“Something Awesome”. Seems an easy thing to ask for from a fellow who can go to any moment in time and space, and allows for lots of interpretation. So Clara asks for that, The Doctor is happy to provide, whisking her off to…
THE RINGS OF AKHATEN
By Neil Cross
Directed by Farren Blackburn
The Doctor takes Clara to Akhaten, a group of worlds inside a series of asteroid belts orbiting a huge star. It’s the time of a ceremony that will supposedly keep the god which created their worlds asleep. Young Merry is elected to sing the history of their civilization, and is naturally skittish about getting it right. It’s made plain as time passes that this is more of a sacrifice than a simply ceremony, forcing The Doctor and Clara to take a hand in saving young Merry, and to keep the very real god from eating the system.
The episode serves two purposes; to serve as a BIG info dump for Clara’s backstory, and to really let The Doctor show off to her. As to that second half, it’s very much a parallel to The End of the World, Rose’s first foray into space. Both feature a bevy of new aliens, including the Face of Boe, and both feature am enlarging sun threatening to engulf them.
The story is solid, and Jenna-Louise Coleman does wonderfully in the common spot of the companion’s first exposure to the rest of the universe, but I thought the direction on Matt was a bit lacking. In comparison to the magnificent bombastic speech he gave in The Pandorica Opens, his monologue to the sentient sun was somewhat lacking. It may have been a decision to make him seem sadder, or tired, weighed down, but it came off weak for me. I’d have much rather seen him almost daring the sun to take it all, as opposed to the more resigned tone he had here.
Also, we’re once again seeing a story where the companion saves the day when The Doctor’s plans come up lacking. That’s been happening a LOT more with Moffat’s run on the show, and while I enjoy seeing a strong character, as I’ve said before, I wouldn’t mind seeing The Doctor save everybody on occasion.
THE MONSTER FILES – The sentient sun of Akhaten reminds one of the antagonist in 42, a living sun fighting back after the mining ship accidentally stole her children. This one is clearly more belligerent in its attitude.
The production team went to great lengths to create a wide range of brand new creatures in this episode. We’ve had a couple of big collections of aliens in the new series, like the aforementioned party on Platform One, Dorium’s place in A Good Man Goes to War, and even the bar where Captain Jack met Alonzo. Save for the last one, they’ve gone out of their way to create new aliens, as opposed to grabbing stuff off the rack. One race breathed though some sort of filtration device, somewhat reminiscent of the Hath, the fish-creatures from The Doctor’s Daughter.
GUEST STAR REPORT Neil Cross (writer) Created the series Luther, for which we are all rightly thankful. He also wrote the script for Mama, Guillermo Del Toro’s recent presentation
Farren Blackburn (Director) last worked on Doctor Who when he directed The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe, last year’s Christmas Special. He’s had a long career in directing TV, including an episode of Luther and two of the remake of Terry Nation’s Survivors.
BACKGROUND BITS AND BOBS – Trivia and production details
A TALE THAT GROWS IN THE TELLING – There’s been a number of stories in the series that center around a grand festival that serves as a way for an old threat to return. The most memorable are the twin tales Kinda and its sequel Snakedance. The actions of the villain in those stories were more deliberate; here it’s more a case of time being up for the dormancy of the sun.
“I came here a long time a go with my granddaughter” – This is, in fact, the first mention of Susan in the new series. Clara’s double take on the fact that a man this young-looking can have a granddaughter is not followed up upon, but will almost certainly be referred to again.
Also, did anyone else find it odd that they refer to their god as “Grandfather”?
“What’s happening, why is it angry?” – The TARDIS translates foreign and alien languages automatically for those traveling within it. But there’s almost always a scene where a companion is faced with an alien it can’t understand. Now, there’s any number of explanations that could explain such a thing, like they haven’t been on the ship long enough for all languages to process, or some languages are more differnt from English (or too simplistic, such as more animal -like speech like Doreen’s) to be immediately legible. But it all comes down to the fact that a scene where a Companion misunderstands a situation due to not knowing the language, resulting in a comedic moment, is just plain too comedic a moment NOT to do. And any attempt to inject import into it is just plain Looking Too Hard.
“Not money….something valuable” – The big theme of the story is that of experiences and memories having an intrinsic value. For the people of the system, they’re used as currency, a system which I have to admit sounds cooler than it would be in actual use. I can imagine any number of problems with having to part with one’s cherished belongings in order to buy the groceries. In the case of the god at the center of the system, those memories and experiences are its literal bread and butter. Clearly it merely reads those memories as opposed to draining them, as The Doctor isn’t reduced to an empty shell. In the case of Clara’s leaf, it’s absorbed entirely as it doesn’t have any memories itself, but represents potential existence, a life un-led. Need I mention that this is also the chosen food of the Weeping Angels?
“Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax, and Cabbages and Kings” – The Doctor quotes Lewis Carroll, specifically The Walrus and The Carpenter. While his work has never been mentioned in the TV show, it’s been referenced in the other media a few times. The Doctor met the author in an prose adventure called The Shadows of Avalon, and in a fan-made video adventure called Downtime (which features the Great Intelligence, but that’s likely just a coincedence), it’s revealed that he photographed a young Victoria Waterfield. (Those who know a bit about the kind of photography Mr. Dodgson liked to take of young girls may find a moment of thought there)
BIG BAD WOLF REPORT –
CARLOTTA VALDEZ I WILL MAKE YOU HER – It wasn’t until The Doctor said out loud that the reason he was so keen on spending time with Clara is because she “remind[s] me of someone who died” that I realized that The Doctor is in a similar situation to Scottie in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Like in the film, Scottie loses Madeline after she falls from a high place. The Doctor doesn’t fall into a depression over it (that was from the last one) but does become very excited about meeting her again, or at least another close approximation. Clara’s bold statement that she won’t be a “replacement” for the other Clarae shows an independence that Judy never had in the film. And just to keep the pot stirring, Scottie was the target of a con job, and Judy was only pretending not to know him, when in fact (SPOILERS) she had been posing as Madeline to use him as a patsy in her “death”, (END SPOILERS)
“She’s not possible” – But it’s clear that The Doctor is fascinated by Clara, not in the way Scottie was of Judy, but more as trying to figure out how she can appear at three moments of history. It’s more than spatial genetic multiplicity, which is how Gwen Cooper looks so much like Gwyneth from The Unquiet Dead – here it seems much more like it’s the SAME person, with so many “Clarallels”. He follows her through her whole life, from the moment her parents met to the time of her mother’s passing, which serves to reveal the secrets behind both Clara’s book, and the leaf which she called “page one”. The two years she skipped in the progressive numbers on the book were 16 and 23 – 23 was the year the Maitland’s mom died, and she was simply too bust thinking about them to write in the book, and 16 was the year her own mom died. This also serves to explain how she couldn’t bear to leave her friends on their own when their mom died.
NEXT TIME ON DOCTOR WHO – What’s big and hard and full of…OK, it’s a submarine, and there’s a bunch of very nervous Russians trying to stay alive against one The Doctor’s oldest enemies. A return to the Cold War, seven days hence.
Which is lucky for me, because I have a rather frantic week, and not a lot of original ideas for a column. Sure, I could write about the John Stewart scandal (or non-scandal, depending on which rumor you believe,), but I am late to that party. I could write about some obscure book that deserves more attention, but I am behind in my reading.
My sub-conscious came through for me.
Last night, I had one of my recurring dreams in which I still work for DC. Sometimes in these dreams I no longer work for DC, but sneak into an office and pretend I do. And sometimes, I even wear clothes. I can’t remember which of these scenarios was at play this time, but I remember getting a memo from Jenette Kahn about some new publishing initiative.
In my dream, I ran to my son, the genius writer, about the opportunity this afforded us. We had two ideas worth pursuing.
The first, and more interesting, was a graphic novel about an upper-middle-class teenage white girl in Georgia in the 1980s who is, unbeknownst to her or anyone else, the reincarnation of Mohammed Ali. I don’t think we should let the fact that Ali is still alive get in the way of the fact that this would be awesome.
However, since my subconscious apparently has no literary taste, in my dream I urged we concentrate our attention on an on-going series, The Legion of Jimmy Olsen. It would be like the Legion of Super-Heroes, but set in the present, not the future, and feature all the different characters Jimmy has morphed into over the years. You would have your Turtle Boy, your giant, your caveman Beatle, even your girl.
All at the same time.
I would buy that series in a heartbeat. Wouldn’t you?
The New 52 doesn’t have a lot of Jimmy in it. There isn’t even much Lois Lane. They show up to take pictures or report on some Superman exploit or another, but that’s about it. Grant Morrison had Jimmy doing a bit more, as a friend to Clark.
Even Grant couldn’t work in any Turtle Boy.
As the comics audience has aged, publishers have tried to respond with more mature offerings. They don’t think their readers need a character like Jimmy with whom to identify. Today’s superhero reader, they think, needs stories where the universe is at stake every single issue.
This is a shame, because we could use somewhat less constant cosmic apocalypse, and a bit more whimsy.
The Lady Lazarus saga’s final chapter for the tale that is, of the three, the most human: Rebel Angels (Tor Books, Hardcover, $26.99, March, 2013). It’s October, 1939 and our heroine Magda is saying goodbye to her little sister Gisele, sending her off with spymaster Knox to be protected by Churchill in the UK whilst Magda and her fallen angel-man Raziel sallie forth to Baku, Afghanistan to find a way to bring down the Asmodel-possessed Hitler and prevent the wholesale slaughter of millions that Gisele has foreseen. To do this, Magda seeks the primordial magic even more potent than the Book of Raziel, the Lazarus women’s legacy—the Heaven Sapphire. And the last time it was used, all Hell broke loose. The gem is its own creature, not to be summoned by mere words, not even by a Lazarus, the ancient line of witches who can come back from the dead via a deal with the Witch of Ein Dor of the Bible. Everyone is after it and she has to get there first, no matter the cost. And so she has to announce to Vampire Count Gabor Bathory that she is quitting his employ and leaving Budapest once again to try to stop this war—and get his blessing on her clandestine marriage to the man who’d given up Heaven to be with her. What does Bathory do? The only thing a Vampire Count can do for the closest thing he has to a daughter in the face of war—he allows her to escape by throwing the most lavish vampire party ever and invites all magicals, under a truce, to celebrate with him! Even her beloved Eva, now in deep-cover as the SS Werewolf leader Szalasi’s paramour, attends. All the players are on stage for the grand finale in contexts at once perplexing, astonishing, and satisfying.
And that’s what makes this work, even when I can barely suspend disbelief – as with the literal flying carpets of the women of Helena. The human merchant Ziyad is just that in his air of passion in the real sense of the word—to suffer as a mensch, an Aristotelian man, and not merely a human animal. The over-arching emotions and dilemmas in this climax are elevated to what is best and worst in humans, so that infernal and divine are one and meet—as above, so below, the divine reaching down toward humanity and humanity reaching up toward the divine, by either good or evil means, by true hearts of compassion or bloated egos. And the means makes all the difference, so that evil might not triumph over the face of God’s creation, via the human spirit in all of them, even the once-divine. This concluding chapter is not so much an ethical book (that was more for book II), but a passionate one, one that faces despair head-on and says, like Gandalf to the Balrog, “You shall not pass!”
Lang’s prose here is her most calculated—book I is still the book of my heart. But she pulls off things here that made me doubt and yet made them somehow plausible. She’s honest enough that not all of your favourites will survive, but none will be forgotten, and thus stays true to the Jewish concept of yizkor that propels this story: remember so that none truly die forever. There are awww moments that remind you that Lang is also a romance writer, without sending you for the insulin shots. She does not flinch from torturing her characters—see the dungeons of the Baku Institute where the mad scientist Prof. Roskonikoff conducts operations that resemble crude, early frontal lobotomies. This is not a book to be handed to young women without adult supervision. Finally, I will say that, in the end, somehow, a spark of love triumphs and there is, indeed, life out of death. And you can’t help but love that and smile.
Lady Lazarus (Tor, trade Sept. 2010 $14.99, mass market June 2011 $7.99)
Dark Victory (Tor, March ’13, hardcover $25.99, Kindle $9.99)
While I was in NYC a couple of weekends ago, I ended up at a Gowanus Studios party out in Brooklyn (as you do), chatting with my friend Reilly Brown and some other excellent comics folks. In the middle of all this (all this being pizza and wine, la-di-la, because I’m too fancy for beer), I learned about Act-i-vate, which some of you may have heard of, but I sure hadn’t.
That’s one of the things I love about comics – even if you’ve been a fan for years, or know quite a bit about it, there’s always so much going on that you’re never going to reach the end of learning new stuff about comics – the art and the industry. (And also, if you’re me at least, the genre being so large means you don’t have to feel like a bad fan for not knowing everything about it; it’s hard!) So despite having interviewedDean Haspiel, who was one of the founding members of Act-i-vate, since he’s moved to other projects now we had not discussed it, and I’d never heard of it.
Simon Fraser remedied that for me at the party (it’s not a real party unless you stop someone in mid-sentence, drag them into an empty studio, and do an impromptu interview, dontchya know) . You might recognize Simon as the co-creator of Nikolai Dante, “a swashbuckling adventure story set amid dynastic intrigue in a future Russia,” or as an artist who’s drawn a number of Judge Dredd stories. He’s also the current “gatekeeper,” so-to-speak, for Act-i-vate, which just celebrated its seventh anniversary, and his enthusiasm for the webcomics collective is contagious. Read on to hear more about this cool group, what they do, and what they have to offer.
Tell me what Act-i-vate is about.
Act-i-vate is a webcomics collective of comic artists producing comics primarily for themselves and for each other. Most of the comic artists who are in Act-i-vate are professionals or semi-professional. We spend much of our time trying to make a living in the industry and working hard to keep ourselves professionally employed, but a lot of the time that means making compromises to publishers, to get the job done; to get work through the doors; to get the paycheck. Which is great. If you can do that, you’re doing well. And it implies you’ve got a great deal of professional ability.
However, Act-i-vate is all about doing your signature work – it’s about the thing you really want to do, that you’ve been suppressing for a long time [so that you can make a living]. As a working professional, you may be doing four pages a week if you’re lucky, or maybe five. If you work in the evening one night a week, you can maybe get an extra page in; and that’s basically the base of Act-i-vate, is that each week – or sometimes people do a couple pages a month – you do a page, and put it up on Act-i-vate, which is a community of artists, and we look at the work and comment on each others’ work.
So you critique it?
We critique it to a certain extent. It’s a social environment, so it’s also an encouraging environment. And it’s also a big deal that even if you’re not getting a paycheck for the work, you know somebody’s waiting for it, someone’s expecting it – that means it actually gets done. Because I know for my own sake, a paycheck is tremendously motivating, but knowing that people I respect are waiting to see my next page is a big deal. So that’s the primary purpose of Act-i-vate, knowing that you’re a part of the community – because a lot of times comic artists, we work in a vacuum, we work in one room somewhere isolated.
And in the seven years since it’s started, Act-i-vate has expanded like crazy. There are over fifty members now. We’ve got members in Britain, we’ve got members in Australia, we’ve got members all over America. It’s getting to enormous size.
How did Act-i-vate start?
It started with Dean Haspiel and Dan Goldman. Dean has moved on to other projects now; he’s not directly involved with Act-i-vate anymore. He wants to do other things, like Trip City, now, which was his next thing after Act-i-vate. But Act-i-vate still exists, and is still growing. We’ve put on about ten members in the last year and a half, and there’s more and more new material going on all the time. Because there’s just such an amazing amount of talent out there, and creators who have something to say, and something they want to do. And they want to do it on their own terms, so they don’t really want to go to a publisher initially. What they can do with Act-i-vate is do the work, and make the work they want it to be, and then, afterwards when it’s completed they take it to the publisher and say, “This is it. Fait accompli!”
So when you say signature work, are you talking about a signature style of art, or more like a creator-owned signature story or piece of work, or both?
It can be anything. That’s the other thing as well, is that a lot of the time you don’t get the chance to experiment with your style. For me, Act-i-vate was all about me writing, because I haven’t really had a chance to write that much. It’s not something I get paid to do. So it was all about me writing a story, which I drew, and I was very happy with it, and by the time it came out (it took me two years to do a hundred page graphic novel), I thought it was a very good calling card for me. I thought, “That’s the kind of thing which is mine, separate.” Because I spent the last fifteen years working on something I created, but it’s owned by a company. It’s corporate. And that basically becomes my calling card, but it’s not owned by me.
So did your comic then come out to the public? Once you got your graphic novel done, did you publish it commercially?
Yes. What happened is that I have a publisher in Britain, 2000 AD, who published Judge Dredd in the 2000 AD anthology; and I’d been working for them for fifteen, twenty years. So they basically said, “We really like what you’ve done on Act-i-vate. We could publish this as well.” So they published it in one of their magazines.
Did it have some commercial success?
It did very well. The fanbase really liked it, and I got paid for it, which is excellent. And the letterer and the colorist got paid, so that’s really nice for me, because I want everybody to get something out of this, apart from just doing the work. And from there, they [2000 AD] said, “Okay, do you want to do more?” And I said, “Yes!” So right now I’m trying to find, in between my other jobs, time to get back on to the sequel of that story; because I’m doing a trilogy of stories based on these characters. The first is called Lilly MacKenzie and the Mines of Charybdis. And the one I’m working on now is called Lilly MacKenzie and the Treasure of Paros.
Sounds good! Now, when you say the letterist and the colorist got paid, are those people you picked up after you had developed it on your own?
Well, I have a very close working relationship with my colorist, Gary Caldwell, who’s wonderful. He’s tremendous; he does all my work in 2000 AD. We have a very close relationship; we fire stuff back and forth all the time. We kind of don’t have to speak to each other that much to know what we want. So Gary very generously agreed to color the thing for free, right from the start, when it was being done on Act-i-vate, and when money eventually came along, I said, “He’s got 25% of it, that’s what he owns.” Any money I get from this, he gets 25%, and that’s worked out very well for all of us.
The letterer came on when it was printed, because I lettered it originally and my lettering is kind of crap. A guy called Simon Bowland, who does lettering for 2000 AD, did a beautiful job re-lettering it. He then graciously let me use his lettering for my edition of it – I’ve done a little self-published edition of it and I’m looking for an American publisher for the collected trilogy when that eventually comes out. But I’m not going to rush that. I’m going to do my second part as I feel comfortable doing it, and then I’ll approach somebody and see if they’re interested in a third part.
As a professional versus a newer artist, are you welcomed if you’re not as known, or is it mostly when you have some professional credentials already? How does that work?
It’s all based on the quality of the work. If you come to me and I’ve never heard of your name and I see something that’s brilliant, that really knocks my socks off; then yes, absolutely [you are welcomed].
So is it a moderated community?
It’s entirely moderated. I mean, basically, you’ve got to get past me. I’m the gatekeeper. We used to have a more democratic process; we used to vote on things. But that became so conflicted and so complicated.
It is a professional community. We keep the standard very high, which means that we don’t accept very many people, but the standard of things that people have submitted is incredibly high, frankly. This is New York, and there’s so much talent around. And it’s people who really want to do something of their own, and they want to do it among people they respect. That’s a big deal, I mean, I feel tremendously enthused by the fact that the people who are working on Act-i-vate are so good, and they’re doing such different things. Some of it, if you go on the site, you can’t easily see as commercial; but it’s got its own thing going on there. They’re really trying something different and new and exciting.
I think the market will catch up with this. Right now the American comic market is in this tremendous period of expansion. It’s very low-level and there’s kind of not much money in it, but there’s tremendous amounts of material being generated the last couple of years. It’s very, very exciting. And I think the material on Act-i-vate is finding its audience online, and it will find its audience in print; it will find its audience in different media and other ways, and that’s great.
As someone who’s been around Act-i-vate for some time, have you seen others get something commercial through their work on Act-i-vate? Can you give examples?
Oh yes. Kevin Colden – his book Fishtown was done on Act-i-vate. He actually applied for a Xeric Grant to do the book as a small press thing, and he got offered it; but he said, “I would rather put it on Act-i-vate.” Which is a big measure of faith to us. And he put it on Act-i-vate and he got a lot of attention for it – it’s about a real event which happened in Philadelphia. And he then took it to IDW and IDW made a beautiful book of it. And he got nominated for an Eisner Award for that.
Roger Langridge has a comic on Act-i-vate, and that went to one of the publishers. There’s also Warren Pleece. He’s one of the Pleece brothers, who, when I was starting out in comics in Britain, were basically our Hernandez brothers; Warren and Gary Pleece. They just put out a compilation of their old work, The Great Unwashed, through Escape Books in America. It’s a fantastic book. It’s so…it’s like listening to that Kinks song. It’s got that kind of weird downbeat aesthetic, like The Smiths or something, and that’s very characteristic of them. And they do this beautiful story on Act-i-vate called Montague Terrace, which is also like that – and that’s coming out through Jonathan Cape in London this year.
We have Darryl Cunningham, who has become something of a celebrity recently. He’s done Psychiatric Tales, Books 1 & 2; he actually works in a psychiatric hospital, and Psychiatric Tales is really good, fascinating stuff. Darryl’s thing is basically that people don’t really understand what a lot of these mental illnesses are, and how they function or manifest themselves. He spends a lot of time with these people, so he basically took it upon himself to explain a lot of these common mental illnesses. And he did it in such an elegant way; because Darryl’s a beautiful cartoonist. It came out through Blank Slate in the UK and Bloomsbury in the US.
He’s done a new book called Science Tales, through Abrams, which is all about debunking science myths. So like the fake moon landing and all of that. There was a really horrible story a while back about a guy called Andrew Wakefield, who basically said that the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine caused autism, which was quite shocking; and he was promoting this theory and scared a lot of parents from vaccinating their children. A lot of celebrities got involved, like Jenny McCarthy, and she started promoting this, and she’s still promoting it, even though Wakefield has been discredited entirely, and medical journals have basically come out and said, “this is absolute nonsense, it’s complete charlatanry.” But he was basically using it to promote himself. As a result now, some kids are not getting vaccinated for these things, which is very, very serious. If kids get these diseases when they’re children, it can affect the rest of their lives. Darryl did a story about that, which is brilliant. And he’s basically dealing with all the big mythologies.
He’s doing a story about Ayn Rand right now, on his website; he’s a great debunker. Ayn Rand is fascinating; I think he came down on the side that he felt sorry for her, because she had such a horrible life, and it was just depressing. She was obviously an uncompromising character; for the era, it’s remarkable that such a person as that existed.
What would your advice be for an artist who wants to be involved in Act-i-vate, and do you have some advice you’d like to share with the people who are still looking to become professionals, or more recognized as such?
At Act-i-vate we’re interested in seeing anything that’s unique and individual. We tend not to go for the more established genres like fantasy and science fiction; and not superheroes, because that’s well-represented. The other thing about Act-i-vate is that this is our thing, and we’re very happy with it, and we sometimes get new members, and that’s fine; but [running a webcomics collective is] relatively easy to do. I mean, we’ve survived for seven years. It doesn’t cost much to make a webcomics collective. All it really requires is a bit of effort, and a bit of going out there and finding people. And if you have an idea and you have something you want to do – we encourage people not just to apply to Act-i-vate, but set up their own collectives.
I think we all have our own points of view, and Act-i-vate has a very specific point of view of its own, and I think we’d like to see more people coming out with their own things, and different things. The more we have the better; the stronger the community of independent webcomics is. We haven’t really concentrated on making money out of Act-i-vate; because that’s not really what we do. We’re not a publisher; but we encourage; we’re trying to help our authors to get their work done. Because a lot of these things don’t make that much money. There’s money in digital comics to a certain degree, but it’s microscopic in comparison to what a good print book can get. I think what we’re trying to do is encourage good-quality work. When that happens, hopefully the audiences will come find it. Which I think is happening.
For example, we have a really good comic recently called Pregnant Butch, which is about a lesbian couple having a baby, which is hysterical; it’s so good. It’s by A.K. Summers, out in Rhode Island, and this is her first comic. She’s fabulous; she has such a great sense of humor, and such an innovative way of storytelling. And she’s not afraid of the darkness and the fear; because it can be terrifying, what’s happening. The fun thing, what I love, is the fact that she found an entirely new audience for her work and she had people commenting on her story who had never come to Act-i-vate before. She had established people who are interested in the subject, and also people who came in from outside who had never considered reading a comic about pregnant lesbians. And the fact is, it’s such a wonderful comic, it didn’t matter.
So to sum up, Act-i-vate is for people who want to, not just “get into the market and make money,” but who want to do their own thing, get encouragement on their work and comments, and have a community.
Yes. It’s about doing good comics. We’re all about good comics. I mean, there are lots of other aspects of comics and making a living and so forth, which we can help with, and we’re always available as colleagues to help with that.
Most of that tends to orbit around this studio complex here; there are a lot of Act-i-vate people in here. Act-i-vate is based in New York, and it tends to be Brooklyn-centric. But we reach out; we’re trying to get as wide a reach as possible. I’d like to get people from the West Coast, as well. We’ve got some people in D.C. Sam & Lilah is one of our strips on Act-i-vate, and the writer of that is in D.C. That’s Jim Dougan, who’s a big DC United fan and I think has had some press with them. So we’ve got people from all over, and we want to continue with that.
• • • • •
Thanks very much to Simon for this great interview! I have to confess that since learning about the site, I’ve spent more than a few minutes (eep!) reading some of the comics, and they really are excellent. So check out Act-i-vate for some new reading material, and if you’re a creator looking to get some support, encouragement, and comments from other pros as you work on your own project, consider getting in touch with Simon and submitting some work!
For Christmas this year one of the books I got was The Dresden Files graphic novel, Welcome to the Jungle. By that point, I’d read all of the novels; but what got me into them was actually the TV show.
When the show came out back in 2007, I remember hearing vaguely about it via a friend’s blog or two, but I never actually saw it. Thanks to the wonder of Netflix, though, a couple of years ago I discovered and watched it on streaming video, and enjoyed it enough to want to see more – but sadly, it only ran for one short season of 12 episodes. Thus I went back to acquire and read all of the books as well; and now, of course, I want more.
The TV show adaptation wasn’t perfect, but it had a lot of positives, the first three being Paul Blackthorne as Harry, Valerie Cruz as Murphy, and Terrence Mann as Bob. All three actors did very well with the material they were given, and just as important, had excellent character chemistry with each other. Their acting made the friendships (and possibly more, in the case of Harry and Murphy) feel natural, and anchored the crazy storylines happening all around them.
Another thing it had going for it was that Paul Blackthorne has the acting chops to carry a humorous narrative voice-over without it getting tedious (and I am behind on the current episodes, but for an example of When Voice-overs Get Tedious, the first several episodes of Arrow unfortunately come to mind). Blackthorne (who is also on Arrow, funnily enough) kept the energy of the show going with his engaging portrayal of Harry Dresden, much of which felt like it came straight from the books. The writing was also fast-paced and fun.
One area where the show went wrong, I think (or, more accurately, didn’t go right far enough) was in whatever concessions it made to watering down the lore of the books for primetime. Granted, it seems that genre shows and movies have gained more mainstream acceptance in recent years (comic book movies and shows like The Vampire Diaries, Supernatural, True Blood, etc.), and in 2007 maybe a genre show was a harder network sell and required some compromise (I don’t know), but I firmly believe that any time you tell a story well, and can draw the viewer in, the viewer will be able to handle and possibly embrace the complexity. And despite my dislike of some of Harry’s tiresome views on women, and the blatant male gaze readers are forced to sit through on occasion (particularly in the early books), The Dresden Files books are good, smart, complex stories, and should be adapted as such.
As I said, the TV show only lasted one season – and whether it was from creative choice or Firefly Syndrome (network meddling), it didn’t delve into or only briefly touched on a lot of the cool things that anchor and drive the direction of the books, like Harry’s past and progression in magic, or his place on the Council of wizards, or just how good he really is at magic and how that looks to outsiders.
I think one reason it just slightly missed sometimes was in this “not going far enough,” so to speak – because, for example, part of the charm of Harry is that he’s humble enough to know there are more powerful things than him out there and to be properly frightened of them 90% of the time; but whenever we see him through others’ eyes or whenever he really gets going with his magic…we the viewers get a glimpse of the discrepancy between Harry’s inner uncertainties and his bombastic power. And that can be a lot of fun, but was only shown rarely in the show.
For much the same reason that I enjoy, e.g. an episode of Supernatural where the FBI agent hunting the Winchesters because he thinks they’re nuts finally discovers that, in fact, demons and all manner of other creepy creatures are real, I enjoy stories that switch up characters’ points of view and give us different takes on the same situation, and particularly stories that shake up our, or a character’s, inaccurate assumptions. Reading about Harry dealing with Murph and trying to pay the bills and inner monologuing about how he’s not sure how he’ll make some spell work and all, and then e.g., going out and burning a house party full of vampires like it was no big thing, is that sort of story.
I say all of this to come back to the fact that last week I finally read Welcome to the Jungle, which is a visual adaptation that does well in this regard, and it reminded me of the times the show got it right, and of how much I’d really like to see more of The Dresden Files on television, or if not on TV, then in more graphic novels. Jim Butcher has said himself that he’s always imagined the series in graphic form. Despite the fact that I loved Blackthorne as Harry, I doubt a network would try to revive the old show. However, I could easily see a new adaptation being done; and I think if it, from the beginning, didn’t shy away from the more complex stuff, and embraced the big special effects as well as the small, it would be a truly awesome thing. I know that a new show is probably not likely to happen…but hey, a girl can dream, eh? So this is me, just dreaming a little dream at y’all. Anyone else think a new Dresden Files TV show would be cool?
Tell me if you do, and until next time, Servo Lectio!
Book Cave hosts Bruce Rosenberger and Ric Croxton start off the show chatting about all things digital for reading. Later, co-host Art Sippo was able to hide from the villagers for a few minutes and chatted with Ric as Bruce had to leave to help with the holiday party at his home. The villagers must have found him at the end and was on the run from them with their torches and pitchforks.
You can listen to The Book Cave Episode 211: Year End Special here.
I’m going to get to talking about PROHIBITION in a bit, I promise. But first, I gotta relate a little story that will assist me in making my opening point. Okay? Thank you for your patience and sit back. Here it goes:
Couple of weeks ago I’m having a Skype conversation with a gentleman who is incensed that I don’t like “Hobo With A Shotgun.” It’s a perfect modern grindhouse movie he insists. No, I politely disagree. “Planet Terror” is a a perfect modern grindhouse movie. The gentleman spends the next two minutes expressing his opinion that whatever it is I allegedly use for thinking must be composed of excrement and another minute telling me that “Planet Terror” is garbage and why on Earth do I think it’s the better movie.
“Because,” says I, “Robert Rodriguez knows what grindhouse is. The guys who made ‘Hobo With A Shotgun’ just think they know what grindhouse is.”
Which finally brings me to PROHIBITION by Terrence McCauley. We’ve got a lot of New Pulp writers who think they know what a 1930’s gangster story is. But Terrence McCauley knows what a 1930’s gangster story. Man, does he ever.
We’re in New York, 1930. The town is run by Archie Doyle, the city’s most powerful gangster who is more like the monarch of an unruly kingdom. And there’s somebody out there looking to take his crown. Archie’s got an ambitious plan in mind that will give him more power than he’s ever dreamed of before. But he’s got to stay alive long enough to see that plan through. That’s where his chief enforcer Terry Quinn comes in. Terry’s an ex-boxer and the toughest mug on two legs. But finding out who’s trying to start a bloody gang war between Archie Doyle and his main rival, Howard Rothman is going to take more than just being tough. Quinn is going to have to rely on his street smarts and think his way through this. Of course, shooting and slugging his way to the guilty party helps an awful lot, too.
PROHIBITION has a lot going for it, mainly that McCauley isn’t afraid to write characters who aren’t likeable at all. But that’s okay with me. As long as I know why the characters are doing what they’re doing and understand their motivations, I’m cool. McCauley is writing about people who have chosen a dark, dangerous and violent life and he stays true to that. That’s not to say he doesn’t find the humanity in them. He does. It’s just a humanity that manifests itself within the terms and parameters of the concrete jungle his characters have chosen to inhabit for whatever reasons people have to live a life of crime. This wasn’t an easy period in American history to live in and people had to make hard choices. The characters in PROHIBITION have to make the hardest choices of all since the wrong one can get them killed.
A lot of New Pulp writers figure that to write a 1930’s gangster story you just have to have pseudo-tough talking wanna-be’s sounding more like Slip Mahoney than real gangsters run around shooting Tommy guns. McCauley understands that the most successful gangsters of that era ran their organizations like businesses. The business just happens to be crime is all. Violence wasn’t their first resort to solve every problem. It was just as useful and as profitable to know when notto use violence as it was to know when to use it.
I appreciated the smartness of these characters. The way they talk to each other, maneuvering to gain an edge through words makes for some really solid dialog. The relationship between Archie Doyle and Terry Quinn reminds me a lot of the relationship between the Albert Finney/Gabriel Byrne characters from “Miller’s Crossing.” Imagine if Gabriel Byrne’s character was an authentic badass who knew how to fight instead of getting his ass kicked all the time and you’ll get what I mean. Terry Quinn is a guy who knows how to work the angles and his navigation through this gleefully violent story is an enjoyable one to read.
And like any good gangster story, McCauley doesn’t skimp on the sex and violence. If you want cute gangsters who pal around and crack jokes then go watch “Johnny Dangerously” because you’re not going to find that in PROHIBITION. I appreciated the tough, hard story McCauley is telling and the even tougher, harder characters who speak and talk pretty much the way I expect gangsters of that era to behave.
I’m sure that there are some who are going to be uncomfortable or even turned off by the language and that there isn’t really an ‘heroic’ character to root for. Terry Quinn is a killer and extraordinarily violent man who doesn’t make apologies for how he lives his life. Most readers like to have a lead character to root for and while Terry’s misplaced sense of honor and loyalty lifts him a notch above most of the other characters in the book that doesn’t mean he’s anywhere near being on the side of the angels. But it’s precisely because of that misplaced honor and loyalty that makes him such an enjoyable protagonist to read about.
And I can’t wrap up this review without mentioning the wonderful illustrations by Rob Moran which do an excellent job of capturing the mood and feel of the story. I’m willing to bet next month’s rent that Rob Moran has seen a lot of those great classic Warner Brothers black-and-white gangster epics of the 30’s and 40’s as that’s the feeling I got from his illustrations.
So should you read PROHIBITION? Absolutely. It’s not only a terrific way to spend a couple of quality reading hours, it’s also an important book in the evolution of New Pulp. It’s exciting to see books like this that adds another genre to expand what New Pulp is and can be. The bread-and-butter of New Pulp are the masked avengers, the jungle lords and the scientific adventurers, sure. But there’s plenty of room for sports stories, romance, westerns and private eyes. And in the last couple of years we’ve seen those. Hard-boiled crime stories are just as much a Classic Pulp tradition and I’m delighted to see it being continued and represented in New Pulp. Most definitely put PROHIBITION on your Must Read List.
Kung-Fu Monks, a werewolf, and Queen Victoria. Rest assured that when someone threatens his friends, The Doctor will fight them…
TOOTH AND CLAW by Russell T Davies Directed by Euros Lyn
“Am I being rude again?”
Aiming for 1979 and an Ian Dury concert, The Doctor lands in 1879, and in Scotland. The TARDIS lands in the course of Queen Victoria, who is on the way to have the Koh-I-Noor, the prize diamond of the crown jewels, recut. Quickly presenting his psychic paper, he and Rose join the party as it stops off at Torchwood House, home of Sir Robert MacLeish and his family. What the royal coterie don’t know is that the house has been taken over by a band of monks who are in possession of a honest to Harry werewolf. They plan to have the beast bite the Queen, infect her, and through her, take over the nation, and the Empire. Sir Robert is forced to cooperate as the monks have taken his wife and most of the female house staff hostage, and if he disobeys they will be slaughtered,
It’s revealed that Prince Albert and Sir Robert’s father were friends for years, and shared an affinity for both science and folktales. Sir Robert’s father had designed what appears to be a massive telescope, but The Doctor quickly notices it’s oddly designed – too many mirrors and prisms. As the evening proceeds, Sir Robert desperately tries to clue the party to the danger, and over dinner, as he tells the tale of the werewolf that’s been haunting the moors for almost 300 years does the Doctor make the connection. As the full moon rises overhead, the werewolf begins his transformation, and the monks, posing as the staff, overpower the soldiers.
It turns out that the house has been prepared for this assault. The library has been warded with the oil of the mistletoe plant, which the werewolf cannot bear to touch. And the telescope is just the opposite – it’s a light cannon, powered by moonlight, and the Koh-I-Noor is the focusing device. So with the help of the planning of Prince Albert and Sir Robert’s father, the monster is defeated. Queen Victoria is happy to have been saved, but is horrified at The Doctor and the life he leads. She banishes The Doctor from England, and founds the Torchwood Institute to study the stars and defend the Empire from its threats… including The Doctor.
As opposed to last season where the arc plot was barely mentioned, just nearly subliminal mentions of the “Bad Wolf” phrase, this season the concept is in plain sight. Torchwood was mentioned as a plot point in The Christmas Invasion, and now we see its inception. Not a bad start for a word that was nothing more than an anagram to disguise the tapes going back to the BBC.
Of COURSE when The Doctor has to pick a Scottish name, he’s going to pick Jamie McCrimmon. Jamie was a Companion during the Troughton years, and came back for both the twentieth anniversary adventure, and the Colin Baker adventure The Two Doctors. The other half of the joke is not as obvious to American viewers – “Balamory” is a BBC children’s show set in the titular town, on an island off the coast of Scotland. And of course, David Tennant is Scots, so we actually hear his proper accent in this episode when The Doctor is “affecting” one.
This is the second time that a diamond was used as the focus of a light weapon, as opposed to a more scientifically accurate ruby. The Horror of Fang Rock featured a cruse laser cannon made from a lighthouse and a diamond by the fourth Doctor.
That mad crazy Crouching Tiger stunt near the beginning of the episode took a full day to film. Quite an extravagance for a TV show, but well worth it for the moment.
But I don’t want to write about that. For one thing, I don’t have any inside knowledge, so I would only be speculating.
Here’s the thing. Comics is such a small world that I know both of these women. I worked with Karen for the better part of a decade, threw the launch party for Vertigo in my apartment when I couldn’t get DC to pay for it, and enjoyed her work a great deal. I don’t know Gail as well, but I’ve met her a few times, I love her writing, admire her work for the Hero Initiative, and think she’s a really classy person.
These are big names in the business. I am not. But comics is still low-profile enough that we are, more or less, peers. Or at least colleagues.
I was reminded of this last week, when I hosted our annual Hanukah party, the first one since my husband died. It was a bittersweet occasion, an event he loved very much. I thought it was an outrage that he wasn’t here for it, but I also thought it was important to continue the tradition. Life goes on, despite my best efforts.
My friends came out to support my son and myself, and that’s what friends do. The guest list isn’t just my friends from comics. It’s my friends from different aspects of my life, including my son and his friends. My apartment isn’t so large that the comics people can avoid the knitters, or the anti-war people can be in a room separate from my high school pals.
One of our guests is an aspiring comics creator whom I introduced to a few pros at New York Comic-Con last year. He happily told me about the other people in the business he’d met since then, and how great each of them had been to him.
This is not to go all rose-colored-glasses on you. There are people in the business I don’t like. There are people in the business who don’t like me. There are people I don’t know, and more of them all the time. There isn’t any one of them I’d be intimidated to talk to.
And there isn’t anybody I wouldn’t defend against the attacks of the broader culture, the sneers of elitists who look down on the medium (fewer every day).
We’re in this together, and we have each other’s back. It reminds me of this lyric:
TIPPIN’ HANCOCK’S HAT-Reviews of All Things Pulp by Tommy Hancock
By Michael Avallone
Published by Popular Books, First Edition, 1968
It’s not every day you walk into your local pharmacy and someone hands you three books that you’d only heard about, but never actually expected to have. Now, these particular books wouldn’t be a big deal if you weren’t a detective fan, a follower of mystery/detective TV, and a big TV tie-in novel type person. In other words…me.
One of those treasured jewels was the first novel based on the 1960s-70s detective show, MANNIX. No, I don’t mean the numbered series that came out seven years or so after this one but the very first novel commissioned based on the television show. Written by Michael Avallone, this is Joe Mannix while he was still with Intertect, battling it out with Lew Wickersham and flirting his way through all the technology and the ladies in the office as he delivered a bit more of an old fashioned two fisted approach to the job of modern private investigation.
This novel, on that level, definitely doesn’t disappoint. It delivers as if it were a 124 page episode of the show. It opens with Mannix playing tough guy to a damsel who isn’t all she appears to be at first as he wraps one case while the next is being set up. A young, petulant heiress with kaboodles of bucks and a whole ton of boredom with life is approached by a man lowered from a helicopter about doing espionage work for her country. As she jumps at the chance, she later discovers that her new friend only has one interest in her country- harming it – and in her -using her to disgrace an American official. Blackmailed into it, the heiress stumbles along, desperate for a way out.
In the meantime, Intertect is put on the job and Wickersham puts his best agent as well as the one who frustrates him the most on the playgirl’s trail. Mannix must determine who she’s spying for and deal with her and the situation in a way where everyone wins and Intertect comes out smelling like a rose. Mannix’s first plan of action is to get into a costume party and get his tail end kicked by a number of costumed millionaires. And it gets fun from there.
This is, as I’ve already stated, definitely a first season Mannix book. It fits the tone of the series extremely well and Mannix has all the charm, irascibility, and toughness that fans loved about how Mike Connors played the character and that basically became his stock and trade after Mannix leaves Intertect to go on his own in the second season. Wherever Mannix is in this book shines and made me smile, ready to add a few seasons of DVDs to my collection.
Now…when Mannix isn’t in the action, then the book loses a bit of its sparkle. The other characters do not get the attention to character that the author gives to the lead. Even the heiress, who gets quite a bit of page time, is way too two dimensional by the end of the book to be believed. The bad guys don’t seem particularly bad and the threat level throughout the book isn’t one that makes you worried for anyone- except for Mannix, but most of the threats to him are caused by something he says or does.
This is a great book for fans of tv detectives and tie-ins. As a book all on its own, though, I’ve read better.
THREE OUT OF FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT-Enjoyable read, love the way Joe Mannix comes off the page. I just wish that there were real people populating the book around him, not cardboard cutouts.