Giraffes on Horseback Salad

One of the more interesting trends I’ve seen in recent years is turning scripts that weren’t filmed into graphic novels. More precisely, two that I’ve read were alternate versions of filmed stories. One was The Star Wars based on an early draft of George Lucas’s famous film. Another was City on the Edge of Forever, based on Harlan Ellison’s script for the Star Trek episode of the same name. The former revealed that George Lucas’s early concepts had more in common with the prequels than the film that became a classic. The latter showed us an even more powerful and heart-wrenching version of a story which already had gone down as one of Star Trek’s finest.

While driving home from Kitt Peak National Observatory after my last shift, I heard a promo for an NPR story about a new graphic novel called Giraffes on Horesback Salad. All the promo told me was that the book depicted an unfilmed script by Salvador Dalí featuring the Marx Brothers. I didn’t need to know more. I had to find a copy of this book right away. It actually took me a couple of days, so I got to hear the NPR story which only further convinced me I wanted to read the book. I was somewhat surprised, though, when I went to my local Barnes and Noble and discovered only one copy on the shelf. I counted myself lucky and snatched it up.

The story as presented in the graphic novel imagines a young, imaginative inventor and designer named Jimmy who is trying to make it in New York City. He’s engaged to Linda, a very ordinary woman who seems a fitting wife, but isn’t actually faithful to Jimmy but wants the prestige of being his wife. The couple go to a nightclub where they encounter the Surrealist Woman who, for all intents and purposes, bends reality around her. Her pals, fittingly enough, are the surrealist Marx Brothers. More precisely we only see two of the brothers at first: Groucho and Chico. Jimmy soon falls for the Surrealist Woman who unleashes the power of his imagination. Linda, who doesn’t want to lose her place in society, fights to ground Jimmy. The plot is ultimately resolved in the courtroom with Groucho and Chico as the competing attorneys.

The graphic novel contains many supplemental notes and reveals that Dalí intended Harpo to play Jimmy. The result is a very different kind of Marx Brothers experience. It gives us a Harpo (of sorts) who both speaks and takes center stage. This all would have happened during the Marx Brothers’ time at MGM, which is after Zeppo left the act.

What I found fascinating was that Dalí and Harpo had met in real life and became friends. What’s more the idea for this film was developed far enough for Harpo to arrange a meeting with Louis Mayer. I’m not surprised to find that Mayer couldn’t wrap his head around this idea. He was, after all, the man who insisted that Oz would only be a dream. Groucho was unimpressed, saying the idea wouldn’t play. And, in all fairness, it’s hard to imagine how this would have been filmed in the 1930s.

I could easily see a version of this filmed now. It could be done live action with other actors playing the roles of the Marx Brothers, or even as full animation. What might be even more interesting would be if a contemporary comic team took inspiration from this and created their own surrealist satire about an immigrant genius fleeing his war-torn nation and unleashing the power of his imagination. The time seems ripe for such a story, especially when so many people have forgotten their own immigrant ancestry and forsaken their own imaginations.

One delightful side-effect of this graphic novel, is that it became a way for me to introduce my daughter to the comedy of the Marx Brothers. She knew a little about them, but was surprised to discover that many of their movies are musicals. Giraffes on Horesback Salad would also have been a musical and I was delighted to learn a soundtrack is in production. Some songs can be listened to now. For more information about the songs and the book itself, visit: https://www.horsebacksaladbook.com/

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Reading Rainbow

El Paso Comic Con happens this weekend, and one of the people I’m most excited to meet is LeVar Burton. I’m excited to meet him because of his role as Geordi LaForge on Star Trek: The Next Generation, but I’m perhaps even more excited to meet him because of his role as the host of the PBS TV series, Reading Rainbow.

Reading Rainbow ran from 1983 until 2006 and not only depicted books as fun in their own right, but showed the real world adventures books can lead you to. The series suggested many books for my wife and I to share with our daughters. What’s more, I enjoyed watching the show with my daughters. I find it frustrating when I come across a review of a book or movie that claims something to the effect that adults won’t enjoy it, but kids will love it. To me, the best entertainment and information for kids will entertain and inform adults as well. Reading Rainbow succeeded admirably at that mission. I’m not surprised to have discovered that it was the third longest running TV series on PBS after Sesame Street and Mister Rodger’s Neighborhood.

One outgrowth of the show I really appreciated was the “Reading Rainbow Young Writers and Illustrators Contest” which encouraged kids to write and illustrate a story, then submit it to their local PBS station where the stories were judged. Winners were sent on to the national contest. My older daughter submitted to three of the contests and was a runner up at the local level in second grade. They brought her down to the TV Station at New Mexico State University where she was presented with her award and a video tape that included one of the local hosts reading her story while showing the illustrations. The contest outlasted the show by three years, which allowed my youngest daughter to enter in its original incarnation. The contest does continue under the name “PBS Kids Go! Writers Contest.”

It disheartens me that certain political factions in the United States want to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provides much needed support for Public Television and Radio. The argument is that the programs on these platforms should exist in the free market and not be funded with public money. The problem is that the free market is driven by those items that sell the most units. Entertainment will always outsell education and information, just as candy and processed food will outsell fruits and vegetables. My politics are such that I’m happy to pay for things that encourage the populace as a whole to be smarter and healthier. Even when these things don’t seem to affect me directly, they pay off in the people I interact with on a daily basis.

Reading Rainbow encouraged kids to read and to act on their reading, by writing, playing, and exploring the world around them. LeVar Burton has continued that mission even in the years after Reading Rainbow and has even taken steps to revive the show in some fashion. I look forward to meeting him and to finding out where his adventures will lead him next.

Sufiro Through the Years

2019 marks two important milestone anniversaries. 25 years ago, Kumie Wise, William Grother, and I formed Hadrosaur Productions. That same year saw the publication of my first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, in audio form.

Hadrosaur Productions was founded to be a multimedia company, publishing books, producing audio books, and ultimately producing video projects. To prove the concept, I gathered a bunch of co-workers from Kitt Peak National Observatory and we recorded my first novel. I edited the audio recordings on primitive audio software and then had the master tapes duplicated. My wife and I took these around to science fiction conventions in Arizona and New Mexico and sold them at our first dealer’s tables. I have fond memories of these times since it was my introduction to fandom and response to this audio edition was generally positive. Looking back, fans liked seeing other fans get together and create something like this. As you can see the artwork is simple. It’s just a drawing of Captain Firebrandt, First Mate Roberts, and Suki ready to face life on the planet Sufiro. I drew the illustration. I also drew the Hadrosaur logo that would be the company logo for many years. As you’ll notice, I credited myself as “Dave L. Summers.” My name is common enough, I was looking for a way to set myself apart and I liked the way Dave L. Summers flowed off the tongue.

In 1995, I attended a writer’s conference at the University of Arizona where Ray Bradbury was the keynote speaker. An agent was also slated to attend and attendees were invited to send her their manuscripts. I sent mine and she agreed to represent it. The upshot is that she placed the book with a publisher and ultimately the mass market edition of The Pirates of Sufiro was released. As it turns out, Roberts never had a first name before this edition. The editor gave him the name Carter. I liked it well enough that I let it become canon. The cover of this edition features what appears to be simple stock art of a spaceship and a planet. The ship really doesn’t look like anything in the book, but I didn’t have a strong objection because it said “science fiction” and looked more professional than my line drawing. I’m also credited as “David L. Summers” here, the only time I used my name as I use it in scientific publications. Alas, my agent and my publisher both proved to be scam artists who worked to separate authors from their money. I never saw a dime from this edition other than from copies I sold myself and I ultimately had to go to court to get my publishing rights back. Still my experience wasn’t all bad. This edition did turn up on the shelves of the New Mexico State University Bookstore and Waldenbooks at the local mall and they even invited me to do a book signing. I also got a nice half-page write up about the book in the Las Cruces Sun-News.

Print on demand publishing was starting to get off the ground about the time I got my rights back. At that point, I had also gotten acquainted with several artists through my work editing Hadrosaur Tales Magazine. I hired Jeff Ward to do a cover for a new edition I would publish through Xlibris. This is the first professional cover for the book where I had full control of what appeared. Prominent on the cover are the faces of Captain Firebrandt and his grandson, Commander John Mark Ellis. At the bottom of the image is Firebrandt’s daughter, Suki Carter Firebrandt. She stands in front of Ward’s version of the Firebrandt homestead. Jeff has since gone on to do covers for such venues as Apex Magazine and the SFWA Bulletin. This version would only be used for four years. At that point, another cover artist I knew and worked with, Nick Johns, introduced me to one of his other clients, LBF Books. This edition is also the first one to credit me with the name I have used for most of my writing career: David Lee Summers. At this point, search engines existed and I looked long and hard to see which version of my name was relatively unique and wouldn’t be confused with a plethora of other David Summerses. I ultimately decided on my full, legal name. To me it sounded like a name a writer would use.

In 2004, Jacqueline Druga of LBF Books read and loved my newest novel, Vampires of the Scarlet Order. She asked what else I had and I mentioned The Pirates of Sufiro and its sequel Children of the Old Stars. Jackie asked to read them. She loved them and offered me a contract. Around that same time, I met artist Laura Givens at MileHiCon in Denver, Colorado and she asked if I knew any publishers looking for cover art. I introduced her to Nick and Jackie and they soon started working together. One of Laura’s first covers for LBF would be her cover for The Pirates of Sufiro. We decided to take the idea I had for the Xlibris cover and expand it across the series. The Pirates of Sufiro would feature Captain Firebrandt on the planet next to the homestead. Suki Firebrandt would appear on the cover of Children of the Old Stars in a habitat dome on Titan. John Mark Ellis would appear on the cover of the as-yet unwritten Heirs of the New Earth. For this version, Laura created what I now consider to be the iconic Firebrandt. In many ways, he bears a strong resemblance to the version I had way back in my first crude drawing on the cassette tape version.

Laura’s cover has been canonical for over ten years. When I re-envisioned the series as a four-book series called the Space Pirates’ Legacy, Laura improved on her iconic image of Captain Firebrandt for the new Book One, Firebrandt’s Legacy. So, it was natural that I would ask Laura to create the cover for the 25th Anniversary Edition of The Pirates of Sufiro. She has done so and I have to say, the newest version is the best yet. Come back on Saturday as I unveil the newest cover for an all-new and improved visit to the planet Sufiro.

Squirrel Girl

A number of my birthday and Christmas presents in 2018 revolved around one of my favorite comic books, Marvel’s Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. For those who haven’t encountered the character, she’s a college-age woman with a big bushy tail, can speak to squirrels, and has the proportional strength of a squirrel. Her alter ego is Doreen Green, a university computer science student.

What first attracted me to the comic were the covers. Instead of the usual muscle-bound or hyper-sexualized heroes, the covers featured this rather ordinary looking girl with a squirrel-ear headband and a big tail. There was action in the covers, but it was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. It made me want to learn more. I dived in and quickly discovered that the writing delivered on the promise of the covers.

What makes Squirrel Girl interesting is that she’s not your garden variety hero with a dark origin trying to fight or solve mysteries in an increasingly grim reality. She often looks for solutions that work best for everyone involved. She tries to get to the root of why bad guys are doing bad things and helps them solve that problem. The result is that she tends to make more friends than enemies. Of course, some bad guys don’t want their problems solved. In that case, Squirrel Girl has no problem kicking their butts, often with the help of an army of New York City squirrels, but also with her college roommate Nancy and fellow superheroes Koi Boy and Chipmunk Hunk. And let’s not forget Brain Drain, a disembodied brain transplanted into a robot body who quotes existentialist literature and is always there to help our heroes.

As it turns out, the artist whose work captured my attention is Erica Henderson. When I see an artist whose work grabs my attention, I like to learn more about where their work has appeared. As I followed up on her other work, it suddenly dawned on me that Erica was the daughter of long-time Tales of the Talisman contributor C.J. Henderson and, in fact, I had published some of Erica’s art in volume II, issue 3 of the magazine! If you’d like a copy, back issues are available at: http://talesofthetalisman.com/bookstore-v2.html

As for the presents themselves, among them were the graphic novels that I showed up at the top of the post. Not only did I get books but my youngest daughter designed and sewed a Squirrel Girl plush for me. Now one of my favorite features of the comic book is the letters section. You see, not only does Doreen Green try to make friends, but the letters are positive and fun as well, especially when they encourage young fans in their creativity. When Verity made me the plush, I had to take a photo and send it in. As it turns out, they just published the photo and my letter in issue number 40. That was a real delight.

If you’re a comic book fan looking for something that’s light but thoughtful, fun but intelligent, I highly recommend checking out Marvel’s Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

TusCon 45

Next weekend, I’m proud to be a participant at TusCon 45 being held at the Sheraton Tucson Hotel and Suites in Tucson, Arizona. The guest of honor is Joe R. Lansdale, the author of more than forty novels and numerous short stories, including Paradise Sky, the Edgar Award-winning The Bottoms, Sunset and Sawdust, and Leather Maiden. This year’s toastmaster is Weston Ochse. TusCon is a small convention but one that attracts dedicated and enthusiastic fans of all ages who share a love of the written word.

My schedule at the convention is as follows:

Friday, November 9

  • 4:00-5:00pm – Panel Room 2 (Mesa) – Letting your personal secrets out in your stories. Alcoholic writers with alcoholic characters. Gay writers with gay characters. Abused writers with abused characters. How much of yourself should be in your story. On the panel with me are Joe R. Lansdale, Eric T. Knight, Gemma Lauren Krebs, and Gloria McMillan.
  • 7:00-9:00PM – Ballroom (Sabino) – Meet the Guests. Come rub elbows with the guests, enjoy the cash bar, and be regaled by Toastmaster Weston Ochse.
  • 10:00-11:00pm – Ballroom (Sabino) – Drake & McTrowell’s Hot Potato School of Writing. The authors of “The Adventures of Drake & McTrowell” will lead two guest authors and the audience in a madcap improvisational writing game show reminiscent of their signature “Hot Potato” team writing style. Two audience volunteers will each team up with two guest authors to form two “writing teams.” The audience will select three plot elements from a list provided by Drake & McTrowell. The two teams will take turns “writing” the beginning, middle, and end of a story incorporating all three elements with two audience-created “Hot Potatoes” thrown in for excitement. Erasmus Drake and Sparky McTrowell host the show. Ross Lampert and I will be the guest authors.

Saturday, November 10

  • 11:00am-noon – Ballroom (Sabino) – Have We Lost the Spirit of Exploration? NASA is a joke, deep sea exploration is dead, and nobody is listening to SETI. What happened to our frontiers? On the panel with me are Bob Nelson, Hal C.F. Astell, Wolf Forrest, Ross Lampert, and Joe Palmer.
  • 1:00-2:00pm – Catalina Ballroom Foyer – Autographs. I’ll be signing autographs alongside such luminaries are Ken St. Andre, Jennifer Roberson and Frankie Robertson.
  • 6:30-9:00pm – Ballroom (Sabino) – Revenge of Zoe. Premier of the film Revenge of Zoe, starring Bradford Trojan, Nathan Campbell, Eric Schumacher, and Rachel Netherton as Zoe/Fren-Zee. In the film, screenwriter Billy Shaw must face his inner demons while convincing comic book store owners John and Pete to help him write a sequel to his greatest work; a movie about comic book super heroine Fren-Zee. Filmed in, and around, Tucson. Hosted by actor/producer Geoff Notkin, followed by Q&A with cast & crew from the film. I play one of the customers in the shop and I’m looking forward to my motion picture debut.

Sunday, November 11

  • Noon-1:00pm – Ballroom (Sabino) – Great Art Comes From Limitations. How what you can’t do influences your art. On the panel with me are Diana Terrill Clark, William Herr, Julie Verley, and Curt Booth.

In addition to all these great programming options, Hadrosaur Productions will have a table in the dealer’s room. Come by and see what great books we have to offer. Also, Hadrosaur Productions along with Massoglia Books will be sponsoring the annual birthday party for Marty Massoglia and myself on Saturday night. Drop by our booths in the dealer’s room to learn to learn the time and location of the party!

October Adventures Continue

In my last post, I shared some of my adventures traveling around the country this month. Admittedly, a travelogue may seem a little out of place for a post appearing just two days before Halloween, but I’ll share a book at the end to put you in the spirit of the season and it’s even a quick read.

I left Kansas City on the train on Sunday night, October 14. By the time I woke up on Monday morning, the ground was covered in snow. I like traveling by train when I can. It’s a great way to see the countryside and although it takes longer than traveling by plane, it feels much more civilized. I enjoy flying, but the hassle of crowds, airport security, and flights filled to the brim take away much of the fun. Besides, my grandfather, dad, and brother all worked on the railroad, so I feel a certain family connection when I travel by rail.

I met my wife in Albuquerque where she brought my faithful Smart Car in for a service. We then drove down to Las Cruces with a brief stop in Socorro for some chicken mole enchiladas. For me, chocolate and chile come together to form the ultimate comfort food. After a four-hour sleep, I then drove to Tucson for a daytime shift at Kitt Peak where we’re continuing to refit the Mayall 4-meter for the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Survey.

After three days on the mountain, I gritted my teeth for another short sleep, got up early in the morning to drive to the airport where I caught a plane for Denver, Colorado. There, I celebrated MileHiCon 50. The highlight of the event was that every living convention guest was invited back as a guest. Here you see them assembled at opening ceremonies.

MileHiCon is always a special for me because I get to connect with so many people I’ve worked with over the years. These include Bob Vardeman who was one of the honored guests and who created the Empires of Steam and Rust Series,  David B. Riley one of the co-authors of Legends of the Dragon Cowboys, J Alan Erwine and Carol Hightshoe who have edited many anthologies I’ve been in and who appeared in A Kepler’s Dozen. Denver is also home to Laura Givens, the talented artist who has done many of my covers, and also the co-author of Legends of the Dragon Cowboys.

A particular high point of MileHiCon was the annual poetry reading. This year it was moderated by Stace Johnson. Ronnie Seagren joined us and read poems by several different people. Sadly, Gail Barton, a staple of past MileHiCon poetry readings had passed away, but I was fortunate enough to have a copy of the poetry journal she often handed out at the event, which allowed me to share some of her poems. It was lovely to have her voice at the event at least one more time.

Once MileHiCon was finished, I returned to Kitt Peak to continue work on the DESI spectrograph. This time, I helped a team from Ohio State University build the racks that will hold the spectrographs themselves once they all arrive. I have to admit, building the racks was a process not unlike assembling a piece of Ikea furniture!

At last, I am back home for Halloween. I’m turning my attention to some editorial projects, including a new novella from David B. Riley and two great books from Greg Ballan. In my off hours, I’m reading some spooky comic books and watching a few hair-raising films.

If you’re looking for something good to read between trick-or-treaters on Wednesday night, may I recommend the collection Blood Sampler? This book collects thirty-five vampire flash fiction stories written by Lee Clark Zumpe and me. The cover is by Laura Givens and the book features interior illustrations by Marge Simon. Chris Paige, writing for the fan newspaper ConNotations in Arizona said, “If you like vampire stories, this may be the best seven dollars you can spend.” Admittedly the new edition of the paperback went up to $8.00, but the ebook is only $4.00. You can learn how to get your claws on a copy by visiting  http://www.davidleesummers.com/Blood-Sampler.html

Bombshells

While visiting Bisbee, Arizona a couple of weeks ago, I found a fun figurine of Batgirl with something of a steampunk makeover in a boutique called Va Voom! I walked around the shop two or three times and finally decided she had to come home with me. I also decided I had to know whether she had a formal appearance in the comics. As it turns out, she did. She was the star of DC’s Bombshells Annual #1.

For those not familiar with DC’s Bombshells, the comic was set during an alternate World War II and imagines that many of the DC Universe’s female superheroes have gathered together to fight for the Allied cause. Among the Bombshells are familiar heroines such as Wonder Woman and Supergirl. Batwoman, who I remember discovering in reprints of vintage Batman comics, also takes a major role here. The team is spearheaded by Amanda Waller, who readers of Suicide Squad are sure to recognize. I’m sad to say the comic has ceased publication, but the last three years are widely available in collected graphic novels both in print and ebook editions.

The Batgirl story in this world actually opens in the swamps of Louisiana during 1941. Killer Croc has gone in search of the Batgirl of the swamps and he succeeds. What’s more, he discovers she’s a vampire! The action moves to West Point in 1941 where Amanda Waller is talking to a new recruit named Francine Charles. Waller sends Charles on a mission to recruit Batgirl to the Bombshells. When she asks why, Waller tells her Batgirl’s story.

We learn that Barbara Gourdon was a French girl living during World War I who loved tinkering with machinery. Her mother has fields of lavender and her father is a police officer. He buys her an airplane and she learns to fly. She ultimately falls in love, but disappears when she must save her lover. It’s up to Francine Charles to learn how the ace pilot became a vampire and to see if that vampire can be recruited to the Bombshells.

At the beginning of the summer, I talked about “superhero fatigue.” In that case, I spoke primarily of finding nothing but superhero movies at the cinema. One place I rarely suffer superhero fatigue is in my local comic shop. There are many fun and innovative titles on the shelves and I see the superheroes I grew up with being taken in new and interesting directions. Superhero fatigue in the movies has much to do with the fact that we’re seeing stuff that happened 20 years ago or more in the comic pages!

I love the idea of a feminist superhero team like the Bombshells. After reading Annual #1, I picked up the entire first year of collected stories and was impressed by the writing and the artwork. I love the exploration of characters who received too little page time back when I read comics more regularly many years ago. In the Batgirl comic in particular, I liked how they gave her a lavender bat costume like she had in the Adam West series, but also created a good reason for her to have that costume.

I also liked how Batgirl took a dark turn and became a vampire. The opening scenes in the Louisiana swamps with Killer Croc reminded me not a little of Marcella DuBois’s debut in my own novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order. What’s more, Marcella is one of my own characters who I’ve explored in an alternate timeline. That version of Marcella appears in Straight Outta Tombstone which has just appeared in a nifty trade paperback edition. I have a feeling Marcella would be right at home with Amanda Waller’s Bombshells

You can learn more about Vampires of the Scarlet Order at http://www.davidleesummers.com/VSO.html

You can learn more about Straight Outta Tombstone at https://www.amazon.com/Straight-Outta-Tombstone-David-Boop/dp/1481483498/