on asteroids, anarchy, august, and authorship

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meteor mags asteroids and anarchy cover - small for webIs it August already? Damn. It’s hard to believe my autumnal semester starts up in a couple weeks, and I’ll have to go back to slogging through academic books about public administration instead of, you know, books that are actually fun to read. But, 2015 has been a good year so far. In addition to working hard as an editor and book designer to keep the lights on (and keep Ellie kitty’s food bowl full) in my ‘secret identity’, I managed to publish a half dozen of my own books on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

Last week, it came to my attention I have been missing out, however, on publishing in a format that Apple’s iStore can make available as iBooks. I don’t own a Mac, so I can’t install the proprietary Apple software for iBook creation. But, it turns out you can submit a Word document to Smashwords, and they will take care of the file conversion for you – provided that you follow their strict guidelines for formatting the document.

Well, since I banged out two more 10,000-word short stories this summer, it seemed like a good time to give Smashwords a whirl by having them distribute an exclusive eBook edition of all the Meteor Mags stories completed since beginning the project last year. Yeah, that’s right: In July, 2015, Meteor Mags celebrated her first year as a fictional character, and you did not send her a damned birthday card! That’s alright. She’ll get over it.

The new eBook, entitled Meteor Mags: Asteroids and Anarchy, clocks in at over 54,000 words, which qualifies it as “novel-length” despite being composed of thematically-related short stories. So, allow us to shamelessly plug it here. It’s available directly from Smashwords for $2.99 in a variety of eBook formats compatible with just about every eBook reader known to the human species. It contains six short stories, three character interviews, and a dozen black-and-white drawings. The eBook just got approved for “premium” distribution, which means it should be available in the Apple iStore, at Barnes & Noble, and wherever else the little elves at Smashwords have magically made it happen.

Smashwords also asks authors to provide a brief interview. So, what the heck. We’ll just post it here in its entirety, below. Enjoy!

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What’s the story behind your latest book?

Meteor Mags began her life as an art project, but she ended up becoming my hero. In the majority of action/sci-fi/crime stories, males play the central roles, leaving females stuck in cliché roles as love interests or plot devices for the guys. I thought it would be more interesting to have a leading woman with her own agenda—a woman who would not only prove the equal or better of any man, but also anything life could throw at her.

Some readers might feel Meteor Mags is not a hero at all, but a villain. I think you’ll find Mags isn’t so easy to categorize. She has her own ideas about how things should be done and how life should be lived. Throughout the stories, we get opportunities to see her through other characters’ eyes, and their perceptions of her often contradict each other. Some idolize her, and some despise her. Mags is just too busy doing her own thing to care what they think.

Perhaps Charles Ellms said it best in 1837, in “The Pirates’ Own Book”. In his chapters on Anne Bonny and Mary Read, two female pirates from the early 1700s, he described them as having “a character peculiarly distinguished for every vice that can disgrace humanity, and at the same time for the exertion of the most daring, though brutal, courage.” That sounds like a great description of Meteor Mags to me.

What motivated you to become an indie author?

The poetry and music scene in Ann Arbor, MI, in the 1990s had so many talented, creative people producing their own work independently. In my twenties, I got to meet and interview many of them by hosting poetry readings, volunteering as a DJ, and writing for a local zine. They inspired me to create my own work on my own terms instead of trying to fit into a mold or marketing niche.

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?

In one of his lessons, American landscape painter Bob Ross explained that on his canvas he could do anything. He could create and reshape worlds on a whim. That freedom and power to make, with words, absolutely anything happen on the page makes fiction writing a uniquely joyous experience.

Do you remember the first book you ever read, and the effect it had on you?

In 1977, when I was four years old, Gramma sent me “The Album of Prehistoric Animals” by author Todd McGowen and illustrator Rod Ruth. I still have that book. Besides beginning a lifelong interest in dinosaurs, it nurtured a love for animal stories and illustration. The flashbacks to Patches’ early life in “Patches the Immortal” pay homage to the many books I enjoyed as a young reader, books which featured animals as the main characters and dealt with their lives in the wild.

What do you read for pleasure?

I am a huge fan of comic books, and not just standard superhero fare. From educational comics like Jay Hosler’s “Clan Apis” (about honeybees) to Brian Wood’s “DMZ” (about a journalist in a New York City torn apart by a modern civil war), I love seeing words and pictures come together to tell great stories.

In fact, Meteor Mags started out as an idea for a comic book, until I realized I would never master sequential art in this lifetime. When writing her short stories, I usually imagine the scenes as comic book pages or panels, and then write what’s happening in those panels.

What are your five favorite books, and why?

In terms of works which may have influenced the Meteor Mags series: Robert Heinlein’s novels, Jack Kirby’s sci-fi comics, Jack London’s “White Fang” and “Call of the Wild”, Mario Puzo’s crime novels, and the “Nexus” comic book series by Mike Baron and Steve Rude. The manga “Lone Wolf and Cub” should really be on this list too.

But because the Meteor Mags timeline covers hundreds of years of history, my bookshelf is rapidly filling with books on pirates, anarchists, billiards, genetics, astronomy, and dinosaurs. Don’t even get me started on what’s happened to my music library, considering every short story has its own playlist and sonic inspirations.

What are you working on next?

The next set of Meteor Mags stories will continue to move the action forward in the year 2029, while also exploring more of Mags’ and her friends’ colorful past.

I have two novella-length stories in progress. “Red Metal at Dawn” is a sci-fi tale that finds Mags, Tarzi, and Patches raiding a secret asteroid laboratory to plunder weapons, meet new characters, and have a major conflict with the “dragons.” The other story, “The Curtain of Fire”, takes us back to Mags’ childhood where she and her mother fought alongside the anarchists in Barcelona. It features an appearance by her Great-grandmother which will reveal how Mags has managed to live so unusually long.

indie comics spotlight: princeless

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princeless coverThe new issue of Action Lab Entertainment’s Princeless goes on sale today at Comixology, and you can also pick it up directly from Action Lab’s site. This second issue of the fourth volume of Princeless is called “Comical Misunderstanding,” and it lives up to its name. Rarely do we encounter a book that keeps us smiling from start to finish and delivers laugh-out-loud humor on nearly every page. Writer Jeremy Whitley and artist Emily Martin have mastered comedic timing for sequential art—not an easy feat. Whitley’s dialogue and characters come to life under Martin’s pen, and even the horses are hilarious in this story.

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We often see independent releases suffering from poorly done lettering that can turn crisp dialogue into a train wreck. This is not the case with Princeless. Emily Spura’s lettering contributes to the comedic timing by placing all the dialogue in the perfect place to deliver the humor naturally. Combine that with Brett Grunig’s color palette, and you can easily imagine Princeless leaping off the printed page and into full animation. It would not surprise us to see Princeless gracing the big screen someday.

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We don’t often find an all-ages comic book so enjoyable as Princeless. Without ever resorting to profanity or graphic violence, Whitley and Martin deliver action, adventure, and engaging characters. Princeless also passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. If you’re looking for an entertaining adventure about female characters instead of a comic book that relegates females to mere plot devices for males, then it’s about time you started reading Princeless.

Princeless Volume 4 #2 goes on sale today at Comixology, which has a great selection of the back issues if you are just now joining this series. You can also order digital and print editions directly from Action Lab Entertainment.

indie comics spotlight: ugli studios presents

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ugli studios presents sample coverIn June of 2012, we enjoyed interviewing artist Jason Lenox about his then-new project Ugli Studios Presents. Since then, Lenox has successfully managed several new Kickstarter campaigns to produce ongoing issues of this independent anthology series, and two collections of his artwork. (We were quite pleased to be quoted on the back cover of The Art of Jason Lenox: Volume One.) Most recently, Ugli Studios celebrated the funding of a Kickstarter for issue number three, and we took the opportunity to get print copies of all the issues and both art books for our collection.

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But it takes more than a Kickstarter to make your indie dreams come true, and Lenox has shown great dedication in promoting his work through many convention appearances. As proof, we can read a list of them on the back of the awesome t-shirt we got for contributing to the Kickstarter for Ugli Studios Presents #3, from which today’s sample pages are taken.

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Even so, hard work is not always enough, and Ugli Studios demonstrates the importance of collaboration. By teaming up with other artists and writers, Lenox has broadened the range of stories he can tell through his distinctive visual style and, to compare it to music, shown he can manage a band, not just a solo act.

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If you haven’t seen what Lenox and the Ugli Studios team have been producing, we encourage you to visit the Ugli Studios Store and join Lenox on Twitter to get word about his upcoming projects. In an age where small press comics come and go, Ugli Studios serves as a role model for the kind of dedication, professionalism, and collaborative effort it takes to turn the dream of self-publishing into a sustainable reality.

indie comics spotlight: robbie burns witch hunter

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Robbie Burns Cover LargeIn June, to promote their inclusion as award nominees by the Scottish Independent Comic Book Alliance, the creators of Robbie Burns: Witch Hunter made a preview of their work available. We read it, were immediately hooked, and ordered the book. One reviewer on Amazon has compared the artwork to Mike Mignola’s style on Hellboy, and we will agree that if you like Hellboy then you will love Witch Hunter.

The story begins with the humiliation of poet Robbie Burns, a historical figure Witch Hunter brings to life in fiction. Soon, Burns stumbles across a pagan ritual in an abandoned church, a ritual matched in its sensuality only by its pure evil. There, Burns is rescued by a pair of experienced dispatchers of hellish hordes. And so begins his adventure. (Burns composed a horror poem you may know: Tam O’Shanter, first published in 1791. It serves as the inspiration for this tale.)

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Did we mention how much we love the artwork in this book? Let us say it again, to give artist Tiernen Trevallion his due. After all, writers Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby did win the Scottish Independent Comic Book Alliance ‘Best Writer’ awards at the Glasgow Comic Convention, Beeby won ‘Best New Writer’, and the book itself won ‘Best Graphic Novel’. But it’s Trevallion’s artwork, along with Jim Campbell’s lettering, that brings the rollicking script to life for us on the page.

You may recognize co-author Gordon Rennie from his work on Rogue Trooper, a classic 2000AD series we have featured on this site. So, if you are a fan of that unique Scottish comic-book sensibility which brought readers in the States such popular writers as Grant Morrison and Mark Millar, or if you are a fan of 2000AD comics in general, that’s just one more reason to read Witch Hunter.

robbie burns witch hunter sample page

We don’t mind telling you our favorite character is Meg: tough as nails, quick with profanity, great with a crossbow, and seemingly unafraid to ride into the very mouth of hell itself to do battle with the demonic forces of the underworld. Meg stands in sharp contrast to the vacuous ladies Burns pleasures himself with in the opening pages. She’s every bit an action hero with a sharp mind and a sharper tongue, and her inclusion in this tale endears us to it all the more. And to think that Meg was merely the noble horse in the original Tam O’Shanter!

robbie burns witch hunter sample panels

Fast-paced adventure with an outstanding cast of leading characters fighting the hordes of hell make Robbie Burns: Witch Hunter an enjoyable and unforgettable read. We look forward to more work by these creators and from Renegade Arts Entertainment.

You can order Robbie Burns: Witch Hunter directly from Renegade Arts Entertainment, or you can find it on Amazon in both hardcover and Kindle editions.

sketchbook sundays

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No finished inks to share today but here are some 9×12 pencil roughs for three drawings in progress.

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The first directly takes its composition from depictions of the lion-headed Hindu deity Narasimha. It seemed an appropriately mystical subject for a story-in-progress in which our protagonist and her cat merge their minds with a giant octopus inside a secret asteroid-based cyber-genetics lab. So the plan is to take this rough and re-pencil the lion face as a calico cat, the female as the protagonist, and the various surrounding animals as octopi tentacles and seahorses featured in the tale.

The next two pencil roughs feature the protagonist amid a swirling school of sharks, in keeping with the cybernetic sea creature theme. To avoid the joy of lawsuits and other legal actions from San Rio, we need to re-draw the ‘hello kitty’ pirate flag with a more standard jolly roger.

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We should take a second to celebrate selling our framed inked portrait of the late Wayne Static (of the band Static X) on eBay this week to an enthusiastic Wayne fan. Wayne has made it to his new home safe and sound in our basically bomb-proof shipping box and is probably hanging on a new wall right now. As the old saying goes… Party on, Wayne!

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And that’s it for today! Happy sketching, and stay creative!

tigers and traitors: classics illustrated 166

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Classics Illustrated #166: Tigers and Traitors adapts the Jules Verne story The Steam House. Verne’s loquacious style and many of his scenes are simplified and compressed in this 1962 adaptation for younger readers, but the main plot and adventure remain intact. A British group hell-bent on shooting many tigers travels India using a steam-powered mechanical elephant.

Verne uses a historical figure named Nana Sahib in this story. Nana Sahib took part in the Sepoy Revolt, which you can read about in the text pages following the main story. (Today, this event is often called The Indian Rebellion of 1857, and Verne’s original narrative refers specifically to events in Cawnpore and Lucknow.) Nana Sahib’s fate following the revolt remains a mystery, and Verne takes that mystery as the starting point for this fictional adventure.

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As a tale of two cultures, The Steam House seems to favor the British imperialists as the heroes of the narrative. In the original text, Verne spends a bit more time exploring the culture and religious beliefs of India as encountered on the journey. Verne’s original description of the Sepoy Revolt also spends time describing the horrors committed by both sides. But, his scenes which build sympathy for the Indian characters are largely eliminated in this adaptation. And, as a work of historical fiction, one can hardly fault The Steam House for portraying the British as the victors of the central conflict.

Nevertheless, a student of the culture and music of India will undoubtedly find this adaptation sadly one-sided. If the treatment of Indian characters and the wanton slaughter of animals for sport are offensive, then we should perhaps reserve our offense not for the book but for histories of exploitation and the attitudes of the ruling class which Verne portrays in this story. In the final panel, ending the life of an Indian man is counted towards a goal of murdering 50 tigers, a statement which says less about the ferocity of the killed man than it does a colonialist attitude that the men they ruled were no better than beasts.

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The story also has little use for women other than as motivating factors for male revenge, with Colonel Munro and Nana Sahib each having sworn vengeance for killing the other’s wife. If you’re looking for a strong female lead, you won’t find her in this book. The steam house is a boys’ club on wheels, a glorified version of a fort or treehouse with a ‘no girls allowed’ sign hanging on the door. (Plus, the back-up story about a German king in this issue fails to include a single female anywhere in the story, not even in faces in the background.)

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But, as lovers of the visual splendor of comic book art, our biggest criticism of the adaptation is the lack of huge, awesome panels dedicated to the majesty of the mechanical elephant. Surely the wonder of this steam-powered beast merits the reader’s and the artist’s attention, not to mention the savagely ironic imperial subversion of the form of the welcoming elephant-like Indian god Ganesha for use as a tool to trample and ravage the continent, its animals, and its people. (For a modern take on the mechanical elephant, visit the page of the French theme park full of mechanical animals, including a giant walking, rideable elephant that sprays water from its trunk: Les Machines de L’Île.)

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Gilberton Company, the Classics Illustrated publisher, printed this book three times: in 1962 (identified as HRN 165), 1964 (HRN 167), and 1966 (also HRN 167). You can find them in MyComicShop, though they are rarely in stock. We ordered this copy from a Canadian seller on eBay at a steeply discounted price due to the torn cover. Depending on condition, this comic typically retails for $6 to $30 or more. (We also discovered some unrelated illustrated adaptations of the story, one in Spanish and one in Turkish, but we have yet to see those publications.)

In the gallery below, you will find a cover-to-cover scan of the complete issue, including a brief biography of Jules Verne, a text page about the Sepoy Revolt, a text page which concludes a short story by Guy de Maupassant, and a five-page illustrated history of the German king Frederick Barbarossa.

library of female pirates 8

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library of female pirates logo“A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates and Also Their Policies, Discipline, and Government.” Nearly every book you find on pirates of antiquity will refer to the book featured in today’s installment of The Library of Female Pirates. David Cordingly, in Under the Black Flag, calls it Captain Johnson’s A General History of the Pyrates, and Cordingly has provided an Introduction to at least one edition of the book under that name.

However, you will also find the book listed under author Daniel Defoe. Why? Editor Manuel Schonhorn explains in the Introduction to the edition pictured below. Based on the work of Professor John Robert Moore in 1932, academics have increasingly come to believe that “Captain Charles Johnson” was merely one of many pseudonyms for Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe. Schonhorn elaborates on Defoe’s life, his interest in maritime commerce and piracy, and the nature of his sources and travels.

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Schonhorn’s edition fills more than 700 pages and incorporates text from four editions of the first volume of A General History and the second volume as well. His supplementary material works to clarify Defoe’s factual claims, while the organization of the text for clarity cohesively orders material which was apparently scattered throughout the editions published in Defoe’s era. Defoe himself made corrections and changes between editions, and Schonhorn must have put in tremendous time and effort to make a single coherent text.

Compared to other texts in our Library of Female Pirates, this one has the most antiquated language. Schonhorn has preserved many old spellings (such as “authentick” instead of “authentic”) and the apparently common “anything goes” Approach to Capitalization of those bygone Days. This makes the book at once more challenging to the reader and more endearing, as if one is truly studying an historic document.

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Pages 153 through 165 cover Mary Read and Anne Bonny. We would love to scan those pages for you, but the book is incredibly thick. Scanning it without destroying it is nigh impossible. However, most of the information has been recounted in the other, more modern books we have covered in this series. A General History of the Pyrates has served as the primary source, or at least the starting point, for all modern research on Read and Bonny, from the romantic retelling by Charles Ellms to Gosse’s account to Cordingly’s scholarly work.

Yet some details of their lives only appear in Defoe’s work, as far as we can tell. For example, Defoe spends nearly four pages recounting a tale of three stolen spoons. The drama between a wife, her husband, and her maid resulting from these stolen spoons leads directly to the circumstances of Anne Bonny’s early childhood. Mary Read’s various military services and her marriage resulting from one of those services also earn a bit more detail in Defoe’s history than in subsequent works. A combination of Defoe’s General History and Cordingly’s research in Under the Black Flag may well constitute the sum of all we shall ever know about these two famous female pirates.

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