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Monday, May 16, 2016

Once more into the fire...

(All art in this article is Copyright the respective owners. Click on images to make larger.)

Grant Miehm is one of my friends in the comic book industry.  But we've only met via internet.   That sort of friendship used to exist as pen pals or phone friends, but in the present, when social media makes it so much easier to contact people you admire, like, want to know, it has become a normal occurrence.  What I learned was here was a person I felt akin, as a brother.  We share the same pursuit of spiritual knowledge and wisdom.  We share the same desire to tell the truth about emotional things that get us in trouble with everyone but our own conscience.  Trying to walk a line between honesty and social acceptance is our goal, and we do well at it.  Grant and I spoke numerous times when the pain of cancer treatments or back issues had me up all night and he was getting up early.

He was an artist who channeled Gil Kane in stretches, and others who I grew up liking in other times.  His work is not as easily found as I wish, and this piece is written as a commentary on the world of comics as much as is it is as how much I like the work of this artist.  There are so many publishers who pay princely sums to artists who haven't a fucking clue what anatomy is that it makes me wonder, how the fuck can they look at themselves in the mirror and not keep Grant Miehm rolling in weekly paychecks, and 3 monthly books.  I am serious, Grant's work is exciting, consistent, and is far better than many hot artists.

I am not suggesting I am smarter than anyone else in publishing.  I am not in publishing, I have no money, no talent.  But I can say this, if I had money, Grant would be working, Chuck Dixon would be crying about never having hours to sleep, and there'd be a shit ton of books that creators and publisher never apologized for being entertaining as opposed to being progressive.

Beyond being continuously working his ass off drawing books I want to read, I want something more. There is a collection of Grant's work on The American, a great collection found on Amazon .  When finding this awesome collection I said to myself, why don't other pubs do the same thing?

I really would like to know the answer to that question.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Interview with Author Alan Dean Foster

Alan Dean Foster is a great writer in many genres, creating his own works and bringing to life the works of screen and television.  He was my first interview subject in 2002, and who knows, if this will be my last but it would be fitting, he is a treasured person of talent for me.

Here is the interview, please enjoy.

Alex: I know you went to a very good film school after getting a political science degree.  Does the film school work you did help in reading and adapting the works to the novel format?  In what ways yes, if yes?  And how not, if no?

ADF: UCLA graduate film school.  Didn’t really help with novelizations, except to show me early on how to navigate a screenplay.  Prose is so different from a script…you either can write it or not.  Film school prepares you for a very different type of writing.

Alex: A Film Degree didn’t help you write?  Is a novel written in a way much differently than film writing?

ADF: It didn’t, really. Only in the sense that I learned screenplay format. 

Writing a novel is much more difficult than writing a screenplay.  Much that you can show in a film, such as a character’s reaction to something, has to be spelled out in a novel, and that takes a greater command of the language… if you want to make it worth reading.

Alex: When you are given the screenplay to adapt, do you immediately get pictures in your head of the scenes?  And therefore, the better the screenplay the easier it is for you to adapt it to novel?

ADF: Oh, absolutely.  I’ve always been a very visual writer.  As soon as I read a sequence in a book, I’m mentally filming it.  A better screenplay makes it easier to adapt into a novel only because it’s better writing, not because of the format.

Alex: I am not, in any way, shape or form, suggesting my work matters compared to anyone, least of all you, but, I have a serious hard time ghost writing.  I've been asked to do that more times than to write my own work.  I usually say no, and the few times I've said yes it is for people I love who I know need my help, and I never charge.  So, getting to my question, how do you do Movie Adaptations, and I know you've Ghost written, as in Star Wars the New Hope adaptation for George Lucas, knowing that you won't be given credit as the artist?

Are you a Zen master and have eliminated your ego somehow?  I don't mean to be offensive with that, simply saying, most people in the arts want to be known for the works they've done.

ADF: You don’t do the work as a Zen master: you do it as a fan.  Who hasn’t sat in a theater and thought how they might change a scene, or a line of dialogue, or even the music?  Once you go at it with that mindset, it’s very easy to do.  The only book I’ve ever ghost-written was the novelization of the first SW film.  I’ve been asked numerous times since to do the same for other projects.  I’ve declined only because I didn’t have the time. 

I think if you’ve never received credit for original work, then doing nothing but ghosting work would be hard to take.   But if you have a body of original material, then you should have no problem ghosting for someone.

Alex: Compared to your original work, do they pay much?  Do you think the pay is commensurate to the work?

ADF: I think the payments are generally fair.  Just as with original material, payment for a novelization or a spinoff varies according to the property and the publisher.  I’m occasionally “underpaid”  (on Terminator: Salvation, for example) only because I refuse to be satisfied turning in half-assed work that short-changes the reader, even if contractually I’m not obligated to write a single additional word following official acceptance of the manuscript.  Fans deserve better.

Alex:  You've done work in Alien/Aliens - StarTrek - StarWars - Terminator - Transformers franchises and no doubt many others.  Do you believe that the owners of the franchises choose you because your work is recognized, good, or something else? 

ADF: Recognized and good, yes.  Also, I am able to subvert that artist’s ego you spoke of earlier for the greater good of a project.  And I can write very, very fast.

Alex: What book, books or series of yours would be the best movies, which would be impossible to make?

ADF: Nothing’s impossible to make anymore.  I think excellent films could be made of MIDWORLD, SAGRAMANDA, MAORI, PRIMAL SHADOWS, and the Flinx series.  SPELLSINGER would kill as an animated feature.

Alex:  As a writer with a film degree do you have a desire to write screenplays as well? Do you find yourself correcting dialogue in movies, subconsciously or otherwise?

ADF: I enjoy writing screenplays, too.  Just had one, OLYMPUS, co-written with Joel Berke, optioned to L.A.-Beijing Pictures, for possible production in China.  As to correcting dialogue in movies, when I watch, I find myself correcting everything … from the dialogue, to the sfx, to the direction.

Alex:  What movies are favorites of yours?  Do any of them play roles in novels of your own?  (Thinking Lucas's adoration of Hidden Fortress)

ADF: My two favorites films are GUNGA DIN and the 1940 THE THIEF OF BAGDAD.  But they don’t influence my writing.

Alex: Moving on from film and adaptations, we are now firmly in the digital era where paper books are quickly becoming the dinosaurs of the industry.  If people like me hate ebooks, and youth hate hardcopy, when will the critical mass or event happen when paper is seen as so not worth having?  Does it remain forever as a tiny cottage market?

ADF: I think paper will remain a substantial portion of the market until and unless the cost of a book starts to diverge significantly.  If a hardcover is priced at $25 and an ebook at $12, that’s already approaching such a gap.  If ebooks drop regularly to around $2.99, then that relegates print to traditionalists and collectors. 

Alex: If tomorrow humans found out that they were able to travel across the stars to any planet, galaxy, moon, dwarf planet, what would you like most to see?

ADF: Midworld.  With suitable armor, etc.  I love rainforests.

Alex: As a writer of futurist work, in many respects, you have to be optimistic.  Is that easy to still be facing the serious issues we face globally?

ADF: Realistically, we’re running the Earth into the ground (pun intended).  As an SF writer, I have to be optimistic or I’d stop writing the stuff.  There’s no shortage of dystopian tales out there and I don’t feel the need to add to them.

Alex: I don't want you to stop writing, so this isn't a secret agenda question, but, when will you stop writing for print, or will you?  Why would you?

ADF: I have no intention of ever stopping.  I’ve slowed down some due to domestic concerns, but I’ll never quit.  I like telling stories.

Alex: I have enjoyed your works Mad Amos and the Icerigger trilogy the most of all, so I don't have a specific genre I follow with you.  Which genre for you is easiest to write in, why do you think that is?

ADF: Fantasy.  SF takes research, non-fiction takes still more research, Westerns are based on historical reality, Mysteries require application of logic.  Fantasy…as long as you maintain the internal logic, you can do anything you want.

Alex:  As a poet I've attempted to step back from judging the present world and instead write about it as a reporter or observer.  Can a writer of prose science fiction and fantasy do that?  Or do they have to become so much more conversant in the world they write about?

ADF: No, you can step back.  Obviously, you can do so with non-fiction (as in PREDATORS I HAVE KNOWN, for example).  You can certainly do it with SF (as in the MONTEZUMA STRIP stories, for example, or SAGRAMANDA).

Alex:  Thank you Alan Dean Foster for your time, thoughts and ideas for us to consider.

The author has a great website at  And he continues to create great works, so buy them,  and support living artists.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


The mid 1980s was a wonderful time to be reading comics, especially for a DC fan. Maybe it just seemed that way to me, because I had just started seriously buying comics and found a local comic book club about that time; but there were some really incredible things going on about then. DC had just upended the universe with its CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. John Byrne was retooling Superman in his own image, and George Perez was breathing fresh life into Wonder Woman. Alan Moore was leading the British Invasion of Comics with his startling re-interpretation of Swamp Thing, planting the seeds for DC's VERTIGO line of Mature Readers comic, and was about to stagger everybody with WATCHMEN.

And then there was THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS.

Published in 1986, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS was a four-part series telling of the Twilight of the Batman; his final days and his last and greatest fight against his ultimate enemy. It was the creation of Frank Miller, who had just come off of his highly-regarded RONIN limited series and a lengthy and successful run on DAREDEVIL. Along with WATCHMEN, DKR marked the start of the “Grim 'n' Gritty” era of comic books which remains with us today.

There's a lot of interesting stuff in DKR: Miller's use of TV talking heads as a kind of Greek chorus commenting on the action; his introduction of Carrie Kelly, the first female Robin; his drily sarcastic interpretation of Alfred and his very human Commissioner Gordon. And a lot of controversial stuff, like the Batman's frothing Dirty Harry rants; the effeminate depiction of the Joker, Selina Kyle's reinterpretation as a prostitute, (Frank dearly loves his prostitutes, as SIN CITY has shown us); and the Joker's hippie-dippy psychiatrist who blames the Batman for all his patient's neuroses.

But given the recent release of BATMAN V SUPERMAN, I'd like to look at the climactic battle of DKR, which the BvS movie tried to invoke: the clash between the World's Finest Heroes.

It has been ten years since Something Bad happened to Jason Todd, the second boy to take on the role of Robin. We are never told what this Something Bad is, but it caused Batman to hang up his cape and cowl and retire. Bruce Wayne is in his fifties now, brooding over the past and watching his city slowly dying of violence, crime and corruption. Finally he had take it no longer.

Over the course of the first three chapters, we see Bruce struggling against his compulsion to resume his one-man war on crime and finally embracing it; we see him go up against his one-time friend Harvey Dent, alias Two-Face, who at first also seems to have conquered his inner demons, but who like Bruce seems destined to succumb to them. We see him take on a savage street gang that holds the city in terror and recruit a new Robin to take Jason's place. We see the Joker, who had been in a state of catatonia for ten years until he heard that Batman has come back, murder a studio full of people on the David Letterman show; and we see Batman pursue him into an amusement park to a final confrontation even more visceral and final than Alan Moore's similar fight in THE KILLING JOKE.

It's all leading up to Superman.

I remember when DKR first came out, members of our local comic book club arguing over the splash panel of Batman, in a bulky suit of powered armor belting Superman. Could that really happen? I mean, Superman? Faster than a speeding bullet? More powerful than a locomotive? Against a guy in a bat suit? Even a powered bat suit; really?

But Miller set up the fight to make it halfway plausible. Supes was recovering from having a block-buster nuke blow up in his face, and so was not at his best; Bats was wearing specially-designed armor to boost his strength; and he'd managed to synthesize some kryptonite to weaken Superman further. This, I think, was the origin of the oft-stated mantra of Batman fans that the Batman can defeat any opponent up to and including God, given enough time to prepare. Most importantly, though, Clark doesn't really want to hurt Bruce. But we'll get back to that in a moment.

Why would Superman and Batman fight in the first place?

Earlier, Clark pays Bruce a visit at Wayne Manor. He tries to persuade Bruce to back off on the bat-stuff. “You're not a young man anymore Bruce... time have changed...” Finally he spits it out. “It's like this, Bruce – Sooner or later, somebody's going to order me to bring you in. Somebody with authority. When that happens...”

Bruce doesn't smile as much as he bares his teeth. “When that happens, Clark – May the best man win.”

In the years that have passed, public sentiment has turned against super-heroes. Although not explicitly stated, this might well have been one of the reasons behind Bruce's retirement ten years ago. Later on, we get an internal monologue from Superman recalling the time:

The rest of us learned to cope. 
The rest of us recognized the danger – of the endless envy of those not blessed.
Diana went back to her people.
Hal went to the stars.
And I have walked the razor's edge for so long...

Long ago Clark made a deal with the devil. He agreed to work for the Government, and to operate discretely and covertly. In return, the Government grants him secrecy. And refrains from trying to take him down. Could even the combined forces of the United States military bring down Superman? Clark doesn't want to find out. And even if he could beat the Army, Clark fears the kind of hell such a war would mean for everybody involved.

Bruce despises Clark for selling out this way. And Clark doesn't like it much himself. In another monologue he says:

“I gave them my obedience and my invisibility.

           They gave me a license and let us live.
No, I don't like it. But I get to save lives – and the Media stays quiet.
But now the storm is growing again ---
They'll hunt us down again –
Because of you.

The order to take Batman down comes straight from the President. Clark doesn't want to kill him, but he knows that Bruce won't let him take him alive. So the stage is set for the final battle, in Crime Alley, where Bruce's parents died and where, in a real sense, the Batman was born.

Armed to the teeth with every attack he can think of, on a battlefield he's rigged with traps and ambushes, Batman gives Superman the fight of his life. And through it all, we get Bruce's bitter, angry monologue:

“Still talking – keep talking, Clark...
...You've always known just what to say.
“Yes” – You always say yes to anyone with a badge – or a flag …
… it's way past time you learned – what it means – to be a MAN!”

There are some Batman fans who cheer him in this fight, who revel in watching Batman take that Big Blue Boy Scout down a peg; watching him humiliate Superman.

But Miller also gives us bits of Clark's monologue too: “Bruce – this is idiotic … Bruce – I just broke three of your ribs...” Even after getting a face full of kryptonite gas; even after getting a spiked boot smashed into his face. Clark doesn't stop trying to talk him down. He is not dismayed by the violence Batman is inflicting on him; he can take it. He is dismayed by the sound of Bruce's heartbeat growing more erratic, and then stopping.

This, to me, is what makes THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS moving. It's not the epic of a Man fighting a God; it's the tragedy of two heroes fighting who once were friends. Bruce is probably the only peer Clark has left on earth. Clark desperately wishes the fight could be avoided, that they could once again be friends. But he winds up cradling Bruce's lifeless body in his arms.

The story doesn't end there of course; Bruce had one last trick up his bat-gauntlet. He had time to prepare, remember? And the moment at Bruce's funeral where Clark realizes what the trick was, and gives Robin a smile is a warm and satisfying one in an otherwise grim and cynical story.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN lifted a lot of imagery from THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, and director Zack Snyder has said that he was faithful to the source material. Maybe. But by taking a fight written at the end of the relationship between Bruce and Clark and putting it at the beginning, he has made it a completely different fight. And, I would argue, he's taken a lot of the heart out of it as well. Perhaps he managed to find a new heart to this new fight; one which could lead the two heroes to actually become friends the way they were in a different universe.

I hope that's the case.