Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Welcome to the Dead Man Party: A conversation with Scott Barnett

Here we go again with the re-publishing of an earlier article of ours (this time from 2014) when we profiled Dead Man’s Party by writer Jeff Marsick and artist Scott Barnett. We’ve long been a fan of Scott’s work, and wanted to bring some attention to him, and his comic

Just when you think that all comicbooks these days are gritty superheroes in spandex, and shuffling, brain-eating zombies, someone comes out with a comicbook that is not only so outside of what you normally read, that it grabs you from the moment you begin to read it and doesn’t let you go, even as you wait (sometimes months) for that next issue. Well, writer Jeff Marsick and artist Scott Barnett have done just that, with their thriller, noir comic 
Dead Man’sParty. Somehow these two indie creators have managed to do something that this writer/reviewer has never quite seen in a comic. They have instilled action and adventure. Yep, you read that right. Over the years we have read thousands (hundreds of thousands) of comics, and sure many of them have been thrilling, but what these two gents have managed to somehow do is instill a level of frenetic action within the boundaries of flat, two-dimensional space that we have rarely — if ever — seen in comicbook form.

As for the comicbook itself, it is an action/adventure that doesn’t involve superheroes but assassins. According to Barnett, “Dead Man’s Party (in its third issue when this article was originally published), is about a world-class assassin and what happens when he’s forced to put a contract out on himself.” The reason for the arranging a hit on himself (A Dead Man’s Party — if you will) is because the assassin (who goes by the name “Ghost” is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and chooses to go out at the top of his game, killed by one of his peers, rather than die a slow, lingering death felled by cancer. So he calls a Dead Man’s Party, which is code for five assassins get to bid on his contract, and the one that manages to kill him, gets all of his money, as well as his “standing” in the assassin community (and also gets to now charge Ghost’s rates for hits).

A Dead Man’s party can’t be called off, can’t be stopped, and only ends with the death of the assassin in question, only as soon as Ghost calls the hit, he discovers that he has been scammed and he really doesn’t have cancer, so now he is in a fight for his life, defending himself from his fellow assassins and attempting to learn who wants him dead.

The comic was originally self-published under the auspices of Double CrossPresents by Marsick and Barnett, who (with the exception of some lettering help on one of the issues) did it all, from soup to nuts. Marsick, a former military officer spends his days as a Wall Street financial analyst (really), but at night turns into a writer, penning novels, screenplays and comicbooks (including Z-Girl and the Four Tigers). He has also been a regular contributor to the Newsarama website. Barnett, who currently works as a teacher but has also worked as a freelance graphic artist/designer specializing in CGI for consumer products and displays, got his start in the comicbook industry by painting covers and pin-ups during the mid-‘90s, but when the speculator boom trashed the industry, he moved on to other areas in the graphic arts, working in commercial illustration, web design, graphic design, storyboarding, and 3D modeling. “You never forget your first love,” he told us. “So, I came back and decided to self-publish, which is where my collaboration with Jeff began.”

As for what prompted them to do this particular story, Barnett stated “I honestly don’t think there’s anything in comics quite like it, right now. Sure, there are crime books out there, but we seem to have struck a chord with readers, as the two most common responses are, ‘When’s the next issue coming out, dammit?’ or ‘This would make an awesome action film!’ And it would. And we’re workin’ on it.” The way they came up with this thoroughly unique story is that Marsick and Barnett had been friends for years and they’d been wanting to collaborate on a project for a long time. “We passed some ideas around, but nothing really gained any traction. Then, one night a few years back, an idea popped into my head about a hitman putting a hit out on himself. Jeff happened to e-mail me the very next day about the subject of working together again. I told him my idea and his jaw hit the ground. It turned out that he had a hitman concept that had been in the back of his head for years but didn’t yet have a home.”

From there, the ideas came fast and furious, “We exchanged notes about our ideas, and it just clicked. Jeff’s idea was the competition of the Party itself. A ‘Dead Man’s Party’ is a way for an assassin to go out on his own terms; it’s a competition amongst a set number of your peers, where they have 30 days to fulfill the contract. Whoever gets there first gets your head on their resume, as well as your Swiss bank account. Then, of course, we had to establish a twist that would throw an already wild idea completely on its ear.” Which turned out to be that Ghost was tricked into calling the party on himself.

When asked what got him into comics, Barnett said, “Ha, that would be my oldest cousin’s fault! He’s about a half-dozen years older than me and started showing me his Spider-Man comics when I was about seven or eight. I was instantly hooked on Marvel Comics and started collecting most of their line of books as a teenager. As an adult, I ventured out and started finding comics that broke out of the superhero mold.” All of which helped contribute to the framing of this particular project. “I haven’t read any stories about hitmen setting themselves up, especially not in the medium of comic books.” Barnett then went on to tell us that he has a special way of thanking vocal supporters of the book. “Sooner or later, you tend to find yourself in a crowd scene. Or maybe under a tarp. Or being carjacked by our protagonist. Or dancing at the strip club in the book.” This even happened to this particular fan (your humble narrator), who found himself on the business end of Ghost's wrath — more than once.)

Apparently we got just a ta

Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of this comic is that the main protagonist, Ghost, looks suspiciously like Barnett, when we asked him about that, this is what he told us. “Basically, most decisions on the artwork have been based on saving time. I chose to ‘paint’ using markers because it was quicker and cleaner; we chose black and white for the interior art because it’s quicker to create and less expensive to print. And since I work from photo reference (many times posing for it myself), I decided to just add my likeness because it was already there in the photos. Initially, I had Jeff in there, as well, as another important character, but he wound up writing that character out, at least for now. I’ve been bugging him to allow me to use his likeness for a character, and in this latest issue, he indulged me. Sorta. You’ll see.”

Hurm, that guy looks real familiar...

Right now, the dynamic duo is working on the finale to Dead Man’s Party (issue 4). Marsick is also wrapping up the first story arc in Z-Girl with his collaborator there, while Barnett recently painted a cover for the assassin comic series, M3 (issue #10). Meanwhile they are discussing their plans for DMP’s sequel, and will hopefully have some exciting news about that, bringing it to other media and a possible cross-over with another book in the coming year.

Since this article was written and published, Marsick and Barnett not only finished the series (pushing it out to five issues), but re-packaged and compiled the series as a graphic novel through Darby Pop. We have since been in contact with Barnett. Who has indicated that plans for a sequel are currently underway.


The Characters, Story and Content of Dead Man’s Party are Trademark & © 2014 & 2020 by Jeff Marsick and Scott Barnett. The text to Funnybook City is © 2014 & 2020 Robert J. Sodaro, D.B.A. Freelance Ink. All rights reserved by their respective owners.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Goin’ “Nowhere Man” Mighty Fast!

Continuing in my quest to re-publish some of my “older” article originally published elsewhere, in order to have a more unified umbrella for my works. This piece is all about one of my favorite Independent creators, the extremely talented Jerome Walford, whom I met a a comic con in New Jersey several years ago, and whose work I have enjoyed ever since.


“Imagine. You have been chosen to save the world, but it will cost you everything: your life, your reputation, and everyone you ever loved.” According to Jerome Walford, creator of the graphic novel series, Nowhere Man, that is precisely what happens to his main character. Walford tells us that Nowhere Man is a psychological thriller which follows its main character, Jack Maguire, an ambitious NYC police detective, as he is caught up in the biggest conspiracy of all time. After years of being haunted by his father’s death on 9/11, Jack is granted the opportunity to become an honest-to-goodness superhero, but to achieve this; he is also called upon to pay the ultimate price. Walford said that “This multi-trade series has the heart of a classic superhero tale, told with the sophistication of a detective drama and elements of a sci-fi thriller.” 

Walford’s team consists of himself at the helm, as creator, writer, artist, and producer, leading a talented team to assemble this book series. He is backed up by his wife, Amy Walford (producer), and Maya Rock, Russ Lane, and David Wu as editors. Jerome is an award-winning illustrator with over a decade of experience in marketing, advertising and commercial illustration. He graduated a Merrill Presidential scholar from the fine art program of Cornell University. Maya Rock is an accomplished fiction editor, currently finishing up her own novel and freelance editing on a number of projects. Russ Lane has had a long history as an editor in the magazine industry. In addition to writing and editing for his own start-up magazine, Russ occasionally seeks out opportunities to edit for comic projects that interest him. David Wu and Jerome go as far back as their days in college. David is a talented programmer and project manager, yet his incredible eye for detail may reveal an editor in disguise. 

According to Jerome we should we care about his project because he is truly attempting something different with the superhero genre. “My goal is to establish a definitive ‘superhero’ character born out of the post-9/11 world in which we live. By this I mean less so the political controversy, although there is some of that, and more so, an attempt to create a reflection of how we have individually changed and collectively changed as a society. To me this is more than just a comicbook. It is a visual narrative effort to capture that sense of loss of hope, disconnectedness, rage, regret, and the determination to carry on, which just happens to be in this particular form of literature we call comics.” 

Secondly, he is hoping to create a series that will appeal to die-hard comicbook fans, while being accessible to a wider audience. He managed to successfully publish a trio of trades in 2013 and has scheduled three more for 2014. Each of the trades is 40-50 pages in length and encompasses both story and some background material. “This is a big story nine years in the making with lots of material for the reader to enjoy.” Jerome tells us that Nowhere Man is loosely based on a one-shot comic he wrote and illustrated in college titled The Becommers; that won him top grades in his communications class. “I always thought there was something there I wanted to further develop. On a personal level, I know what it is like to lose family members and how that changes a person, how it becomes a filter through which you see the world and motivates one’s actions. I’ve lost family under different circumstances, but I can relate to the main character Jack Maguire, and I think a lot of other people can too.” 

For his part, Jerome likes to think of Jack Maguire as the new spirit of New York: split motivated personality, at odds with itself and his sense of purpose. Yet with some determination and the help of those who won’t quit on him, Jack just might be able to do the impossible. “That’s my main intention, but the characters have developed quite organically over the past eight years I have been scripting this series. The current script is a better interpretation of the characters’ choices and the consequences that would occur.” Like most of the rest of us, as kids, Jerome grew up on a healthy diet of comics and fiction. “I can remember reading a great story and saying. ‘Yeah! I want to be that brave, confident, daring, etc.’ Comics are a nice way to escape in amazing adventures in a different place and time with an imaginary role model, a great place to process stuff without really thinking about it.” 

He went on to share with us that he believes that a truly great story is one that lifts you away on an amazing journey to return to reality as a stronger better self. “Every kid (and grown-up kid) that walks into their neighborhood comic shop, buys trades online or gets issues on their app, they are buying entertainment and making a deposit on that kind of adventure; one that will change them forever. This is what has brought me back to comics, the small possibility that I could help move comics forward.”

Jerome believes that the thing that makes his comic unique is that there are nuances that he thinks a close reader can appreciate, these include the following: 

  • There aren’t any capes or masks. Yet the way a character’s clothes move in a scene, or the way Jack treats his hat, gives the reader the echoes of things they would expect from a superhero tale. 
  • Secondly, much of the architecture and backgrounds have a “voice.” Walking down the streets of NYC, the positioning of a billboard or signage often sends a different message than what was intended. In the same way he often uses backdrops in the story to break the fourth wall with the reader. 
  • Thirdly, the series is a bit of a Rorschach test on issues of race. He feels that there are only two places in the entire series where the character(s) mention race, and they are both to say that race is not a predominant factor. Often potential readers will look at the cover of first trade and make certain assumptions that either attract or repel them. Jerome finds this phenomenon interesting and assures us that we’ll see how it all plays out by the end of the series. 

In addition to Nowhere Man, Jerome is working on a young adult novel series titled Curse of the Griffin; which is a coming-of-age saga about Daniel, a homeless artist attempting to survive life in a town that is run by vampires without becoming one of them himself. It is an epic adventure that re-imagines the origins of vampires and puts them in conflict with refugees from a fallen kingdom of gargoyles and other mystical creatures. The first book, Daniel’s Pride was published in the summer of 2013 that garnered great reviews from Kirkus Reviews and others. “I’m currently working on the manuscript for the second book. Amy and I are also in the early stages of an all-ages comic that we will be talking about more sometime in 2014.” 

You can always learn more about Jerome’s published projects from Forward Comix and on his Facebook page. In “real Life” Jerome started his own marketing and advertising studio called The Blue Griffin. “I work with start-ups and small business owners to design and program websites, as well as develop online and offline marketing materials to promote their business, ventures or creative endeavors.” 

Characters, Story and Content of Nowhere ManCurse of the Griffin, and Daniel’s Pride are © 2014 Jerome Walford. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 13, 2020

The Boston Metaphysical Society

This article was originally posted on Feb 19th, 2014 on another website, but as with several other previously published articles, I am re-posting them here so as to accumulate then in a single spot. This article was originally posted to support the launch of  Madeleine Holly-Rosing's then upcoming comicbook series, The Boston Metaphysical Society.


Writers — especially writers of fiction — are often asked from where they get their ideas. People seem fascinated with how some people can look at the world and say “Why,” while writers seem to be able to look at that self-same world and say, “Why not?” Essentially, that is what lies at the core of what makes a fiction writer tick, their ability to craft out of whole or even partially woven cloth, a world of wonder and magic, because sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but sometimes (though, admittedly, not often, and not for everyone) it is the jumping off point to a world of Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans if you will. 

For Madeleine Holly-Rosing, the author of The Boston Metaphysical Society the creation of her wonderful steampunk-driven world was the marriage of her love of The X-Files and history itself. In fact, the tag line for the on-line and print comic is “Before Mulder and Scully, there was Hunter and O’Sullivan.” According to Holly-Rosing the historical part of the story evolved out of a feature script that she wrote for the Sloan Fellowship (which she won in 2007). Called Stargazer, that feature script was the true story of Mina Fleming, a Scottish-American woman who — in the late 1800s — arrived in Boston pregnant, penniless and abandoned by her husband. She was hired to work as the maid at the home of Edward Pickering, the director of the Harvard Observatory who soon discovered her amazing attention to detail and hired her to crunch numbers for him. Over the course of her life, while working for the director, she discovered over 10,000 stars and developed a new stellar classification system.

Boston Metaphysical Society is a steampunk adventure where inventors Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and Nikola Tesla, along with the magician and escape artist Harry Houdini are part of a secret organization that is intent on tracking down a serial killer who — they believe — has slipped through into their plane of existence from another dimension, and is now stalking and killing people so as to inspire fear which in turn feeds him. Unable to capture the creature (whom they have dubbed “The Shifter”) they seek out the aid of an ex-Pinkerton Detective, named Samuel Hunter, whose wife was slain by the Shifter and is now driven by revenge to slay him. When Hunter is brought onto the case by Houdini, Hunter brings with him an odd collection of paranormal hunters, that includes a medium-in-training named Caitlin O’Sullivan (who is a “spirit photographer” as well as the daughter of his previous ghost photographer, who recently died, and Granville Woods, a Scientist extraordinaire. Together they hope to be able to stop the Shifter before his malevolent presence tears Boston apart.

Originally Holly-Rosing had intended Boston Metaphysical to be a TV show, but after writing a couple of episodes while at UCLA, it was suggested to her that she turn it into a comic. “I thought it was a good idea not realizing how overwhelming it can be,” Holly-Rosing told us. “However, I was very fortunate to have wonderful mentors (Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Strain, and Dave Elliott) who are still there for me when I need them.” Now, she loves writing comics, even though she admits that the production, marketing and selling can be daunting on top of all her other projects. In order to get around some of those issues, she chose to launch Boston Metaphysical as an online webcomic, later collecting the online pages with the help of Kickstarter to raise funds, re-publishing them in print. (In January 2014 she went back for a second Kickstarter round to raise additional funds to produce several issues.)

When asked, “Why Steampunk, why not SciFi, mystery or straight-up horror?” She responded by saying, “The TV pilot it was adapted from was originally a supernatural detective period piece, but a friend suggested that I set it in a steampunk world, and I liked the idea. So, I redeveloped the pilot to make it an alternative 1800s show.” She then went on to say that while she didn’t really have much exposure to steampunk prior to that, she did a volume of research on the genré, reading up on it and discovered that the genré perfectly blended her love of history and science fiction. “I finally found the genré I was made for.” 

For Holly-Rosing the story of the Boston Metaphysical Society is first and foremost one that is character-driven. “Unlike some other steampunk comics or literature, the gadgets in my story take a backseat [to the story itself]. I wanted to create a world where the technology was organic to the world the characters lived in.” She does admit that occasionally, there will be an “OMG” moment over some tech thing but pretty much it is all a part of the characters’ everyday lives. Further, she tells us that the story resonated with everything she likes to read: a strong female character, class struggles, a lead character who is torn between doing what is right and doing what he/she wants. “Using some of the leading historical characters of the time (Bell, Edison, Tesla, and Houdini), I was able to bring a sense of place to the world I was crafting. It took a lot of time and a lot of research but bringing this story to life became an obsession.” 

Assisting Holly-Rosing in bringing the world of Boston Metaphysical to life is artist Emily Hu, who is a graduate from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Emily has been drawing ever since she was little, and it’s been her lifelong dream to succeed as a comic book artist. Her main influences are Eduardo Risso, Becky Cloonan, and Junji Ito. Emily’s other hobbies include reading, sleeping, and eating. Boston Metaphysical Society is her first comicbook series. 

As for herself, Madeleine Holly-Rosing holds a Master of Fine Arts in screenwriting from UCLA and is a TV and feature film writer. Holly-Rosing has recently completed her first novel, a middle-grade fantasy, and has published a number of short stories as well as novellas based on the Boston Metaphysical Society universe which are available on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords. Her short story, The Clockwork Man was published in eSteampunk magazine (March 2013) and The Way Home was published in an A1/Atomeka/Titan Comics anthology in November 2013 which was accompanied by three illustrations by Emily Hu (those three pieces now accompany this article). 

Characters, Story and Content of The Boston Metaphysical Society are © 2014 Madeleine Holly-Rosing. All rights reserved. 

This article is © 2014 & 2020 Robert J. Sodaro, D.B.A. Freelance Ink. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Hey, People want to talk to me!

So here's the thing. Back in 1981 I officially entered the professional side of the comicbook business with the publication of my first article in Amazing Heroes #5. Over the years since then, I’ve been published by virtually every comicbook publication in the business. Yep, that’s right, everyone from Amazing Heroes to Wizard, and everyone in between. I’ve even been published by several non-comics publications (Non-Sports Update, Ahoy!, Videogaming Illustrated, Relix, and many, many others.

I've even written articles for Marvel, DC, Extreme, Valiant, Dark Horse, and other comicbook publishers.

I've also written a book or three (Trivia Mania: Commercials and Ads, Kiddie Meal Collectibles, as well as contributed to other books including Stan Lee’s How to draw Superheroes and Stan Lee’s Master Class).

Well in ‘87 I created and wrote my first comic, Agent Unknown for Renegade Press. While it took me some 19 years to get back into writing comics, I did return to the field in 2006 in Psychosis #1 with my short story Never Judge a Book. Since then, I've gone to contribute stories to several small-press publishers including Main Enterprises, Red Anvil Comics, InDELLible, and others. I even produced three of my one comics for Pronto ComicsThe Adventures of Hot Girl and Totally Hot Girl, First in Flight (The Story of Gustave Whitehead), and Perceptions (with more to come).

Needless to say (and for reasons I still don’t quite get) recently, a number of folks who run comicbook podcasts have chosen to interview me. Here are just some of the most recent interviews.

First up are the fine folks from Grawlix podcast:

Then Vera Sam interviewed me on his Catch the Craze podcast:

Next up were Ray Felix and Lance Mecaneck, on Bronx Heroes:

And most recently Michael Grassia and Miike Lopesz from IncrediCon Live interviewed me on their IncrediChat:

There have been (and undoubtedly) will be others, but here is a good look into my Funnybook history for now. Enjoy kids!

Monday, June 15, 2020

DayBlack: A Vampire’s story

This is another “older” article of mine that was originally published elsewhere. Actually, it combines two separate articles as well as an interview with the creator, Keef Cross. I’m choosing to (re)present the consolidated articles here as I continue to gather my work under a unified umbrella. 

Vampires. We, as a culture seem to have a fascination with these blood-sucking creatures of the night, from Nosferatu and Vlad Tepes to Marvel Comic’s Blade, to the vampires that populate Bon Temps, Louisiana, Vampires have taken many forms and continue to inhabit both the night and our darkest fears. Author Keef Cross also has a vampire story in his head, and, well, in print.
DayBlack is the story of Cross’ vampire, named Merce, who is a 400-year old former slave who now lives in that town of DayBlack, Georgia, which lies beneath the polluted clouds of decades of industrial waste that has literally obscured the sun. In fact, the town’s sky is so dense with pollution that the sun is nowhere to be seen, allowing Merce to move about freely, night or day.

Merce’s story is that, after
hundreds of years of killing to survive, Merce no longer wants to simply exist...he desires to actually live. DayBlack then, is the story of how Merce, attempts to do just that. As the tale opens, we meet Merce; he works as a tattoo artist in the small town and has been able to successfully hide that he is a member of the undead. However, even darker than the black clouds that cover his town, are the dreams that Merce has been having more and more frequently. As if the hallucinogenic dreams aren’t bad enough, he is lately suffering from narcolepsy, causing him to fall into a deep slumber at the oddest moments (even while he’s tattooing someone). As Merce attempts to decipher his dreams, his adopted son, whom he hasn’t seen in years, returns with plans for him — plans that threaten his new way of life turning him back into the cold-hearted killer he once was.

Cross himself, is not only the writer/illustrator of the tale, but a tattoo artist as well (which is how he pays the bills). There are currently two volumes of DayBlack, with each B&W issue offering spot coloring throughout and tipping in at just over 100 pages. Cross’ approach to graphic illustration is decidedly different from what most of us are used to seeing. Many of his panels are full-page illustrations, often with no dialogue, while others are essentially text and art on the page unbound by traditional panels. Needless to say, this unique style of his greatly enhances the tale as it gives the reader the feeling that they are not so much reading a comicbook, but a real graphic novel series.

In fact, nothing about Cross’ tale can be considered tradition, as a tattoo artist, Merce has develops a decidedly unique way to acquire his blood, via the tools of his trade (his tattoo needles extract some of his client’s blood which Merce uses to sustain himself). The art on the book is very distinct and engaging, drawing the reader into the story by presenting imagery that we as “comicbook” readers are so totally not used to seeing. Cross indicates that his art has been influenced more by his own life experiences than by his formal art school training. “I feel that my art benefited more from life experience, music, and film,” he told us. “I don't make decidedly ‘Black art.’ It just so happens that the subjects of my pieces are Black people, but not in the same cultural backdrops that the rest of the world is used to seeing us in.”

The story of Merce, the vampire tattoo artist flows along easily, fluidly, leaving the reader wanting for more when the too-soon ending occurs for the first volume. Personally, we have only just read the first issue of this seriously minded vampire tale and anxiously awaiting being able to dive into the next issue(s). [This article and the following interview were conducted early in 2015. We recently acquired the second volume of DayBlack, and will review that volume once we have read it.]

This first story is neither the blood and entrails of Near Dark, nor is it the sparkly, pansy vampires of Twilight, this is a whole new take on the legend of Vampires. To be sure, this is actually more like a story about a man who is searching for meaning in his life (death), than “just another” vampire story — which makes it well worth reading.

What follows is an interview with Keef Cross that was conducted in January of 2015:

RJS: Tell us a little bit about DayBlack, where did the idea originate?

Keef: The idea for DayBlack came from working in a tattoo shop, and meeting so many colorful characters, and having conversations with people that I normally wouldn’t, simply because I’m doing their tattoo.

RJS: I understand that you are a tattoo artist, how did that figure into the creation of DayBlack and its characters?

Keef: So in the beginning it was just a tattoo artist character I would draw, talking with customers, sort of like a Sunday comic strip, this was before I added the vampire/slave aspect. Then during the winter months, the tattoo business slows down considerably, allowing me the time to work on the story.

RJS: Tell us a bit about your artistic background.

Keef: I’ve been drawing since middle school, and in high school I attended the Tri-Cities Visual and Performing Arts Magnet Program. When I graduated, I got a full scholarship to the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio where I majored in illustration, but the crazy thing is, I was taking a comicbook design class. At the time, I didn’t want to do comics, so I didn’t really take the class seriously, so 15 years later, as I’m doing my book, I’m racking my brain trying to remember those jewels my teacher used to drop on us. This may have contributed to my approach on my book, because I really just do it the way I want and don’t try to follow an accepted standard, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, but that’s how it worked out.

RJS: Why vampires? What is it about vampires that attract us as a culture?

Keef: I don’t know what it is about vampires! They refuse to go away! We can’t seem to get enough… I’ve never been particularly partial to them.

RJS: How did you come up with the story itself? What prompted you to do this particular story?

Keef: As far as DayBlack goes, I really think the idea came from being in the tattoo industry and dealing with things like blood-borne pathogens, sterilization, needles, pain, and being exposed to the subculture of tattoo life. Leaving work at 2 a.m. and being out all night with real vampires. All of that rolled around in my head, until I came up with Merce [the main character in DayBlack].

RJS: Do you tend to watch (or read) other vampire tales? If so, which are better than others? Which would you recommend?

Keef: I was never into the whole, “blah, I vant to suck your blood” vampires, if I did it, it had to be something socially and culturally relevant, this also where the HIV angle came to play.

RJS: How did you get hooked up with Rosarium publishing?

Keef: I linked with Rosarium publishing from Facebook, would post pics of DayBlack pretty regularly, and Bill Campbell, the publisher of Rosarium, reached out to me, explained that he was a new publishing entity and asked if he could publish DayBlack. He already had John Jennings on the roster, who I admired, so it was a no-brainer, that and self-publishing was kicking my ass.

RJS: What, if anything, can we as humans learn from the experiences or the events of a vampire living among us?

Keef: I really don’t see anything valuable that a human could take from traditional vampires, there isn’t too much common ground there. I really wanted Merce to be relatable especially to someone who has been told their entire life that they could only be one thing but strives to be something more.

RJS: Do you think it is OK to “screw with” the mythology of vampires or similar characters?

Keef: I think it’s absolutely OK to screw with the mythology of anything that doesn’t really exist. Nothing should be off limits, as long as core traits and characteristics are respected to some extent, then it’s all good. That keeps it fresh. That’s why I don’t really mind stuff like Twilight because even though it’s kinda pussyfied, it’s original. Since I began DayBlack, I try not to watch a whole lot of vampire stuff with the exception of True Blood, which I love, and I’m a huge fan of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and the Blade movies, but if I had to liken DayBlack to any film, aesthetically and tone wise it would be a Jim Jarmusch film mixed with Spike Lee.

RJS: Will this be an on-gong series of comics or do you have a definitive end to it?

Keef: I do have a definite ending to this particular story arc, but it definitely has the potential to be an ongoing series focusing on not only Merce but other supernatural characters who inhabit DayBlack.

Currently both volumes of DayBlack are available from Amazon (Vol. 1; Vol 2).

Sunday, May 03, 2020

The Measure of a Superhero: Ray Felix

This is an “older” article of mine that was originally published elsewhere. I’m choosing to (re)present it here as I consolidate my work under a unified umbrella. 

Ray Felix is a real life superhero.

No really, he totally is, and we are not exaggerating in the least. In a world where most aspiring comicbook professionals want to work for one of the big two comicbook companies on one of their iconic superhero franchises, Ray has quietly been building his own Tyler Perry-style funnybook empire. Not only does he publish comics as Bronx Heroes, he runs an annual comicbook show in the Bronx (Bronx Heroes Comic Con), attends other shows (including NYCC & Alex Simmons Kids’ ComicCon — also in the Bronx), he is involved in the Bronx Council of the Arts, he produces T-shirts spotlighting his own characters, bottles his own brand of Bronx Heroes soda, has his own art studio (Cup ‘O’ Java), stages art events in and around NYC (including a Black Comic Day in Harlem, an art show celebrating women in comics, a sequential art show spotlighting Will Eisner, and more). Hey, he even traveled to Africa with Simmons to teach kids about comics. Then in his “spare time” he teaches.

Then, just to make his life interesting, he is standing tall, David-like against the mega-super-goliath(s) of Marvel and DC comicbook corporations as he attempts to “take back” the word “Superhero.” That’s right, back in the late ‘70s Marvel and DC got together on one of their earliest team-ups not to produce a precedent-setting crossover of some of their well-known superheroes, but to copyright and trademark the word “superhero” itself. Now, according to published reports, the two companies jointly co-own the word in all of its iterations (one word, two words, hyphenated, etc.). Further, they apparently have the word so locked up (and the courts so bumfuzled, that if you tried to open up a retail store, sell a sneaker, bottle a soda, market a surfboard or, in any way, shape, or form, utilize the word “Superhero” without first paying these two corporate entities off for the “right” their team of well-paid lawyers will descend on you like the hordes of Hydra on Captain America and a slice of apple pie.

Needless to say, this type of bizarro corporate branding seems as silly to any intelligent person as Microsoft and Apple co-owning the word “PC,” Anheuser-Busch and Molson Coors co-owning the word “beer,” or Coco-Cola and Pepsi co-owning the word “soda.” Needless to say, it is actually happening. Back in 2010 Ray, under Cup ‘O‘ Java studio, published a comicbook entitled A World Without Superheroes. It wasn’t long afterward that he received his first Cease and Desist letter from The Big Two (TBT). In April of 2012 Ray (who it turns out has balls as big as Montana) chose to not back down but to enter into the ring with Twin Titans of Comics in order to dispute their unfair, and completely illegal monopoly of the word “Superhero.”

“They’re holding the word ‘superhero’ hostage,” Ray tells us. “It’s an infringement on our First Amendment rights.” Ray then goes on to point out that the word “Superhero was first used in 1917 before either company existed. The word is in the dictionary. It doesn’t belong to anyone.” While Marvel and DC attorneys (naturally enough) disagree, Ron Coleman, a lawyer specializing in intellectual property, indicates that the joint ownership by Marvel and DC over this word violates the basic tenet of trademark law. According to Coleman, “A trademark stands for a single source of origin, not two possible sources of origin. If the public understands that the word ‘superhero’ could come from A or B, then by definition that’s a word and not a trademark.”

According to Marvel and DC when most folks think of Superheroes they think of the long-underwear wearing characters published by them, hence they don’t want somebody’s “inferior” product besmirching the good image of what they publish (an unintentionally ironically funny position to take, considering the entirety (and quality) of material churned out by these two corporations) over the past 75+ years. Still, even though the possibility of him actually winning his counter suit (the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) which has officers from both companies on its Board, refuses to take Ray’s case), Ray is standing firm in his tracks, categorically refusing to be bullied by the corporate giants.

Meanwhile, Ray isn’t about to slow down, he’s publishing four titles (with more on the way). He’s even has teamed up with the legendary comicbook artist Trevor Von Eeden to produce comics for Bronx Heroes. One of Ray’s newest projects is “Occupy Superhero” where Ray takes his fight to the people. He is attempting to garner support amongst those who actually read (and create) superheroes by selling Occupy SuperHero T-Shirts. According to Ray’s website these shirts will be available on sale July 27, 2013 at SuperHeroes Comic Con @ The Andrew Freedman Home. George Bernard Shaw once said, “Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not?” Ray Felix is precisely one of those guys, a whirling dervish of perpetual motion; never willing to sit still and always looking towards his next project. Truly — in the final analysis — if part of the definition of a hero is someone who stands up against bullies, then Ray Felix is not just a Superhero, but he’s a Superhero’s Superhero.


This article originally appeared online in 2013. It is being republished here as we consolidate some of our work into our own blog. SInce this article was originall written Ray has gone on to actually win his suite against Marvel and DC and is allowed to use the word “Superhero” in the title of his comics. He has also (along with Tom Sciacca and Tom Ahearn) published a satiric comic where his heroes meet donald trump =. That book Bronx Heroes in Trumpland is available from Arsenal Pulp Press, as well as through Amazon

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Wise Little Girl (& Other Stories)

We Love Monsters #1
(and yes, I had an article (or two)
in this one 
So, I figured that it was (finally) time to get back to writing about funnybooks, especially Indie funnybooks that I like and that are produced by my friends. Top of today’s list is one from my pal Jim Ordolis who not only published this wonderful comic (The Wise Little Girl and Other Stories) but is also is the publisher of We Love Monsters, and the admin of the We Love Monsters Facebook page (where I have posted several reviews of monster films). 

So, yeah, we’re friends and collaborators, get over it. I work with people I like, and I’m certainly not hiding that here. Needless to say, when Jim sent me a copy of The Wise Little Girl and Other Stories, I was immediately attracted to it, as the 20 page B&W and Color comic (from Roger Keel’s Stone Island Comics) proved to be a real gem. 

The comic combines written word poetry and prose with at least one illustrated story and is wonderfully engaging. Now, I will admit that I’m not one for poetry, but the three short poems along with their accompanying illustrations were cute, endearing, and all, mystical in which nature — quite naturally adds to the attraction of the overall package, which is, after all, an anthology of fairy and folk tales, mostly written by Stephen Withrow and illustrated by Gary L. Shipman, Domenic Monteleone, and Scott Sawyer.

The illustrated story (The Wise Little Girl) is written by Steve, illustrated and colored by Jim, with lettering by Ron Kasman. This particular tale is an old Russian folk tale about a pair of brothers, one rich and one poor. When the rich brother attempted to cheat his poorer brother out of a foal, the poor brother disputed his wealthier brother’s claim to the foal. 

Eventually the dispute came before the Tsar himself, who proposed a series of riddles to the pair. when it was revealed that the poor brother was able to solve the riddles with the help of his daughter, the Tsar kept increasing the ante with more and more complex riddles until the wise little girl proved herself able to answer each of them. 

The book is rounded out with a pair of full-page illustrations by Jim, and a old Irish story of a bargain between a pair of Irishmen and a wily leprechaun that was written by Roger Keel, with spot illos by Jim. Roger’s story, while predictable for these types of stories involving mortal men and those with magical powers (including genies, leprechauns, demons, witches and the like). Still, Roger pulls it off with his usual gusto and style, causing us to chuckle at the ultimate resolution of the contest.

So, if you are looking for a fun comic to brighten your COVID-19 lockdown, we heartily recommend checking out The Wise Little Girl and Other Stories, from Stone Island Comics.  

And, while you’re there, you might want to look in on Stone Island’s other fun comics, including Super Mystery Comics, Jack Banyon, The Princess of the Trees, and O.T. Ferret, you’ll be glad you did. 

Saturday, January 11, 2020

2019 was a very busy year!

So, it occurs to me that not only have I not posted here in a bit, but that I've actually been quite busy over the past several months, and the probability exist that I have been remiss about informing all'y'all about what I've been up to during the past year or so.

So, to rectify, I’ve decided to take a few moments and bring all'y'all up to speed on what I’ve been doing.
I suppose that at the top of the list, I’ve been posting movie and comic reviews over at HubPages. You should head over there and sign up to subscribe and receive regular updates as to what I find cool enough to write about.

Some of the film reviews (those dealing with monsters and creatures of the night), tend to wind up over on the We Love Monsters Facebook page as well as in their print editions(s).

As far as comicbook writing goes, I want to start back in 2018 (actually) with the inclusion of my short story Birds of Prey in the Wunderfunders anthology Memorial, The Great War Centennial Anthology The book was published for the 100th anniversary of the first World War (The war to end all wars).

My short story told the tale of an American who witnessed both the initial flights of Gustave Whitehead and the Wright Brothers, then went off to England to help in the war effort over there prior to the U.S. entering the war. His story (briefly) documents the use of airplanes in the war effort.

My story was penciled by Greg Kimmet, inked by Dustin Pageloff, colored by Melissa Compton, and lettered by Jason Sylvestree, with the splash page colored by Christopher Geary.

Memorial is a sequential art anthology to commemorate those who fought and fell in the course of the first world war, and to benefit the children of the world caught up in the wars still being fought. All proceeds from the book will be donated to Warchild UK.

Next up (in 20190), I was invited by Ramon Gil to participate in a Kickstarter anthology project of his, by writing a short science fiction story (which Ramon then illustrated) for this wonderful SciFies Anthology. My story had kind of a fun twist to it, one which I believe came out very well.

I had previously worked with Ramon on a one-page story for a Phrases to Pages story for Pronto Comics, as well as having contributed the introduction to his first SciFies collection.

Working with Ramon, is always a pleasure (He has also invited me to attend his FIT Diversity Con in NYC on two occasions.)

This was followed by a short Halloween story that I penned for InDELLible ComicsTales from the Tomb anthology (The Witch and the Wolf, illustrated by the ever amazing Carl Morgans). InDELLible is comprised of a consortium of writers and artist who have taken it upon themselves to revive the (now Public Domain) characters of the defunct publisher, Dell Comics.

InDELLible also publishes the Popular Comics anthology (which is now up to issue #3). Issue #4 (due out in 2020) will (hopefully) have short story by me included that stars The Golden Age Owl Girl. Other InDELLible comics include Cartoon Cuties by Rock Baker, The House of Spades (which will contain the third chapter of my Wülf Girlz series), and CrackerJack Funnies which carries a Chanukah story of mine (Home for the Holidays), illustrated by the wicked-talented Carl Morgans.

InDELLible also published (in 2019) an InDELLiprose edition that contained prose stories of these same Dell heroes. That initial edition contained a short story of min featuring the Golden Age Owl Girl entitled Byline. A follow-up prose story with both Owl Girl and The Owl (entitled Hate by any Other Name) will appear in the second edition, due out in 2020.

(As soon as these other stories are available, I’ll be posting links as to where folks can acquire them.) In the mean time, just to keep you interested and to whet your appetite, I'll tease you with just a taste of the amazing artwork by Carl.

While these are the most recent, works that I have penned, there is also a short prose story of mine in the Metahumans vs. the Ultimate Evil entitled Northern Lite from 2016. I do have a couple of other short stories that have been written and are slated for publication; more on those as they come to fruition.

In addition to these stories of mine, I have contributed to some other publications, including two articles in Munster Memories, then there is an old interview of mine that I conducted with Mike Grell that was added to the TwoMorrows book by Dewey Cassell — Mike Grell: Life is Drawing without an Eraser, and of course the two Stan Lee books about drawing superheroes, Stan Lee's How to Draw Superheroes and Stan Lee's Master Class in which I wrote four chapters each (allowing me to say, with no ego, and in my best Chevy Chase voice, “I'm Stan Lee and you're not.”)

Then, not only am I a fairly prolific writer, but I’m something of a one-man production company as well in that I have preform pre-press production and editorial tasks for several clients, including Main Enterprises, Stone Island Comics, Red Anvil/JGM, Glass House GraphicsMacrospasm Studios, Hippy Comix, Big Apple Convention, and others. Some of the many books and magazines on which I have worked appear in the image below.

More to follow as the year progresses...