writing a cartoon (“Ay Caramba!” “Jinkies!” ) or a comic strip (“Leapin’ Lizards!”).

jinkies

Anyway… I chose the serial story arc approach and planned subplots that ran from book to book. I also decided early on that Outlanders would be global in scope and the threats the main characters faced would frequently be world-threatening and grounded in some scientific theory, from quantum physics to genetics.

As another major departure from Deathlands, I wanted big villains—not necessarily in stature, but in their goals. My favorite bad guy remains Sindri who made his debut in the fifth novel, Parallax Red. A dwarf and a genius with, as Brigid said “ambitions to challenge God”, Sindri was my homage to The Wild, Wild West’s Dr. Miguelito Loveless, so memorably portrayed by actor Michael Dunn.

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Sindri, with his unrequited love (or lust) for Brigid and his obsession with getting the best of Kane,  returned in five more books over the years.

A lot of what became canon in Outlanders was planned while writing the first book. Much more of it grew organically in the next couple of years worth of novels.

Months before Exile to Hell was published, I asked the then-executive editor what the promotional plans for Outlanders were. I was informed such plans were basically non-existent. There would be some in-house advertising (poor reproductions of the cover of the first book printed in the backs in other Gold Eagle series books), but that was about it.

He also opined that he expected Outlanders to last no longer than all the other series Gold Eagle had launched in the previous seven or eight years—a maximum of four books.

The editor went on to complain that Harlequin viewed Gold Eagle as a red-headed stepchild and was not going to give the imprint a promotional or advertising budget beyond the absolute bare minimum. He said variations of this so often over the years, it became a refrain.

During that same period, when I suggested Gold Eagle might consider taking a booth at that year’s (1997) San Diego Comic Book Convention to show off their wares, the suggestion was met with a patronizing laugh: “That’s not our audience!”

Oh, excuse me…you publish books about a vigilante who inspired the wildly popular Marvel Comics character The Punisher, and a post-apocalyptic series full of insane sexual perverts, gun porn and biologically impossible “muties”…but people who read comic books are “not our audience.”

I should note that both of those stances—the no promotional budget refrain and the dismissal of my SDCC suggestion—had severely toxic repercussions a decade later.

By the time Exile to Hell was published in the spring of 97, I was working on the fourth book, Omega Path, half-assuming it would be the last one. Before I turned it in, I was offered a contract for another four books in the Outlanders series. Eva told me that it was safe to assume Gold Eagle finally had a hit… and went it on from there for roughly the next dozen years.

Omegacover

I wish I could say those were happy years but once Eva Kovacs left (or more accurately, was forced out), the tenor sharply changed—and definitely not for the better. I’ll most likely blog in more detail about some of those years, but here the focus has been on the genesis of the Outlanders series—a series created and guided by a single writer for many years, a series that was not promoted nor advertised by the publisher in any meaningful way, a series that was in most respects a complete departure from anything Gold Eagle had ever produced before.

Yet it has been consecutively published for sixteen years and at one point was touted by Gold Eagle as having sold over a million copies. By most standards, all of that makes Outlanders the most successful mass-market paperback original series published in the last 25 years.

Yeah, I know…in the scheme of things, creating a mass-market paperback original series that has run as long as Outlanders isn’t likely to get me featured in any historical retrospectives.

But when you consider that almost none of the MMP series that have been published over the last 40 years are still around and when you also consider the truly horrific state of the publishing industry since 2008, then “by Mark Ellis, creator of the best-selling Outlanders series” is not a credential I’ll allow anyone to diminish, ignore or to appropriate.

There’s an attitude I’ve seen among Gold Eagle readers—and even among some Gold Eagle writers—that these series sort of self-generate and no single vision is responsible for their creation.That may be true of some series…Deathlands was created by one writer and developed by another…and certainly Gold Eagle’s Rogue Angel was creation by committee.

But it’s not true of Outlanders and despite the best ego-fuelled efforts of some revisionists to pretend otherwise (mainly by deliberate omission), it never will be.

So now we come full circle back to Hopalong Cassidy’s rhetorical question: “That’d be showin’ off…and we don’t do that, do we?”

Actually, we shouldn’t have to do it. But all too often, just to establish a minimum set of bona-fides, we’re forced into it.

More’s the shame.

OLCAST.

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