Bill Amend’s Fox Trot is a comic strip that ran daily from 1988 into 2006, then switched to a Sunday-only format. Still around today, it tells the story of the Fox family. Dad Roger is a loveable goober who wishes he was better at golf and chess. Mom Andy is the common sense core of the family unit. Sixteen year old Peter is a wannabe athlete, with fourteen year old Paige a typical teenage girl. And ten year old Jason lives to torment Paige and is a school geek. He’s got a pet iguana named Quincy who acts like, well, an iguana, but can really be the center of a strip.
The dynamics and shifting alliances of the three kids are instantly relatable to anyone who grew up with at least one sibling. as Calvin and Hobbes’ creator Bill Watterson wrote in the introduction to the first collection:
Fox Trot particularly captures the Machiavellian nature of adolescents. The balance of power between Peter, 16, Page, 14 and Jason 10, is a constantly bartered commodity, and alliances are fragile and short-lived. No collusion will survive an opportunity to get a sibling in trouble, and hesitant parents are goaded with the cry of, ‘Punish him! Punish him! Ground him! Ground him!’
Meanwhile, the challenges of parenting and marriage are amply represented by Roger and Andy. It’s one of my all-time favorite strips and with my nine year old son going through all my collections, I’m enjoying the Fox family all over again.
Jason is a Black Gate kid. His interests are all over pop culture: Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, horror (he loves Halloween, to his family’s pain), Christmas lists, Indiana Jones (even Young Indiana Jones) and cultural tropes such as westerns and Sherlock Holmes. Naturally, being a brainy geek, he’s into Dungeons and Dragons, usually playing with his best friend, Marcus. One rainy spring break, Paige found herself lured into playing D&D with Jason.
Art is a HUGE part of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). In fact, you can’t separate the amazing illustrations, (from black and white sketches to glorious color panoramas) from the actual playing of D&D. Of course, this applies to other role playing games. Wayne Reynolds’ illustrations were a big draw for me in trying Pathfinder. But there’s a reason I mentioned D&D.
Eye of the Beholder: The Art of Dungeons & Dragons, a documentary by X-Ray Films and Cavegirl Productions, is due out next year. And what a BRILLIANT idea! In addition to featuring artists and their work, it will also include interviews with game designers, authors, insiders and fans.
If this preview doesn’t grab you, I’m not sure you’re a D&D fan. If you read Part One of my history of Necromancer and Frog God Games (you did, didn’t you?), you saw those awesome Necromancer covers. I’ve loved D&D art since I started playing and I even had a puzzle with Larry Elmore’s drawing from the cover of the Red Box.
There’s a very short article about it in Format Magazine that has a bunch of wonderful D&D art from several of the greats. Makes me think of those great Dragon Magazine covers.
You can read Bob Byrne’s ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column here at Black Gate every Monday morning.
He founded www.SolarPons.com, the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’ and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes.
He is an ongoing contributor to The MX Book of New Sherlock Stories series of anthologies, with stories in Volumes III, IV and the upcoming V.
Screw ISIS! Here Are Five Great Reasons to Visit Brussels
These colors don’t run! Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Well, the pseudo-Muslims are at it again, killing innocent people and trying to turn one of the world’s great faiths into a whacked-out death cult. It’s been 24 hours since the Brussels attacks and now people are mourning, the politicians are posturing, and the police are hunting down suspects. A few extra bombing runs against Islamic State are probably being planned too.
It is, sadly, all too predictable. We’ve seen this before and we will see it again. So I’d like to buck the vibe and take a look at what Brussels has to offer visitors. It’s a beautiful European capital that’s all too often overlooked by people headed to more popular destinations such as London and Paris. That’s a shame, because I’ve visited Belgium several times and have always enjoyed my visits to the city. It’s a fun place with great food, awesome beer, and plenty to see. The fundamentalists haven’t changed that and never will. Here are five things you won’t want to miss.
I discovered Oron before I first read a Conan tale. It was pretty much my introduction to barbarians in the world of fantasy. Author David C. Smith co-wrote the Red Sonja and Bran Mak Morn books with Richard Tierney. It’s safe to say that he knows his Howard. And about barbarians. So it’s natural that our ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series turned to Dave to talk about Bran Mak Morn. “Worms of the Earth” was one of the first non-Conan stories I read from REH. Wow. Read on for Dave’s take on yet another topic for the series.
I was around 14 or 15 years old when I discovered the Hyborian. So now what will become of us, without barbarians. Those men were one sort of resolution.
— “Waiting for the Barbarians” (1897-1908) Constantine Cavafy
Howard knew the truth of these lines by Cavafy, just as South African author J. M. Coetzee did in his acclaimed novel of the same title. What do the barbarians bring to societies that are past their glory, that are overripe, living softly, in decline? What do the barbarians bring to societies whose citizens exist with each day the same as the day before, overripe citizens living softly?
These citizens have become soft while standing on the backs of those they kept down, slaves and serfs, and those they have conquered or coerced — the barbarians. When at last the barbarians turn on the overripe soft ones who keep them down, it is indeed one sort of resolution.
Our summer of Robert E. Howard is just rolling along here at Black Gate. The latest entry delves into the comic book/graphic novel world of Howard’s works. I don’t know much about this area, but even I’m aware of Roy Thomas.
Bobby Derie is going to take us on a tour focusing on the non-Conan adaptations of Howard’s works. You’re going to learn about a quite a few you’ve missed. So, on we go!
The Golden Age of Comics passed Robert E. Howard by completely. The Silver Age treated him almost as poorly, save for in Mexico, where La Reina de la Costa Negraspun out the fantastic adventures of a blond Conan as second-mate to the pirate-queen Bêlit, and “The Gods of the North” found a few pages in Star-Studded Comics #14 (Texas Trio, 1968), and Gardner F. Fox borrowed liberally from Conan in crafting “Crom the Barbarian” for Out of this World (Avon, 1950).
In an era when DC Comics and their contemporaries felt no qualms stealthily adapting the horror and science fiction stories of H. P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, and Ray Bradbury without permission or credit, they apparently did not touch the evocative weird tales of Robert E. Howard; neither did the sport comics or westerns or detectives.
In 1970 when Marvel Comics licensed the character of Conan the Barbarian from Glenn Lord, acting as the agent for the Howard estate, they were on unsure ground; up until this point, Marvel had mostly worked on their own characters and properties. Yet the barbarian proved an unexpected success as the issues wore on, with writer Roy Thomas receiving permission even to adapt some of Howard’s original Conan stories to the comics, including such classics as “The Tower of the Elephant” and the novel The Hour of the Dragon.
The success of Conan led Marvel to license additional of Howard’s characters for adaptation — Kull of Atlantis, the Pictish king Bran Mak Morn, and the Puritan adventurer Solomon Kane — as well as the creation of original spin-off characters, most notably Red Sonja, based in part on Howard’s Red Sonya of Rogatino.
I was first introduced to Mike Vosburg’s work through my love of Sax Rohmer. His wonderful artwork graced Master of Villainy, the 1972 biography of Rohmer by the author’s widow and Cay Van Ash. Later, I would discover Mike’s artwork also appeared in The Rohmer Review fanzine.
Many more years later, I was fortunate enough to have Mike provide the back cover illustration to my second Fu Manchu book. He also gave my daughter a gift of autographed copies of some of his professional work, which made her feel like the luckiest nine year old girl on the planet. I don’t claim to know the man well, but I adore his work and know him as a genuinely kind and generous artist.
“Return to Mongo” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from January 2 to March 24, 1956. The story gets underway with a party celebrating Dr. Zarkov’s newly discovered young adult daughter Zara and her arrival on Earth after growing up on an otherwise deserted swamp planet with her mother. Flash, Dale, and the Space Kids are at the party when Zarkov is alerted to the discovery that Mongo is once again entering Earth’s orbit and threatening our world’s stability. Willie, who still has the ability to psychically grant wishes, inadvertently teleports everyone from the party to Mongo.
Flash and the Space Kids are immediately set upon by Queen Azura’s cowled servants, who nearly massacre them. Working as a team to defeat Azura’s servants, Flash and the Space Kids are overcome by a paralyzing gas as they explore a nearby cave. They are subsequently captured and brought to Queen Azura’s palace, where they learn she is plotting to overthrow Prince Barin.
“The Swamp Girl” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from October 31 to December 31, 1955. Just as Dan Barry guided the strip closer to its origins, he took two sidesteps in introducing a back-story for Dr. Zarkov that Alex Raymond never intended. “The Swamp Girl” introduces us to a hot-tempered, beautiful young woman called Zara, whose mother was the sole survivor when her rocket crashed on the swamp world of Malagua twenty years before.
As the story begins, Lisa (Zara’s mother) is succumbing to malaria just as her daughter has finally succeeded in repairing their rocketship. Zara sets off to visit her father’s home world of Earth and fulfill her mother’s dying request that her daughter bring the father she has never met to see her mother before she dies, so that her mother may reconcile with him.
Zara arrives on Earth with her pet black panther, Octavio. Their ship’s coordinates take them to the desert town where Zara’s father, Dr. Zarkov, lives. After upsetting the neighborhood and evading the police, both the swamp girl and her panther reach their destination.
“Space Circus” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from September 5 to October 29, 1955. “Space Circus” is significant for being the first time in the Dan Barry strips where Flash’s past adventures on Mongo are now an integral part of the storyline. One wonders if reader response prompted King Features to request a change of direction from what would today be considered a reboot to a direct sequel to the original storyline of the early 1930s.
“Space Circus” gets underway with Flash abducted by a flying saucer while out driving on a desert road late one night. Abduction by UFO was a relatively new concept in the 1950s, but one that was spreading rapidly as a fear that many shared during the Cold War era. The aliens are from the planet Mesmo and appear as Asian caricatures. While a number of the inhabitants of Mongo were depicted as Asian in appearance, they were portrayed as being exotic and not as demeaning cartoonish representations. While there were certainly many more offensive Yellow Peril figures in comics of the era, the Mesmans are a far cry from the seductive and imposing inhabitants of Mongo as Alex Raymond portrayed them.
“Starling” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from July 11 to September 3, 1955. “Starling” starts off with Flash visiting Dr. Zarkov one evening to find his old friend depressed, as the U.S. Government has turned down his request for an additional million dollars funding to finish construction of the Super-S Rocket. It is a nice hint of direction for the strip to come, which will take the series closer to its roots. Flash and Zarkov are startled by the discovery of a prowler outside, but the man gets away.
Over the next few days, similar disturbing incidents occur. Flash and Dale are nearly run down by a speeding car while out walking one afternoon on the grounds of Zarkov’s estate. Later, a crate is dropped off the roof of a downtown building when Flash is walking beneath and just misses him. Shortly thereafter, Zarkov receives a telephone call from B. B. Remsen, the billionaire industrialist requesting an interview with Flash.
Upon visiting Remsen’s estate, Flash is outraged to discover Remsen hired his goon, Byron, to test Flash’s reflexes by nearly running him down with a speeding car and dropping a crate off a building. Byron was the prowler at Zarkov’s estate who learned of the need for financing for the Super-S Rocket. Remsen agrees to finance the rocket if Flash will take on a unique assignment. Remsen’s very wild granddaughter, Starling, wants to travel in space and Remsen wants Flash to pilot the rocket that will take her to the stars.