Saturday, July 31, 2010

Halloween Man: Superdeformed is genuine fun

Drew Edwards' Halloween Man is an independent comic that is as pure of heart as it is clever. Here is a story that unabashedly calls on the spirit of horror-- classic horror, modern horror, B-movie and forgotten horror, all of it-- to endow a hero to fight the powers of darkness in much the way that horror empowers its own enthusiasts to face the darkness in our own lives. I've been reading the comic for years, on and off, and I can't think of another story that comes closer to the feeling Ray Bradbury summoned in The Halloween Tree: a joyous celebration of Halloween.

Here's the thing: Halloween Man is not a horror comic. I'm sure Edwards could write a horror comic, but Halloween Man is a super-hero comic, with all the rules found there, peopled with characters that are all a sly wink at the trappings of comic books. Halloween Man himself is the revived writer Solomon Hitch, killed by a vampire and brought back to life by a John Constantine-like necromancer called Morlack. Morlack brings Solomon back with this wonderful incantation, as he holds one hand on the body of Solomon and another on the glowing screen of a television tuned to the late late show:


I call on the spirits of Cunningham and Karloff for the undeath. I call on the might of Romero, Raimi, and Savini to cast this dead sould back to flesh. I summon the long dead Halperin and his fellow Lugosi... those dead of Fall... give this soul strength!

Isn't that awesome? When Solomon comes back and gets his monster-fighting legs under him, he's a scarred, intelligent zombie who must slake his hunger on evil demons. He's aided in this endeavor by a brilliant and beautiful scientist girlfriend, who fits him out with Marvelesque pseudo-scientific weapons, like Spirit Guns that shoot ectoplasm harvested from Solomon's own body.

Halloween Man: Superdeformed, a manga-sized paperback that collects Halloween Man's origin and a number of stories-- including one exciting three-parter in which Solomon is accused of murder-- gives the reader a great tour of Solomon's world. Solomon isn't alone: not only does he have scientist Lucy on his side, but he's teamed up with a gigantic creature called Man-Goat ("a man with the power of a man-sized goat," as he constantly reminds us,) the aforementioned Morlack, a Tony Stark-like ex-boyfriend of Lucy, and more. The tool around in a hovercraft coffin. There's an insane gee-whiz nature to all of this; I love how the stories are very quick and heavily worded; this is compressed storytelling of the old, pre-Bendis era. In this one volume we get a look at a brilliant riff on the Avengers, the legend of the Headless Horsemen, and even the modern vampire gang (in a thoughtful and scary tale told from the perspective of the creatures Solomon hunts.)

A word about the world-- Halloween Man takes place in a place called Solar City, built over the ruins of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex in Texas. This is where Edwards turns what could be a one-note idea into a series with legs. Solar City is peopled with demons, vampires, heroes, and innocent bystanders, allowing Edwards to use Solomon as our guide through his own take on all of comicdom, a la Kurt Busiek's Astro City. Solomon Hitch is a man with no place except among his friends, rejected by the heroes of the city and distrusted even by the monsters who sometimes need his help.

Halloween Man is contagious good stuff.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Letter from a young reader

I'm amazed even today that we have such a thing as emails from readers. I say this because when I was a kid, if you wanted to send a note to Judy Blume or Robert Bloch, you had to send a letter to the publisher, which might get forwarded in time to the writer. Today is different-- I can actually hear from readers whenever they like.

Desirea (no age given) writes:

So I just want to say how much I loved your book. I started reading it and I couldn't put it down, my parents had to pry it out of my fingers lol. I finished it the same day I started it. Can't wait until the next book comes out!

And I'm thinking-- wow! An actual human being read my work, and stayed glued to it all day. I gotta wonder, does the reader know we writers care? That this makes a huge difference to us? I fired back a note:

Desirae-

Thank you so much for your note! It means a lot to me to hear from a reader. I worked really hard writing the book, and sometimes you wonder if anyone will ever read it... so now I know!

Since you ask, book 2 comes out in July of 2011! It's already written-- so I promise it will be there. It's called Voice of the Undead.

Thanks for making my day!

-Jay


And that was true! It does make my day. Sure, I know; if I were Charlaine Harris I'd get letters all the time. But I'm not, so this is pretty cool. I'd like to think it would stay pretty cool regardless.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Vacation Days

Going on vacation for a few days-- be back late next week!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Editing Process for Alex Van Helsing 2


That image is the editing copy of Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead, or as I call it AVH2. We're in a period now where the edits are being done as though this were 1978; I'm making edits on the same paper the editors at HarperTeen make edits on. This makes me a little self-conscious; I notice the copy editors at Harper never seem to get coffee stains all over the paper when they send it to me.

Those tabs? You can't tell, but those are how I keep track of global changes. They're coded with letters-- A for information about Alex, M for Ministers, a plot point I need to add a few lines about, S for Sid, R for Reactions, another plot point. And so on. It's useful to have them tabbed like this so I can do all the edits regarding a particular issue at once. If the edits get longer than a few lines, I type them up on a computer, print them out and staple them to the paragraph being replaced.

There's some evidence that the best work is done through mixing word processing and handwriting-- I read recently that it's more efficient to draft on a computer but edit on paper, and for me this is true. 

Halfway through the tabbed edits tonight-- the rest should be done tomorrow night.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Famous Monsters Review of Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising

When I was a kid, there was no cooler magazine than Famous Monsters of Filmland, Forrest J. Ackerman made into a unique creation of black-and-white photos and incredible puns about monsters. In those days, you couldn't hear about a new horror movie or book, and might never learn about an older obscure one, without FM.

So today I got a gift that astonishes the 12-year-old in me: Famous Monsters (now a website) reviewed Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising.


Peter Schwotzer writes:

The characters I though were quite realistic and enjoyable. The story was fast paced and action filled with a little bit of everything for everyone; hero’s, secret society’s, zombies, cool weapons, teachers who aren’t at all what they appear to be and of course vampires…real vampires. Not these whiny ass, lovestruck, wimpy vampires that seem to rise from everywhere these days (pun intended). 
Read the rest here!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Listening to Stephen King's Danse Macabre

This past week I've been reading the 2010 re-release of Stephen King's outstanding Danse Macabre, a survey of the entire genre of horror, from folklore and stories through TV and movies.This has always been a favorite nonfiction book for me, especially because King is so knowledgeable and so opinionated-- he is fair and free with his judgments and tries to plum the meanings of horror while deliberately keeping the tone conversational. It's an outstanding review of horror.

The book has a 2010 introduction entitled "What's Scary?" in which King attempts to reckon in one essay with the thirty years of material that has appeared since King wrote Danse Macabre, and this essay is so good that it only serves to tantalize me with the possibility of a more thorough revision. As it stands, the essay is just a bonus; Danse Macabre remains as it has ever been.
For those who haven't read it: King in Danse Macabre picks the motif of a basic horror "tarot deck"-- the Werewolf (Wolf Man and all transformation stories), the Vampire (Dracula and menacing and seduction stories), and the Thing without a Name (Frankenstein and man's-mistakes-stories)-- and shows how these motifs return again and again. Jekkyl and Hyde? Werewolf. Hulk? Werewolf. Alien? Dracula.
The book itself is dated-- and how could it not be? But it's too good to skip-- too personal and interesting a review of the horror genre-- so we must read it today as a book trapped in amber.When Danse Macabre, the second edition reprinted here, came out in 1983, Reagan had been President only three years. Inflation was out of control but gasoline had just topped out at $1.40 a gallon. It's a different world-- King discusses literature and movies so beautifully, discussing the intricacies of Shelley's Frankenstein and the movies based on it, but of course he hasn't had a chance to discuss the Branagh Frankenstein , nor to have seen Coppola's Dracula of 1992, much less Twilight. You know what else didn't exist? Well, think of something that happened after 1983 in horror, and this book has yet to reckon with it. Off the top of my head I'd list these things that have implications for the horror fan:
  • VHS and the home video market, the neighborhood video store, and Blockbuster
  • The death of the home video market
  • Letterboxing
  • Home theaters and giant-screen HD TVs
  • Netflix, iTunes, Youtube and Streaming-- all of which now make it possible to actually see "Horror of Party Beach" after reading about it, rather than simply hoping it might turn up randomly on TV, as we would have just ten years ago
  • Charles Band direct-to-video movies and the like, which exploded the number of Grade-Z horror films many times over
  • DVDs-- and commentaries!
  • Stadium seating theaters and the death of old cineplexes
  • The return of 3D-- not the Amityville 3D/Jaws 3D period King mentions occurring during the book's writing, but the Avatar period we are experiencing now.
  • The explosion of young adult fiction and the Twilight Phenomenon, as mentioned
  • True Blood and role-playing games like Vampire: The Masquerade
  • Alien-- which in Danse Macabre exists only as Ridley Scott's horror/SF movie, afterwards spawned Aliens and on and on
  • Nightmare on Elm Street and the 80s horror cycle-- though King's long 2010 essay/ introduction does gloss very well the modern horror era and offers some wonderful insights
  •  Torture porn like Hostel and Saw (again, something King glosses well in his introduction)
  • Giant miniseries like King's own The Shining and The Stand
  • Stephen King the Phenomenon in a way unheard of in '83
Every one of these make ripples throughout each of King's chapters in Danse Macabre.
The only reason I even mention the datedeness is that King is alive and writing, the book is so well-done. If Danse Macabre had come out in the 30s and its author were long gone, we'd be able to read it as an old survey book. But Danse Macabre is so strong, even today, that it begs for revision-- a more thorough revision than King may want to take time on. (This happens in law, too-- a Professor might write a fantastic book on contract law, but in time it will need to be revised in every chapter. Usually what happens in those cases is later professors do the revisions. I could see that-- King could command King's Danse Macabre, 2012 Edition, with a small army of revisers.)

Should you get it? Yes. Absolutely. But I sure wish you could get a revised one in due course.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is classically haunting

The best murder mysteries present their place as a character itself, so that the tropes of mystery play out against some new place for us to enjoy. It might be a vast mansion or a train or a university campus. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the place that dominates the mystery is the numbingly cold village of Hedestad, Sweden.
I watched The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the Swedish film, on the same day that I finished reading Stieg Larsson's novel of the same name. Sometimes that happens-- I finished the book this morning after reading through the whole thing in two sittings, after learning when I was halfway through it that, yes, there was a movie, and yes, it was playing in town.
This is masterful formula material. Larsson provides us first with our heroes-- Blomkvist, a noble, late-40s journalist recently convicted of libel, and Lisbeth Salander, a wounded, angry 24-year-old computer genius whose facial piercings and tattoos speak of defiant bravery against a neverending stream of vicitimizations. Some of the things that happen to Lisbeth early in the book are hard to watch, but it's thrilling to see her get her revenge. And that's just the character stuff, Larsson contrasting the white-collar nightmares of Blomkvist with the bloody and bruising street-level dangers of Salander. But as different as they are, the movie takes its time observing both of these people and showing their similarities: Salander and Blomkvist are both careful with good reason, because they tend to fail spectacularly when they let down their guard.

The movie (and the book) bring the two together to investigate the forty-year-old disappearance of a beautiful teenage girl, the bright light in an aristocratic and insular old family. As might be expected, the family holds secrets, and though the patriarch of the family invites Blomkvist to solve the mystery, the rest of the family seems to quake with fear that he may learn what really happened all those years ago.

So what kind of movie is this? Do you like movies where the heroes breathlessly dig through old microfiche and blow up photographs and hurry to intercept lost witnesses? Because this is that kind of movie-- a perfect Agatha Christie thriller, except with much nastier crimes at the center. I was delighted by The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and heartily recommend it.