MOONSTONE MONDAY FLASHBACK!!
ALL PULP is taking some time to share with you readers, new and old, some of the first interviews done with Moonstone staff, writers, and artists some three months and almost 45,000 individual views ago!! This is in part to remind some of you of these great interviews, to introduce the new pulpsters to these guys, and in all honesty to add these classic interviews to the ALL PULP archives in view of our upcoming site changes!! So, enjoy a blast from the past!!
Ed Catto, Retropeneur, C & A Enterprises, LLC, partnered with Moonstone Books
Savage Beauty will take you on an exciting journey as the Rae sisters discover their purpose in life, even as they make a real difference in the world.
Plus the comic book series intends to make a difference too – each issue will donate a full page to partner causes such as Oxfam, Just A Drop and Invisible Children, among others.
WILL MURRAY-Pulp Legend/Writer/Creator
AP: Will, ALL PULP really appreciates this opportunity to visit with you. Let’s pretend that there are people reading this who know little to nothing about pulps and don’t know who you are. Give us some personal and professional background on Will Murray.
WM: I am this lost soul who stumbled into the world of The Shadow, Doc Savage and the pulps and never found my way back to my True Path. Consequently I am the author of over 50 novels, most featuring the indomitable Remo Williams and Chiun. A smattering star Doc Savage and his merry misfits, The Executioner, and others. Somehow, through diligent research and omnivoracious reading of pulps, I am became an expert on All Things Pulp.
AP: This interview is a part of our MOONSTONE MONDAY. What specifically have you written/are you writing for Moonstone?
WM: I’ve contributed to many of the Moonstone hero anthologies of the last few years. Right now, I’m trying to finish my third Spider prose story, “Clutch of the Blue Reaper,” for Spider Chronicles Vol. 2. It’s my favorite so far, being full of frenetic Norvell Page-style hyper-action in which for a change Nita van Sloan ends up in slammer, charged with being the infamous Spider!
Also on the horizon, I’m pleased that my Green Hornet tale, “The Night Car,” leads off The Green Hornet Chronicles Vol 1. I tried to write it exactly like an episode of the ’66 TV show, and it appears that I pulled it off. What happens when a computer whiz designs a program which will track the Black Beauty back to its lair?
I came up with a really wild premise for my contribution to Avenger Chronicles Vol. 2. Originally, the character of Smitty was a Black guy. What if, I thought, a Black Smitty shows up at Justice Inc. HQ, acting like he’s the real deal? Then what if he WAS the real deal? I called that dark tale “The Changeling.”
There’s a Sherlock Holmes story scheduled for in a Holmes crossover anthology. Rather than team him up with another fictional character, I matched him with Colonel Richard Henry Savage, the real-life inspiration Doc and The Avenger. Savage was so larger than life that he plays well as an semi-fictitious person. That’s “The Adventure of the Imaginary Nihilist.” It’s based on a true event in Savage’s remarkable life.
My first Secret 6 story, “The Meteor Men” will reintroduce Robert J. Hogan’s intrepid band of adventurers as they plunge into a maelstrom of horror which results after a green meteorite crashes near their Long Island headquarters and suddenly the surrounding towns are filled with green-eye Zombies shooting death beams from their unblinking eyes. For the sequel, it will be up to the Canadian border for an old-fashioned Wendigo hunt. After that, Mole Men start pouring out of caves and cracks in the Earth. Life is never dull for the wanted fugitives who call themselves the Secret 6!
AP: You are closely associated with Doc Savage and the Lester Dent estate. Can you share a little background on “Doc Savage: The Lost Radio Scripts of Lester Dent” recently published by Moonstone. Many pulp fans may not be aware of scripts actually written by Dent. How were they ‘lost’, were they ever recorded, could you just share a bit about this project?
WM: Doc creator Lester Dent scripted back in 1934 26 episodes of a syndicated Doc radio show. No recordings survive, but I have the scripts. We put them all together, including some unproduced scripts, like the one adapting The Man of Bronze, in a nice fat illustrated book of Doc Savage tales that never made it into the pulp magazine. It’s a must-have for all Doc fans. I’m really proud of it.
AP: It was announced sometime back that you would be working on new Doc Savage novels? Can you discuss anything about where you are in terms of that project currently?
WM: I’m talking to two publishers right now. The reintroductory novel, The Desert Demons, is finished. Joe DeVito has painted a magnificent cover, using a 1960s photo of model Steve Holland as Doc. Horror in Gold is drafted and Joe is working on that cover. Five other Docs are in various stages of construction. It’s only a matter of landing a deal that works for everyone. Stay tuned.
AP: Although Doc is tied to your name quite tightly, you are also noted as an overall Pulp Historian as well as a writer. You’ve written stories for Moonstone centering around two other pulpy type characters that never actually appeared in the pulps: The Phantom and The Green Hornet. What about heroic characters in masks appeals to the prose writer in you?
WM: If you are what you eat, you become what you read as a kid. I was always a fan of comic book superheroes and similar supermen. So I naturally gravitated to their literary ancestors, the pulp heroes. Writing about ordinary people bores me, I guess, because I’m not very ordinary. So out of my imagination have come novels and stories starring characters ranging from The Destroyer to Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD. It’s a living. I’m not sure the mask is key, since Doc Savage is my favorite character. But I do like mystery men. They never disappoint.
AP: In no way are you sexist when it comes to pulp. You are the creative force behind HONEY WEST, a revival of a character, yet again for Moonstone. Who is the ‘historical’ Honey West?
WM: Honey was a hot LA private eye back in the 50s and 60s, and the star of a series of top-selling paperback originals by the husband and wife team who called themselves G. G. Fickling—the true creative force behind Honey. She had her own TV show which I watched faithfully back in ’65. When Joe Gentile offered me a menu of characters to write, I skipped over favorites like The Spider to do Honey, Why? Well, I had written the first new Honey West story in almost 40 years for Moonstone’s planned Honey West Chronicles, and it just wrote itself. That fact that they are told in the first person meant that I could do a better job in the short story length than say, Operator #5, another favorite of mine.
I agreed to pen 3 prose stories and 3 comics scripts per year. I had done one of each, and out came the HW comic book by Trina Robbins! So I don’t know where my stuff stands at the moment. But I will resume writing them once Joe figures it all out. I have plotted ‘em all, btw.
AP: Now that we know where Honey West came from, where do you plan to take her now that you’re writing her adventures?
WM: Well, I’d like to take her out to dinner. But Moonstone’s license prohibits fraternization between writers and characters. J Since I’m setting these new stories back in her heyday and they are petty lean, my sole focus is in getting her right and keeping her real. If the series goes anywhere, it will be because Honey is leading me. J Stories written so far are “Cat’s-Paw in Heat,” “Seer Suckers,” and “Tapestry in Teal.”
AP: The term ‘pulp historian’ is associated often with your name. This may seem like a silly question, but what do you do as a ‘pulp historian’?
WM: Over the years, this has covered activities such as interviewing survivors of the pulp era to get their stories, and reading through decades of old magazines like Writer’s Digest and Author & Journalist to ferret out cool pulp lore. All of this is poured into articles for the Sanctum Books’ Doc and Shadow reprints, not to mention introductions to volumes like Altus Press’ massive Norvell Page collection, When the Death-Bat Flies, just about out. I’ve written about 30 intros for Altus, Black Dog Books and Off-Trail Books in the fast three or four years. I’m a busy historian.
AP: Why is pulp relevant at all? I’m not asking in terms of time periods, really, just overall. Why is pulp relevant?
WM: Pulp is relevant because entertainment is always relevant. Prose styles, means of delivery, types of heroes and their opposite numbers may change with each half-decade, but pulp stories and pulp heroes will always be with us. Always. Check back in a 100 years and you’ll find I am correct.
AP: You have been involved with multiple pulp characters. Are there any you haven’t worked with/researched enough/been involved with in some way that are on your to do list?
WM: I suppose The Shadow is the top one. But with so many unreprinted Walter Gibson Shadow novels, why bother? Still, it’s my dream to write an authentic Doc Savage-Shadow crossover novel. Maybe some day….. I once plotted a Bill Barnes novelette with original author Chuck Verral. I’d love to write that one. A Spider novel would be fun too.
AP: There seems to be two camps when it comes to writing new adventures of established characters. One camp feels that new adventures should simply continue on in the tradition of the original tales, preserving feel, characters, time period, etc. The other camp, although not throwing the entire baby out with the bath water, feels that new adventures of old characters need to be modernized, made different to give them extra whatever. As a writer, where do you fall in this discussion and why?
WM: People read certain characters—Sherlock Holmes, Doc Savage and The Shadow to name three—because they want to be taken back to the specific time period of those heroes. Other characters like Superman, Batman and James Bond have been around continuously for so long that they have naturally evolved with the times. So both approaches can work, depending on the hero. As a writer, it interests me most to step into the shoes of a dead writer and write his hero as closely to the way he would have done it as possible. It’s a bigger, better challenge. A Will Murray Doc Savage mav or may not be interesting in itself, but a Will Murray-Lester Dent Doc collaboration is, I hope, the best of both worlds. Some day I may stumble upon a vintage hero who begs to be updated. Hasn’t happened yet.
With Secret 6, I hew straight to the original stories in their time. The series didn’t last very long, so I thought I would see where it might go in its own era. You could update them, but I suspect Joe asked me to write this series because it was a weird analogue to Doc Savage. And why waste Will Murray on an update? Anybody could write that.
About Honey West, I feel the same say. She’s an expression of her time. I had never read any of the original novels, but I did for this project and I was delighted to discover that she has the same voice as Anne Francis. Another reason the stories write themselves.
When I did the Phantom, I jumped around. But the most recent version was set in the 30s—even though he’s the same Phantom sitting on the Skull Throne today.
Having written a 60s Green Hornet, I’m planning to tackle the radio version in a story I’m calling “The Black Torpedo.”
AP: Any upcoming projects you haven’t discussed that you care to share with the readers?
WM: Yes, I can officially announce for the first time, the October 1 release on CD and in downloadable formats the 25th anniversary rerelease of Roger Rittner’s Adventures of Doc Savage radio show from 1985. Roger has remastered the series, which adapts Fear Cay and The Thousand-Headed Man, along with a Bob Larkin cover and a new audio documentary on the making of this now-classic series. Doc Savage is rarely done right. This is one time we got it right. I say, “we” since I scripted Thousand-Headed Man. Check out Radioarchives.com for ordering info.
Beyond that, I have a lot of Cthulhu stories coming up in various anthologies like Mythos Books’ Cthulhu 2012 and others yet untitled. Watch for them.
AP: Thank you again so much for your time on this MOONSTONE MONDAY!
WM: It’s been real. Real pulpy. J
JOE GENTILE, Publisher and Editor-In-Chief, Moonstone
|JOE GENTILE (on right)|
AP: Joe, first off, thanks a lot for sitting down with All Pulp! We definitely understand how busy you are with all the irons in the fire that Moonstone has, so this interview is definitely much appreciated. To kick this off, give us some background on you, as much as personal info as you want to give as well as your background in the publishing industry.
JG: Ah, starting off with the not-so pulp adventure life I have led, eh?
Well, lets see…briefly…I have been a freelance writer for many (many) years now, have a book retail background, a television production background, and I play bass guitar in a working band.
AP: Now that we know all about its brain and backbone, give us a brief history of Moonstone. Where it started, what Moonstone’s overall mission and purpose has been, etc.
JG: Moonstone started from the ashes of a company that never quite made it off the ground about 15 years ago. A bunch of us creators in the Chicagoland area suddenly had a bunch of projects without homes.
I was interested in having another publisher pick up those titles, but we didn’t really find what we were looking for, so my partner Dave Ulanski talked me into doing it ourselves. Dave, Rafael Nieves, and myself started up Moonstone at that point there. We published a bunch of small press b/w creator-owned comics. This went on this way for years.
One day, on the day before I was leaving for a Vegas vacation…(!)…I thought “hey. Why aren’t there comics about the White Wolf Games stuff?’’…and “what about all of these other cool characters…and pulps that I like? Someone should do something with those guys!
So, even though I left for vacation, this was pressing on my brain. When I got back, I started with the phone calls…cold…never having had to track down licensors, contracts, creative teams, etc. Just jumped in. Saying this out loud…now….the idea seems insane.
So our purpose became “telling good stories” foremost, and bringing NEW fans to comics (or fans who left) by having material based on sources OUTSIDE of comics (like the pulps, old time radio, newspaper strips, TV, etc.
AP: Moonstone is known largely for bringing established characters from the past, most if not all of them in the Public Domain, and introducing them to a modern audience. Moonstone has done this in a volume that no other publisher really has. The question is, why? Why the focus on these characters that some say may have outlived their own value?
JG: Well, first, I must set you straight a little…MOST of what we do is licensed. Very few characters of interest are public domain. You would be surprised to know who owns what.
If we thought these characters have outlived their value…um, we wouldn’t be doing them, right?
We fervently believe that these characters are more than vital…they have resonance today.
These characters had hundreds and hundreds of stories told about them, and some lasted for decades. But, even if you never heard of these characters, thats cool, because it really doesn’t matter either way. We tell interesting stories about unusual characters. We don’t necessarily need more superhero comics per se…the market is still quite full of them. Why put out more of the same?
AP: Some fans of Moonstone found your early comics years ago. At that time, you had titles like ‘Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar,’ ‘Boston Blackie’, and ‘Pat Novak For Hire.’ Those titles, among others, were based on characters drawn from old time radio programs, popular in the 1930s-50s. This is a fascinating, still largely uncultivated area for new fiction. What drew you and Moonstone to tackle these stories and bring a modern take to them?
JG: Well, quite honestly, it was an area of interest of mine that had not been tried much in comics.
Johnny Dollar sold out, Boston Blackie’s GN sold out, and Pat Novak was in that “1000 Comics you need to read” book by Tony Isabella!
AP: Any future plans for further OTR treatments? If not, why not?
JG: Well, those characters do appear in other books from time to time…like our “crime team up novel” PARTNERS in CRIME…and our crime prose anthology “Sex, Lies, and Private Eyes”.
And there is always talk of further adventures. We do have some characters coming up that have appeared on radio, but wasn’t what they were primarily known for….stay tuned.
AP: Moonstone just didn’t resurrect radio characters. Talk to us about some of the other early characters you brought to an audience who may have not been familiar with them, such as The Phantom and Kolchak, among others? Are there other TV or comic characters you’d like to pull under the Moonstone banner?
JG: There is always more we want…we are insatiable that way! If you check our website, we are always leaving hints of whats coming…although we will have a press release about this soon, we have THE SAINT, The JUSTICE MACHINE, FLINT, and SHEENA…!
Kolchak…way ahead of its time, inspiration behind the XFILES, and is one of the highest rated TV movies OF ALL TIME! This was horror on primetime network television, my friends…unheard of!
There has been a cult following of Kolchak for many years, and a strong one as evidence by Columbia’s DVD sales of the movies and TV shows.
The Phantom is one of those characters that has been around for a long time…1936 (predating Batman and Supes)…I think people know of him…but we needed to tell some stories about TODAy to showcase this guy for all to read! He’s a well thought out character that still holds up today.
Buckaroo Banzai…cult movie of the 80’s with GREAT stars like John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum, Peter Weller…all in one crazy neo pulp adventure!
It is a movie like no other…I mean, Banzai is a renown brain surgeon, rock star, adventurer…c’mon, how cool is that?)
AP: It seems that some of the characters you’ve taken on over the years, both early on and currently, were originally created for one medium only (prose largely, but we’re also thinking of the radio shows again). Yet when Moonstone gets them, they show up in comics, prose, etc. What goes into deciding what medium Moonstone puts an established property into?
JG: Well, that depends on some of the legalities, Some contracts specify. Sometimes a character just calls to us in that way…like Kolchak….and others.
AP: Speaking of processes, can you share a little bit of what goes into your daily job? What are your responsibilities and who within Moonstone do you delegate things to?
JG: OMG…what I do on a daily basis? Well…I contact creative teams for progress on ongoing projects or to set up new ones, I talk to the printers about scheduling and book details, I talk to distributors about PR and such, I create in house ads, I gather monthly solicitations, handle all incoming email, update the website, edit stories, write…scream!
*In addition to my insanity, we have Art Director Dave Ulanksi (also edits, writes, invoicing, and does cover set up),
*we have Editor Lori G (who handles both comics and prose projects, as well as administration),
*and Erik Enervold, Marshall Dillon, and Bernie Lee- who handle everything from prepress, lettering, and design.
*Mike Bullock (writer, group editor, project coordinator)
*We have Tim Lasiuta…research and development.
*Richard Dean Starr and Matthew Baugh (editors, writers, and project leads)
AP: We’ve asked a lot of questions about established properties Moonstone has handled and we’ll talk more about some Moonstone is now handling. But before that, what about original characters, newly created concepts? What’s Moonstone’s history with stepping off into the new and original arena?
JG: Original creation from a non M/DC/I/DH company is very difficult…and these lean times make it even more so. With a couple exceptions, Moonstone no longer handles projects we don’t completely control.
Our history with this has been a very rock road…we have had some successes, but not nearly as many as we would like.
Exceptions to the rule: “ROTTEN”, “VAMPIRE, PA” and the upcoming “SAVAGE BEAUTY”
AP: All right, now to the modern day meat and potatoes. It has been no secret over the years that Moonstone Books has been one of the biggest promoters and supporters of Pulp genre fiction. In the last few years, though you’ve really stepped up to the forefront, providing anthologies of known pulp types as well as the new comics line you have now. Before we get into specifics, why do you feel like pulp is such an important genre that needs to be introduced to a modern day audience?
JG: I just think the times we live in scream out for this.
Its adrenaline escapism roller coaster rides…
It’s justice being served…without legal technicalities. Who doesn’t want some justice, when most feel powerless in an escalating crazy society?
It’s also about folks with little to no powers, per se…just guts, guile, skill, and indomitable will.
There is an emotional impact that comes with these stories because these folks aren’t invulnerable…or whatnot…
Pulps are an important part of American history…it was a huge step up (from the penny novels)in fiction for the masses…selling to a people during the time of great strife….like today.
Without pulps, there would be no paperbacks…think about that…and all of the things that paperbacks have spawned (including increased literacy).
Without pulps, there would be no comic books…and all that they have inspired, from movies, to video games, etc!
AP: Let’s tackle the prose anthologies first. What characters has Moonstone spotlighted in prose collections?
JG: Ok, here we go…
The Green Hornet (any day now), Kolchak, The Avenger, The Spider, Doc Savage, Domino Lady, The Phantom, Zorro…and these do not include the characters that appeared in the anthologies with multiple characters.
Upcoming we have…more Avenger, more Green Hornet, more Spider, Sherlock Holmes, “Chicks in Capes”, and one surprise looming…
AP: Some would say that printed prose is no longer the way to go, yet Moonstone is still turning out anthologies. What is it about the print format that keeps Moonstone putting out these collections, instead of sending them all straight to e-book or in some other medium?
JG: Well, some people still read books of course…not sure that’s going away entirely. And we also do E-book stuff. You need both to make it work.
AP: A major emphasis for Moonstone right now is its new comics line. Tell us about Moonstone’s RETURN OF THE ORIGINALS. How did the idea develop? Who was involved on the front end? And why populate this idea with characters that people may not recognize, some of them not seen for over fifty years?
JG: It started as a one shot graphic novel…then turned into a MOVEMENT!
And again, while some of these characters haven’t been seen in a while…does not mean they are not interesting for gosh sakes!
We did try to have some recognizable faces in there as well.
Many people encouraged us here…and Mike Bullock was probably one of the earliest “idea man” behind this.
AP: What is the general plotline behind RETURN? Who character wise is involved?
JG: It all starts with “The Battle for L.A”, which as some know, was a historical event. The history fascinated me.
Briefly…during WW2, near LA…a strange object is seen in the night skies (there is a newspaper photo on line), and no one knows what it is (to this day). Planes were scrambled…shore batteries opened fire…direct hits were scored by thousands of bullets…thousands…but to no avail. The odd thing just kept moving slowly until is disappeared. Just an odd little piece of history (WHICH WILL BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE) that was the catalyst.)
AP: The history of pulp characters being translated to the comic page has been spotty at best, especially with recent efforts by other companies. What is Moonstone doing to make sure that RETURN OF THE ORIGINALS is an appealing concept that will bring in new readers, while maintaining the characters and history that pulp fans truly enjoy in their characters?
JG: That, my friend is the rub. We have VERY unique characters that I think comic fans will dig in a refreshing way…and we didn’t feel that these guys needed to be changed to be cool.
AP: The collection of writers and artists you have assembled for RETURN is truly staggering. We won’t force you to list all of them, but how did you get this stellar crew together? From so many different fields you have drawn top talent. What brought them to a pulp comic project? Did they all come for their own reasons or was there some sort of underlying theme that drew them to this concept?
JG: The creators kept coming…like a snowball rolling down a hill…all of them love the pulps and were just as excited as I was!
AP: So, what are the future plans regarding the cast of RETURN? Will there be ongoing series for all of them, more specials, what?
JG: At the present…there will be the one shot BATTLE that I mentioned, and ongoings for Black Bat, Secret Agent X, Phantom Detective, The Spider, and Rocket Man.
We are also putting together a “non-team” team ongoing series.
Some big mini series that will feature all of the characters…!
There are various Spider specials in the loop INCLUDING A NEW SPIDER NOVEL… an AIRBOY-G8 mini series,
A Domino Lady-Golden Amazon one shot…
A “all female team up” with Domino Lady, Golden Amazon, Blue Bulleteer (courtesy of AC comics), Valkyrie, Black Angel, Bald Eagle, and more!
AP: Joe, it’s been a blast! Stop by All Pulp anytime you want to chat!
Aaron Shaps, Writer of The Phantom Detective for Return of the Originals, Moonstone
AS: Well, my background is in film, so I began my writing adventure as an aspiring screenwriter before getting into comics and prose.
I have only been writing for comics since 2006, and I am probably best known at this point (if I am known at all) for my creator-owned character General Jack Cosmo, a kind of cross between Hunter S. Thompson and Flash Gordon, and for my studio/creative collective, General Jack Cosmo Productions. In addition to the comics starring General Jack Cosmo himself, our stable includes creator Mike Beazley’s series The Grimm, and also Pulp Will Eat Itself, which you folks were kind enough to review on this very site.
For Moonstone specifically, I have also done a few stories starring the Lee Falk Phantom, and I am currently having a blast writing their licensed series Zeroids, which is based on the classic line of robot toys from the 60s and 70s.
Like Batman, the Phantom Detective was orphaned at a young age and inherited a vast fortune. At the encouragement of a close family friend, he turned his listless but formidable mind to criminology, and ultimately became the world’s greatest sleuth, a two-fisted nocturnal avenger, master of disguise, and escape artist extraordinaire who aided law enforcement all over the globe. None of that has changed for my version of the character. He is essentially the same Phantom Detective that he was in those original stories, he has just…let’s call it “evolved”.
AP: Now that you’re taking on the Phantom Detective’s story, what are your plans? Will the setting remain in the glory days of the pulps or is this a more modern tale? What do you bring to this character as a modern writer that you think will make him both viable with today’s readers and still faithful to what pulp fans expect?
AS: My Phantom Detective stories are all set during the pulp era, and more specifically the early- to mid-1940s. For a long time now, I have wanted to tell a story about a heroic character, an ordinary human, who straddles the line between the age of the pulp heroes and the age of the super heroes. What would it be like to be that man, that hero, and see the world changing around you…to see the explosion of technology and science that was sparked by WWII, and all the fundamental changes that new science and tech affected in the way we live our lives? What would it be like to be an ordinary man like the Spider or the Shadow and see someone like Captain America or Superman or Green Lantern come onto the scene? Would you begin to feel obsolete? Or would you do everything in your power to remain relevant in a world that threatened to pass you by?
These are big questions, and this is the kind of stuff that the Phantom Detective is giving me the opportunity to explore. As for relevance, we deal with feelings like this every day in the real world…the fear of being left behind by changing times, of not being able to keep up with the way the world is moving forward, of becoming obsolete. You ask any American blue-collar worker in manufacturing if he or she worries about becoming obsolete—if they haven’t already—and see what they say. Ask the people who own record stores how they felt when iTunes came along, or the people who own video stores how they feel about Netflix and Redbox. Whether we like it or not, time marches on. So what do we do? Do we lie down and let it march over us, or do we lean into the wind and try to keep up? These are the questions that the Phantom Detective has to answer for himself.
AP: The Phantom Detective had a cast of supporters, even a dear friend who knew his secret identity as well as a signal beacon. Are you bringing any of these extras associated with the character into your version and if so, which ones? And if not, why not?
AS: Yes, I am definitely plugging a solid chunk of his classic supporting cast into this new series. Frank Havens, publisher of The New York Clarion newspaper (among many others), will be there for sure. For those unfamiliar with Phantom Detective lore, Havens is sort of a surrogate father to Richard Curtis Van Loan, the true identity of the Phantom Detective. It was actually Havens’ idea for Van Loan to assume the identity of the Phantom Detective, and in my series he remains the hero’s closest and most trusted confidant. And, yes, the spotlight signal on the roof of the Clarion building is still there. Obviously, that single gimmick was the one most clearly cribbed by the early Batman writers, so I had to include it. In fact, two early Batman editors, Jack Schiff and the legendary Mort Wesinger, had previously worked as editors at Thrilling Publishing, the home of the Phantom Detective, and had even edited Phantom Detective stories…so there you have it.
But back to the characters, Frank’s daughter, Muriel Havens, is basically the love of Van Loan’s life, and she is in there, too, although she does not know Van Loan’s secret in my stories, at least not right from the get-go. Also familiar to fans of the classic stories will be the character of Steve Huston, the young, crack Clarion reporter who, in my mind, and in the minds of many others, was a likely inspiration for Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen. So it’s those three—Frank, Muriel, and Steve—who will be the most significant imports from the classic stories, although other characters will pop up here and there.
AP: I noticed that the word ‘psychedelic’ is used in some of the promotional material for your take on the Detective. That’s an interesting word in relation to a pulp character. Can you shed some light on that?
AS: Sure. Basically, as someone on the Moonstone forums astutely pointed out when the project was first announced, one of the reasons that the Phantom Detective is kind of a forgotten pulp hero, even though he had such a long and historic run, is that he is sort of generic. The Shadow had his Eastern secrets and gimmicks, Doc Savage had his super science and physical perfection, the Spider had the horror angle and ultra-violence…but what did the Phantom Detective have? He was a super-detective and a master of disguise…and how many times did we hear that, you know? How many other characters of the era put those two skillsets on their resumes? Practically all of them.
So my challenge was, how do I make this character stand out from Secret Agent X and Moon Man and some of the other, ostensibly very similar, characters in the Return of the Originals line? The answer was a single word: Steranko.
Although I am writing new prose adventures for the character, the lynchpin of the new Phantom Detective saga is his comic series, and Danilo (the artist) and I decided very early on that Jim Steranko was going to be our primary influence in terms of aesthetics: both his noir stuff, which I think has yet to be equaled, and his more psychedelic stuff from the 60s and beyond. And the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Not only is the new Phantom Detective going to star in stories that are visually psychedelic, but in terms of content, some of them are quite trippy as well. A lot of them deal with era-appropriate fringe science, and Van Loan himself has taken to using what I suppose I would describe as performance-enhancing drugs to help maintain an edge in his rapidly evolving world.
To that end, one new addition to his mythology is something he calls his “Elixir”, which is a potion he drinks that allows him to see things ordinary men cannot see…it expands and enhances his senses, and all kinds of other weird and cool stuff. It makes him a better detective, and more of a creature of the night as well. I don’t want to give the impression that he’s like Jekyll and Hyde or something…it’s not like that. It’s more like, if you remember the movie Big Trouble in Little China, when Jack Burton and Wang and their whole crew drink that magic potion before they descend into the underworld to fight Lo Pan, it’s more like that. That’s the direct inspiration.
AP: A lot of classic characters come with their own trademarks, a team of supporters, certain gadgets they always use, etc? Does the Phantom Detective have any of this baggage and if he does, what of it are you bringing into your stories?
AP: The Phantom Detective stories had a habit of introducing something in one story, then forgetting it in the next. Although this can be an issue for continuity buffs, it also sometimes offers freedom to someone like you taking the reins on the character? Did you rely on the source material much? Did you feel hampered by the loose way the character’s history was written?
AS: I didn’t feel hampered at all. One of the very first things I decided, as soon as I knew I was going to set these stories in the early 40s, was that I was going to treat the Phantom Detective’s stories from the 30s as canon, at least whenever possible. So unless it comes into direct conflict with stuff I am planning to do with the character, much of what the Phantom Detective experienced in his first seven to eight years of adventures is considered history and backstory for my version of the hero.
Now there are definitely some continuity conflicts in those early stories, when you view them as a body, a mythology, as you mentioned, so there are certain places where I will have to embrace one story and ignore another, but in planning the first few years’ worth of storylines for this new incarnation, it hasn’t been too difficult to settle on which stuff I want to use and which stuff I want to discard. Basically, if I want to draw from a previous story, and that story conflicts with another, whatever the coolest stuff is stays, and everything else gets cast back into the ether.
AP: This is a major project for Moonstone and for you. What else do you have going on that pulp fans can look forward to?
AS: Pulp fans will definitely be interested in a creator-owned project called New Dreaming Men that I am putting together with artist Douglas Klauba for Olympian Publishing. We just released a special, limited edition preview at Chicago Comic Con, so some of your readers might have picked that up. New Dreaming Men is an epic, pulp-flavored adventure saga for children ages eight to eighty, a serialized story to be told through a seamless marriage of prose, sequential art, and alternative storytelling means such as mock newspaper clippings and vintage playbills. It is the story of a group known as the Brotherhood of Forgotten Worlds, a fraternity of men that for centuries has fought to protect mysterious and exotic locales—on this world and far beyond—from all those who would seek to exploit or destroy them. You can fan New Dreaming Men on Facebook for more info.
And of course, as I mentioned at the very beginning, General Jack Cosmo Productions has Pulp Will Eat Itself, which is kind of like what would happen if Moonstone’s Return of the Originals line and the Coen Bros. movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? had a baby. It’s the twisted progeny of two of my Jack Cosmo cohorts, writer Adam Lahners and writer/artist Jim McKern. General Jack Cosmo Productions and Pulp Will Eat Itself are both on Facebook, too, so you can fan those for updates, info, and announcements.
AP: Thank you for your time, Aaron!
HOWARD HOPKINS, Writer of
THE GOLDEN AMAZON, for RETURN OF THE ORIGINALS, Moonstone
AP: Before we delve into your pulp writings, can you tell us a little about your Black Horse western books? I’m not sure that many people are aware of your extensive career as Lance Howard.
AP:You’ve written so many classic pulp characters – ranging from The Spider to The Avenger to Captain Midnight and beyond. How do you approach handling these types of characters and what do you think about attempts to modernize them (for example, see DC’s First Wave books)?
AP: The Golden Amazon is coming soon from Moonstone. What can you tell us about this character and the types of stories we can expect featuring her?
AP: You write for both adults (The Chloe Files) and for kids (The Nightmare Club). How do you approach each project, keeping the target audience in mind? Does your working style differ or is it as simple as adjusting the vocabulary and plot complexity?
AP: I’ve always been intrigued by The Chloe Files — can you tell me about the series? Is this something that would appeal to pulp fans?
AP: You’re the co-editor on Moonstone’s The Avenger Chronicles. How did you end up in that position and what makes The Avenger so special as a character? What things are you looking for in the stories that you select for each volume?
AP: As someone who’s handled both The Spider and The Avenger, can you answer a What If? scenario for us? Let’s say your loved ones had been kidnapped by a typical bloodthirsty pulp villain. Which of those two heroes would you want on the case and why?
AP:I realize that you probably don’t want to tear down the competition but can you compare and contrast what Moonstone is doing with its Return of the Originals line as compared to DC’s re-interpretative approach with Doc Savage and The Avenger?
AP: For those folks who want to learn more about you and your work, where they can do so?
WIN SCOTT ECKERT AND ERIC FEIN, Writers of
THE GREEN GHOST, for RETURN OF THE ORIGINALS, Moonstone
AP: First, gentlemen, let All Pulp welcome you to Moonstone Monday! Now, this interview is a bit different, in that it’s being done sort of in tandem. So, each you will just give your answers and in the final copy they will run together. So, first, introduce yourself to the audience and give them a bit of background, especially about your history in Pulp.
WIN SCOTT ECKERT (WSE): Howard Waldrop has said, “Like most things from the Seventies, this is Philip José Farmer’s fault… If you don’t like it, don’t write me. Write Philip José Farmer.” I was born in the Sixties, but the mid-Seventies marked the beginning of an eight-year-old’s lifelong fascination with pulp fiction. No doubt that fascination sprang, in greater part, from the fact that I received a bunch of the Bantam Doc Savage paperbacks and a copy of Phil’s Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life in 1975 when I was eight years old. That spurred me on a two-decade quest to collect all the Bantam Doc Savage paperbacks. Phil’s Doc Savage “biography” and his Tarzan Alive: A Definitive Biography of Lord Greystoke had also left me with an undying hunger to read all the other characters he had referenced in the books—The Shadow, Sherlock Holmes, Fu Manchu, The Spider, Philip Marlowe, Nero Wolfe, Sam Spade, James Bond, Travis McGee, and so on.
Along with that, I became fascinated with crossovers, and with Phil’s shared-universe Wold Newton mythos, the “Wold Newton Family” (outlined in the two “mock biographies” listed above) and pretty soon I was compiling a shared-universe timeline of my own, which I called the Wold Newton Universe Crossover Chronology. I posted it on my Wold Newton Universe site (the first of its kind), and after that readers began sending in their own Wold Newton articles. So I created online essay section. A few years later a couple other contributors started their own sites, and a few years after that we had such a great stockpile of Wold Newton-inspired articles, it seemed a natural move to put together a print anthology, which I edited: Myths for the Modern Age: Philip José Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe (MonkeyBrain Books, 2005) (a 2007 Locus Awards finalist).
With a fairly encyclopedic background on pulp and other characters, fiction writing seemed the next logical step. I was lucky enough to be invited to contribute to Black Coat Press’ anthology Tales of the Shadowmen, and have been in every annual volume since then (six so far; Volume 7 is forthcoming). I’ve penned tales featuring the Scarlet Pimpernel, Doc Ardan (a version of Doc Savage), Dr. Natas (a disguised version of Fu Manchu), Antinéa, and Sexton Blake. I wrote a tale for Airship 27’s Lance Star—Sky Ranger, and since then my time has been fully booked writing pulp fiction! For Moonstone Books: The Green Hornet Chronicles (co-editing with Moonstone’s Joe Gentile, as well as a contributing writer), The Avenger Chronicles, The Phantom Chronicles 2, The Captain Midnight Chronicles, and More Tales of Zorro (forthcoming). I also was invited to write the Foreword to the new edition of Farmer’s seminal “fictional biography,” Tarzan Alive (Bison Books, 2006) and am writing a series of tales about the origin of the Wold Newton Family, the first of which appeared in the just-released The Worlds of Philip José Farmer 1: Protean Dimensions (Meteor House, 2010). I dived back into “non-fiction” with the encyclopedic Crossovers: A Secret Chronology of the World 1 & 2 (Black Coat Press, 2010), and somehow also found time to write a novel that Philip José Farmer began back in the ’70s, but never had a chance to finish himself: The Evil in Pemberley House (Subterranean Press, 2009), about Patricia Wildman, the kick-ass daughter of a certain bronze-skinned pulp hero—if you know what I mean.
That’s a lot of background—sorry about that.
Eric Fein (EF): I discovered and fell in love with Pulp characters around the same time I started to read and collect comic books. Like Win, I was a kid in the mid-Seventies so there was plenty of pulp related books in bookstores and candy stores. One of my favorite all time comic book characters is Batman and I remember having the two issues (Batman #’s 253 and 259) of his series that guest-starred The Shadow. That led me to seek out DC’s original Shadow comic book series and around the same time I discovered the Pyramid/Jove Shadow reprints with those gorgeous Steranko covers. After reading a couple of those, I was hooked and started collecting anything pulp related. During this time, I also got my hands on Walter B. Gibson’s Shadow Scrapbook and was just fascinated by every aspect of the character and what went into creating him. The fact that Gibson was able to write more than 1 million words on a manual typewriter year after year is just amazing to me. . My fascination with The Shadow led me to Doc Savage, The Avenger, and The Spider. I’m also a big fan of the James Bond novels and movies, the Mike Hammer novels, film noir, crime novels and private eye novels, anything by or with Orson Welles, and Old-Time Radio.
In college, I landed an internship at Marvel Comics, which led to a job as an assistant editor after graduation. I eventually became one of the editors in the Spider-Man group and at one point I was editing three of the then four monthly titles: Spider-Man, The Web of Spider-Man, and The Spectacular Spider-Man. I also edited several Spider-Man one-shots and limited series including the very first team-up between Spider-Man and Batman. After Marvel, I worked at DC Comics in their licensed publishing department doing How-to draw books, coloring and activities books, and storybooks.
After DC, I moved into educational publishing writing and editing nonfiction and fiction books for kids who have trouble reading.
Recently, thanks to Joe Gentile and Moonstone Books, I’ve had the opportunity to write some pulp stories. I have a story slated for an upcoming volume of The Avenger Chronicles and another story scheduled to appear in The Green Hornet Chronicles, Volume 2. I also wrote a Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar story for Moonstone’s Sex, Lies, and Private Eyes anthology.
AP: You both are involved with THE GREEN GHOST, a fairly obscure pulp character, which is featured in Moonstone’s RETURN OF THE ORIGINALS line. Give us some history on this character, focusing on the parts you feel are important for readers to know.
WSE: Sure. The Green Ghost—magician sleuth George Chance—started out as The Ghost in the Winter 1940 issue of a self-titled pulp magazine, with a novel called, appropriately enough, Calling the Ghost. Over the next four years Chance appeared in thirteen additional tales, all penned by master pulpsmith G.T. Fleming-Roberts, in The Ghost Super-Detective, then Green Ghost Detective, finally migrating to Thrilling Mystery, and making his final appearance in the October 1944 issue of Thrilling Detective.
Chance equals his mentor, the late Harry Houdini, in the art of escape. He’s also a renowned skeptic and debunker of fakes and frauds, as well as a master criminologist, excelling in makeup and disguise, lock-picking, knife-throwing, illusion—anything and everything a top-notch magician knows. Chance puts his expertise to use as a relentless crusader for justice, donning a skull mask to become “The Ghost” (shortly after changing his name to “The Green Ghost”), and aiding Police Commissioner Standish against criminals everywhere, solving impossible crimes. Chance is aided by a select band of six agents and friends who know his secret and share in his mission for justice.
EF: I think Win covered all the bases on this question.
AP: What makes the Green Ghost a viable hero for a modern audience? Clones of characters, stereotypes, don’t typically appeal to readers today, but so many of the classic pulp characters were simply different riffs on Doc Savage, the Shadow, etc. What about The Green Ghost makes him more than just another avenging detective hero type?
WSE: The covers to the pulps that carried his stories depicted a character with a ghoulish visage—one that Eric has noted harkens back to Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera. Our new stories in Moonstone’s Return of the Originals will match the mood and intensity promised by the pulp covers. The Green Ghost strikes terror in the hearts of criminals and even civilians due to his horrific skull-like appearance and his seemingly supernatural abilities.
And for the first time, The Green Ghost is going to face a few real supernatural menaces. We won’t go overboard, but the idea of a Houdini-type skeptic facing the real occult, as opposed to charlatans, and how he responds to it, is intriguing. In addition, his girlfriend Meriem “Merry” White had “flashes of intuition” in the original pulps, i.e. she’s psychic. How does her skeptic boyfriend deal with that? We’re going for a Mulder/Scully in reverse vibe here.
EF: Certainly from a visual perspective The Green Ghost falls into The Shadow end of the spectrum with his dark fedora and trench coat. However, there are several things that make him stand apart from being just another Shadow knockoff. One, his creator, G.T. Fleming-Roberts, made him a magician and gave him a drive to expose phony spiritualists. The other thing that separates him from The Shadow and Doc Savage is the relationship he had with his girlfriend Meriem White and his assistants. He wasn’t portrayed as some mysterious or awe-inspiring character when he interacted with them. Chance is very down to earth. His associates knew who he was and why he did what he did. It gave the stories a different dynamic.
AP: Now, each of you is working primarily in different media on the Green Ghost. Tell the audience what medium you are focusing on and how you go into adapting your version of the Green Ghost to said medium.
WSE: Eric is tackling the comic scripts, while I handle the prose stories, which will be featured in Moonstone’s “wide vision” format with spot illustrations. It turned out my time constraints necessitated collaboration on the first prose story, as well: I wrote the detailed outline, Eric wrote a first draft, and I wrote a second draft from that. We had fun with it, and we hope you’ll enjoy the results.
EF: Writing comic book stories allows you the freedom to play up more of the visual effects of the character – having him perform magic tricks, getting in and out of deathtraps, and other cool things that might not translate as well in just a prose story. And let me say that we have a wonderful artist illustrating both the comic book stories and the prose stories – David Niehaus. He shares our enthusiasm for the character and it shows in his artwork for the series.
AP: Two people sharing the reins on an idea with an already established history must be quite interesting. How do you two work this combined effort? Is someone the Senior Partner? Who contributes what? And how do you as a team tackle the fact that The Green Ghost has a history when you come to it?
WSE: I made the original pitch to Joe Gentile at Moonstone (the seed of the idea having been planted by my pal and fellow writer Martin Powell several years back) and did the initial draft of the series bible. Then I decided that I had too many projects going to write both the comics stories and the prose stories so Joe brought in Eric, a very talented writer, to write the comics scripts. Eric contributed several great ideas and we revised the bible; it’s a collaborative effort. We rarely disagree, and if we do, we resolve it quickly.
As far as the history and keeping things straight…. I am a continuity geek. I’m not slavish to it if the story dictates a different direction, but I do everything I can to accommodate and account for continuity. The history of the character matters to me. Look, for the co-editing duties for The Green Hornet Chronicles books, I created a timeline of the ’60s television series, and then inserted each and every story I read/edited into the timeline, based on textual clues and other references in the stories. This was purely for my own use so I could keep things straight. In some cases I asked the writers to make slight changes so as not to create a continuity gaffe with the timeline. So, yeah…a little OCD, maybe, but if you’re going to work on a character, or a shared universe, it’s worth the effort to take care of these little details, as well as the overall storytelling. Because believe me, someone will notice. J We’re bringing the same sort of effort and care and attention to The Green Ghost.
EF: From the first time we spoke and began trading ideas it was clear that we shared very similar sensibilities when it came to the character and our approach to storytelling so it has been a lot of fun working together.
As far as The Green Ghost’s history, Win wanted to make sure that we respected it and didn’t radically change it and I totally agreed. The main thing we adjusted was the tone of the stories. Ours have a harder edge to them than the original pulps did. At the same time, we have been careful not to contradict or negate any of the events in the original stories.
AP: Does the Green Ghost come with any supporting cast, special weapons, things that are identified with him? If so, are you adapting them for your stories?
WSE: All of the Green Ghost’s original supporting cast is back with our series. I’ll let Eric give the particulars on the cast. Chance also has the same bag of tricks, plus a bit more. In our continuation, Chance served in the OSS during World War II for a few years, and has returned home with a few additional things up his sleeve, but nothing radical.
EF: As mentioned earlier, The Green Ghost is a magician so we’ve worked in some magic tricks, such as gloves coated with a flash powder that emit a blinding green light when he snaps his fingers. The other thing we did is that we gave him a mask. In the original pulps every time he became the Green Ghost he had to put on makeup. We figured that might become cumbersome for some of the stories we wanted to tell. I had suggested that since the stories were going to be set just after the end of WWII that someone with Chance’s talents could have done secret missions for the government during the war, so we decided to establish the fact that he served in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and that their scientists fashioned a mask for him that has special lenses that glow green, allow him to see in the dark, and also has an apparatus inside it that functions as a mini-oxygen tank.
As for his supporting cast, we are using all of them. However, not everyone will appear in every story. We just don’t have the space for that. Here’s a rundown of The Green Ghost’s associates:
Meriem White is George Chance’s girlfriend and sometimes assistant. She is very smart and strong willed and, as Win pointed out, has some psychic abilities.
Ned Standish is the New York City Police Commissioner. Standish was the one who encouraged Chance to cultivate his interest in criminology into actual crime fighting.
Tiny Tim Terry is a childhood friend of George Chance. They both lived and worked in the circus as children.
Joe Harper is a racetrack bookmaker, a theatrical booking agent, and gambler. He’s got contacts in every strata of society, which makes him quite valuable to The Green Ghost.
Dr. Robert Demarest is the New York City Chief Coroner and works closely with Chance and Standish when needed.
Glenn Saunders is Chance’s assistant and a dead ringer for Chance.
AP: Some pulp purists believe updating characters like Moonstone is doing is being unfaithful to them, not keeping true to what they originally were. What is your response to this in terms of The Green Ghost?
WSE: Our approach is not to create an alternate neo-pulp universe where the characters are radically different. We see no reason to change what works—just provide a logical continuation, a view into what The Green Ghost’s adventures could have been had they continued in the pulps.
We are not changing the characters’ general backgrounds, although certain details are certainly being elaborated and expanded upon. As I said, George Chance has been off to war and back, so this is a continuation—not a “reboot.” For the modern audience, we can also ramp up the action quotient a bit, and where appropriate, provide a more frank and honest portrayal of characters’ sex lives.
Let’s face it, in The Spider, you knew Richard Wentworth and Nita Van Sloan were having sex. They weren’t celibate for the eleven years that were “engaged.” Similarly, the Green Ghost (George Chance) and Merry White (now a more grown up, Meriem White) are not a perpetually celibate couple: they wind down from their adventures and celebrate their victories, and living to fight another day, in bed. I know this may alienate a few folks who feel their pulp heroes should not have sex lives, but this doesn’t alter the basic premise of The Green Ghost—it just provides a window, another angle, into his life, and his relationship with Meriem. It rounds them out as characters. We don’t plan to be explicit—I’ll save that for when I collaborate with Mr. Farmer J—but we do plan to be a bit more realistic in a way that the original pulps weren’t.
Another difference with our Green Ghost is that he is actually part of a wider universe and continuity. The beauty of a shared pulp universe is that, unlike superhero universes, it could actually be our universe, the world outside our window. Yes, maybe occult menaces or mad scientist death rays really couldn’t happen in our world—but if one squints, or puts on the 3-D glasses, perhaps they could be rationalized away. Unlike the cosmic and world-altering events shown in the superhero universes, a shared pulp fiction universe is relatable to the “everyman.”
EF: I certainly understand their concerns and as a fan myself I am leery when any character with a long history is reinvented. We went took great care to make sure we didn’t throw away or contradict any part of The Green Ghost’s history. Again, the major change we did make has to do with the tone of the stories. In the original pulps, the stories were not as hardboiled or as spooky as you would have thought from looking at the covers. Win and I both wanted to do edgier stories without making wholesale changes to the character and we both feel that we’ve accomplished that. Hopefully, the readers will agree.
AP: OK, what about future plans for the Green Ghost, any hints? And what other irons do you have in the works you’d like to mention?
WSE: Eric’s two comic stories (so far) are called “The Mystery Named Rosabelle” and “Of Monsters and Men.” There a lot of fun, with art by the talented David Niehaus. The stories are set to appear as backups in Moonstone’s The Phantom Detective # 1 and 2, respectively. Both issues are already available for order (The Phantom Detective # 1 hits the shelves on October), so get out there and buy ’em!
Our “wide vision” prose story is called “Zombies under Broadway,” and is chock full of undead mayhem, with spot illustrations by the aforementioned Mr. Niehaus. It hasn’t been scheduled yet, so keep an eye out!
For my part, I’ve just submitted my second Avenger story to Moonstone. It’s an Avenger/Domino Lady crossover story, and I had a blast writing it. Next is an as-yet untitled story for Black Coat Press’ Tales of the Shadowmen Volume 7: Femmes Fatales; then editing Moonstone’s The Green Hornet Chronicles Volume 2 and possibly writing a sequel to my tale “Fang and Sting” which is in volume 1; then an as-yet untitled crossover story for a Sherlock Holmes anthology; and finally researching and taking notes for a novel I intend to write in 2011—wish I could say more about that, but the timing isn’t right. I hope you’ll have me back to discuss it when it is. J
EF: Well, the first comic book story, “The Mystery Named Rosabelle” concerns someone from Chance’s past trying to kill him and involves him attempting Houdini’s Chinese Water Torture Cell escape trick. “Of Monsters and Men” pits The Green Ghost against an escaped Nazi scientist and his man-made monstrosities and introduces a new member to his cast, an associate from his days with the OSS.
As for me, I have a novel I am shopping around as well as a couple of screenplays and of course more pulp stories, including more Green Ghost adventures, that I hope will see print real soon.
AP: Once again, guys, thank you for your time and your work in the pulp field!
WSE: And thank you for having us, and for the great work you’re doing promoting pulp fiction and keeping the genre alive!
EF: Yes, thank you for the opportunity to talk to you and your readers about The Green Ghost. It was a pleasure.
TIM LASIUTA, Line Editor, RETURN OF THE ORIGINALS, Moonstone
TL: I must have been born with a book in my hands, since I could read, my father would buy comic books (in the mid to late 1960’s), and we would read them at home. When he ‘grew’ up, I inherited a small collection of X Men, Spiderman, Superman, Batman, and Richie Rich. Today, I still have most of them. However, once reading bit me, I began to read his paperbacks too. I can still see his book shelf, double filled with mystery, western, and pulp. Doc Savage was probably my first ‘adult’ book, and what an introduction. I rabidly ate up any Doc, Shadow, Ace Doubles, while still reading and by now buying my own comics with newspaper money.
It is a strange truth that what you imagine, you can become. When I was 14, I remember reading a Batman comic, and seeing the first ads for Kuberts School of Art. From that point on, I began to illustrate my own adaptation of Stokers “Jewel of Seven Stars”. It was terrible, but my limitations in art led me to begin writing, and my first novel was drafted out. I wrote short stories, and illuminated my social assignments with elements of the fantastic. Tarzan even flew through one of my Psych papers in grade 11.
That aside, I wanted to be a comic book something. It was not to be, and I ventured into university, still buying and reading. Marriage kind of stopped that, and when I approached CBG about doing an article on Tom Gill, my mentor, I was ‘in’. From there I worked reviewing books, comics and doing articles for them for 4 years. Along the way, I found that a company called Moonstone was doing the Phantom, I emailed the publisher who actually responded.
As a young(er) writer, I was thrilled. Joe sent me copies and for 3 years I stuck to mainly Indy books and Moonstone. When I approached Joe with an idea to help him, he accepted, and I have written short fiction, edited, arranged PR, negotiated for properties, written bibles, and promoted Moonstone in Calgary and elsewhere.
|TIM LASIUTA (on left)|
AP: What do you believe has been the motivating factor for Moonstone’s recent attraction to classic pulp heroes?
TL: Every publisher has an audience, and the DC audience is not the same as Marvels’, or IDWs’ or Archie. With our focus on the pulps and adventure characters, it is almost like we have re-introduced the ‘First’ Wave into the media. DC may have the splash, but we are the real thing.
One thing that I am learning is that the concept of our pulp lines is a recurrent theme. For decades westerns were the preferred genre due to the quick justice and characterizations. My grandfather and father shared a love of books for decades. I share the same tastes, and have re-read the same books. Today, it seems that vengeance driven characters (ie pulp) are popular. Where else can you be so politically incorrect and solve a drug lord problem with a pipe bomb??? This may be the new release for society’s pent up anger and hostility.
In terms of the genre, and our Originals line, our authors are true fans. They may write a good mystery in their day job but I suspect at night when the Black Bat flies, or the Green Ghost wanders the night, trench coats, gloves and weapons of all sorts come out of the hidden compartments. Need therapy, write a Spider tale. No need for valium…
Joe and I have always said that we are cut from the same cloth, and our interests are almost identical. I love the concept of the ‘old’, and the new at the same time. For me, the Phantom, and Doc Savage are highlights of my time so far, but I can hardly wait until the New Originals mature and take off.
AP: Why do you think pulps are becoming popular again and will today’s comic readers embrace them or give them the cold shoulder?
TL: The wave of pulp reprints from the numerous houses, the new books from Airship 27, DCs’ First Wave, and our New Originals, all contribute to a genre that is growing. There is some kind of appeal to the vintage art that adorns the books, and with increased scholarship into the artists, writers, and industry, it is developing a momentum.
In some instances, pulp readers are comic readers. An Archie reader will not pick up Phantom Detective, but someone who reads Sanctums’ Doc Savage, Avenger, or Shadow, will. However, while that book is on the coffee table, it may catch the eye of a parent, or friend. Someone who reads an adventure or team book may pick these up.
Any new line or character is a literary crap shoot.
That is the beauty of this line. We are not new. But I can guarantee that any reader who buys these books will love them.
|Characters from IV FROST, edited by Tim Lasiuta|
AP: Joe Gentile has a reputation for running a tight ship and in the past handling the majority of the editorial chores. With Return of the Originals, both you and Mike Bullock seemed to have assumed Associate Editor roles. What exactly are your responsibilities in this capacity?
TL: Joe is a one man army. With my growing interest in Moonstone, and some as of yet unannounced properties, I have been recruited to read, track, and do whatever Joe asks me to do. Mike is busy writing for the line, and with that, his duties will be what I cannot do. For instance, he is doing the Pulp Manual due out soon. I had no time, but I did read and edit 30 plus stories already. If you’re asking what my duties really are, I would tell you, and have to shoot you!
I would love to write A Richard Diamond piece, and perhaps another Captain Midnight tale, but the New Originals take up a good amount of time.
AP: For those readers having been lost in the Amazon all year, would you please explain exactly what Return of the Originals is?
TL: The Return of the New Originals is an event unlike any other we have done at Moonstone. A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far away, pulp characters were everywhere. You could not look at a newsstand and not be assailed without a lurid cover, and often trashy fiction. We have taken the best of those, and asked one question.
“How can we turn these characters into viable icons for our time?”
The result is a 20 plus character mix that ranges from occult to adventure. There are tough secret agents, strong teams, pilots, gutsy avengers, and dangerous sirens. They all share one commonality, Stamp out crime!
We even tackle the issue of racism with Decimator Smith.
One thing about our staff of writers, artists, and production personnel is that we share a love for the genre and medium. Every author, as Joe put it, was invited to play in our sandbox with his/her favorite character. They came with their own pails and shovels. The result is a stable of creators who write with passion. We all get to enjoy that.
AP: Which of these characters are you involved with personally and were you familiar with them before taking on this assignment?
TL: I was familiar with many of the characters before. I knew G-8, the Spider, Honey West, Domino Lady, Phantom Detective, Green Llama, KiGor and others, but once I saw the entire line-up, I was shocked. We have one busy setting, and by mid 2025, it should be free of crime. Until then, there are many stories to tell, and many crimes to correct.
AP: Tim, are there any plans for any Originals Universe crossovers between any of these great characters? Aside from the C.J. Henderson book, that is. And are you free to divulge those yet?
TL: As of this point, there are no plans that I am aware of, but only the Shadow knows…
AP: Any last words you like to leave the All Pulp readers with concerning Return of the Originals?
TL: Pulp fiction will never die as long as readers continue to support great writers! I love this job!
AP: Tim, this has been a pleasure. Thank you so much.
Artist on BLACK BAT and DEATH ANGEL
AP: Michael, welcome to All Pulp’s first ever Moonstone Monday! Before we jump right into the excellent work you’re doing at Moonstone, give us some background on you and what work you’ve done up until now.
MICHAEL METCALF: Glad to be here. Moonstone Monday is one of my favorite days! I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. Before I became a part of these Moonstone projects, I worked on various children’s graphic novels such as Timothy and the Transgalactic Towel and The Secrets of the Seasons: Gimoles. Before those I worked on a strange mix of pinups, covers, one panel cartoons, catalog illustrations, and what I like to call “not-yet-published” comics.
AP: You’re working with writer Mike Bullock on two characters involved in Moonstone’s RETURN OF THE ORIGINALS. One is an original character, Death Angel. Having looked at some of the images of this character, it’s clearly a frightening avenger type. Tell us something about the Death Angel and give us some insight into what goes into your art on this particular concept.
MM: Yeah, Death Angel is a dark, vengeful character born out of a tortured, abused childhood. The Death Angel costume is all black with a white skull mask and large tattered wings so there is a terrific opportunity to play with heavy shadows and the contrast of light and dark areas in the comic panels. An important part of the costume is the pulsing light and sound devices concealed in both gloves. These devices induce disorientation and hallucinations in Death Angel’s foes so I like to use alot of swirling flowing lines and trippy distorted images during the fight scenes.
AP: Switching gears, but only slightly, you’re also bringing a pulp icon to life on the comic page, The Black Bat, as written also by Mike Bullock. Pulp fans know how the Black Bat is and he’s also a dark avenger night type of hero, but the styles seem different from your BLACK BAT to your DEATH ANGEL. Can you point out the differences and explain why you’ve sort of approached each of these from different angles artistically?
MM: I think that both of these characters are psychologically damaged. They both want to fight evil, and they are doing it in a very violent way that is outside of the normal limits of the law. The Black Bat once worked within the legal system and knows how the system works. Readers will notice that the Black Bat’s mind is now fractured into different personalities, the defender, prosecutor, judge and executioner, and it’s these four distinct voices that determine how he deals with the bad guys. The Black Bat has heightened senses and a huge need for justice. On the other hand, Death Angel’s roots are in twisted religion and a childhood of horrifying abuse. The result is a tortured soul seeking to punish the wicked. I think Death Angel is particularly obsessed with avenging crimes against women and children. Death Angel doesn’t have any superhuman abilities, just deep psychological scars, some powerful but horribly skewed religious convictions and a freaky costume armed with mind warping devices.
AP: With the Black Bat, you’re treading on what some would consider sacred ground. The costume the Bat wears in your work is slightly different from what most pulp aficionados would say he originally wore. Can you explain some of the changes and your reasons for them as well as wade in on the discussion of whether or not original characters should be changed/updated for modern readers or left as they were originally conceived?
MM: Mike B and I love the Black Bat, so hopefully we won’t be spoiling anyone’s enjoyment by making some changes. Mike B is the driving force here and he has a great deal of respect for the source materials. With the Black Bat making his way back into the visually driven comic format, I think it’s a great opportunity to add some new details and show him off to a whole new fan base while hopefully providing something new and enjoyable to the existing fans. Readers will find that he now sports a cowl similar to the traditional one but with no eye holes. His boots, gloves and other costume parts are all combat-durable and quite scarred because he has a tendency to brawl and break through windows, walls or crooks that get in his way. I’d say we approached the creation of the first issue from the point of view that “wow! this is what we’d like to see the Black Bat doing, and this is what he might wear to scare that crap out of some thugs before he beats them to a pulp.”
AP: What appeals to you about working with pulp characters in a comics medium?
MM: I think pulp fiction and comics are branches of the same family. It’s always a blast to draw dynamic characters having sensational adventures so I guess that’s what appealed to me.
AP: Any pulp characters you’d like to try your hand at, either those currently being played with at Moonstone or otherwise?
MM: The Shadow and Doc Savage spring to mind and there are many, many others that would be a hoot to draw.
AP: Do you have anything else in the works now, either within Moonstone or beyond?
MM: Mike and I just finished separate Black Bat and Death Angel pulp tales for the widevision books. These feature a different size/shape format and some very moody art. I’m working on the next ish of BLACK BAT DOUBLE SHOT and we have a four issue mini series called Lions Tigers and Bears Volume Three that is awaiting a print date and volume IV waiting in the wings. As far as other projects, I’m illustrating a mystery novel and a mini-series that I’m dying to talk about but I can’t yet! Hopefully I’ll chat with you again soon about the other stuff.
AP: Michael, your time and work is really appreciated!
MM: Hope you enjoy the BLACK BAT DOUBLE SHOT!
MOONSTONE MONDAY INTERVIEW
Martin Powell-Writer of Ki-Gor and The Spider for Moonstone’s RETURN OF THE ORIGINALS
AP: Martin, thanks for sitting down with All Pulp again so soon (For Martin’s first interview with All Pulp, actually All Pulp’s debut interview, click on the INTERVIEWS page on this site). Aside from the Halloween Legion, you mentioned other projects you’re working on. Can you tell us something about the RETURN OF THE ORIGINALS from Moonstone and your part in that?
POWELL: THE RETURN OF THE ORIGINALS is a pulp-packed event coming soon from Moonstone, resurrecting many of the classic pulp characters of the 1930s in both comics and pulp fiction form. It’s going to be really cool. I’m writing THE SPIDER’s new comic book series and prose adventures, as well as KI-GOR THE JUNGLE LORD.
AP: Wow, not only one but two classic characters. Of the two, Ki-Gor is probably the least familiar to most people. He has been identified as a ‘Tarzan clone’ by some. Is this a true description? If not, tell us about him? What if anything makes him stand out from the more famous Lord of the Jungle?
POWELL: He isn’t as well known today, and I’m going to try to fix that. There’s no doubt that Ki-Gor was originally created as a Tarzan imitator, and, in fact, the earliest Ki-Gor novels are very similar to the Tarzan movies of that same period, starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan. But Ki-Gor quickly developed his own unique personality as the orphaned child of a missionary, rescued and adopted by a powerful jungle shaman. Ki-Gor appeared as the lead feature in Fiction House’s Jungle Stories magazine, from 1938 all the way through to 1954, for a total of fifty-nine adventure novels, which significantly outnumbers Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan novels.
The most striking differences between Ki-Gor and Tarzan are that Ki-Gor’s stories are much, much weirder and they are far more sensually charged. Ki-Gor and Helene, his red-haired mate, have a very intimate relationship—and it shows in the stories, quite unlike Tarzan and Jane. Their adventures abound with deep passion, marauding prehistoric monsters, and terrifying black magic, with a touch of science fiction thrown in, too. It’s almost as if the concepts of Burroughs and Robert E. Howard came together in a macabre mix. Having said all that, I am a devoted Tarzan fan, by the way, and as such I’m working hard to make Ki-Gor very different from him.
AP: The concept of a ‘Jungle Lord’ doesn’t really fit well in the modern world where you can look at any point on the globe from a home computer. As the writer, how do you intend to make Ki-Gor resonate with a modern audience? What will you bring to the character that maybe hasn’t been there before?
POWELL: Well, I somewhat disagree with the notion that our “modern world” no longer offers any mystery or adventure. There are vast jungles in Africa and South America which have never been explored by so-called civilized humans. A lot of the planet is still completely unmapped and unknown, even in the 21st century. Within just the past couple years a vast “lost world” was discovered in Indonesia containing over 200 unknown species of animals, include a bizarre tree-climbing kangaroo. Our planet still has her secrets.
Ki-Gor’s tales occur in the late 1930s, when Africa was even more mysterious than it is today. Mind you, this isn’t the same place as described in our geography books. It’s a strange world of terrible beauty and nature run amok, insidiously inhabited by witch doctors, cryptic creatures, missing links, and lost alien cities. Ki-Gor’s personality and, especially, his relationship with Helene will continue to evolve in my stories. This is not only a series of high adventure, it’s also an epic love story, which I’m enjoying very much.
AP: What, if any, concepts are you bringing forward from the original Ki-Gor tales? Any supporting cast, recurring themes, etc.?
POWELL: Helene Vaughn, from the original pulps, plays a very important role in this series. We sort of see the Jungle Lord, and his world, through her eyes. She is an extraordinary woman from civilization who has become Ki-Gor’s moral conscience and his mate. I’m also retaining N’kuni the Pygmy Warrior, and bringing in a lot of my own characters and concepts, too. My artist partner in this is Tom Floyd, who recently received the prestigious Golden Lion Award from the Edgar Rice Burroughs Bibliophiles. Past recipients of the award have been folks like, Harlan Ellison, Johnny Weissmuller, and Frank Frazetta, so I’m really lucky to have Tom. It’s been great fun working with him on this grand, sweeping jungle adventure.
AP: Let’s go to your other character. To do that we go from the little known (Ki-Gor) to the pulp icon (The Spider). For many, writing the further adventures of Richard Wentworth would be a dream job. Was it that way for you and what appeals to you about the Spider as a writer?
POWELL: Oh, absolutely. I love the Spider. I’ve been a Spider fan since I was a teenager. It is a dream job. I’ve never thought of it as anything less, and I’m very grateful that Moonstone chose me to write this new series.
Richard Wentworth, the Spider’s alter-ego (or…is it the other way around?), is a fascinating character. Arguably, he’s the most three-dimensional, fully realized personality of the pulps. I certainly consider him the most interesting of all the other contemporary pulp heroes. Those who superficially think of him merely as a killing machine, are missing the point of the Spider, in my opinion. I’m striving to remain as close to Norvell Page’s creation as possible by portraying Wentworth as highly intelligent, possessing lightning-fast deductive skills, and as a brilliantly commanding strategist. He also possesses nearly superhuman physical prowess, extraordinary endurance, and an incredible tolerance to pain. His fearsome reputation as the “Master of Men” is fully warranted, and yet he is also sorely afflicted with a messiah-complex. The Spider is wanted by the Law and the criminal Underworld alike, with most people believing that he is out of control and murderously insane. Privately, Wentworth himself is haunted by this terrifying possibility.
AP: What about the Spider will ring true with a modern crowd? Is it really just the violent way in which Wentworth handles his business or is there more to it?
POWELL: There is much more to the Spider than merely his body-count Alone among the pulp heroes on his day, the readers were privy to the Spider’s inner thoughts, his crazed obsessions, his astonishing genius, and his tormented and dreadful self-doubts. I will be preserving this and also adding to the concept considerably.
Ultimately, the Spider is more terrible than the fiends he fights. In Wentworth’s nightmarish world, New York City teeters forever upon the brink of oblivion. It’s 911 every day. He boldly faces hordes of monstrous madmen with a venomous laugh and a thunderous brace of blasting automatics. No villain, no matter how diabolical, has ever defeated the Master of Men. He has become a monster in order to vanquish the devils that would destroy us. It is a transformation that will demand a terrible price, as we shall see, by the climax of my first year’s storyline.
AP: Writing pulp prose is one thing, but crafting a script to bring any pulp character to life in comic form is a tricky proposition, as we’ve seen from other companies in recent months. Tell us how you feel about the work you’ve done so far on both characters, how you feel they translate to the comic page and how telling these stories in this form brings anything different to them?
POWELL: I’ve been doing this sort of thing a long time, almost twenty-five years. Whether writing prose, or comic scripts, the classic concepts themselves must be preserved and maintained. My feeling is that the fans all want these iconic characters to be the same as from the source material. The readers are expecting to find themselves in a familiar world once they open these books. Anything less is disappointing and disrespectful. Visualize, for example, someone who has obtained, say, a Superman license, then hires a writer who immediately proceeds to change the costume, the powers, and the origin into something utterly unrecognizable. I’ll never understand that kind of thinking. There is nothing that needs to be fixed, rebooted, or re-imagined about the Spider. He is what he is, and that’s more than enough for his fans. And for me.
AP: The Spider has companions and recurring characters as well as techniques that are almost as recognizable as he is to pulpdom? What bits from the Spider’s original run are making it into your version?
POWELL: I’m using all of it. Nita Van Sloan, Ram Singh, Jackson, Commissioner Kirkpatrick, Professor Brownlee, and even a couple classic Spider villains—they will all be returning in my series. I’m focusing on Nita especially. As the only woman to share the Spider’s darkest secrets, her role, fighting alongside with him amid all this chaos and madness, fascinates me. There was no other romantic couple in the pulps quite like Wentworth and Nita. I will be delving deeper into their bizarre relationship with each story.
AP: What about pressure? Do you feel any obligations to handle an iconic character like The Spider in any certain way? Any fears or misgivings about taking on such a task?
POWELL: There’s always pressure, of course, and a certain amount of stress with any creative endeavor. I do feel a serious obligation to properly present an authentic version of the Spider. That is of the upmost importance to me as a writer and as a fellow Spider fan.
AP: Pulp is on an upswing, according to most of us in the pulp community. Obviously, this project from Moonstone is a major sign of that. Why should people, both pulp nuts and pulp newbies, pick up your books, or any of the RETURN titles?
POWELL: Well, the main reason I would want to buy them is because both the Spider and Ki-Gor are being illustrated by two very fine artists. Tom Floyd, as I’ve already said, is rendering KI-GOR THE JUNGLE LORD, and the legendary Pablo Marcos—and a long-time favorite of mine—is drawing THE SPIDER. Both series look spectacular.
AP: Any hints of future developments for Ki-Gor or the Spider?
POWELL: Tom and I will be re-visiting Ki-Gor’s origin in an upcoming story, and the conclusion of my first year’s worth of Spider adventures will team him, for the very first time, with another classic pulp hero—G-8 and his Battle Aces. That’s just the beginning, but the rest are secret. I have a lot of plans for the Spider.
AP: It’s been great, Martin! Thanks again!
POWELL: Not at all. I’m always happy to discuss the pulps. Thank you.
MOONSTONE MONDAY INTERVIEW
Mike Bullock-writer of Black Bat
for Moonstone’s RETURN OF THE ORIGINALS
AP: Mike, welcome to ALL PULP and thanks for taking time to answer a few questions. First, for those who don’t know your background, tell us about Mike Bullock.
MB: I’ve been writing since I was four years old, unprofessionally that is. I learned to read with Batman comics when I was three and always dreamed of a day when I could tell stories in comic books. When I was a teenager, I joined my first band as a singer/lyricist and quickly discovered I had a talent for poetry. I spent the next decade or so as a professional musician and when the day came to call it quits, I decided it was time to get serious about writing. A year later I was working for Broken Frontier and Panzer, a music magazine, writing articles and reviews. Soon thereafter, I landed my first comic work at Image and then took over writing The Phantom for Moonstone. After that, I woke up this morning and found this interview waiting for me. Sorry I’m late.
AP: You play a major role in Moonstone’s latest project, RETURN OF THE ORIGINALS, which focuses on new comic stories featuring classic pulp characters. Can you give us any details on this project as a whole and specifically why you are glad to be a part of it?
MB: Back in 2007 Moonstone’s El Jeffe, Joe Gentile and I were tossing ideas back and forth and I suggested making a fictional city where we could tell stories featuring many of Moonstone’s characters like Domino Lady, Spider, Black Shirt and some new characters like Death Angel and one Joe had dreamed up whose name escapes me at the moment. We decided to do a team book to launch this idea, but Joe wasn’t sure that was the right time to push it, since they had the Twilight War series amping up. We continued discussing the idea and it soon evolved into a pulp city/universe, where we’d bring back a lot of original pulp characters and put them into a cohesive environment. It would also allow us a vehicle to introduce new characters that were exclusively under the Moonstone banner.
Well, time went on and one day Joe emailed me and said he thought it was time to get the ball rolling on this idea. Pretty soon he handed me a list of characters and asked which one I’d like to pen. I wrote back and told him Black Bat, Gladiator, Golden Amazon and I tossed in Captain Future and Sign of the Crimson Dagger, as well as Death Angel. Joe loved the enthusiasm but realized that was too much for one writer to tackle all at once, especially since we were still going to co-write the team book and we settled on Black Bat, Death Angel, Gladiator and Captain Future. I was thrilled to say the least, especially with Black Bat and Captain Future. I’ve always held a love for characters like Black Bat, Batman and Moon Knight and this was a chance to guide the adventures of the one who started it all.
The first prose book I ever read was the original Star Wars novelization. When I was done, I loved it so much I went to the book store looking for more and stumbled on a series about a Virginian who suddenly found himself on Mars fighting giant green men to save the most beautiful woman in the universe. Right then and there, I discovered the magic that is pulp fiction. I devoured every one of those John Carter books in less than a month and then branched out to Conan, Carson of Venus, etc. With that in mind, and my lifelong love of comic books, it’s no wonder that writing pulp comic books is a dream come true.
AP: One of the characters you’re tackling for RETURN is one that is known to most pulp fans, The Black Bat. Briefly, acquaint those who might not be so familiar about whom the Black Bat was in his original appearances. Also, weren’t there two pulp Black Bats? If so, which one are you writing?
MB: Anthony Quinn was a man on a mission, driven to make sure justice was done in the courtroom. However, just as often happens today, criminals slipped through the loopholes of our judicial system on technicalities time and time again, which brought with it a level of frustration that only motivated Quinn further. One day, in an attempt to destroy evidence, a mobster hit Quinn in the face with acid, blinding him and leaving horrific scarring around his eyes. Quinn’s career as a DA was over, and for a brief time, so was his life, as far as he was concerned. However, as the saying goes, ‘you can’t keep a good man down’ and Quinn was certainly a good man. As he sat in his parlor one night, contemplating his new found course of action, the smell of beautiful perfume wafted into the room. A gentle voice told Quinn of a secret operation that would restore his sight. Quinn and his right-hand man, Silk Kirby, drove out to the countryside where a doctor transplanted the eyes of a dead police officer into Quinn’s head, returning his eyesight. However, Quinn had already heightened his other senses and could now effectively see in the dark, as well as hear in a manner akin to bats, where minute air pressure changes alerted him to motion in his surroundings.
Quinn took up the mantle of Black Bat, swearing to fight evil men with their own weapon: treachery, intimidation and terror. There were indeed two Black Bats, one a private investigator in search of the unknown and another, more successful version, which I’ve just detailed. Additionally, there were several other ‘Bat’ characters in the pulps as well as DC comics’ most famous one, Batman.
AP: As most pulp characters do, The Black Bat has a cast of helpers, a team of sorts, and a cast of recurring characters and even themes. What of these trappings are you bringing into your version of this masked avenger?
MB: We see Carol Baldwin in the first issue, Silk Kirby appears in #2 and Butch O’Leary enters in #4. Additionally, a new member of his inner circle, Langston Walker will join the ranks soon.
AP: There’s always a concern that a writer will ‘change’ an established character if he takes over the writing chores. What changes if any are you making in the Black Bat? Anything about his history or changes maybe in storytelling, tone, etc?
MB: I’m not sure what I’m doing necessarily falls under the heading of change, but more of deeper exploration of what came before. I did a lot of research on the impact of traumatic events, such as being hit with a face full of acid, and what it does to the human psyche and introduced my findings to the lore. I’ve also expounded on the heightened senses in a more realistic manner than what others did, (re: Marvel Comics’ Daredevil). Beyond that, the only real updates have been to the costume and storytelling style. On the costume front, I think artist Michael Metcalf has done a wonderful job bringing the Black Bat’s wardrobe into the 21st century. Hopefully, your readers agree.
AP: One aspect of your Black Bat that stands out is his deadly dedication to his mission. He intends to see justice done and sometimes that’s not so pretty. This is a trait, in my opinion, that he had even in his original stories, but it’s also a hot button with critics who claim that such violence is gratuitous, that it gives readers the wrong ideas about how to handle things. How would you handle such criticism if you received it for your Black Bat?
MB: I’ve already had such criticism and all I can say to the critics is wait and see. At first glance some of the ultra-violence in the first issue might seem gratuitous, but once a bigger picture unfolds, there’ll be more to the story than just a few two-dimensional thugs getting whacked.
AP: Let’s talk about time period. What era does your Black Bat take place in and why that particular period?
MB: We’ve intentionally left the time period for most of the Return line vague. While the Battle For LA story by pulp master C.J. Henderson obviously nails it down to the WWII era, this is an alternate earth where these tales take place, so you may see things in the books that defy chronological structures as we know them. Expect the unexpected, especially in the pages of Aaron Shaps’ Phantom Detective and the aforementioned team book Joe Gentile and I are doing.
AP: There seems to be two camps of pulp writers as well as pulp fans. Some want writers who take over established characters to stick right to the model already established, same costume, same friends, etc. Others allow that the modern writer may bring something different to the table and are more tolerant of change? Where do you fall as a writer and as a fan?
MB: I love new. No one will ever write stories exactly like the original authors and as a reader I’d rather not see someone try because they’ll ultimately fail. Instead, I think it’s the duty of writers to build on what came before. If you’re a professional writer and you have nothing new to say, your career will last as long as a mobster in Black Bat’s world. A lot has changed in our collective consciousness since these tales were first crafted; including the way we as a society look at storytelling. So, I’m excited to read Martin Powell’s new Spider tales, thrilled about what Aaron is doing in Phantom Detective and can’t wait to read Secret Agent X, Rocketman and the litany of other stories like I.V. Frost, Ki-Gor, G8 and more. I handed the reins of Gladiator over to Josh Aitken and can’t wait to see what he does with earth’s mightiest mortal, also.
While I get the desire by purists to never have anything change, for those who subscribe to that mindset, there’s a litany of existing work to read. If nothing was to change, why bother doing anything new? On the flipside, if you’re going to do something new, to quote the cliché ‘Go big or go home’, which is a mantra I think a lot of Return writers are embracing.
AP: Depending on whom you talk to or what you read, The Black Bat had quite an influence on several modern day characters and concepts. Does that fact put you under any particular pressure to one up the original? What are your intentions with your Black Bat, to tell a great story or is there more?
MB: I don’t see any pressure from that angle; I do feel a pressure to live up to a great character and series of existing stories, just as I did when I took over the Phantom. Lee Falk was a master of speculative fiction and to walk in his shoes was quite intimidating at first, however I soon was able to spread my wings and fly with his great creation. I think with Black Bat, I’m revisiting those early Phantom days to some extent. I’ll make some mistakes, just as I did with The Ghost Who Walks, but hopefully the enjoyable parts will outweigh everything else. In the end, I just want to tell stories that I’d enjoy reading. Hopefully, they’ll be great stories and remembered as such, but I’m simply praying God allows me to do the best job humanly possible. I think if I do that and the book reaches a wide enough audience, it’ll all work out in the end.
AP: Other than breathing life back into a pulp icon, do you have anything else in the works that would make pulp fans sit on the edge of their seats?
MB: Well, Death Angel debuted in Phantom Doubleshot #1 last year and garnered some real excitement from readers. I’m hoping the character’s further appearances in Black Bat Doubleshot will build on that until ‘Angel can survive as the headliner.
Captain Future is another pulp character I’m working with that has me really excited. The idea that this character is so overlooked today boggles my mind. For those who aren’t aware, the good Captain was one of the originators of the space opera sub genre, popularized originally by Flash Gordon and later by Star Wars. Some describe Cap as Doc Savage in space, which is more than enough to get me jazzed. The original stores, penned by Edmond Hamilton, have all the excitement found in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter stories and they harken back to a time when our society was more innocent and captivated with imagination. Look for the first Captain Future tale in the Moonstone Pulp Fiction magazine’s first issue.
Outside the pulp arena, I’m writing a new “jungle girl” book called Savage Beauty which takes the sensibilities of my Phantom stories and infuses them into an old genre desperately in need of modernization. Savage Beauty #1 hits shelves in early 2011.
AP: Mike, thanks a lot for taking the time to spend Moonstone Monday with ALL PULP!
MB: Thanks for the interview, Tommy, it’s greatly appreciated.
MOONSTONE MONDAY INTERVIEW
Ron Fortier-writer of I.V FROST
for Moonstone’s RETURN OF THE ORIGINALS
AP: Ron, you’ve made a name for yourself in comics and recently in pulps. Now the two fields are coming together for you with your work for Moonstone. Let us in on the project overall that you’re a part of and how it came about.
RF: Well, I’m a small (note very, very small) part of Moonstone’s new pulp inspired comic book line, Return of the Originals spearheaded by Managing Editor Joe Gentile with able assistance from Mike Bullock and Tim Lasiuta. For the past several years Moonstone Books has been creating a really substantial presence in the pulp community with their excellent prose anthologies featuring such characters as the Spider, the Avenger and from the comic ranks, the Phantom. With this next step into pulp comics, Joe set about recruiting those writers who had contributed to the prose books and I am happily one of those.
AP: With the Pulp resurgence going as it is, fans are aware of Doc Savage, the Shadow, and even some of the lesser known names like the Black Bat and The Phantom Detective. But you’re putting your talents to a hero only die hard pulp fans may know. Just what is the story behind I.V. Frost? What’s his history?
RH: Honestly, the more obscure, the better where I’m concerned. These lesser known heroes are real gems. I.V. Frost was invented for Clues Detective Stories by veteran pulp writer Donald Wandrai. Between Sept. 1934 and Sept. 1937, Wandrai wrote a total of eighteen stories starring this scientific criminologist. Frost is best described as a cross between Sherlock Holmes and the two-fisted private eye Sam Spade. A genius who puts his intellect to use solving bizarre crimes, he is not above getting his hands dirty to bring the bad guys to justice. Frost is aided by a platinum blond beauty named Jean Moray who is not only sexy and street smart, but also a scientist with a college degree. They make a fantastic crime solving team.
AP: You’re known for your desire to stay as true to the history of the public domain characters you write as you can, but you are obviously a modern era writer. What do you think you bring to this idea that will make Frost appealing to readers who pick it up today?
RF: After writing comics for thirty years, I’d like to think I’ve learned what a graphic story requires to make it both interesting and fun for the average comic reader. Although a lot of what happens in Frost’s adventures is indeed cerebral, I’m well aware no one wants to read a comic made up mostly of the hero locked in his lab simply staring off into space thinking. Thus far all of my scripts have made a concentrated effort to get Frost out of his lab and out where the action is. As long as I remember to the keep the fists and bullets flying, hopefully no one will get bored with him.
AP: There are just some ideas from pulp that may not translate well from the written word to the comic panel. What do you think there is about Frost that makes comics a good medium for him to return in?
RF: One of the things I know for a fact is Sherlock Holmes’ lasting personality was never really about how he solved any of his cases, but what a truly unique and colorful personality he was given by Arthur Conan Doyle. Both I.V. Frost and the delectable Miss Moray are such original, different characters. I’m using this as a base line and then writing exotic, fantastic crimes to get them involved with. That combination of bizarre cases and Frost’s eclectic persona will hopefully be very appealing to comic readers. There really aren’t any other pulp heroes quite like him.
AP: A lot of classic characters come with their own trademarks, a team of supporters, certain gadgets they always use, etc? Does I. V. Frost have any of this baggage and if he does, what of it are you bringing into your stories?
RF: Well, I’ve already spoken quite a bit of Jean Moray. There were a few police detectives who worked with Frost and I will be incorporating one or two of these, plus others of my own invention. As for gadgets and gizmos, Frost’s own brownstone in New York City is filled with all manner of recording devices, electric surveillance equipment etc. It is practically a fortress. There is also his personal laboratory where he can whip up all manner of fiendish cocktails and contraptions to aid him in cracking a case, such as his bullet-proof plastic suit. Many of these I’ve lifted right out of the original stories.
AP: Those of us that are pulp fans as well as pulp writers and artists see a major push in not only the creation of new pulp characters, but also the revitalization of older characters. A question to ask, though, is why? Why do you think now is the time for a character like Frost to return to the public scene? Why do you think there’s a reading public interested in him and his fellow pulp characters?
RF: I’ve been thinking about this on and off for the past several years, watching this Renaissance of Pulps if you will, and trying to fathom its meaning. I may be all wet, but I just cannot accept that it is mere coincidence that the pulps were born during the Great Depression and now, when our country is once again undergoing economic woes, readers find themselves hungry for escapist entertainment to help them forger their troubles, if even for a few hours or minutes even. Pulp literature is a purer form of action adventure than what evolved over the past thirty years in this country. From the late sixties to the present, we’ve been given “realistic” anti-heroes who in the end are often indistinguishable from the villains they battle. I hate the word anti-hero, it’s a joke. The anti-hero is the villain. Always had been. People today are fed up with this narcissistic junk and want real old fashion heroes again and that’s why pulps are making a strong comeback in all mediums. Because the pulps were never afraid to create heroes people could look up to, emulate and find hope in. Pulps have always been a literature of hope.
AP: Any plans for Frost you can let your adoring fans in on ?
RF: Well, so far I’ve turned in one prose story and three comic strips, all of which are being beautifully illustrated by Jake Minor, a super talented artist whose work reminds me of Brian Bolland. Fans are going to love it. As for future plans, only to keep writing more of these as I’ve grown really fond of these characters. Hopefully so will the fans as it will be their vote that determines their future from here on out.
AP: I. V. Frost is not all you have cookin’ on the pulp stove. What else do you have your hands in currently that we can look forward to in the future?
RF: Well, I mentioned some of the prose stuff from Moonstone. I’ve an Avenger story due out in the second volume of that series and a Green Hornet story in the first volume of that set due out any day now. I’ve also written an Athena Voltaire prose story for creator Steve Bryant’s anthology book now in the works. There are several pulp and radio heroes that have never been translated to comics that I’m hoping to develop for various publishers next year. Obviously I’m not at liberty to divulge their names, but I think fans will be pleasantly surprised. I’m also working on my fifth Captain Hazzard novel for Airship 27 Productions and hope to start writing another set of stories for Pro Se Productions featuring another of my characters that’s been sitting on the shelves way too long. I guess you might say I’m kind of busy.
AP: Thanks a lot, Ron!
RF: My pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity.