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...