Quite literally, the first “stories” I ever wrote when I was six and seven years old were comic book stories. I also drew then because obviously a comic book needs pictures to go along with the words. Neither my writing nor pictures from those days pointed to a career in the arts, but I was only just getting started with comics. And writing. But they’ll always be intertwined for me, even now, almost 60 years later when I work primarily in prose.
Writing for DC Comics wasn’t just an idea. It was my goal, my ambition. Even more than that. It was a dream. I didn’t have the easiest childhood and the world of Superman and the Martian Manhunter and the rest of the Justice League was where I went for solace. I wanted to be as close to them as I could get.
In 1975, the dream became a reality. Coming up through the ranks of fandom and fanzines I finally stumbled through the door of DC and never looked back. Until now, in Direct Conversations: Talks With Fellow DC Comics Bronze Age Creators. Nearly 50 years and more than a thousand stories later I sat down with ten old friends and colleagues to talk about those good old Bronze Age days when we were first breaking into the business at a time when the business itself seemed to be on the verge of breaking apart. Another old friend, fellow DC, Weekly World News, and Crazy 8 Press pal Robert Greenberger wrote the introduction.Continue reading
Mel Brooks summed up my feelings about life in the title song of his film, The Twelve Chairs: “Hope for the best, expect the worst.”
In The Devil and Leo Persky, you’ll meet Leo Persky, the living embodiment of that philosophy. Under the penname “Terrance Strange” (the earlier pseudonym of his grandfather Jacob, himself a monster-hunter and journalist of the weird), Leo is a columnist for World Weekly News, a supermarket tabloid of the supernatural and strange in a world where every Bat Boy, Bigfoot, alien baby, Satan visiting, Elvis sighting story is the truth. A world where vampires exist, magic is real, and extraterrestrial visitations routine.
What you may not know about me is, I was once a reporter for Weekly World News (1979 – 2007), the black and white tabloid that billed itself as “the world’s only reliable newspaper.” There was truth in that statement; you could rely on virtually every word in it to be made up, excluding the trivia column and the 6-point type warning at the bottom of page two that virtually every word in it was made up and suggesting readers suspend their belief for the sake of enjoyment. From 2005 to 2007, I wrote close to 100 bylined stories for the paper, as well as ghost writing at least that many more under the names of our numerous fictitious columnists ranging from “Miss Adventure, the Gayest American Hero” to “Ed Anger” to “Lester the Typing Horse” and “Sammy the Chatting Chimp” once I was on staff as Executive Editor from February 2006 to the end in August 2007.Continue reading
One of my favorite books as a kid was The Magic Tunnel, by Caroline D. Emerson. I read it when I was nine or ten years old, right around the time a paperback edition was released in 1964 (the book was originally published in 1940) through the Arrow Book Club, a service of Scholastic Books that brought book sales to schools around the country. My school was P.S. 233 in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.
The Magic Tunnel told the story of brother and sister John and Sarah who, on a New York City subway ride down to Battery Park to visit the Statue of Liberty, suddenly find themselves transported back in time to 1664, during the last days of Dutch rule over the city then called “New Amsterdam” before the new British colonial masters changed its name to New York.
I rode the subway all the time as a kid. We’d always ride in the first car so we could watch the track ahead as we sped through the tunnel. Now and then, we might catch a brief glimpse of an old, abandoned station my dad said were called “ghost stations,” or even dark, mysterious figures tromping along adjacent tracks, or hugging the tunnel walls as we flashed by. There was, I was convinced, magic in those dark and creepy underground passages. Anything could happen.Continue reading
All writers have them, those stories or books that are written but for any number of reasons never see publication. Often, the reason is as simple as it didn’t sell. Other times, it can get a lot more complicated.
JSA: Ragnarok is one of the complicated ones, which explains why it was a long time in the publishing.
I signed the contract to write the first of what was supposed to be a trilogy ofJustice Society of America novels in 2004 for iBooks, whose publisher Byron Preiss had a license with DC Comics to publish a line of novels. My first draft was delivered on July 27, 2005, and my revised draft in October; the book and its cover (a painting by Alex Ross as seen below) were designed and laid out by early 2006; the color printout I have of the original cover is dated February 16, 2006, even though according to the publishing information on the title page in the PDF I have of the designed book the “First iBook edition” date is given as January 2006.
I don’t read many anthologies these days. Maybe I should. I’ll usually read those containing one of my stories, like the upcoming Thrilling Adventure Yarns, edited by my friend Bob Greenberger and featuring my short barbarian adventure story, “Dreams of Kingdom,” but it’s been decades since they were regulars in my to-read pile.
I used to read them by the stack when I was kid, back in the 1960s. Science fiction, fantasy, sword and sorcery, mysteries, and even literary anthologies (once I discovered literature). Anthologies are like treasure chests full of every conceivable kind of wealth, no two objects alike. If you don’t like one story, chances are the next one (or the one after that) will be more to your liking.
The first anthology I remember reading was Dangerous Visions, Harlan Ellison’s groundbreaking 1967 collection of state-of-the-art-and-beyond science fiction short stories by the elite of science fiction, past and present, from Isaac Asimov to Robert Zelazny. This 500-plus page tome took the SF community by storm, and it was home to that year’s Hugo Award winners for best novella (“Riders of the Purple Sage” by Philip Jose Farmer) and best novelette, “Gonna Roll the Bones” by Fritz Lieber (which also won the Nebula), and the Nebula Awarded best short story, “Aye, and Gomorrah” by Samuel R. Delany.Continue reading
The first sword and sorcery I ever read was Robert E. Howard’s Conan, in the books published in the mid-1960s in paperback by Lancer Books, with the soon to become iconic cover paintings by Frank Frazetta. My father had brought home a recently published paperback edition of Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs that someone had left behind at his office. I recognized the Ape Man from the movies I’d seen on TV, but I wasn’t prepared for what I read. It was like I had discovered the real-life version of what was, essentially, portrayed as a grunting cartoon character in the movies. It floored me. I still think it’s a great novel, as close to literature as pulp fiction got when it was published in 1912. I reread it every few years.
My next trip to the library after that included a hunt for more ERB. I was rewarded with John Carter of Mars (so…score!), which was my gateway to sword & sorcery. As I recall, it was on a later library visit that I spotted Conan on the paperback rack, where the librarian told me I might find some more ERB books. Conan was hard to miss: a dark scene of a ripped barbarian in a life and death struggle with a gorilla wearing a startling crimson cloak!
Like toppling dominos, that library paperback spinner rack Conan (the best things in my childhood were sold on spinner racks!) lead to Michael Moorcock’s Elric and Eternal Warrior and Lin Carter’s Thongor and to L. Sprague DeCamp and Andrew J. Offutt and the rest of the 1960s explosion of S&S authors, including Fritz’s Lieber’s Fafnir and the Gray Mouser.
Fafnir and the Gray Mouser stood out from the barbaric crowd. First, they weren’t exactly barbarians. I mean, technically sure, the giant swordsman and minstrel Fafnir and his partner, the diminutive former wizard’s apprentice and swordsman hailed from barbaric roots, but they were more sophisticated and cosmopolitan than their loin-cloth wearing brethren. Fafnir and the Mouser were rogues and more true-to-life, characters who acted in the world instead of just reacting. Not only were Lieber’s stories witty, his characters had senses of humor. No grim and gritty angst-filled monologues for these cheating, brawling, larcenous, wenching adventurers. Their swords were for hire and life was good.
Unfortunately, when I finally got to create my own sword and sorcery character for DC Comics in 1982, I seemed to have forgotten the wit. The very first installment of Arion, Lord of Atlantis (appearing as a back-up in Mike Grell’s Warlord #55 (March, 1982) opens with steely-eyed warriors ominously eyeing the coming storm and angsty young Arion spouting his ominous feelings in pseudo-Shakespearean tones. The series (which was co-created with artist Jan Duursema and ran for eight issues in the back of Warlord, and thirty-five issues plus a one-shot in its own title) wasn’t entirely without humor; I always had a knack for witty dialog, but the tone of the series was dry and serious.
I fixed that but good in 1992 when I revived the character in 1992’s Arion the Immortal miniseries (with art by Ron Wilson). It’s 45,000 years later, Atlantis has long sunk beneath the sea (taking all but the most minute bits of powerful magic with it), and there’s a colony of surviving Atlantean deities living in modern-day New York City. Arion is one of them, the quintessential “you kids get off my lawn or I’ll turn the hose on you!” old man, wrinkled and frail looking. He lives in a one-room apartment over Carnegie Hall and makes his living as a three-card monte dealer in Times Square. His ancient foe owns a deli on the Lower East Side that he eats in all the time. And when the magic returns, making Arion young again, well, chaotic hilarity ensued.
These days, it’s hard to keep humor out of my writing, the more cynical or darker the better. That’s why when I was presented with the world of the Crimson Keep in which to write a short story shortly after being inducted into the ranks (you don’t know how rank sometimes!) of Crazy 8 Press, I had no problem coming up with “The Wee Folk at the End of the Hall” for the 2015 Tales of the Crimson Keep anthology. The world and characters in which this was set had been created by Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman, Robert Greenberger, Glenn Hauman, and Aaron Rosenberg in “Demon Circle,” a round-robin story written live at a convention in support of the Comic Book Legend Defense Fund.
The Crimson Keep is home to an old wizard and his apprentices, but it’s not exactly a steady home. The rooms and corridors and stairways in the Keep are constantly shifting and changing. Stray from well-used routes between familiar rooms and you can be lost for days or weeks or forever in the infinitely-possible layout. And, seeing as how my Crazy 8 comprades are no slouches at the funny themselves (except for Hauman, but we take care of him in They Keep Killing Glenn…now on sale!), there’s ample opportunities for wit built right into the concept.
Which brings us to Tales of the Crimson Keep: The Newly Renovated Edition, featuring not one but two (count ‘em, two!) new stories. The first is “Glisk of the Keep” by the newest addition to the C8 crew, Mary Fan. The second is “Poor Wandering Ones,” a poignant round-robin tale by all eight of the Crazy 8. All that…plus an eye-popping new cover by the amazing Ty Templeton.
I’ve feel like I’ve come a long way since Conan!
Tales of the Crimson Keep: The Newly Renovated Edition will go on sale later this month.