Friday, July 31, 2015

Presenting the vast talents of PAUL HARMON

In 2007 my life changed.  In 2005 after my brother nearly died my direction in life changed. I began to work in a different fashion, creatively, instead of in comic industry aimed journalism.  I was published, first by Viper Comics & Entertainment in Josh Howard Presents: Sasquatch and then by a smaller publisher who published my book A LIFE OF RAVENS with my poems and short prose, illustrated by 27 different artists. Artist Paul Harmon was in both projects with me.  His work stunned me from the beginning and I've never grown tired of it.  I love it.  I prayed for the comics industry to set him up in the world of comics, in the industry or he'd be scooped up by animation or games, but they didn't listen.  I love his work, he is a beautiful human being, and someone I like quite a great deal, a friend, and I'd say publishers in comics really should chase him down, throw money at him, and say PLEASE take our money and do a book for us.

His first work that I loved, especially visually MORA









Find him here:

Flickr Paul
Deviant Paul
Blogspot Paul
Instagram Paul

Paul told me that he loved the TMNT and while I don't,  I bought these books because his work is worth my money... and I was very pleased with my purchases.











Just a look here, this is the stunning opening page from the Sasquatch collection we did, the title of the story "Primitive Eternal" 







































Sunday, July 26, 2015

To support a worthy project




 "All wars are horror stories.

Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863. The blood soaked battlefields of the Civil War draw Vampires who descend to feed on the wounded and dying as Blood calls to Blood. One man, a Vampire Hunter named Kros, stands against them, waging a battle at night as fearful and horrific as the battles fought during the day."

I get requests to support and promote other people's work all the time.  This project is one I asked for the information to promote.  John Ostrander is a great writer of comics, Tom Mandrake is a wonderful artist, with a special talent for illustrating horror.








Click on the pages to 
see them in larger size







Friday, July 24, 2015

Strange things going on...




Doctor Strange was created to be featured in the similarly named comic found at Marvel comics, titled Strange Tales.  Steve Ditko was the creative talent who created him.  His character was a mix of Eastern mystic, psychedelic guru, black magic user, and wise user of karmic energy.   Some people have argued that Doctor Strange seems to have been evidence that the people at Marvel used drugs or were involved in drug culture, but, according to what I've been told Steve Ditko almost certainly did not.  According to the person who explained Steve Ditko to me, he is/was the living example of teetotaler.  There have been so far, a television movie of the character, various cartoon appearances, and a DVD animated feature.   There is slated for a 2016 Marvel Universe live action feature film, featuring current geek lord of culture, Benedict Cumberbatch.

DVD animated feature
In the world of Marvel Comics there are well known characters, Thor, Spider-man, Captain America, Hulk, and many more.  There are great teams of valor and consequence, Fantastic Four, X-Men, The Avengers, and more.  And you didn't hear me say Doctor Strange, or the group he was a part of, The Defenders.

There is a difference, in all things, between popular, and quality.  One indicates that people like it.  The other indicates that for a series of measurable qualities, a work is considered to be good or not as good.  In terms of comic book characters longevity is a means of measuring popularity, but it isn't really a good measure.  A character can be good, that is, a well reasoned origin, an interesting personality, fulfills an interesting area of culture or ethnic background, or has some specific power or ability, and still not resonate with an audience.  That can be for many reasons.  Whether the audience is racist, or uninterested in other genders as heroes, or simply, the powers or origins do not work for the audience.  Sometimes a publisher will reboot the character, hoping to find an audience, other times it will keep the character in the background hoping for a groundswell of popularity.  Or, as in the case of Animal Man in the early I think 1990s, Grant Morrison wrote the wienie character out of Oblivion into popular acceptance.  A great writer or artist *or both* can do wonders for the popularity of a character with an audience.



Doctor Strange is a Sorcerer, a mystical master of magics.  His origin and adventures were excitingly presented with art by Steve Ditko, and later with by Frank Brunner.  Doctor Strange the character has drawn in many artists who desired to illustrate his adventures.  The writers have had some greater and lesser runs.  The reason for that is, it can be difficult to write visually exciting tales that are new, in the life of a sorcerer who has had his stories illustrated by some of the greatest artists of the medium.  



There are many runs to choose from.  In single issues there are two lovely series, self named series.  And via the Essentials, you can harvest the Steve Ditko works.  Via the Graphic novels there are many great read in a sitting stories.  Take advantage of the format of Graphic novels and warm up to a relatively obscure character.   He is deserving of a far greater audience, and more popularity.


He'll cast a spell upon you...

Friday, July 10, 2015

To Punish or not to Punish That is the Question

Marvel Comics created and published the first appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man #129 way back in February of 1974.  Writer Gerry Conway and artists Ross Andru and John Romita, Sr. created the character, to be an anti-hero, and a hit man who would potentially shoot and kill Spider-man, as an enemy.  However, the character grew in the consideration of the creative team, as well as the publisher when the sales numbers came in, and the readers who bought many copies of the book.

For the fans of comics in the 1980s to the present, the Punisher is a commonly seen character.  He is going to be present in the upcoming second Netflix season of Daredevil.  I haven't any opinion upon that upcoming series. This is because the previous screen incarnations were, uneven, I guess I'd say.  Dolph Lundgren's version was horrible (1989), Thomas Jane is a fine actor but the Punisher movie he was in was awful, (2004), and lastly, the movie Punisher War Zone (2008) was true to the comics, and I liked the actor's portrayal, other viewers might well disagree, no, almost certainly, not PROBABLY, disagree.  And that is perfectly fine.  We all disagree on some things.   So, for the people who don't read comics but really like the series Daredevil, and you want to catch up on the back story on all the players in the play.  All of the books shown below should be available on ebay or Amazon.  The hunt will be worth your time.


There are many artists who are worthy of following for their work on the character,  but the writer is the person who captures the essence of the character, visuals are obviously important, but getting into the mind of the character, and getting the dialogue right, along with his motives and raison d'etre, is primarily the writer's duty to accomplish.  So, here are the writers who I believe "get" the Punisher more than any of the others.  And yes, there are obviously shitloads of other writers and creative talents who get it, but for me, these are the best, the elite.


Garth Ennis is the name most current readers of Punisher would name as being the master of the character and his past, present and future.  Garth Ennis has a long history of writing dark works at Vertigo and DC Comics.  His work at Marvel was equally dark and every damn bit as worth reading.  On the Punisher, he seems to have been like a miscreant given an aluminum baseball bat, a room full of fragile items, and the supervisor leaves him for a moment, to have a cigarette and will be "right back."  Punisher in the hands of Ennis is dark, darkly funny, and unforgiving.


Punisher: Born was published with the explicit label of MAX which is recognized as a higher violence, adult language and situations work.  In this work a young Frank Castle is faced with the lessons of war that will follow him in his life, and haunt him, in his life, until his family is killed and he takes on the mantle of Punisher full time.


Mike Baron:  In an ongoing series, along with graphic novels, Mike Baron's Punisher was a fully wrought character.  I think more well done than by others prior to his version Baron's Punisher was a military expert, able to carry out long distance hits, with elite ability.  I liked Baron's version a lot.  (I didn't "like" Garth Ennis's version, but I liked reading that version's stories).


Don Lomax and Chuck Dixon took the very popular character into another comic that was a real life historical comic about Vietnam.  This five issue story was well worth reading, worth being collected, and it set the stage for Punisher: Born.

CHUCK DIXON in his numerous works involving the Punisher demonstrated an ability to write violent action, redemptive and restorative personal sacrifice, and the cost to the individual of such a task.  Some might suggest that the Punisher is insane, but, whether he was/is or not, we are able to like this version, because he embodies values that we would consider heroic, even with the rest of his actions being dark, and not heroic at all.



FRANK MILLER has received a great deal of negative criticism for his work in the last 15 years, but, his take on the dichotomy between the anti hero who believed in violence to accomplish punishment of a criminal versus the true hero who used force only to achieve honorably achieved justice.  This work is beautiful, cinematic, and powerful in every regard.



Steven Grant when working with artist Mike Zeck seem to achieve a creative gestalt, a match up of talent that together creates works that are better than the sum of their individual parts.  They are fine talents, able and intriguing in ability.  But when on crime books, and anti-hero books, they shine together.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Darren G. Davis Bluewater Productions: Interviewed

(Darren G. Davis is a person I met online via the world of PR and journalism.  I ran a website, he sent PR releases.  When I'd reply to his releases we'd have dialogues and, unlike with other publishers, he was real, and very honest.  I later saw him on FB as a "person you might know" as someone to Friend request.  While there we've become actual friends.  I like the hell out of him.)

Hi Darren, as readers of this interview might not be aware of all that you have done, could you tell us a bit of your background of education and what you did prior to entering the world of comics?

DGD: As a comic book fan growing up, I never thought or had goals of working in the comic book industry.  I collected as a kid but it was only a fun hobby.  I wanted to be a television media programmer – which sounds odd for a 10 year old kid to think.  My idol was Brandon Tartikoff who was the president of NBC (who I got to meet a bunch of times).  I grew up in an area in Southern California where they filmed everything from Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider, Wonder Woman to the Muppet Movie.  This is where I became obsessed with the industry because it was all around.  I would spend my afternoons talking to the people on sets while looking for autographs. I graduated from California State of Northridge when nobody ever thought I would.  I was not a very good student…ever.


While in my senior year of college, I ended up getting an internship at E! Entertainment Television and loving it.  They created a brand new position for me and I was on my way.  I was so green doing everything I was asked.  I do not think bringing tampons from one boss to another was on the job description, but I didn’t care I was in Hollywood!  After an amazing 6 years at E! (Before the Kardashians), I left to go to USA Networks, Sci-Fi Channel and Lionsgate. While at Lionsgate, I got recruited by WildStorm Productions to work with Jim Lee to head up their consumer development division. 

I was selling his (and all the other WildStorm artists) services outside of comics.  Illustration work on video game covers, concepts and dvd’s.  DC Comics took over a year later in which I stayed for another year.  I left to join Joe Madureira to head up his company Beyond Entertainment.  Joe was the top comic book artist at that point so I kept him very busy…too busy, that I had to hire on different artists to handle the workload like Randy Green, Adam Hughes, Andy Park.  I had over 10 of the top artists working with me on the custom work.



What was odd is that years before I was in line getting their autographs! From there I was watching all these creative people create properties.  I thought I would take a stab at it after learning a lot from these creators.  I started with 10th Muse at Image Comics which launched at the 6th highest selling comic book for the month.  After years at Image Comics I wanted to grow but Image wanted me to stay at three titles.  So I left Image and made a couple of bad choices until I ended up starting to self publish.  It was the best decision I ever made in publishing.  It has been 10 years now and we have over 1000 books in our catalog.



Ness: As someone who received your PR from Blue Water Productions, I got to know you a bit, and as a Facebook friend even more so.  I think you are a hoot.  Would you call yourself an extrovert?  How does that play into how your came to be a part of the world of comics?

DGD: I am probably more of an introvert that pretends he is an extrovert.  When it comes to my digital footprint, it is really hard for me to separate myself from my job.  I always stay pretty neutral in social media not talking about politics or other huge hot topics.  I do put semi-personal stuff up there in which I get constant calls from my father asking me why did I post that.  I am always aware of what I post and what I want it to accomplish.  Everything posted is for a reason and most of the time it is guarded.  People that know me personally get a better vantage point of the real me.  I do not think that Facebook is a well rounded visual of myself.  I am always conflicted on what to post and the perception of what I want the outside world to know.  It is only a piece of the true me.



Ness: I know that you've written comic books, and that you've created characters that have been featured at your publishing house Bluewater Productions, is that your end game, wanting to create works and having them be published?  Or are you hoping for movies, video games, and whatever else falls your way with them?

DGD: I have created about 80% of all the properties at Bluewater.  When I have created something, it is meant to be more of a brand rather than a “cool comic book” .  Comic books sales are in the toilet from what they were in the 90’s.  So you have to think outside the box.  I learned this early on, so you will see things like 10th Muse set in modern day.  It makes it way cheaper to make a modern day movie than a far off space thriller.  Some of the creations were made for animated series like Atlas.  I have had a couple things optioned for film, like Legend of Isis at Paramount.  That probably will not get made unless the name is changed.  I think calling a super hero movie called Isis in this day would not sell.   We do have a couple of toy deals that will be out later this year with Go Hero.   I like to create the worlds in my universe rather than writing a script.  I am a great storyteller and can an amazing story in comic book form – but I do struggle with dialogue.  I learned how to create and write comic books from Marv Wolfman (Teen Titans).  It is why I sometimes have passionate projects that I work on that I bring in a co-writer.  My favorite my brother Scott whom we wrote Wrath of the Titans and Dorian Gray together.  Those two series are up in the top of what I have published.  We compliment each others writing skills.


Ness: It would be important I think here to mention that you are an out gay male, and that you are also HIV positive.  I have to say, while I've known a number of the first category, I haven't known if I've known people of the second.  Yes, maybe I am naive or live in the American Midwest, or have other cultural blinders... for this question, we'll get further later, how do these play into your writing of comics, and how do they play into being a publisher of comics?  If the answers are different, why do you think they are?

DGD: I was working with Wizard Magazine at the time when I diagnosed with HIV.  After having a couple weeks of problems with the start of the medication, I told my boss in confidence.  I thought he should know that I was having some medical issues. Two days later I got fired. To this day I have never had any issue physically with HIV. I am 100% adherent and do what I am told by the doctor. I did write an award winning graphic novel on HV called “Lost Raven”. The book was half fiction and half non-fiction. It pretty much was my journal entrees taken word for word from what I was dealing with when first diagnosed.  Getting fired freaked me out because I did not want to be known as the AIDS guy in comic books (I have never had AIDS – but uniformed people think they are the same).  So I hid it from most of my work friends.  When I became a publisher I decided to say screw it and wrote out Lost Raven.  If someone can something good out of it from my experience, than it is worth it.  As for being gay, it is only one factor of who I am. There has been some homophobia in the comics world.  One artist told me “to get buttfucked and die of AIDS”.  He is working for DC Comics and Marvel to this day.  I still have the email but will never disclose who he is.

Ness: A few years back there were people or person, singular, who kept vandalizing your Wikipedia entry.  I know that I let you know at least twice and you had Wiki address it.

Do you think it was regarding them hating you for being gay, having HIV, or not liking you for being a publisher?  Are comics so parochial (having a limited or narrow outlook or scope) that you might suppose every publisher has an enemy somewhere, just because fanboys or fangirls are small minded?


DGD: I am hated for a number of reasons…..Lol!  Mostly it is because of what people assume to be the truth.   Because of social media, you have to put yourself out there.  It you do that then you are open season for getting shot!   I am getting a thicker skin but it still stings when people write things about you when it is false.  Once I started doing the biography comic books is when most of the hate started.  People did not think I deserved the attention I was getting from national press.  What people did not realize is my background is in getting national press.  I worked in entertainment for years as well as studied it in college.  My 1st series the 10th Muse was on Entertainment Tonight.  I have become a lot more closed off in recent years because of all the negative stuff.  I hate when people say nasty things as they hide behind a screen. Own it….  

Ness: So facing these obstacles of ignorance and hate, is doing your own work, at your own publishing company the best way to work in the industry? There are perhaps more ways than I am about to present but, it could be argued I think that you can change the system from within, as in working at one of the bigger companies, or doing what you do, publishing your work and being who you are.


DGD: I have worked for the bigger companies and am 100% truly happy doing this my way.  All my life I always wanted the security of the corporation but when I left DC Comics, it really did open my eyes.  I like having my own schedule to do what I want to do.  It does come with the downfall of doing interviews at 9:30PM rather than playing with my dogs.  But I do have the freedom to take them to the park at 11AM.   My ego sometimes think would anyone care or think that I made a difference in the world.  I would like to think that I did inspire some people.  I do try to be a good person and help out as many people as I can.  I do have my faults and quirks – but I don’t think I would change much at this point in my life….okay that is a lie…I just do not have any regrets.

Ness:  I appreciate your candor, and think you are someone who does more for the industry than just create reading material, because having works out there you are making a statement. I wonder if you feel it is worth it?

DGD:  Sometimes it is.  When I think about my career as a whole I think that I made a big difference.  This is on days when I reflect if it is worth it.  On a daily basis, it is mundane and I am in my own bubble.  So when I see something on a website that is being nasty, taking pot shots - it phases me.  I obsess about it (that is my kryptonite).  Sometimes making a statement comes with a lot of positive things… But they also come with hate.  So it is worth it if I can make a difference to kids… women, men, other comic creators, HIV positive people, people with major anxiety issues, guys with Australian Shepherds… Whomever.


Ness: What is the future of comics? That is a big question I know, so, answer if you will, in terms of the world of digital versus print, piracy, the changing demographics of readers, and the role of comics as the training grounds for major films?

DGD: Look at the simple fact that the numbers are nothing compared to what they were years ago.  Big films bring big licensing but not getting new readers.  Free Comic Book day that Diamond does brings in the same comic book fans that collect or people selling stuff on eBay.  But I give them props for trying something.  It will be a print to order world soon for the single issues. It will become a graphic novel world even more. Also digital is a huge factor now. Schools and libraries are starting to get into digital books. Kindle, iTunes, Nook and ComiXology are huge now.  Look at the DVD market as well.  A lot of the cartoons from Hanna Barbara at Warner Bros. will never see the shelves at Target.  They are now print on demand as well from their website.  I personally have read more novels on my iPad than I have read in print in years. 

As a kid I was a reluctant reader, which still affects me today.  I would never pick up a title like Gone With the Wind because of the shear size of it.  But on the Kindle, I did not care.  Its pretty cool and I recommended them to parents all the time. It is also funny that digital prices for comic books are pretty much the same as print comic books. I am fully guilty of this too – but it is the way of the world now.  I depend on digital more than print.

Ness: Has Bill Cosby ever offered you a drink and a drive home, and then did you wake up with jammies and him smiling in a robe?

DGD: There will not be a FAME: Bill Cosby comic book :)


Ness: Are you solely interested in the content you currently publish and profiles of public people, or will there perhaps be new genres or areas of story that Bluewater will enter?

DGD: I guess it would be politically correct to say that I am a fan of all the books that I have produced.  There are some stinkers out there.  I always like to try something new and sometimes that fails.  Also there are some subjects I can’t stand, but do them because I need to stay neutral for the company.  At the end of the day, I do not want anyone to know why likes or dislikes, especially in the political world.  I have been called out on these before and always stay neutral.  I am always open to ideas.  My agent told me to do a reality stars line called 15 Minutes and Diamond asked me to do a Charlie Sheen comic as the Infamous line. The biographies are fun to do because as a kid I read Teen Beat and watched MTV. Also it puts what I learned in the entertainment industry to use.  But I still value what I do in the fiction world.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

THE SHADOW KNOWS... and now you do too...

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows...



In pulp novels, on the radio, in the theatres, there was a hero who could end the reign of evil.  He fought the villains of darkness with a power gained from esoteric studies, first said from parts unknown, later said to be while in the "Orient".  He could read a man's heart, and cloud a man's memory.  He could use his superior mind to change the perceptions of his enemies, and his bullets never failed to strike their targets.


In pulp novel and later mass market paper back form Walter Gibson took on the Herculean task of writing monthly or better amounts of work totally 100s of pages for readers, who hungered for the stories.  It was said that he could sleep for just four or so hours, fill himself full of coffee, and return to work.  He'd pump out as many as 10,000 words a work day/night with regularity, in his lifetime writing over 300 books about the Shadow, and more about other characters, and stories.  The pen name Maxwell Grant used by Walter Gibson was not unique to Gibson, it was shared by other writers when they took over writing the Shadow.  But no one came close to writing nearly so many tales of the Shadow.



While the character remained, in its way, recognizable and memorable in American culture, despite not having a continual presence in American media.  Radio and Movie serials ended by the 50s or so, which left the books, and the stray comic series.  The 1970s comic series at DC comics The Shadow written by Denny O'Neil and illustrated by Michael W. Kaluta did return the Shadow to popular culture, and while it was artistically successful, it did not keep the character in constant presence on newstand, bookshelf or television.


A very fine artist Michael Kaluta, sometimes with Dennis O'Neil, sometimes not, was accepted by the comic book industry and the readers as the artist who created the definitive look of the character.  The adventures of the character were in good hands.  But, for fans of the character, it wasn't enough.


In 1986 DC tried to reboot the character, first with somewhat controversial writer/artist Howard Chaykin, and from the heat that was created with that relaunch, DC set off to blaze new trails with Andy Helfer, Bill Sienkiewicz and Kyle Baker.  The new runs were wildly dark, with humor more akin to the then new British wave of comic writers (1987), many were angered, but some people, like me, really enjoyed the series.


And over the last couple years, Dynamite has run new stories of the character The Shadow.  They've collected them, and compiled them nicely with lovely covers.

The weed of crime bears bitter fruit.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Old Masters of Comics

I began picking up GREEN LANTERN CORPS back in the '80s not because I was a fan of Hal Jordon, or because i was following the creative team on the book, or because I had heard good things about it.  No, I picked it up because of an artistic in-joke.



The cover of GREEN LANTERN CORPS #208  was rendered in the style of a 1930s Soviet propaganda poster.  It depicted an alien in a GL uniform carrying a red banner bearing a revolutionary slogan in Russian and leading a group of heroic proletariat up a hill.

This was back during the Reagan Era, remember, and the image was not something I expected to see on an American comic book.  The reason for it made sense, though.  The story involved the alien Green Lantern, Kilowog, who had come to Earth and was having difficulty adjusting to American culture.  He was persuaded by a smarmy Russian agent to visit the Soviet Union, where he was tricked into helping the Soviet super-hero program and creating the Rocket Red Brigade.

The cover of this issue, by artist Joe Staton, was a spot-on pastiche of the kind of stylized poster art produced in Russia before Stalin decided that Modern Art was Western and Decadent.  I had seen that kind of artwork when I studied Art History in college, but had never expected to see it on a comic book cover.  I don't know how many other comics fans got the reference.

  


That cover led me to look for other artistic homages.  CAPTAIN ATOM #8  was based by the Michelangelo’s famous sculpture, the Pietà , depicting Mary, the mother of Christ, cradling his lifeless body in her arms.  Except this version had Captain Atom being held by a Canadian terrorist named Plastique, which come to think of it, is probably kind of blasphemous.  They ran a similar cover with issue #44 with Captain Atom and Plastique’s roles reversed..

  


SECRET ORIGINS #10 was devoted the the Phantom Stranger, a mysterious, mystical character in the DC Universe whose origin – even his real name – had never been revealed.  So this issue featured four different possible origins, each by a different writer and artist.  The cover, based on an M. C. Escher print, had four Strangers standing on different faces of a strange architectural form in space.



Homages to specific artistic works tend to work better as comic book covers than stylistic ones.  GREEN LANTERN CORPS #208 worked for me because the artist could easily capture the stylized art and limited palette of that type of poster.  A couple issues later, in #210, they tried to give the Red White and Blue equal time by featuring Green Lantern Guy Gardner on a patriotic-themed cover that was supposed to be in the style of Norman Rockwell, but to my eye it didn’t quite come off as Rockwellian.

  


About a decade later, the JSA comic did better with its cover to issue #54 depicting Superman and Power Girl serving up a Thanksgiving dinner at a table where members of the Justice League and the Justice Society are gathered.  This cover worked, partially because it was based on a recognizable, iconic Rockwell painting, his “Freedom from Want” from his “Four Freedoms” series; and because advances in printing and coloring techniques permitted a more painterly approach to the cover, which better evoked Rockwell’s illustration style.

    


Since the main theme of the comic was heroes from the 1940s acting as mentors to a new generation of heroes, Norman Rockwell is a natural source of inspiration.  We see something similar in following issue, JSA #55 featuring the hero Wildcat sitting on the lap of a department store Santa.  I don’t think this was based on a specific Norman Rockwell painting, but Rockwell did plenty of Santa illustrations.  The circular background motif evokes the covers to the Saturday Evening Post.  An earlier issue, JSA  #34, does the same thing, depicting Golden Age character Johnny Thunder and his Magic Thunderbolt along with his present day successor, Jakeem, in the kind of folksy, slice-of-life vignette that Rockwell excelled at.


Usually, when comic book creators reference other artists, they limit themselves to iconic images from other comics, such as the cover to ACTION COMICS #1, or the image of an anguished Superman holding the lifeless Supergirl in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, or the dejected Peter Parker walking away from a trash can in which he’s tossed his costume from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN; and these are all classic, recognizable images, worthy of homage.  But I love it when these artist go back to the Masters.