Hasbro Announces It Will Cut 550 Jobs

Friday, January 25th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

dungeons and dragons logo2Hasbro, owner of Dungeons & Dragons and Magic the Gathering, announced plans today to cut about 10 percent of its workforce and consolidate facilities to reduce expenses.

Hasbro, known chiefly for its toy line, said fourth-quarter revenue failed to meet expectations due to weaker than expected holiday demand. Hasbro expects revenue for the quarter to decline nearly 4% to $1.28 billion, badly missing earlier expectation for a 6% jump.

Hasbro’s brands include Monopoly, NerfG.I. Joe, and Transformers. The company didn’t break down the earnings disappointment so it’s difficult to lay the blame on any particular division, but it probably didn’t help that last year’s Battleship film, co-produced by Hasbro, was a significant flop. The next Transformers film isn’t due until 2014.

Hasbro employs 5,500 worldwide; a 10 percent cut would affect about 550 people. Since Hasbro doesn’t break out earnings for its Wizards of the Coast division, fans are in the dark about just how successful the division is — and whether or not it’s likely to be affected by the coming cuts.

Stay tuned to Black Gate for news, gossip, and unwarranted speculation as it develops.

George R.R. Martin: “A Writer Who Needs to Get Writing”

Friday, January 25th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

George_R_R_MartinGeorge R.R. Martin is profiled by The Huffington Post today in a piece titled “13 Writers Who Need To Get Writing.”

Martin is the poster child — his smiling face is at the top — but the article also pokes Philip Pullman (“We want him to write The Book of Dust, the latest companion book to the His Dark Materials series”), George Saunders (“His quirky, disturbing sci-fiesque suburban short stories have critics fighting over each other… write a goddamn novel already”), and The Night Circus author Erin Morgenstern (“Morgenstern says her next book is “a film noir-flavored Alice in Wonderland“… WE WANT TO READ IT NOW.”)

In other GRRM news “The Princess and the Queen,” a new novella set in the world of A Song and Ice and Fire, will appear in Martin and Gardner Dozois’s upcoming “massive crossgenre anthology” Dangerous Women. Here’s the scoop from Martin’s blog:

Mine own contribution… well, it’s some of that fake history I have been writing lo these many months, the true (mostly) story of the origins of the Dance of the Dragons. The stand-alone stories, not part of any series, feature some amazing work as well. For those who like to lose themselves in long stories, the Brandon Sanderson story, the Diana Gabaldon story, the Caroline Spector story, and my “Princess and Queen” are novellas. Huge mothers.

Read the complete details at Tor.com.

Blogging Austin Briggs’ Flash Gordon – Part Twelve, “The Atomic Age”

Friday, January 25th, 2013 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

emperorMongo“The Atomic Age” was the twenty-fifth installment of the Flash Gordon Sunday comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally published between October 7, 1945 and March 17, 1946, “The Atomic Age” sees Flash, Dale, and Dr. Zarkov taking the battle to Kang the Cruel, son of Ming the Merciless, who deposed Prince Barin from the throne of Mongo. Armed with weapons from King Radon, Flash sends word to the Freemen to gather at the border to prepare for an assault on Mingo City.

Believing he is only facing foot soldiers, Kang orders a combined air and ground assault to wipe out the army of Freemen. The Emperor discovers too late that the Freemen are protected by a force field barrier. The atomic rays the Freemen are armed with make short work of Kang’s tanks and rockets. Facing certain defeat, his own men turn on the Emperor and take him hostage. Flash is given a hero’s welcome when the Freemen arrive in Mingo City for having liberated Mongo from the despot. As is common with Austin Briggs’s tenure on the strip, the pace is far too fast and much drama is sacrificed to the detriment of the story.

Before Flash can take possession of his prisoner, Kang makes an escape by ruthlessly gunning down his captors. We are introduced to his queen, Evila, and his henchman, Grusom. The villainous trio escapes to the underground with Kang radioing Flash with the vow that he will reclaim the throne. While Flash orders all citizens to aid in the manhunt, he soon finds that not everyone is happy to see the Emperor deposed.


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Goth Chick News: The Haunted Mansion Gets the del Toro Treatment

Thursday, January 24th, 2013 | Posted by Sue Granquist

image002Among the laundry list of scary projects Guillermo del Toro currently has his name attached to (including the recently-released, love-never-dies horror flick Mama, a creepy version of Pinocchio, and the-house-is-haunted-get-the-heck-out Crimson Peak), is the somewhat exciting news of a reboot of The Haunted Mansion.

This would be Disney’s second attempt at adapting my all-time favorite Magic Kingdom attraction for the big screen; the first being that train wreck of a 2003 effort starring Eddie Murphy and let’s say no more about it.

Back in 2011, Del Toro was rumored to be writing a script, but little has been heard about it since. However, during an interview earlier this week with MySpill.com, del Toro confirmed that the new Haunted Mansion is happening.

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New Treasures: The Complete John Thunstone, by Manly Wade Wellman

Thursday, January 24th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

The Complete John Thunstone-smallIf you’ve been reading Josh Reynolds’s excellent series The Nightmare Men here at Black Gate (And if you haven’t, what’s your deal? It’s packed with monsters, ghosts, and ghoulies, and the stalwart men who face them in dark corridors. I swear, every column is like The Exorcist re-made as an Indiana Jones movie), you know he covered Manly Wade Wellman’s supernatural sleuth John Thunstone last February. Here’s a snippet:

Big and blocky, with a well-groomed moustache and eyes like flint, Thunstone is an implacable and self-described ‘enemy of evil’. He hunts it with the verve of a Van Helsing and strikes with the speed and viciousness that puts Anton Zarnak to shame.

Well read and well-armed against vampires, werewolves and all things dark and devilish, Thunstone seeks out malevolent occult menaces in a variety of locales. The sixteen stories and two novels have settings which range from the steel and glass corridors of Manhattan to the mountains of the rural South, or the pastoral fields of England. He faces off against Inuit sorcerers, demonic familiars and worse things in the name of protecting the Earth and all its peoples from the hungry shapes in the dark that would otherwise devour it and them.

I bet you’re sorry you missed it now. Anyway, Josh also plugged the upcoming volume The Complete John Thunstone from Haffner Press, which he noted would contain “both the short stories AND the two Thunstone novels.”

Sweet! That was worth haunting the Haffner Press website for (not that I wasn’t doing it anyway).  I checked on a daily basis… for months. Man, not for nothing did Stephen Haffner earn his rep as a painstaking craftsman and perfectionist. Just when I’d resigned myself to slipping peacefully into old age without seeing it, two review copies landed on my doorstep (with an impressive thud). Good timing too, as old age is a few weeks away at most.

John Thunstone first appeared in “The Third Cry to Legba” in the November 1943 issue of Weird Tales. This volume collects that story and 15 others, along with the novels What Dreams May Come (1983) and The School of Darkness (1985). It’s a gorgeous package, and I can finally settle in and read Thunstone’s exploits against vampires, werewolves, the diabolical sorcerer Rowley Thorne, and the enigmatic shonokins, a race who claim to have ruled North America before the coming of humans.

The Complete John Thunstone is edited by Stephen Haffner, and was published December 22, 2012. It is 640 pages, and priced at $40. Stay tuned to the Black Gate website, where we’ll announce a contest in which you can win a copy in the next two weeks. In the meantime, you can read additional details at Haffner Press.

Teaching and Fantasy Literature: Stephen King’s “On Writing”

Thursday, January 24th, 2013 | Posted by Sarah Avery

I confess: I’m horror-illiterate. Being horrified on my way to some other reading experience is often worthwhile, but reading just to poke my amygdala with a stick is, for me, a joyless enterprise. Some horror writers are manifestly brilliant; I’m still not their audience. Chalk it up to an inherited predisposition to PTSD.

And yet Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is one of my favorite writing books. It’s unusual among writing books for its combination of memoir and manual. The memoir could have stood on its own; the manual could not. King knows that most of the true and useful things that can be said in a book to a beginning writer have been said many times, so he finds a way to say those things in a context that spins together cautionary tales, zany vignettes, and roaring triumphs. When he talks about what a writer needs in the way of work space, he shows us the corner of an attic where he wrote his first stories as a child, the laundry room in a trailer where he wrote his first novels, the uselessly enormous and overcompensating desk he bought during the early coke-snorting days of his wealth, and the study-turned-family-room where his kids lounge on couches while he writes contentedly in a corner. There’s something practical, and something human, to be learned from each of those workspaces.

The book is structured in four main movements: two central sections of advice on craftsmanship, bracketed by two sections about the writing life in general by way of King’s own writing life. The opening movement is cheekily titled “C.V.” A C.V., or curriculum vitae, is what an academic has instead of a resume. For a writer who has been so many times disdained by academics to appropriate the term, and then interpret the Latin curriculum vitae literally as the course of his life, is gutsy.

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A Slew of Old D&D (and AD&D) Books Now Available Digitally

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Fiends Folio for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 1st Edition

Fiend Folio for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 1st Edition

Yesterday, Wizards of the Coast officially released the first wave of backlist products available in digital format. These books are available in PDF format through DriveThruRPG, and you can access all of the Wizards of the Coast titles there … or through their new website, DnDClassics.com.

The move to make their classic backlist titles available was originally announced back at their GenCon keynote (which I liveblogged back in August). The ultimate plan is to have every Dungeons & Dragons resource ever published available, but that’ll obviously take a while.

They appear to have started with collection of about 86 products, ranging from some core rulebooks, adventure modules, setting manuals, and so on. Even in just this first wave of products, we’ve got access to some truly classic material, such as the Basic Set Rulebook and the original Fiend Folio for Advanced D&D.

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Game Over? Atari’s U.S. Operations File for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

atariAtari, one of the most storied game manufacturers in history, has filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States, and has indicated it plans to to sell off its logo and most profitable videogame franchises.

Atari was incorporated on June 27, 1972 by videogame pioneer Nolan Bushnell and his partner Ted Dabney. Their first games included Pong, Asteroids, and Centipede. By the end of the 20th century, the company had fallen on hard times and essentially vanished. In 1998, Hasbro Interactive acquired Atari’s assets, including the name.

At this point, following the Atari brand gets a little tortured. The company currently operating under the name Atari was founded as GT Interactive in 1993 (long-time gamers may remember GT Interactive as publishers of Doom II, Unreal, Heretic, and Imperium Galactica). They changed names to Infogrames in 1999, and in 2003 licensed the Atari name and logo and changed their name to Atari Inc.

Through all the changes, Atari remained a premiere publisher, especially for fantasy fans. It owns or manages more than 200 brands, and in the last decade alone published Neverwinter Nights (2002), The Temple of Elemental Evil (2003), Master of Orion 3 (2003), Dungeons & Dragons: Dragonshard (2005), Dungeons & Dragons Online (2006), Star Trek Online (2010), Daggerdale (2011), and The Witcher 2 (2011). Its most recent release of note is the PC version of Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition.

The bankruptcy is intended to sever ties with its troubled French parent, Atari SA (previously called Infogrames), and secure additional funding to continue operations.

Atari US employs roughly 40 people and is seeking $5.25 million, primarily to develop games for digital and mobile platforms.

Adventure on Film: Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013 | Posted by markrigney

Hogfather DeathHaving been all but dared, following my rather critical summation of The Color Of Magic (2008), to view a subsequent Pratchett adaptation, Hogfather (2006, made for TV), I confess I embarked on this quest with great trepidation, especially when I learned the production team responsible was essentially identical to that assembled for Color.

However, I am happy to report that Hogfather is a much superior effort. First, the comedy is spot on. Second, the concept of assassinating Santa Claus (or whatever) is fine dramatic fodder. Third, the film continually asks questions that we (the viewers) really want answered.

Questions such as, who is this Susan woman who looks like Keira Knightley (but turns out to be Downton Abbey‘s Michelle Dockery), and why exactly is she posing as a monster-fighting governess, when it’s perfectly clear she’s some sort of extremely powerful something or other –– and when do we get to find out what?

Great art has been made from less.

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The King of Asgard: Jack Kirby’s Thor

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Journey Into Mystery 83Journey Into Mystery first appeared in 1952, one of a number of anthology titles from publisher Martin Goodman’s line of comic books. Over the years, the title featured a lot of short horror, fantasy, and science fiction tales, many of them collaborations between editor/scripter Stan Lee and artists like Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby. Until 1962. At that point Goodman’s comics were beginning to change direction, following a revival of interest in the super-hero genre. A team book, The Fantastic Four, had taken off. A solo book had followed, The Incredible Hulk. Heroes would now be his company’s main product, and the line would soon come to be known as Marvel Comics. The horror anthology books would be taken over by recurring super-hero characters, and Journey Into Mystery would be the first of the bunch. So with issue 83, in August 1962, in a story credited to Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby, it introduced its new lead: the mighty Thor, Norse god of thunder.

Donald Blake, a physician with a leg injury, takes a vacation in Norway. There, he stumbles across an invasion of the planet Earth by Stone Men from Saturn. Fleeing the aliens, and losing his cane in the process, Blake stumbles into a cave, where he finds a gnarled walking-stick lying on an altar-like stone. In frustration, he slams the stick into the cave wall and is transformed into Thor, vastly strong and able to summon storms at will. He defeats the Stone Men and embarks on an increasingly fascinating series of adventures.

Kirby drew the book sporadically between issues 83 and 100, then consistently from 101 through to the point where he left Marvel — number 179, with a fill-in by Buscema on the issue before. While, as I’ve said before, it’s difficult to make definitive statements about who did what creatively in the early Marvel comics, it’s safe to say that Kirby was the primary creative force here as with most of his other books. The Marvel method meant that he was structuring and probably plotting stories, as well as suggesting dialogue beats. I think Thor represented one of his great accomplishments, a working-out of some of his major themes; evolution, myth, life, and death. It’s not only an anticipation of his later New Gods series, but a powerful work of children’s literature in its own right — and, like much of the best children’s literature, it can be read for pleasure by receptive adults as well.

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