This might be the best news I’ve heard since Michael Bay dropped his idea to remake The Birds.
If you’re not already familiar with The Oatmeal, it’s a webcomic and humor site created in 2009 by cartoonist Matthew Inman. Inman posts original comics, quizzes, and occasional articles, most of which make me laugh outload, and occasionally snort my beverage out my nostrils. As someone who deliberately and desperately avoided parenthood, one of my all-time favorites is Having a Baby vs. Having a Cat which contains the immortal line, “Babies come shrieking into this world as selfish, amniotic, jam-covered goblins; whereas cats come into this world as kittens, which are independent, adorable, and not at all goblin-like.”
But Inman has also produced a series of related books and games, one of which is a card game called Exploding Kittens. Originally proposed as a Kickstarter project seeking $10,000 in crowdfunding, it exceeded the goal in eight minutes, and on January 27, 2015, seven days after opening, it passed 103,000 backers setting the record for the most backers in Kickstarter history. When the Exploding Kittens campaign closed on February 19, 2015, it had $8,782,571 in pledges, contributed by 219,382 backers.
Vampires #1, and variant cover. Coming from Asylum Press on June 29th.
When I was around 8 years old, I often used to sleep over at my friend Kris’ house. Kris’ brother Charles (“call me Chuck”) was six years older than us, and at 14, was already the king of contraband. Though most of the items he dealt in where of no interest to me (back issues of Playboy, old and likely very skunked cans of beer, etc.) the one thing which he always had in copious quantities was horror comics. For a teenaged boy, this was not contraband at all, but a staple of daily life.
But for an 8-year-old girl from a very conservative family, Marvel’s Strange Tales, or DC’s House of Mystery, were akin to full blown Satan worship, and were definitely not an acceptable way to spend one’s allowance. With this in mind, Chuck was all too happy to slip me several issues at a time, to read during my visits once Kris fell asleep in front of the television. In Chuck’s mind, providing me in particular with horror comics, was still an act of rebellion on his part.
Today we corner John C. Hocking whose Conan pastiche we reviewed a few months ago.
John C. Hocking is an American fantasy writer who is the author of two well-acclaimed Conan novels and has also won the 2009 Harper’s Pen Award for Sword and Sorcery fiction for his story, “The Face In The Sea”. He lives in Michigan with his wife, son, and an alarming quantity of books. He is a nigh-obsessed reader and writer of lurid pulp fiction, the author of Conan and the Emerald Lotus, the “Black Starlight” Conan serial, and their time-lost companion, Conan and the Living Plague, and an obedient thrall of Tales From the Magician’s Skull.
For clarity, we’ll actually corner him twice. Firstly, here on Black Gate, we’ll cover his weird, pulpy muses & Conan pastiche; secondly, in a companion interview, we’ll cover his King’s Blade and Archivist series on the Tale from the Magician’s Skull Blog.
One Black Gate series which I have started, but is still for somewhere down the line, is a look at the first dozen-or-so issues of Roy Thomas’ Conan the Barbarian comic. And even before running that series, I’ll write one for the second dozen-ish, so I can tie together the various overlaps. This was prompted by a combination of the over-sized Marvel hardback Omnibuses, and Roy Thomas’ TERRIFIC (now) three-volume memoir about the series from Pulp Hero Press.
I never read the series, growing up. I bought some of the Dark Horse collections, which I liked. And when Marvel reacquired the rights and put out that first door-stopper compendium, I bought it. And I liked it enough to get the next three. I was buying them in conjunction with Roy Thomas’ Barbarian Life. The first Thomas volume covered the genesis of the comic, and the first fifty-one issues – which happened to be the same ones included in the first Omnibus.
Thomas helmed the series for 115 issues – which is how many are covered by the first four Omnibuses (both series’ talk about other issues as well). So, Thomas’ three books complement the Omnibuses perfectly. I read a story, and then I read Thomas’ insights. Along with the relevant commentary in the Omnibus itself. It’s a real Conan treat!
Thomas would write do other color Conans for Marvel. And he would also contribute to Dark Horse while they had the rights. But it’s that first run, when he was Stan Lee’s right hand, and he made Conan a best-selling property for Marvel, which fans revere.
I’ve been following Bernie Mireault since his career began in Montreal in the mid-80s with the quirky and hilarious comic MacKenzie Queen, which he wrote and drew. When the chance came to recruit him to draw for Black Gate a decade later I jumped at it, and he soon became one of our most valuable and prolific contributors. His art appeared in virtually every issue — starting with our very first, when he illustrated Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion story “The Dreamthief’s Daughter.”
These days Bernie is best known as the creator of The Jam, aka Gordon Kirby, a normal guy whose unorthodox hobby (patrolling rooftops in costume, on the hunt for evildoers) has unexpected consequences. His adventures have been published by the top publishers in the industry. This year Bernie joined with Nat Gertler’s About Comics imprint to release a brand new Jam comic, The Jam Super-Cool Color-Injected Turbo Adventure From Hell issue 2, financed by an independent cloud-funding effort, The Jam Non Starter Campaign. Here’s what Bernie told me when I asked about it:
The Jam non-starter campaign is meant to be a humorous imitation of a Kickstarter thing except the book is already done and ready to order through the aboutcomics.com portal. Also available is a recent Jam-related graphic novel and by the end of January, a trade paperback collection of the first five issues from the original fourteen issue series. I’m thrilled to be back in print, even on a small scale.
I’m very excited to see The Jam return to print. Check out the promo video above, have a look at the campaign here — and help one of the most creative comic artists in the industry return his legendary creation to print. The world will thank you.
Writing Rogues, Part One: A Study of Batman: The Animated Series
I love villains. They’re often at the center of what makes a great adventure story tick. They force our protagonists to take action, to face their worst fears and come out better, to outdo themselves again and again. They push character arcs, drive narratives, and illuminate the differences between regular people and heroes. In short, villains get the story up and out.
Ask an author what the most important storytelling element is and they’ll probably tell you it’s conflict. Conflict occurs when the main character meets a challenge to their goals. In sword and sorcery, that challenge is often a person. While there are the famed man vs. self, man vs. society, and man vs. nature conflicts as well, antagonists are some of the most engaging sources of conflict because they’re human. Or human-like. We’re programmed to engage more with characters than we do with snowstorms or oppressive governing entities.
1979’s Uncanny X-Men #129-131 began the legendary Dark Phoenix Saga, which runs to issue #137. In those first three issues, we saw far more clearly the hooks that Jason Wyngarde got into Jean Grey, the Phoenix, and we saw more dramatically how Phoenix had been changing. She’d become more violent, sensual, tempted by emotions and desires she’d suppressed all her life. In the fictitious dream world that Wyngarde had been constructing in Jean’s mind, as a means to control her for the Hellfire Club, he’d been giving her unlimited power in a setting without moral restraint. Today I’m diving into the year 1980, with issues #132 – #134: the middle of the Dark Phoenix Saga and the progression of the corruption of Phoenix by the Hellfire Club.
I’ll confess I have always loved the concept behind Dragons by the Yard. Written by Debbie Daughetee and adapted for comics by Kelly Swails, it’s the story of Anna, a girl who sews dragons to sell at the Rose Bowl Swap Meet. One day she meets a mysterious woman who sells her an unusual fabric, and Anna makes seven little dragons out of it. Then the magic happens.
Currently, four issues of this wonderful tale exist, but Swails has four more scripts ready to go. Kymera Press is currently running a Kickstarter to turn those scripts into finished comics. Most of the money from the Kickstarter will go to the international team of artists, women who’ve worked for Marvel, DC, IDW, Dynamite or other big houses. They are featured in the brief video below.
Well, if you’ve been waiting for my epic reread of the Uncanny X-Men to reach one of the most consequential and memorable stories in comic history, your waiting has paid off. It only took 26 blog posts, but we’ve arrived at the beginning of the Dark PhoenixSaga. This arc of the Dark Phoenix Saga, from issue #129 to #131 does some major things.
First, it introduces a mutant who will over the course of the coming decades become a very important X-Man and eventually one of the team leaders: Kitty Pryde. Second, it introduces a mutant who over than same time period will become an iconic X-Men rival and villain, and eventually an ally, teammate and leader herself: Emma Frost. Third, it deepens the corruption of Phoenix’ soul by Jason Wyngarde and Emma Frost.
Welcome to the 25th installment of my reread of The Uncanny X-Men from 1963’s issue #1. We’re now in 1979 and this post will cover issues #125-#128. This is a really memorable run for me for a few of reasons.
First of all, it’s an amazing 4-issue story with huge stakes and high drama, and an example of the Claremont-Byrne team entering their creative peak.
Second, in these 4 issues, some really messed up stuff starts to be revealed about the psychological manipulation of Phoenix that puts the whole series and Marvel history on a collision course with the Dark Phoenix Saga.
Third, issue #128 was one of the first four comics my mom gave me after she came back from a trip, and I remember reading it with a sense of wonder and confusion as I learned by myself how to read comics. I very shortly ended up trading parts of my fledgeling collection to a friend in return first for issue #125, and then finally issues #126 and #127 (and #137!). So my inexperience with the form as well as the non-linear way in which I absorbed the story are indelible parts of my view of what later became known as the Proteus saga.