Showing posts with label Renaissance eBooks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Renaissance eBooks. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Will Eisner And I?

As a long-time comics fan - and, if you remember, I even wrote one - this is extra-special: the great Renaissance E Books (who I'm an Associate Publisher for) has just stepped into graphic novels ... beginning by releasing classics like The Phantom Lady.

Well, one of the titles they also just released is a little-known treasure by the comic legend Will Eisner called The Flame - and guess who was asked to write the introduction?


If you were to create a Mount Rushmore for comic creators they'd certainly be a lot of controversy on who to immortalize.  Alan Moore?  Winsor McCay?  Art Spiegelman?  Osamu Tezuka?  Robert Crumb?  But the one that everyone – and I mean everyone -- would agree should have his face etched in stone is Will Eisner.
To say that Will Eisner, famed for his groundbreaking noir creation The Spirit, made comics what they are today is like saying the sun is just that warm thing in the sky.  Born in Brooklyn in 1917, Eisner made his first tentative steps onto the comic book stage at 16 by sending his artwork, with prodding from Batman creator Bob Kane, to Wow, What A Magazine!
Back in the late-1930s comic books were still deciding what they were and where they were going – it was a real wild west for writers and artists, with publishers, editors, writers, artists, and characters coming and going almost daily.
It was during these crazy times that The Flame was created by Eisner and Lou Fine – another illustrious member of those Golden Years.  Their brainchild, first appeared in Wonderworld Comic #3, July 1939. The Flame was so popular the character soon graduated to his own comic – but, alas, it was snuffed out after only eight issues, going dark on January 1942, a victim not of a vividly costumed menace or even the Nazis, but of the publisher's bankruptcy.
While The Flame's run in the superhero game was a short one the comic still – excuse me – burns quite bright for its originality.  In fact, you could easily trace a lot of The Flame forward to many now legendary comic characters.
Just look at his origin story: poor little Gary Preston was the only survivor of a flood that killed his father, Charteris Preston – a missionary in China.  Little Preston was saved by a benevolent order of Tibetan monks who taught him the mysterious power of heat and fire.  Gary knew that power must be used for good and The Flame was born.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Orphans From Love Without Gun Control

(from M.Christian's Technorotica)

I always liked this story - so I thought I'd share it with you. "Orphans" first appeared in Talebones Magazine and now, of course, is in my science fiction/fantasy/horror collection, Love Without Gun Control ... out in 'e' and paperback from the great Renaissance E Books.


Outside of Atlanta, after standing under the flickering fluorescent lights of a sprawling truck stop for almost an hour, he was picked up by a heavy faced man driving a ratting sixteen wheeler.  Red hair an angry mop on his head, brushy beard all wild and unkempt, the driver said “Glad for the company” before they’d even pulled out onto the dark highway.

     In a little town somewhere just beyond the Louisiana border, he was picked up by a middle-aged woman in a green station wagon, who seemed to delight in creating herself as the perfect housewife:  housecoat, hair in curlers, kid’s seat in the back.  She spent the first few miles prattling nervously, obviously just wanting companionship but frightened with herself for choosing the young hitchhiker to try and sate it.  He listened, hypnotized by the landscape blurring by.  Finally she asked, “Been on the road long?”
     “Not long,” he said, wishing again that it had been someone else who’d picked him up, “just getting out.  Meeting people.”
     “That’s good,” she said, innocently.  “Nothin’ worse than being alone.”
     To that he just nodded, still staring out the window.


     He’d never heard of a nut log, and would be damned if he was going to try some.  But the salesman, Lou Phillips, was so insistent that -- before he was even aware of it -- he had some on the end of his fork.
     “Now me, son,” Lou said, smiling broad and bright, “I ain’t a flincher.  You take that shit there on the end of your fork.  What’s the worse that could happen?  It taste like crap -- but that ain’t gonna kill you, is it?  But maybe it’s gonna be the best damned shit you ever tasted.  Ain’t gonna know till it’s in your mouth, right?”
     He didn’t answer, and instead stared at the tip of his fork, at the brown sticky mass.  Before he was aware of it he was categorizing diseases, vectors and transmission rates.  Closing his eyes, he breathed in, out, in and again, then put it into his mouth.  The sweetness was almost alarming, and without conscious control he opened his eyes -- and stared into Lou’s sparking brown eyes.  “See, that ain’t so bad!  Fuck it, son -- life’s too short to be scared.”
     A cup of coffee later, Lou confessed that he was a widower.  His wife of twenty-six years having passed away that spring.  “Some kind of virus got her.  By the time she went to the damn doc it was she was thin as a rail.  Didn’t last more than a month.”
     Sipping hot, bitter -- with a touch of slightly turned cream, he hung his head down, mumbling, “Sorry” like it was his fault.
     “I mean we all got to go, right?  When it’s our turn.  But what pisses me off is the shit those damned doctors put ya through.  Pretend that they know it all when they don’t know shit.  Tell ya what, kid, if I ever get something I’m just gonna drive out to the desert somewhere and just lay out there in the sun.  Damn sight better chance then letting them touch ya.”
     It seemed such a positive act that he smiled, despite himself -- masking it by sipping the foul coffee again and saying “Sometimes it isn’t that they don’t know -- it’s that it’s just not worth knowing.”


     Another big truck -- this time cleaner, almost polished.  Like a fighter plane, sporting a elegant pin-up on the driver’s side door.  Haulin’ Ass, scrolled under a cheesecake girl with golden blond hair.  The driver was gaunt, a narrow sketch of a man.  Peppered hair and the ghostly scar of a hair lip.
     They didn’t speak for many miles, then the driver said, unexpectedly, “What cha’ runnin’ from, man?”
     His first reaction was so say, “nothing” but the word didn’t come.  Was he running?  When he thought about it, watching the double-yellow vanish under the windshield, the direction wasn’t right.  “Not from, towards.”
     “What cha’ goin’ to, then?”
     He didn’t know.  He did know, though, that he couldn’t stay in Atlanta.  It was such a lonely place ... no, not right.  It was where he discovered loneliness. A dusty little room and files -- at first just one or two then more.  Some of them had faces, pictures charting their progress -- images to match the declining graphs.  Aside from the wasting, he’d seen something else in those faces, the sunken eyes, the fallen features -- loneliness.  In their worlds they’d been too few, not enough to matter ... to save.
     He’d managed a rough smile, trying to put a comedic face over tragedy.  “Just makin’ friends,” he said.


     Texas was hot, ghostly heat hovering above the roadway.  Sky too blue, too pure to be stared at for long.  Sitting in a McDonald’s, slowly sipping a shake to avoid going out into the hot, dry, he struck up a brief conversation with a young couple.  Too pressed, too clean.  A few miles beyond, the air conditioner in their older car cranked up to full, they started to talk about Jesus.
     He responded noncommittally, but soon their tone started to irritate him.  Looking out at the hot land, he could too easily see the ghostly hopelessness, the abandonment he’d first seen in Atlanta overlaid on every face they passed.  Maybe the harried father in the RV -- stricken with something that struck one on ten thousand.  Maybe that old woman, all blue hair and cautious hand on the wheel -- catching something that would waste her, slowly, horribly but only affected one in a hundred thousand.
     He listened, for a moment, about what they were saying -- instantly realizing that they were following a well-hewn grove.  Something like Parkinson’s, a horrible inlaw to the more popular disease: a gradual wasting of the mind -- something affecting one in a million.  He could too easily see them, parroting their beliefs till they had no more will, no more strength left to even move their lips.
     At the next town he asked to be left off, dismissing their offer of finding him a shelter, a meal, but he did take the money they offered, more than anything to get them to leave.


     Too many miles.  Still in Texas but the weather had changed -- high, turbulent clouds casting deep shadows onto the flat land.  Too many miles.  Maybe that was it.  A pressure.  They all saw him the way they wanted to, a young man traveling.  A bum, a threat, a homeless person, an object of pity, something to hate and blame.  The pick-up truck full of teenagers, throwing a half-empty can of beer as they passed, the too-helpful families that desperately wanted his absolution.
     So he told some of it to the bald man, the man in the jeans and stained tee-shirt.  He knew he’d been picked up for rough trade, but didn’t care.  He avoided his inquiring eyes and, at first, answered with only a few words, but as they drove and the driver’s interest became more and more obvious he found himself talking more, stringing together fact and fiction.
     To “-- where are you headed?” he said, “Los Angeles, my mom’s in the hospital.  Something wrong with her liver.”
     To “-- that sounds pretty serious.  What does her doctor say?”  he said, “They know what it is, some kind of hepatitis variant.  Rare, though, like one in a hundred thousand get it.”
     To “-- at least they know what it is.  They got all kinds of drugs and shit nowadays” he said, pausing “They know what it is, but not enough people get it.  So they don’t make a cure, not cost effective.  They call them ‘orphan diseases’ -- too rare to bother curing.  She’s going to die.”
     They rode in uncomfortable silence till the next town.  This time he was asked to leave -- and he did, stepping out into the darkness of a cloud’s shadow.  It had been the shortest trip he’d been on, but he felt lighter, less burdened.  That it had only been part of the truth didn’t matter; he’d spoken enough of it to get someone to understand, if maybe just a little.


     A long time and New Mexico.  He felt the fever start as he walked down dusty streets, passing stores selling fake Indian art, plastic tomahawks.  In a narrow alley, an old man with heavy features slept out the hot afternoon, a bronze-colored bottle by his hand.
     He went into a dark bar and sat in the corner, feeling his core temperature rise, his skin shimmy with cold shakes.  Taking deep breaths, he sipped a warm beer.
     He remembered its pathology, its transmission rates, preferred vectors.  He thought he’d have more time, and silently felt a heavy sadness at not being able to see the Pacific.  It hadn’t been a real goal, but had begun to be a kind of benchmark, a saccharin epitaph.
     He’d met some good people as he’d traveled from Atlanta, and felt sorry for them.  But he also remembered those faces on all those files.  It wasn’t virulent, but it did spread.  Airborne was tough, but it could manage.
     Too few to care about.  Not enough to bother curing.  It had almost been gone, at least to the Center for Disease Control.  Exiled to its refrigerator, the vault.  A rarity that claimed maybe a hundred, maybe two each year, almost just a memory.  So rare that they’d passed judgment on it:  extinction.  It had been his job to destroy the samples, to consign the virus to a few sad cases scattered around the world.   
     The faces on those folders.  Too few to care about.  As the shivers began in earnest, he tried to think about them, to hold each and every one of them in his mind.  Coldly told their wasn’t enough of them to bother, to care about, to cure.
     Sipping his beer, feeling his strength drain, he hoped that now -- after all those miles he’d managed, those rides, those hands he’d shaken -- they wouldn’t be so alone.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Welcome To Weirdsville: The Imitation Of Those Who We Cannot Resemble

(from M.Christian's Meine Kleine Fabrik)

This is very, very cool: a brand new Welcome To Weirsville piece I wrote just went up on the excellent The Cud site.  

Here's a tease below - and, of course, if you want to read more pieces about fun and odd and strange and (yep) weird history check out my book Welcome To Weirdsville

The Imitation Of Those Who We Cannot Resemble

Almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those who we cannot resemble. –Samuel Johnson

"Stop fidgeting, everyone ... Jimmy, that'd better not be gum in your mouth!  No, Betty you can't go to the bathroom – you should have thought of that before we started ... now you'll just have to wait for the break.  Okay, class, today we're going to be discussing possibly one of – if not the -- most important literary figures of the twentieth century: a woman who pretty much single handedly created what we consider to be modern literature..."
It's quite sad, really, that so many of us have had the juices systematically squeezed out of history, reducing it to nothing but powdery, gagging facts and bland, pasty figures – or, even worse, giants carved in marble, hands on hips, forever steadfastly glaring out at us in the future, their destinies unquestionable.

But, believe me, do some digging and there's juice a plenty in those dusty heroes – and while many of them certainly deserve to be on their lofty pedestals you'll quickly learn that more than a few of them might be wonderfully, delightfully, fun ... if not totally nuts.

Sarah Bernhardt, for instance, the legendary light of the stage, not only had a wooden leg, liked to sleep in her coffin, but also had quite a few ... involvements, shall we say, with people such as Victor Hugo and Gustavo Doré; Tycho Brahe, one of the brightest stars in astronomy not only had a fake metal nose (having lost his original in a duel) but kept an on-staff dwarf for the entertainment of his guests as well as himself; Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize to his name, was an notorious humorist and prankster -- as well as quite the established cracksman, even claiming to have once easily got into the safe containing the plans for the first atomic bomb; Georges Simenon, the master French mystery author, not wrote over 200 novels but also claimed to have made love to 10,000 women; and let's not even get started on what M.Christian likes to do with balloon animals...

Which takes us to 1910, back when Britain quite literally ruled the waves: the time of what has been called by many to be the date of the greatest prank in all of history ... and the literary light who had a major part in it.

Now pranks were nothing new, especially for students of Cambridge, but this one – orchestrated by the infamously witty Horace de Vere Cole – set the bar.  Horace tried afterward to top himself several times afterward, including infamously dumping horse ... leavings in the canals in Venice (to confuse the non-horse city residents), or arranging a group of bald men to sit in strategic places at the theater so that their domes, when viewed from the balcony, would spell out a rather (ahem) rude word, but his crowning achievement involved the pride of the British Navy, a few of his close friends, some costuming skills, the flag of Zanzibar, and a brilliant degree of planning – all of which rocked the world and nearly got one of them a sentence of ten of the best with a cane.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Welcome to Weirdsville: The Lady Vanishes

 (from M.Christian's Meine Kleine Fabrik)

Very cool: the fantastic Dark Roasted Blend just posted by article on the theft of the Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo (the Mona Lisa to you and I).

This, and other fun articles can, of course, be found in my fun book, Welcome to Weirdsville - out now from Renaissance E Books/PageTurner Editions.

The Lady Vanishes

If it had been done in this age of iphones, ipads, and the rest of our high tech ilives, the movie would have had Clooney or Willis dangling upside down over a pick-up-sticks weave of alarm lasers while a geeky cohort (maybe Steve Buscemi or Alan Cumming), face green from the digital overload bouncing up from a laptop, rattles off a second-by-second update on the imminent wee-oo-wee-oo arrival of the stern-jawed Groupe d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale.

But while the lady did vanish – a very, very special lady – the means of her vanishing, while maybe a tad less dramatic, is no less fascinating. While you'll no doubt immediately recognize the lady in question, you may not know her full name, or some of the more interesting details of her portrait. Begun by a certain well-known artist back in 1503, the likeness of Lisa del Giocondo wasn't finished until some years later, around 1519. After the death of this rather well known artist, the painting was purchased by King François I, and then, after a certain amount of time and other kings, it finally ended up in the Louvre. An interesting note, by the way, is that – while not a King – the painting was borrowed from the Louvre by Napoleon to hang in his private quarters, and was returned to that famous French museum when the Emperor became ... well, not the Emperor.

Its official title is Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo but the smile says it all, and in 1911 it was stolen – and wasn't returned until 1913.

While much of the theft is still a mystery, what is known is that on August 22, 1912, Louis Béroud, a painter and fan of the legendary Mona Lisa, came into the Louvre early one morning to study the famous work of Leonardo da Vinci, instead finding a bare wall. In a pure Inspector Clouseau bit of history, the museum staff didn't immediately put bare wall and missing painting together and instead thought the painting had been taken to be photographed. It took
Béroud, checking with the photographers themselves, to bring it to the attention of the guards that the painting had been stolen.

Suspects were many and varied: a curious one was Guillaume Apollinaire, the critic and surrealist, who, because he can once called for the Louvre to be burnt to the ground, was actually arrested. While no-doubt annoying, he was eventually cleared and released, but not before trying to finger, unsuccessfully, a friend of his for the theft, another rather well known painter by the name of Pablo Picasso.

Alas, the actual thief and the method of the robbery are almost painfully plain, though the man and the means weren't discovered until much later. In 1913, Vincenzo Peruggia, a Louvre employee, was nabbed when he contacted Alfredo Geri, who ran a gallery in Florence, Italy, about the stolen painting.

The story that emerged after his arrest was that on August 20th, 1912, had Peruggia hid in the museum overnight. On the morning of Sunday, the 21st, he emerged from hiding, put on one of the smocks used by employees and, with ridiculous ease, simply took what is arguably the most famous painting in the world and put it under his coat and walked out the door with it. When the gendarmes later knocked on Peruggia's door they'd simply accepted his excuse that he'd been working somewhere else the day of the theft, while the painting was hidden under his bed.

What isn't plain, though, was Peruggia's motivation for the theft.


Friday, June 07, 2013

Billierosie Likes Love Without Gun Control

(from M.Christian's Technorotica)

This is very special flashback: a lovely review of my science fiction/horror/just-plain-weird collection, Love Without Gun Control, by my wonderful pal, Billierosie .Thanks, sweetie!

I am a junkie! A poor pathetic thing, crawling up the walls, shredding fragments of wallpaper and plaster beneath my broken finger nails, screaming for my next fix. Hollow eyed, I plead with M.Christian for just one more story. He’s a hard man. He turns away, telling me it’s for my own good. Then finally, finally, he relents. And I blubber my thanks through a mess of snot, spit and tears.

M.Christian sends me LOVE WITHOUT GUN CONTROL. And like any true addict, I find a vein, stick in the needle and overwhelm myself with the fix.

I’ve read all of his stories. Every tantalising word he’s ever written. I worry that one day he’ll stop. No more stories. What the hell will I do?

You see he never fails to surprise me. His stories move seamlessly from straight erotica to gay erotica and now, in LOVE WITHOUT GUN CONTROL, he gives me a collection of science fiction and horror.

In ‘Needle Taste,’ there is haunting despair, from the disciples of Owlsley, a serial killer. They take mind bending chemicals to enhance his hideous deeds. His followers can’t leave him alone and live in a desperate, deadly fascination of what has happened to those he has brutalised and killed. Prair replays the final moments of Owlsley’s capture in his mind and repeats the killer’s mantra; “the only sin is letting them go unpunished.”

‘The Rich Man’s Ghost’, reads like a fable and Christian tells the story with the skill of Aesop. Hiro Yashido sees a ghost, and to see a ghost means doom. He has not only seen the ghost, the ghost has seen him. His wealth, his overwhelming success in high finance is nothing. He will have to embrace his worst nightmare, poverty. Hiro Yashido fears nothing. He has not achieved his great wealth by walking on tiptoe. But he does fear the ghost and it’s curse. Ghosts walk between the bite and the bytes of the datasea and they are jealous. Hiro Yashido works hard to dispel the ghost’s curse and the ghost ponders on whether, or not to release him.

‘Wanderlust’, takes us out on the road. The story reads like a classic ‘road’ film and we embark on the archetypal American journey. The landscape unfolds with panoramic camera sweeps; gasping, breathtaking images of mountains, snow, jagged peaks and windswept pines. A cheap doll, embodies the idea of perfection, of absolute love. It is conveyed to the driver in his own overwhelming, Christ like beauty. He stops at a roadside gas station. The people he meets are spellbound by the ecstasy of his beauty. But sheer love has its opposite and hatred, and ugliness and the abject fear it brings, must have its say. He wants to say sorry. But all that he can do is drive away.

In ‘Orphans’, Christian gives us a drifter, seemingly, a man without purpose. He hitches lifts and meets people. Is he running from something, or running to something? He doesn’t know. Or he won’t say. What is the virus they speak of; the wasting disease that has taken their loved ones? Is it loneliness? Or is it something else? He apologises, it’s all he can do. Is this an allegory, a story for our times? Christian doesn’t tell us; but he certainly makes us think.

As if all that weren’t enough, Christian retells the story of Robinson Crusoe in ‘Friday’.

Combining Daniel Defoe’s style with a futuristic slant, the traveller’s ship crashes into the earth. Like Defoe’s hero he is stranded, like him he has to improvise to survive and like him he has his Friday.

As I said earlier, what the hell will I do if M.Christian ever stops writing? There’s a gem here, a jewel, a real talent. Where does all of this come from? Where does he get his ideas and images? “…eyes as dark as knots in old trees…” “…titles for them were as irrelevant as trying to take apart a static charge before a lightening strike…” Beats me! I’ve saved the title story until last. ‘Love Without Gun Control,’ and I’m going to read it now! Excuse me while I drool!