Immediate Gratification

Comics.

The events swirling around the major comic producers swirling around the drain have inspired me to jump on board the MACGA (Make American Comics Great Again) Train.  Thanks to the tireless efforts of men like Vox Day and Ya Boi Zack and Jon Del Arroz, I’ve found a wealth of fun and exciting new fiction to enjoy.  But as I’ve shifted my entertainment resources away from video and toward sequential art, the analytical side of my brain has churned away at the question of, “why comics?”

My initial shift away from mainstream producers and towards small and independent publishers was as a happy consumer of OSR material written to recapture the D&D spirit of my youth.  Heady times, those were, filled with the exploration of imaginative spaces that most mainstream publishers had turned their back on in favor of recycling and repackaging the mess of influences of the rulebook’s semi-official implied setting.

Over the last three to four years, my focus has been on supporting the alternative media culture by producing long form fiction of my own (ahem) and lending my vocal talents to the works of other fine authors (again I say to you ahem, ahem).  But over the last couple of years, it’s hard not to notice that some of the biggest waves are hitting the world of comic books.  The old gray publishers in lit-ra-chure are hemorrhaging readers, but they’ve got a pile of snooty answers as to why the unwashed and grubby flyover folk don’t cotton to know book reading.  With the smash success of Marvel movies, which should be driving readers to Marvel comics in droves, there’s no such hiding from the evidence that when you get woke you go broke.

And the medium of comics is perfect for the sort of analysis and discussion and criticism that drives changes in the market.  You can read a title in 20 minutes rather than the five hours it takes to read (or listen to) a novel.  That means everyone can read and comment in the same day or two.  That’s a much easier method to build a culture and find likeminded souls than long fiction.  It also means a chance to expand your circles and encounter new names and new faces with new ideas instead of the usual Commentariat approved and appointed spokeslizards.

From a content producer’s standpoint, talking about comics makes a lot of sense as well.  The turnover rate allows for easy daily content, and the reduced cost – from a time perspective if not money – also makes spotting trends, analyzing them, and reporting back to your friends so much easier as well.    They also make for a nice and easy break from diving deep into prose.  When the kids act up or the wife needs a hand, you can drop it and come back without losing that deep fugue state that makes prose reading so much fun.

With all this in mind, expect more comics content here at my blog, but don’t worry about the usual pulpy goodness and authorial analysis and cultural critique.  We’ll be getting into that as always.  We’ve just added a piquant new comic spice to the stew.  I hope you’ll stick around and enjoy the new recipe.

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GoFundMe Reccomendation: Alpha Dog Studios

You might remember the news from earlier this year about Will Caligan, a comic book creator fired for wrongthink.  He has also been tapped to help produce Arkhaven Press’ upcoming Wardogs graphic novels.  (And boy do I have a great announcement about that IP coming down the pike!)

His active GoFundMe campaign to help fund more fun projects right now sits at about $1800 out of the $4000 target, with only a few days left.  Why not head on over and toss a few bucks in the pot?  I myself threw a ten-spot at him, which will net me a copy of Grimm #1 and two 10-page stories, one of which features Cherry Bomb, who I assume is the perky lass shown in the picture.  I’m not exactly sure, and I don’t exactly know.  What I do know is that the artwork looks fun and breezy, and Will doesn’t hate cis-hetero-garble-bargle monsters like me, and these days, that’s all I need to know to help a brother out.  Why don’t you go and help him out, too?

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A Great Question

Nixon May asks:

How do you stop giving money to people who hate you when everybody hates you?

The process of weaning yourself off the major media teat takes real, conscious effort, but it can be done.  As with all of our ruts, all of those routine parts of our lives that have become second nature, you can’t just wake up one morning, make sweeping changes, and expect them to stick.

You will have a lot more success if you make gradual changes around the edges, and if you can surround yourself with likeminded souls who will help provide positive reinforcement for your new found independence.  Here’s a few gradual changes you can make right now:

  • Stop going to movie theaters, and start hitting up the RedBox.  You can still see the latest message fiction wolf dressed in Marvel sheep’s clothing, but instead of feeding the Beast $10/person plus concessions, give it $1.50 for the whole party.  Not only does that cost Marvel Studios a lot of money, it also means they don’t get the free positive publicity for a huge opening weekend.  Those knock-on effects are more powerful than you might realize.
  • Ditch the major pro sports and become a fan of your local minor league teams.  The ESPN dominated leagues have weaponized your love of sport against you, but you can still get that fix without all of ESPN’s thottery by turning your eyes and your money to the local minor league teams.  They love the support of the community, and are generally still so desperate for fans they can’t afford to pick sides in the culture war.   (Exercise caution – some exceptions do apply.)  And for God’s sake, stay the hell away from the MLS – the relentless desire of the major media outlets to is as direct a challenge to American culture as anything else they’ve got going on.
  • You wouldn’t believe how many excellent comic book crowdfunding campaigns are going on right now.  There’s no longer any excuse to cling to the DC and Marvel lines.  They are on their deathbed and savagely fight off any attempts to supply them with the medicine they need to regain their health.  Take a deep breath, cut back to two titles a month, and learn to enjoy the hunt for comic book pros who don’t hate you.
  • Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.  Scale back gradually.  If everyone who longed for a return to honest brokers in the media cut their “they hate me, but I just can’t resist” budget by half, we’d see an overnight change in the content being delivered.  No industry can long survive a 50% cut in income, and if all you do is cut your contribution by that much every year, you join a growing crowd of people denying oxygen to the fire consuming American culture today.

The other thing you can do, the most powerful reinforcement you can find, is to surround yourself with people who think like you do.  Just hearing, “I don’t give money to people who hate me,” on a regular basis reinforces that idea, and when you stop to look at RedBox you’ll find yourself much more hesitant to feed your card in the slot.  You might still have a few must-see items (I’m looking forward to catching the Bruce Willis version of “Death Wish” myself,) but just remembering how little respect for you the producers have will raise the bar for parting with your money.  Over time, that little denial will add up, and eventually the powers that be will be forced to admit that maybe forcing their own agenda into beloved traditional IPs was a mistake.

And of course, if you want to give money to a producer who doesn’t hate you, why not give this audiobook by Chuck Dixon a shot?  It’s a vampire tale in which the recently turned blood sucker got suckered by a thot, and follows his struggles as he tries to adjust to his new undead life.

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Secrets of the Nethercity – Backed!

One of the casualties of my nascent writing career has been my table time rolling them bones behind a DM screen.  To get a minor fix, I do still enjoy a good D&D read from time to time.  Lately though, even that limited amount of delving has suffered due to the dearth of quality material produced by companies that don’t hate me.

The flip side of the, “Don’t give money to people who hate you,” is, “Do give money to people who don’t.”  Given the way tabletop RPGs have been browbeaten by the hate mobs these days, it’s getting harder and harder to find new and worthwhile material suitable for the tabletop.  That’s where Alexander Macris steps in with, Secrets of the Nethercity, a fine new addition to the ACKsiverse.

For three thousand years, the secrets of the Nethercity have been hidden. Now the delving of man has breached the ruins, and the lore and treasures of the ancients wait in the darkness below for those bold enough to seize them. But an inhuman evil slumbers in that darkness, and the time of the Awakening is at hand….

It’s a big dungeon, but clocking in at 240 rooms geared for mid-level play it’s a little too small to be considered a mega-dungeon.  It’s also built for a more d20 style experience than this old grognard can enjoy, but as an old grognard, it’ll be a simple matter to streamline the thing for B/X.  If it ever hits the table, that is.  Just in case, I sprung for the hard copy, which is a requirement for the hasty notes and scrawled HP tracking in the heat of battle.

And if it never hits the table, this purchase will make for a fun read.  Macris knows how to write a functional adventure with an entertainment value holds up under the weight of tfw no players, without the need for extraneous details (read: the dreaded, “this room once held [long list of things] but is now empty.”)  Add to that the value of keeping the fertile ground of the tabletop hobby well watered so that it can outlast this temporary influx of social locusts who are like, totally into Big Bang Theory and all that nerd stuff, once they move on for other fields to scavenge.

 

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Sudden Danger – Now Live!

Princess Karenina never expected her honeymoon to include murdered frontier sheriffs, exiled mobsters, and murderous robots, but she never expected to spend her honeymoon married to one of the galaxy’s most stubborn smugglers.  A simple mission for the Star King’s spymaster turns ugly when she and E.Z. Sudden stumble onto a planetary conspiracy to steal the valuable land out from a quiet colony of communal scholar-farmers.

On sale now exclusively via Amazon, Sudden Danger continues the adventure started in the Happy Frogs Award winning Sudden Rescue.  It’s the story of a blue-collar long-haul space freighter captain and his surprisingly resilient new bride as they try to move forward in a universe plagued by genocidal robots, vicious mobsters, and roving shiploads of interstellar pirates.

With all of the thrilling fights and chases and escapes from certain doom you’ve come to expect from the humble and hardworking tramp space freighter captain E. Z. Sudden, and all of his princess’s charms, this novel touches on the deeper meaning of heroism, handled with a light touch that will leave you smiling and ready for more.

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More Alterna Praise – Lilith Dark

The second in my on-going affair with independent comics, Lilith Dark had few hurdles to overcome.  The concept of a brave little girl getting her swashbuckle on raises a lot of red flags in my mind.  The traditional narrative of these stories has lately given way to the same stronk wimmin who don’t need no may-an! message fiction that serves as kryptonite to well-adjusted readers.

I’m happy to report that Lilith Dark, written and illustrated by Charles Dowd, doesn’t fall into any of the usual traps.  Lilith is a normal little girl with an outsized imagination.  Her bravery smacks more of foolishness and naivete than trust in the guiding hand of plot immunity.  Her brother and sister are presented as annoyances – it is told from Lilith’s point-of-view, so this is a natural – but when push comes to shove, both prove to be as loyal and brave as their titular sister.

Lilith’s brother in particular bears the burden of ‘token cowardly boy’ that has become a prerequisite for modern storytelling, but never sinks to that level of cliché.  Instead, given the first opportunity to do so, he hitches his belt up and heroically strides into danger to save his younger sister.  His bravery proves unnecessary as the threat in his mind was greater than the threat in reality, but his ability to rise to the challenge serves as a useful example of how Lilith Dark avoids the pitfalls that snare so many comics creators these days.

The artwork is a bit cartoony, appropriately so given the target audience, and adds to the fairy tale nature of the thing.  Dowd’s illustrations stay well away from the flat and lazy artwork that seems to be all the rage these days and yes I’m looking at you, CalArts.

The pacing, characters, and threats in this story make for a perfect introduction to comic books for the younger set.  I read Lilith Dark in part through the eyes of my own five-year-old daughter, who laughed along with Lilith’s adventures and appreciated her bravery.  The ‘beasties’ in the story might have claws and sharp teeth, but they bring just the right amount of menace to thrill the younger set with the right amount of slapstick to ensure they don’t wake up in the middle of the night.  Though a little too childish for readers in the tween and older brackets, parents can rest easy knowing Lilith Dark hits the sweet spot for that four to eight-year-old range.

Now I’ve got to see if Mother Russia can make this a hat trick for Alterna.

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New Book Review At Castalia House

Today the Castalia House house blog hosts my review of one of the most creative alt-history novels that I’ve ever read, The Devil’s Dictum.  It’s a darkly humorous American Fantasy sure to please both the historyphiles and the cynics, although one wonders whether the latter doesn’t always devolve into the former.

It (the review and the book) are both worth a read.  Check it out here.

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Trespasser – Alterna Comic Review

My recent foray into Alt*Hero comics left me with a hankering for some new hard-copy sequential art to enjoy, and one of the better purveyors of said artistic style is Alterna Comics.  They’ve done a masterful job threading the Charbdyis of fans of SJW comic publishers (Marvel and DC) and the Scylla of fans of reactionary comic publishers (Arkhaven and D&C).  Granted, I’m a member of Team Scylla, but you have to give some respect to an apolitical outfit like Alterna that refuses to be sucked into the ongoing cultural war and instead focuses on content and sales.  Their business model depends on short run series printed on traditional comic stock paper with traditional art styles and coloring, and they deliver each title for less than half the competition.  At $1.50 per issue, picking up a series or two was a low risk gamble.

Trespasser, a four-issue series written by Justin M. Ryan with art by Kristian Rossi and lettering by DC Hopkins, follows a single father trying to raise his young daughter in the midst of an unspoken apocalypse.  The hows and whys of the end of the world are left vague.  No clear explanation is given, but the small details of dead cars full of bullet holes left to languish in a barn, the unremarked vestigial limbs of the adopted family dog, and the need to check one’s food with a Geiger counter all paint a bleak picture for our protagonists.

The dreary monotony of the constant struggle for survival shatters when one of the farmer’s snares catches an unexpected visitor – a gray alien whose capture sets in motion a series of unfortunate decisions for the farmer and his daughter.  The story that follows is grim and weird in the best traditions of the Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone with all of the heart and authentic character moments amid the confusion that made those shows so entertaining.  Like those low budget shows, Trespasser eschews action and adventure for the character drama, suspense, and mystery, with only a few glimpse of the adventure to be found in the wider world beyond.

The art of Trespassers conveys a sense of loneliness and dread throughout the tale, and the verbalized information dumps as the farmer and his daughter talk to themselves work well.  Instead of a clumsy method of exposition, they serve as a reminder that the farmer and his daughter are alone, have been for a long time, and aren’t entirely sane by our pre-armageddon standards.  Despite its efficient storytelling, The Trespasser’s ending feels a little rushed, with a final resolution that skips over an incredible story that this reader hopes will be fleshed out in a subsequent series.

At six bucks for the entire run, this series costs less than some single glossy issues by the power studios, and it delivers far more entertainment in its pages than its price warrants.  It’s also available in an omnibus through Amazon.

I’m looking forward to reviewing the other series ordered at the same time as Trespassers, a more light-hearted comic aimed at a younger audience, Lilith Dark.  I also enjoyed this series enough that I plan to pick up more titles from Alterna, specifically Mother Russia.  Available through Alterna Comics’ ETSY store, you can also order them from your local comic book shop as well.

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When Did I Become A Comic Book Fan?

Or, more precisely, when did I re-become a comic book fan?

Like many Gen-Xers, the bright colors and heroic escapades of pre-1980 comics called to me from spinner racks in grocery stores and the last few lingering drug stores, a few of which even retained their soda fountains and counters.  When the comics made their big shift to specialty stores, usually dingy low rent places run by men with more love of the medium than business sense, I didn’t follow them over for a full decade.

Part of that was discovering tabletop RPGs and dedicating the rare trips by Mom to the local game shop, but part of it was also that by the time I had the money and self-owned transport to get back into comics, the publishers were chasing the quick and easy collector dollars.  The fun and adventure of the comics I’d fallen in love with had given way to the drab and depressing all grimdark all the time mid-90s nihilism, so I stayed away for another two decades.

I’m back, baby.  In the last few months I’ve backed three comic books:

  1. Vox Day’s Alt*Hero  –  Hey, the guy pays me to read the books he publishes.  Plus, he’s a great writer.  Even if it takes the production a few months to find its legs, you can count on Vox’s world to be well thought out, his characters believable, and the action fun.  So far, I am not disappointed.
  2. Cirsova’s Wild Stars III – C’mon, it’s Cirsova.  The man has an eye for storytelling, for the fantastic, and for the sort of old school adventure that gets the blood pumping.
  3. Chuck Dixon’s Ravage! Kill All Men – Normally my media preferences lie on the PG-13 side of the scale, but lost worlds are a favorite setting of mine.  And the couple of audio books written by Chuck that I voiced, a vampire novel(ahem) and a zombie novel (ahem) showed a nuance and consideration, and a flare for innovation in tired genres that allayed any fears that Ravage! might be selling titillation at the expense of storytelling.

Once they get a few more issues into the mix, I’ll be scoring Dixon’s Right Ho series as well.  I just want to give them a few more months and maybe buy the trade paperback for maximum fireside reading.  I might even back van Scriver’s Cyberfrog if it wasn’t so pricey.  At  $110,000 funded in just two days, he’ll just have to get by without me.

So what’s the deal?  What brought me back in – other than the obvious charm of these independent efforts to revive a dying industry?

What else am I going to do?

Seriously – those of us following a policy of, “Don’t Give Money To People Who Hate You” are being boxed into ever tighter corners.  Can’t watch TV.  Can’t go to the movies.  Can’t even enjoy vast swathes of tabletop gaming.  (At least I still have hex and counter wargaming.)  What’s left over, independent authors, can only fill so many hours.  Sometimes you just need a little bite-sized entertainment.  Sometimes you want somebody else to do the heavy lifting of visualizing the action for you.  And thanks to the miracle of western civilization and the technology it made possible, you don’t have to suffer through films that sneer at you, through comedy shows that hate you, or through comics that insult you.

We don’t need Los Angeles.  We don’t need New York City.

All we need is each other and a few brave creatives to throw their work out there.  With the support of good men everywhere, we can still right this sinking ship of pop culture.

 

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“Well Worth Checking Out”

One of my short stories found a loving home at Milhaven Press.  Specifically in this month’s new release, “Tales of Suspense“.  Milhaven has adopted a rather clever quarterly schedule for their short fiction.  Unlike the ‘everything goes so long as it’s action’ of a StoryHack, or a focus on the fantastic as seen Cirsova, Milhaven rotates genres by packaging each quarter along a theme.  The first edition, Tales of Wonder would fit on a shelf alongside Cirsova or Planet Stories.

This second installment focuses on stories of mystery, crime, and espionage, and features nine stories along those lines including another Karl Barber story by yours truly.  This time around, Karl goes up against a criminal underworld using a pizza place as a front for their dirty work.  Those of you tuned into the conspiracy theory wavelengths can guess the relevance of the location.

As reviewed by the always trustworthy Misha Burnett, a regular contributor to Cirsova Magazine and a fine author in his own right:

This isn’t “retro-pulp” where the authors are camping it up and leering at the audience to make sure that everybody knows they are just making fun of that kitschy old-timey junk–these are stories in the spirit of Bradbury and Lovecraft and Frederick Brown.

…these are not pastiches or parodies that randomly drop hardboiled gangster slang into a stew of moral ambiguity. There is irony here, and some black humor that reminds me of Roald Dahl’s stories for grownups, but it’s not poking fun at the form. These are stories that would be at home in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

Go read the rest of his review, and then stick around for more reviews and thoughts on writing.  Misha is top notch, and his advice has helped me round out my own written word in a lot of ways.

But first, pick up your copy of Tales of Suspense, and settle in for some of the best new author voices on the market today.

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