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
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
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.
The Master trains a handful of students at a time while also performing work on commission for wealthy nobles in this typical fantasy realm. He operates out of The Crimson Keep, a place renowned for its thousand rooms and hundred staircases. It is reputed to never stop growing or shifting as the result of an old spell gone slightly awry. The wizard’s castle was where apprentices could get lost in forever, and where it was rumored that servants could reappear after months gone to explain that they’d only been heading down to the cellar for another cask of salt.
The kitchen was at the castle’s center, one of the sections that got daily use and thus rarely shifted, and they had all long since learned the quickest route there, so they were able to navigate the corridors, stairs, and courtyards with ease—at least, until they passed through the small secondary rear courtyard and reached the kitchen itself.
It was also the world created during a massive round-robin writing session as the Crazy 8 Press writers introduced themselves to an unsuspecting world. Coming in August is Tales of the Crimson Keep – Newly Renovated Edition. To learn more, we spoke with co-founder and project editor Robert Greenberger.
C8P: What exactly is the Crimson Keep? And what goes on there?
Bob: This place is a mystical Tesseract where time folds on itself in strange ways.
C8P: How did this anthology originally come together?
Bob: We wanted to call attention our new collective so we arranged to introduce ourselves at Shore Leave in 2011. The deal was fans could write a proposed opening line and make a $1 contribution to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. At our introductory panel, we’d sift through the opening lines, let the fans in attendance vote on the winner, and immediately after the panel, we would sit in public and begin writing a story.
Over the course of the next two days, we sat in a very cramped space, writing for upwards of an hour before handing the manuscript off to the next sucker. We had a yellow legal pad with notes so we knew names and other details while scrolling through what the preceding writers had done.
After the con, Mike Friedman gave it a final polish and we launched it as “Demon Circle”, an eBook. Later, we expanded on the world with new stories and released the anthology.
C8P: What makes this new version the Renovated Edition?
Well, we added Mary Fan to the roster in 2017 and wanted to showcase her brilliance. However, we agreed that a second round-robin was in order. After all, Russ Colchamiro hadn’t been part of the madness when we launched so this was a chance to have a story reflecting the current roster. It also meant Mary could write her own contribution. Our annual anthologies make for good samplers for our writing.
And we got a new cover from the wonderful Ty Templeton so that’s not so bad, either.
C8P: There are two round robin stories. What’s the challenge in writing in this format?
Bob: The challenge here is that you’ve got people who write with different tonal voices so we had to blend those. Aaron Rosenberg, Peter David and Russ Colchamiro are very good at the humorous stuff, me less so, I had to learn to loosen up and keep up. In addition, as we hand things off from writer to writer, we have to be careful that we honor what came before and remain consistent. The first go-round was fun because we were making it up as we went along while the second one was a different challenge as writers cherry-picked bits and pieces from the existing stories. And of course, there’s always the issue of timing because everyone is busy. We set a goal that each writer, upon receiving the story, had 48 hours to contribute his or her section and pass it on otherwise there would be merciless mocking and no one wants that.
C8P: Where can readers get their copies?
Bob: The book will launch in August as an eBook and trade paperback. All they have to do is check for announcements here and on our Facebook page.
Here’s a little cautionary tale from the life of one of the Crazy 8 Press crew. Don’t worry, it’s not too long, you won’t learn anything of lasting value, and it’s illustrated with cool old black and white photos of New York City and old bums, and it has a link to free content. Who doesn’t like free content, right?
Every morning since June 1, I awoke to a stack of old black and white photographs and a self-imposed task, the meeting of which only I had any reason to care about. No, I take that back. Even I didn’t have any real reason to care about meeting this ridiculous story-a-day deadline I’d inflicted upon myself, but once I got started, it was hard to stop.
What happened was, I was looking for some way in which to showcase some of the photographs taken in and around New York City more than two-thirds of a century ago by my father, Sidney (1921-1992). Sidney picked up a camera shortly after World War II, joined a bunch of camera clubs and photography organizations, learned how to process and print his own film, and over the course of the next decade and a half, took thousands of pictures.
One of his favorite subjects was the area of lower Manhattan known as the Bowery, then a rough neighborhood overshadowed by the Third Avenue elevated subway line. The Bowery was, according to a 1919 magazine article, “filled with employment agencies, cheap clothing and knickknack stores, cheap moving-picture shows, cheap lodging-houses, cheap eating-houses, cheap saloons,” with a reputation as the city’s “Skid Row.” The Bowery was little changed in 1950, an age in which there were no sympathetic synonyms for the vagrant population he recorded with his camera.
I’ve been looking at many of these photographs for my entire life. I’ve had a half dozen framed photos hanging in my home for decades, but it wasn’t until recently that I was able to gather them all in one place and look at the body of his work.
Now, show the non-writer type a photograph and their response is usually to the photograph, such as its subject matter, it’s location or composition, or the way light and shadow play against one another.
Not the writer, though. The first thing we do is zero in on the faces or the way someone is standing and think, “I wonder what his story is?” A picture, whether it’s a posed or a candid shot, is a moment frozen in time that can capture something of the heart and mind of its subject, making it worth the proverbial “thousand words.”
Not that we can ever know what was actually going on in their minds at the moment the shutter snapped and captured them for all time. But we can certainly see the raw, base emotion in their eyes and expressions and that’s all a writer really needs to get started.
Looking through the photos, I started to see the stories in many of them. The first story, “His Lucky Day,” written and posted on June 1, just about leapt out at me, a tiny moment in time, of significance to no one but the lucky man himself. Not every story came so easily; some photos I looked at every day for weeks or months until they revealed their stories to me. Others started off going in one direction, only to take a sharp turn somewhere along the way and become something altogether different. But all of them brought me back to a time and place that still bore a resemblance to the New York I remember as a little boy, even if the Third Avenue Elevated line was gone before I was born.
Among the stash of photographs are countless family snapshots, candid and posed, and shots of my father and his friends, clowning around on the street or in front of the neighborhood candy store. I started to include those in my story-a-day series, featuring my parents, brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, even myself in one story, based on a picture of me with my great-grandmother.
There are about a dozen photos for which I wrote a haiku or used a one-liner to satisfy my daily quota (because some days, I just needed a break!), but the one hundred flash fiction stories (some are more “flash” than others) based on one hundred photographs clock in at around 34,000 words, including the five hundred words of the one hundredth and final photo flash fiction story, a piece of memoir written by my father for a writing class he took during his retirement years, “Whistling in the Dark.”
I thought it only proper Sidney should have the last word and picture.
Paul Kupperberg’s “The Case of the Missing Alien Baby Mama” is Paul’s newest wacky tale featuring investigative reporter Leo Persky, chasing the story of, naturally, a missing alien baby mama, and lots of dead bodies.
Here’s an early look:
The Case of the Missing Alien Baby Mama
By Paul Kupperberg
The first thing you’ve got to know is that while I write like “Terrance Strange,” I look like Leo Persky. Which makes sense since I am Leo Persky. Strange is my penname, as well as a bit of a family legacy. I’m an investigative reporter for Weekly World News, which also makes “strange” my profession. Just like my granddaddy before me (my daddy, between us, was a white goods salesman for Sears). Granddaddy was the first Persky to go by Terrance Strange for professional reasons, some to do with public relations, others with anti-Semitism; the name on his Russian birth certificate was Jakob.
I’m everything you think a Leo Persky might be. A solid five foot seven, one hundred and forty-two pounds of average, complete with glasses, too much nose, not enough chin, and a spreading bald spot that I swear isn’t the reason I always wear a hat. Just so you know how cruel genetics can be, grandpa Jakob, the Terrance Strange I should have been, was ten inches taller and eighty pounds heavier than me, movie star handsome, and a world renown traveler and adventurer. I’m also a traveler and adventurer, but since I’m short, scrawny, and ugly (traits acquired from my mother’s side), nobody knows who the hell Leo Persky is. Even the photo that I use at the top of my column is a 1943 Hollywood publicity shot of my grandfather. It was my editor’s idea to replace my face with someone else’s as he felt my real one would “probably repulse even our readers.”
If you’ve never seen Weekly World News you’ve probably never been in a supermarket checkout line. Of course, if you’re like most Americans, even if you have flipped through our photopacked black-and-white tabloid pages, you’ve probably dismissed the stories about extra-terrestrial visitors or the descendants of the Titanic still living in the wreck of the great ship as “fake news,” but—surprise!—every word we print is true. Except for the horoscope. We just make that stuff up.
Anyway, I’m a hard news guy. Remember the animal-vampire infestation in West Virginia? My story. The plot to replace the members of the Blue Man Group with renegade Holy Mimes from Venus? Mine! The story about the president’s dependence on orangutan gland-extract injections? Me! Which is why when night editor Rob Berger summoned me into his den to hand me my next assignment, I felt compelled to remind him:
“I’m a hard news guy, Rob.”
Rob was night editor for two reasons. The first was that he was likely some sort of vampiric life form unable to survive the cleansing light of the sun. The second was no one on the day side would work with him. Some of my colleagues argued that he only kept me alive to prolong my torment, but for all his lack of humanity, he was one hell of an editor. Me being his top writer, it was lucky for us both that I was made of sterner stuff and didn’t frighten easily.
“You’re my shoeshine boy if that’s what I want you to be, Persky.” Rob wore thick glasses that distorted his eyes behind the lenses, but after more than twenty years under his thumb . . . pardon me, in his employ, I had learned to read every inflection of his voice. Right now, he was giving serious thought to having his shoes shined. With my tongue.
“C’mon, boss, ‘Kh’leesberg’ is a gossip column story. Alien crash lands on Earth, alien meets trailer trash gal with stars in her eyes, alien and gal hatch human-alien hybrid brat, alien loses gal, Dr. Phil sprouts wood anticipating reuniting the happy family on live TV.”
“Frankly, my anticipation of your delivering a hard news Kh’leesberg headline to hike our circ is making me feel a little amorous myself.”
I recoiled and had to swallow down my rising gorge before I could say, “Oh, ick.”
“Don’t be a damned snob. You know why we care about Kh’leesberg?”
“No, why do we care about Kh’leesberg?”
To read the rest of “The Case of the Missing Alien Baby Mama” click here.