Tuesday, February 09, 2021

The Creature from Cannibal Creek

A short while back, a friend of mine turned me on to an indie film in which he appeared, the film, Creature from Cannibal Creek  (currently appearing on Tubitv) is a rather enjoyable (if campy) horror film that is about a group of cold-blooded, murderous cannibals who have made a practice of waylaying hikers in their woods, keeping them in cages and forcing them to do chores until more food is needed, and then butchering and eating them. Unfortunately for the cannibals, things go awry when one of their captives escapes but winds up dying in the surrounding forest from a knife wound to his stomach that he sustained during his escape. Everything changes, when, inexplicably, nature somehow takes a hand, reviving the former captive — and now corpse — metamorphing him — in true comicbook form (think Man-Thing, Swamp Thing, The Heap — into a marauding vegetative creature out for revenge.

As stated, the film itself, while not terrifying on an Exorcist level, is “technically” a horror film and, as it turns out, is still quite enjoyable as well as all sorts of goofy fun. The film starts out with on-screen text stating that many people over the years have disappeared in the woods and suggesting what we are about to see is possibly what happened to some of the missing. Next, we meet a couple of hikers who come to a very grizzly end at the hands of Eddie (Simon Wheeldon). Next up we meet both Harriet (Deborah Jayne Reilly Smith), and Neptune (Jim Ordolis) — the two other members of the cannibal clan.


Near as we can determine, Harriet is the matriarch of the clan, while Eddie (who communicates only in grunts and wears a full face mask) and Neptune (who does speak and wears no mask) are her errand boys. Neptune discovers David (John Migliore) wandering in the woods (pining over photos of her and him as well as a news clipping of the woman from the photos who is missing). David has found a piece of her backpack in the woods. Neptune radios back to Harriet, who sends a katana-wielding Eddie to help abduct him. Once David is captured, they bring him back to their compound where he is locked in a cage with other prisoners. It is there that he discovers that the woman was apparently also captive a week or so back, but is now simply gone, and the other prisoners can’t tell him where she is now.

Some time later Eddie comes by to get David to do some chores, and unlocks David’s cage, only to be jumped by David who tries to fight his way out. Unfortunately, Eddie knifes him. Presuming David is dead, Eddie runs off to fetch Harriet. Only David isn’t quite dead and crawls off into the woods.  Eddie returns with Harriet who sends Eddie off to follow the trail of David’s blood to find him. It is in the depts of the mystical wood that David eventually succumbs, only to merge with the foliage of the wood and resurrect as the eponymous “Creature of Cannibal Creek”. Once he is arisen, the creature wanders off into the wood.


Shortly after this a middle-age couple picks up a younger (tattooed woman with facial piercings) hitchhiking. Only the couple’s car runs out of gas, forcing the hitchhiker to walk to the next town to look for gas. The husband sends his wife to walk with her but the older woman (and then then her husband) are both killed and dragged off by the creature, while the hitchhiker simply walks off. Neptune finds the body of the man the Creature killed and begins to drag it back to Harriet.

We then meet a couple (man and woman) more captives, one of whom somehow seems to have a key to the chains holding them, which the woman uses to escape, only to be caught and killed by the creature. Eddie finds her body and drags her back to the compound. Meanwhile the body count continues when the creature kills not only a hiker in the woods, but Neptune as well. The body count ramps up as the Creature finally confronts both Harriet and Eddie. They manage to corral him in a fenced in area and start sending in their captives for the creature to kill, only he refuses to kill a woman who was nice to him while he was still Dave. Eventually, there is a final confrontation between the Creature and the cannibals which brings us to the end of the film.

Once again, the film is neither intended to be a slasher/hacker, splatterpunk blood bath nor the suspenseful/psychological, descent into madness horror film, but rather a fun, indie muck monster film, with a fair number of random deaths, and just enough bloodletting to qualify it as (somewhat) gory. Needless to say, it succeeds on those levels. So, if you just love monsters, indie films, and consider both to be a good time, you’ll want to check out the Creature from Cannibal Creek; available for purchase, or to stream online (Tubi, Prime Video)

Sunday, January 31, 2021

The Sea Wolf gets the Classic Illustrated treatment

Presented here is an article I wrote back in 2014 for a different website. I am in the process of consolidating as much of my work as possible so as to keep it available in a single spot. This is an article I did about Papercutz’s graphic novel version of Jack London’s The Sea Wolf.

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The Sea-Wolf is a classic bit of American literature that was written in 1904 by American novelist Jack London. The core of the story concerns a literary critic named Humphrey Van Weyden, who is the survivor of an ocean collision of a San Francisco ferry and a freighter. Quite unfortunately for Van Weyden, while he is rescued from a watery grave, it is by a powerful and amoral sea captain named Wolf Larsen who then puts Van Weyden to work aboard his Schooner as he continues his voyage on towards Japan to hunt seals.  From the moment of its release the book was hailed as an American classic (selling out almost immediately of its initial printing of 40,000 copies). It also spawned 10 theatrical films (six in the U.S.), as well as three TV mini-series (one in the U.S.).

Now this seminal work of American fiction is getting the Graphic Novel treatment from ClassicsIllustrated from Papercutz. The graphic novel, illustrated by Algerian artist Riff Reb (whose real name is Dominique Duprez). Reb — who was born in Algeria, but moved to France during his childhood — has delivered an amazing adaptation of this timeless story, rendering London’s profoundly psychological adventure with an amazing power and eloquence in 144 pages matching the raw power of London’s original work (no mean feat, to be sure). The power of Reb’s art conveying the helplessness of the upper class Van Weyden (whose name gets shortened to “Hump” for the duration of his voyage) who is held captive on board the Ghost and forced into a hard and terrifying life at sea by the captain.

Unused to physical labor, Hump is pressed into service, first as a cabin boy, then in other services as he is promoted up the ranks of shipboard jobs during his “stay.” Needless to say, it takes him quite a while to not only get his sea legs but to learn how to perform the various physical tasks that are thrust upon him. As his forced servitude wears on, Hump discovers that in spite of Wolf Larson’s harsh exterior, he is actually something of a learned man, having read numerous authors and books, including Shakespeare, Tennyson, Poe, De Quincey, and others. Larson, as it turns out, is an individualist, hedonist, and materialist, who simply does not believe in the immortality of the soul. He is a man who finds no meaning in his life (even his own) save for survival and the pleasures of the moment. Furthermore, he has come to not only despise all human life but to deny that it has any value whatsoever.

Throughout the course of their travel, Hump and Larson engage in many philosophical (and practical) conversations even as the Captain runs roughshod over the crew and puts down a mutiny, and while seal-hunting. This gives something of a surreal aspect to the story as one would simply not expect a man of Larson’s ilk to be intellectual enough to engage in such conversations. Thus, even as he clearly holds Hump in disregard (due to his dilettante lifestyle) he grants him a good deal of leeway as he recognizes that in Hump he finally has someone with whom he can converse in an eloquent fashion as Hump is so much more his mental equal over the rank and file of the men on board the Ghost.

For Rib’s part, he so effectively manages to capture the essence of London’s original story and play it out on the printed page. Rib’s unique art style effectively depicts the power of the raging sea as well as time period from which this tale was taken. His style evokes a pseudo wood-cut imagery with cross-hatching and amazing line work. One of the more amazing aspects of the way that Rib chose to illustrate this tale is that his effective use of duotone coloring. That is to say, each chapter in the book is essentially colored in shades of a single color. Now while elsewhere we have railed against this technique in modern-day comics as we feel that it tends to muddy up the art, with Rib, it enhances the mood, energy, and emotions emanating during each chapter of the book.

In the initial chapter the scene is an over-cast blue setting the scene for the disaster to come. Once Van Weyden is aboard the Ghost the color becomes a brownish red, showing us his despair. Subsequent chapters Green, yellow, red, blue, and even black and white, each communicating different energy and emotional content. After a while you don’t even notice that the comic isn’t “All in color” but come to understand that Rib with his art and coloring choices (like London before him with the actual words of the tale) is making very specific statements and observations.

As can be expected with a Classics Illustrated book, the essence of the original work is ideally captured and by the time  a female castaway named Maud Brewster ends up on the boat, and she and Hump (as the only two aristocrats within thousands of nautical miles) are forced to rely upon each other and effect an escape with each other, you come to realize that you have just (finally) read one of the books that was perhaps on your school reading list, and (perhaps even against your will) realized how enjoyable the book was. 

From our own perspective, some of the early passages of the book rung familiar with us (though we have no actual memory of having read the original prose novel). Still, in the pre-internet day prior to Cliff or SparksNotes, for us, Classics Illustrated comics were a preferred way of ours to read classic tales. Needless to say, that Papercutz has chosen to revive this delightful series, giving them a new lease on life is one of the simple joys of our existence. 

Hopefully, with this incarnation of London’s The Sea Wolf, (as well as the other tomes in Papercutz growing collection), a new generation of readers will discover those classically iconic stories that were once required reading for all school children.

 



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The Sea Wolf by Jack London, Riff Reb’s – Writer and Artist, Joe Johnson translation. Copyright © 2012 MC Productions/Riff Reb’s. Copyright © 2014 by Papercutz, for the English translation, editorial matter, and the collected edition. The Classics Illustrated name and logo is Copyright © 2014 First Classics, Inc. All rights reserved. By permission of Jack Lake Productions Inc. Classics Illustrated is a registered trademark of the First Classics, Inc.

The text to Funnybook City/Is Nothing Sacred is © 2014 & 2021 Robert J. Sodaro, D.B.A. Freelance Ink. All rights reserved by their respective owners.

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Robert J. Sodaro is a noted comicbook historian and journalist who began reading comics during the early ‘60 while sitting on the newsstand in his Uncle’s “Mom & Pop” grocery store. He has been writing about them in the early ‘80s, and wrote for virtually every print comicbook publication published during the ‘80s & ‘90s. These days, much of his writing can be found on HubPages.com.


Friday, January 29, 2021

THE RESPLENDENT SOUND OF T.H.U.N.D.E.R.!


 This article originally appeared in Comics Value Annual 1999, and appears here w/permission of both the writer (myself, natch), and the original Publisher. The article has been slightly edited and modified by the original author (again, me) to reflect its new format, and the passage of time. It is being (re)presented here due in part that the original print publication (CVA '99) is long out of print, and the subsequent website thunderagents.com no longer exists.

 

Sired in the Mid-‘60s by one of the Most-Beloved Creators in the Industry, the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents™ are the Superteam that Categorically Refuses to Stay Dead!

 

In some respects, the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents™ have lived a most charmed life, as they have risen Phoenix-like from the grave of cancellation more times and appeared under more corporate banners and logos than any group of superheroes has any right to expect. However—on the other side of the coin—there seems to be some sort of black cloud constantly hovering over their collective heads as they have never been able to make it past issue #20 in any of their many incarnations over the years.

Born in 1965, they sprang—Prometheus-like from the fertile and creative mind of Wally Wood, and—by all rights—they should be as well-known today as their Marvel Comics brethren who came into existence just a few short years earlier. Unfortunately, the breaks just didn’t go their way, and the team (in fact the entire comicbook line), just didn’t make it to the end of the decade. Still, the Agents themselves just wouldn’t give up the ghost, and have (sometimes just barely), continued to maintain a comicbook presence to the current day. A touch over 10 years after their initial series was canceled, ownership, as well as the rights to publish them (including their original adventures), were sold by Tower Publishing to John Carbonaro’s JC Productions.

This began a nearly 20-year effort on the part of Carbonaro to bring (and keep), the Agents back into the public’s eye. After a number of false starts, a copyright-infringement lawsuit (that included two or three comicbook lines of faux-T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents™ comics); and far too many abortive efforts and “almost” deals that fell through to delineate here, Carbonaro is (as always), preparing to bring his adopted children back into print.

 

Lightning Strikes the First Time

The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents™ are the creation of Wally Wood, who developed them for Tower Comics in 1965 at the dawning of the Silver Age of comics. Perhaps he was inspired by Stan Lee’s success over at Marvel, or the first “re-launch” of the DC universe, but whatever the reason, Tower (an existing magazine publisher), determined that it was interested in developing its own line of superheroes.

Instead of beginning slowly, and building up the characters over time, Tower jumped right into the fire with both feet, and gave us T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents™ #1 in November 1965. In that first issue, we were introduced to not only T.H.U.N.D.E.R. (The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves), but the three Agents that formed the original team; Dynamo (their nominal leader), NoMan, and Menthor, as well as the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad. The Squad was a non-superpowered, para-military strike force that supported and backed-up the Agents. The Squad was comprised of Guy Gilbert (Squad leader), Egghead (who went K.I.A. in issue #2), Kathryn “Kitten” Kane, John “Dynamite” Adkins (who was later unsuccessfully groomed to become Dynamo’s replacement), and William “Weed” Wylie. There was also a faceless, unnamed legion of UN-sponsored soldiers who would come in to mop up after the Agents and Squad were finished with their work.

Although the Squad members had no superpowers, they each had their own specialty (Gilbert was a Major and Medal of Honor winner, Egghead was a genius at strategy, Kitten an M.I.T. scientist, Dynamite an underwater demolitions expert, and Weed was an escape artist). As stated, the higher-ups at T.H.U.N.D.E.R. attempted to groom Dynamite as Dynamo’s replacement, but he proved to be not quite up to the task. The Brass had better luck with Gilbert who went on to become the superpowered Lightning.

Two things that made the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents™ different from virtually every group of heroes that proceeded them (and many of those that followed), were 1) the team worked for the United Nations and 2) their powers cost them dearly. Even then, in the unwritten canons of comics, there were essentially three scenarios as to how people acquired their powers and become superheroes. They were either born with them (Thor, Aquaman), acquired them by accident (Spider-Man, Flash), built some device that granted them power (Iron Man, Hawkman), or trained to be the best at what they did (Captain America, Batman, Daredevil). In the case of the Agents, each of them received their abilities by donning a bit of clothing or other device (Dynamo had his belt, Lightning his costume, Menthor his helmet, and NoMan his android body and invisibility cape).

All of these devices had maximum lock-out times where they would automatically shut down and require time to recharge. For Dynamo, it was 25 minutes, with an emergency five-minute back-up. NoMan’s invisibility cape would shut down after 10 minutes. Still, it was Lightning that would suffer the most, for every time he used his super-speed, it shaved time off his life span. Hence whenever he went into action he was literally killing himself. Menthor “suffered” the least. His helmet actually brought the innate goodness of its wearer, eventually turning the double agent John J. Janus (Menthor), from a potential traitor to a loyal agent.

For this he paid the ultimate price, however, and died in action protecting the Agents from the Warlords (#7). This marked perhaps the first time in comics that a major character died in action. Interestingly enough, this scenario was virtually identical to what occurred a couple of years earlier in Avengers #9 where Wonder Man joined the Avengers with the intention of betraying them, only to reform at the last minute and die while saving their lives.

 

Weather Patterns

Not ones to miss a trick, Tower quickly followed up its team book with a couple of titles where members of the team were broken out into solo stories. Dynamo and NoMan debuted shortly after Thunder Agents™ #1. Unfortunately, neither title lasted long (Dynamo went four issues, and NoMan went two). A related title was U.N.D.E.R.S.E.A. Agent, which lasted 6 issues (a seventh U.N.D.E.R.S.E.A. Agent tale appeared in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents™ #16.)

U.N.D.E.R.S.E.A. Agent stared another UN agent (also non-powered, like the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad), named (what else), Davy Jones. Recruited from the Navy, Jones went to work for the United Nations Department of Experiment and Research Systems Established at Atlantis. Though Jones never met anyone from T.H.U.N.D.E.R., and there were no common characters in the two series, it can only be assumed, that—had the two titles continued—they would have eventually crossed paths.

Another pair of Tower books were Fight the Enemy (3 issues), a WW II anthology title; and Tippy Teen (an Archie-like book that lasted 28 issues, including a Special Collector’s Edition). Still, in spite of what seems like a fairly solid line-up of comics for the mid-to-late ’60, Tower wound up pulling the plug on the entire division in ’69 (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents™ went to issue #20). While this could very well have been the last chapter in the story of Len Brown (Dynamo) and his friends, it proved to be merely the first chapter in what has turned out to be a long and strange trip indeed.

 

The Coming Storm

In 1981, fan-turned-(semi)pro John Carbonaro acquired the rights to Wally Wood’s best-loved children. He subsequently produced one B&W, magazine-sized issue on his own before striking an arrangement with Archie comics to continue the series. Under the arrangement with Archie, Carbonaro continued to produce and package the Agents under the JC Comics label, while Archie acted as printer and distributor. The JC/Archie T.H.U.N.D.E.R. comics were produced in color, and standard comic-book sized. Unfortunately, due to a convoluted set of incidents, that arrangement didn’t last very long (two issues of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents™ , plus three issues reprinting from the original Tower series). A third, original T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents™ story appeared under Archie’s Red Circle logo in Blue Ribbon Comics #12, an anthology title.

Shortly after this, Carbonaro met up with David Singer, which would send John down a long, tortured path and all but kill the Agents as a viable set of characters. Singer, a self-professed fan of the Agents who imagined himself a junior-grade Stan Lee, managed to ingratiate himself with Carbonaro, first presenting himself as a partner in Carbonaro’s publishing company and then as his legal representative (Singer had a law degree, but had not yet passed the Bar). According to Carbonaro, Singer utilized his inside knowledge of the dealings between Carbonaro and Tower, and then attempted to assume ownership of the agents by presenting himself as Carbonaro’s legal representative. When this failed, he claimed that the Agents existed in the Public Domain and attempted to wrest the Agents away from Carbonaro.

Apparently, Tower (which published magazines, but had no experience in publishing licensed characters), had inadvertently left the copyright notice off several copies of the various comics they published. Singer used this loophole to attempt to declare that the Agents had fallen into the Public Domain allowing anyone could publish them. He went so far as to issue a press release to this effect where he boldly proclaimed that “All God’s Children” could publish the Agents, and then proceeded to do so under the Deluxe Comics banner without Carbonaro.

Knowing that Tower’s copyright and trademark on the Agents were valid and legal, Carbonaro sued Singer for copyright infringement in 1984, beginning what turned out to be a protracted and nasty legal battle that lasted three years and rocked the industry. In 1987, Carbonaro proved victorious and regained control of his beloved Agents. (He has also firmly established his ownership over the copyright and trademark of the Agents and has been issued papers to that effect by the Copyright and Trademark offices of the U.S.) As part of the suit, he acquired all of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. material that Singer had published. At the time of Carbonaro’s victory over Singer, Deluxe had long-since gone out of business, due mostly to Singer’s own ineptness, lack of business acumen, shady dealings, and failure to pay his creators either on time, or what he had promised them. (Not to mention, Carbonaro had enjoined the major distributors from handling the Deluxe comics by naming them in his suit, thus severing the company’s cash flow and access to the marketplace.)

The long legal battle over The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents™ ultimately asserted three things: 1) Tower Comics’ original copyright and trademarks on The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents™ were valid and legally binding; 2) Carbonaro was now (and always) the legitimate and legal holder of those rights; and 3) Deluxe Comics was in violation of Federal Copyright and Trademark laws. Carbonaro’s resounding victory over Deluxe resulted in a settlement which included cash, plus Deluxe surrendering all story and art copyrights, as well as all back-stock to Carbonaro.

At long last, Carbonaro was vindicated.

 

Stormy Weather Ahead

While his legal troubles were largely behind him, Carbonaro now began a decade-long search for a new home for the Agents. By his own accounting, Carbonaro spoke with virtually every major and numerous minor comicbook publishers in his quest to get the Agents back into print (including, but not limited to Marvel, (Marvel’s Epic line), DC, Image (Extreme and WildStorm), Dark Horse, Comico, Apple (with whom he actually struck an agreement, but never managed to publish) and others. He also had discussions with a number of production houses and creators in an effort to generate either a movie or animated TV series (Batfilms, Marv Wolfman, etc.), all to no avail.

In 1994, he finally struck a deal with George Caragonne and his company, Constant Developments, Inc. (CDI), to begin production of new T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents™ stories. Shortly after announcing his deal with Carbonaro, Caragonne hooked up with Penthouse magazine where he began to produce a line of Adult comic magazines for the company. In addition the Adult comics, Caragonne launched Omni Comics, which, in issue #3, included the first chapter of what was to be a four-issue T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents™ story. (This story was supposed to appear as a standard, stand-alone T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents™ comic, but—again for convoluted reasons—never did.) Unfortunately, tragedy struck again. Caragonne was dismissed from Penthouse and, despondent, took his own life.

Without Caragonne to head up the comicbook division, Penthouse scaled back its operation and canceled most of its line (including Omni Comics). Once again, the Agents were without a home and fell into the limbo of non-publishing.

 

Echoes of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. (Future)

Never one to admit, acknowledge, (or even spell), defeat, Carbonaro continues to soldier on. He has “re-acquired” publishing rights back from Penthouse, as well as the existing (Omni) T.H.U.N.D.E.R. artwork, and is currently in the process of re-(re)-launching the series. This time out he is doing it on his own and not relying on others to helm the series that he has held close to his vest for over a decade. Carbonaro (“Carbs” as he is affectionately known to his “friends”), has long held the faith that—given half a chance—the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents™ can make a solid go of it and turn into the money-making franchise that it was always meant to be.

One can only hope he is right.

 

Additional T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Stories

In addition to the above, there was a T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents™ series containing original stories which was published in England. This series was officially licensed by Tower prior to the sale of the characters to Carbonaro. It is unknown how many issues of this comic were published, or in what year(s) it was published. Only one copy of a single issue is known to exist.

A single issue of a T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents™ comic was published by Solson in the ‘80s. This story was officially licensed by Carbonaro. The story was a future, alternative time-line which included all of the Agents, and may or may not be considered part of the official canon. NoMan appeared on the cover.

There was also (at least three) comics that parodied the Agents. Two of them—The Inferior Five #1 (DC, 1972), and Not Brand Echh #2 (Marvel, 1973)—that did so while Tower was still publishing. The third (Boris the Bear, Dark Horse, mid-to late ‘80s), did so while Carbonaro owned them. Dark Horse was served with a “cease and desist” notice from Carbonaro, and refrained from future parodies.

There was at least one issue of Thunder Bunny in which the Agents appeared, which received the tacit approval from Carbonaro (albeit later). Other publishers announced comics staring their version of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents™ — when the Agents were thought to exist in the Public Domain — but never delivered due to either notice from Carbonaro detailing his ownership. One of them, Americomics’ own inability to produce such books prevented it from issuing a series while Maximum Comics announced a T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents™ comic, but no proof exists as to whether or not it ever managed to actually publish the comic.

 

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Friday, January 01, 2021

I'm Stan Lee, and you're not! Stan Lee's How to Draw Superheroes


For those of you too young to get the subtle joke behind the title of this particular post, it should be read in your best Chevy Chase voice. 

The reason I get to say this is that bask in 2011, my good friend, David Campiti, passed my name along to the folks over at Dynamite Entertainment, as someone who would be able to contribute to the company’s third volume of Stan Lee books (the first two were Stan Lee’s How to Draw Comics and Stan Lee’s How to Write Comics). The book to which I contributed four chapters, was entitled, Stan Lee’s How to Draw Superheroes, and it came out in 2012; published by Penguin/Random House


Then in June of 2016 I received the opportunity to contribute to contribute to yet a fourth book, Stan Lee’s Master Class, where I penned another four chapters. That book went on sale ion Nov 26, 2019.  


Finally, in Dec. of 2020 I (finally) reached out to Penguin/Random House and arranged to received my comp copies of Master Class. Surprisingly they also sent me additional comp copies of How to Draw Superheroes. Further, I was also able to purchase (at a discount) supplementary copies of both books (which hopefully will arrive soon.

After some 30+ years of professional writing I’ve achieved some level of professional achievements, and feel that my being able to contribute to both of these books ostensibly “written” by the man who’s writing  — quite literally — got me into comics in the first place, was one of the coolest projects to which I’ve ever contributed. 

Excelsior! 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Hey! I was interviewed again!

 On Wednesday, November 11th 2020, I was interviewed by Mark Torres on his show “It Came from the Radio”

https://youtu.be/Do1n9bSppic



Saturday, November 07, 2020

It Came from the Radio!

Just wanted to let all'y'all know that I will be a guest on "It Came from the Radio" podcast show on Wednesday, November 11, 2020 at 7:00 P.M. EST, follow the link to register to be in the audience and watch it!

I promise to keep it exciting, interesting, and oh, yeah, fun! 

https://www.eventkeeper.com/code/ekform.cfm?curOrg=EM&curID=471361



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

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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. 

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