An Apocalypse Ends

In 2016, I discovered the comic book Scooby Apocalypse. It was part of the Hanna-Barbera Beyond initiative, in which various Hanna-Barbera animated characters were imagined on the pages of DC Comics in darker, edgier situations than the original cartoons. In Scooby Apocalypse, the gang from Scooby-Doo Where Are You? found themselves trapped in a hellish world where a nanite plague has swept the world, turning most people into horrific monsters. Most books in the Hanna-Barbera Beyond series lasted no more than six issues. A few lasted for twelve issues. Scooby Apocalypse was definitely the longest lasting with a three-year 36-issue run.

The original Scooby-Doo Where Are You? debuted in 1969 during my preschool years. It was one of my favorite shows for many years. As a kid, I found the ghosts and monsters genuinely spooky. For that matter, the spooky space kook, a glowing skeleton in space armor with a cackling laugh still sends chills up my spine. Scooby, Shaggy, Fred, Daphne, and Velma were all genuinely likable to me. I worried about them and was always relieved when they discovered the villain was just a criminal in a costume. The premise, no doubt, helped to give me some genuine skepticism, even if one of the characters was a talking dog!

As far as I’m concerned, Scooby had two really good seasons and the third season, The Scooby-Doo Movies, which went to an hour format and featured celebrity “guest stars” wasn’t too bad. As with many Scooby fans of my generation, I lost interest when Scooby’s plucky nephew Scrappy-Doo was introduced.

I did regain interest in the series when Warner Brothers started making direct-to-video Scooby-Doo stories. Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island came out in 1998 and I still think it’s one of the finest Scooby stories made. It imagined the team as adults. Fred and Daphne worked for a TV station on a show investigating paranormal claims. Velma owned a bookstore. Scooby and Shaggy were bouncing from job to job. To me, this felt like what the gang would be doing. They get together to look into claims of zombies in the Louisiana Swamp and they discover there is some truth to the claims. Now that I’ve been to Louisiana a few times, I feel like the story really captures some of the haunted mystery of the bayou country.

Now, this wasn’t the first time Scooby and the gang encountered “real” monsters, but earlier incarnations often made the “real” ghosts silly and cheesy and dropped them into the stories with no explanation. Zombie Island felt like a real continuation of the series. Other movies like The Witch’s Ghost were also fun.

Scooby Apocalypse is set in an alternate world where the gang meet up as adults. Like in Zombie Island, Fred and Daphne work for a TV station. Velma works at a research lab. Shaggy is a lab assistant and Scooby is part of an experiment giving dogs the power of speech. Over the course of the three-year run, we learn about Velma’s role in the creation of the nanites. We also meet two of her brothers. The gang gains allies in the form of Cliffy, an orphan boy with one arm and one of Velma’s sisters-in-law. We even meet Scrappy-Doo, who like Scooby is part of the program designed to give dogs intelligence and enhanced abilities. Scrappy starts out as a villain but ultimately becomes one of the good guys. One of my favorite elements was a romance between Shaggy and Velma. Watching the original series as an adult, I always felt the chemistry was there, but some reason, most later iterations ignored it.

The series also took some dark twists and turns. This really shouldn’t be surprising given that it’s apocalyptic fiction, but some moments were stunning given the source material. After three years, the series came to a generally satisfying conclusion. As it stands, it drags a bit in the middle and the ending felt a bit rushed. I think this is just the nature of comics publishing. You don’t get to plan the lengths of your story arcs very far in advance. On the whole, I’m glad I stuck around for the ride. Looking back on different incarnations of Scooby and the gang, I wouldn’t rate this as my favorite, but it’s still up in the top tier.

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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/

Trimming Files

This weekend finds me at El Paso Comic Con. If you’re in the Sun City this weekend, I hope you’ll drop into the convention center and say “hi.” In the week leading up to the convention, I’ve been working on a project that’s both tedious and fun. In effect, I’ve been working as an assistant sound engineer on the audio edition of my own book, Firebrandt’s Legacy.

I’m working with Eric Schumacher of Seelie Studios to create a full-cast audio book. Eric is in the photo above, to the left. Creating full-cast audio adventures has always been a goal of Hadrosaur Productions and our partnership with Seelie is a way to help make that happen. I’m very excited that a vital member of the cast is Geoffrey Notkin, the multi-award winning host of the Science Channel’s Meteorite Men series, who will be narrating the audio book. That’s him on the right in the photo above.

The process of creating the audio book started with Eric chopping my story up into the parts each actor would read. He and I worked together to cast the parts, then he’s been bringing each actor in to read their lines. What happens is that Eric creates an audio file for each actor reading several different takes of their line. Each take might involve a slightly different emotional nuance or emphasize different words in the hopes of finding just the right dramatic impact. Now this is where I come back into the picture.

We now have long audio files with each actor saying the line several different ways, plus each of these files has all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes. There’s discussion with the director about the reading plus there’s some laughing and joking. My job has been to create individual audio files of each individual take and catalog them in the order they appear in the story. Eric will then review these files with the audio editor and combine them into the final audio book.

What we’re recording right now is just the first chapter and I already have over a thousand audio files. As you can imagine, the process of trimming and the final process of stitching these back together will take a while. Now, each chapter of Firebrandt’s Legacy is a stand-alone short story. Once we finish this first chapter, we plan to release it, then start a crowdfunding campaign to finish the book. Our goal will be to raise enough money to pay all the actors, the director, and the audio engineers a fair salary for the amount of work it’ll take to record the remaining fourteen chapters.

I’ve been having a fantastic time listening to each actor’s interpretation of the story’s characters. In fact, I even have a part in the audio book as well and I’ll talk more about that closer to release time. In the meantime, you can learn more about the collaboration between Hadrosaur Productions and Seelie Studios by visiting http://www.bookmediasolutions.com. If you want to be notified of the crowdfunding campaign when it starts, be sure to sign up for my newsletter at http://www.davidleesummers.com. If you don’t want to wait for the audio book campaign and would like to help make this a reality right now, be sure to check out my Patreon page at http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers. If you sign up there, you can even read the entire book through the posts and get a sneak-peak at the re-edited edition of The Pirates of Sufiro that I’m currently working on.

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.

El Paso Comic Con 2019

Next weekend, I’ll be at El Paso Comic Con in El Paso, Texas. The event is being held from Friday, April 12 through Sunday, April 14 at the El Paso Convention Center. Special guests for the weekend include LeVar Burton from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Reading Rainbow. Also there will be Jason David Frank, Johnny Yong Bosch, Steve Cardenas, Jason Narvy, and Paul L. Schrier II who all played in incarnations of the Power Rangers TV series. There will also be guests from the comics industry such as writer and illustrator Frank Cho and writer Donny Cates. There will be music by The Library Bards plus cosplay, vendors, and panels all weekend long. You can get more information about the event at: http://elpasocomiccon.com/

Through much of the event, you will be able to find me at booth A15 in the vendor hall. I will have all my books available for sale and I’ll be happy to answer your questions. Also, on Sunday, April 14 at 11am, I’ll join author R.H. Webster for a panel entitled “The Southwest as Inspiration” in the Juarez Panel Room. We’ll talk about the surprising ways the Southwest inspires our science fiction fantasy, and steampunk. Be sure to bring all your questions for us!

I’ll be unveiling Hadrosaur Productions latest novel, Armageddon’s Son at my booth. I edited this terrific novel by Greg Ballan, which tells how the forces of Light and Dark wage war on and above Earth as each side seeks human allies to advance either the destruction or salvation of an ignorant mankind. In one bold, desperate act, an agent of Chaos has stolen the most powerful and coveted holy relic from the very heart of Vatican City, The Ruby Crucifix of Christ. This powerful relic was carved from the very cross where the savior was nailed, and is stained with His blood. This holy relic is said to be the instrument to end Armageddon and herald a new age of Man. Fortunately, Ex-CIA Agent Erik Knight is recruited to assist his mentor, Martin Denton, to discover the identity of the mysterious thief and locate the stolen relic.

Another book that will be new to El Paso Comic Con is David B. Riley’s Fallen Angel. It tells the story of Mabel, an angel from Hell, who accompanies General Grant’s army during the last days of the Civil War only to discover that Martians are watching the Earth with envious eyes and slowly drawing their plans against us. Not only that, but Mabel has to contend with her evil sister, who wants to have humans for dinner. Although Mabel and Grant get the upper hand before the war ends, the battle of good against evil isn’t won so quickly.

Of course, I’ll have my own latest release along as well and I’ll be happy to sign copies of Firebrandt’s Legacy for you. The novel tells the story of Ellison Firebrandt who fights the good fight for Earth. Under a letter of marque. He raids the ships of Earth’s opponents, slowing down their progress and ability to compete with the home system. On the planet Epsilon Indi 2, he rescues a woman named Suki Mori from a drug lord, only to find she isn’t so happy about living a pirate’s life. However, when the captain finds a new engine that will make him the most successful pirate of all, Suki is the only one who can make it work.

I look forward to seeing you in El Paso next weekend!

Owl Riders in the Sky

While driving up to Kitt Peak National Observatory late on Saturday night, Johnny Cash’s rendition of the great Stan Jones song, “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” cycled on my mp3 player. To my mind, the song is a great example of a weird western expressed in music. It tells the story of an old cowhand who rides out on a dark and dusty day and encounters the devil’s own herd being chased by a phantom cowboys.

As I listened, I found myself substituting some images from my own Clockwork Legion novels. In fact, the title of the fourth novel in the series, Owl Riders, is kind of an homage to the spooky feelings evoked by the “Ghost Riders.” Different cultures in the southwest often see the appearance of owls as bad omens. As portrayed in Rudolfo Anaya’s novel Bless Me Ultima, owls are sometimes seen as the familiars of witches. In my novel, the owls themselves are ornithopters, which are craft that fly by flapping their wings. The owl riders of the title are the pilots of these craft. It struck me that with a few tweaks, the song goes from being more of a horror-flavored weird western to more of a science fictional weird western or even a steampunk song.

I don’t feel I can share the full song as I envisioned it since that would include some verbatim lyrics from the original. While it’s part of a discussion of the song and could arguably be “fair use,” quoting complete lines would be a substantial part of the song itself, like quoting an entire chapter from a novel. It’s not my intention to cut into sales of the song. In fact, if you don’t already own a copy of the song, I strongly recommend buying a legal download or a CD of one of the many fine versions. What’s more the lyrics are easily available on the web. Still, I thought it would be fun to describe the song in my revised version and share a few of the altered lyrics.

In the original song, a cowpoke rides out on a stormy day. In my version one of the owl riders is named Billy McCarty and I imagine that he’s a version of Billy the Kid who was diverted off the path to become the infamous outlaw and becomes a hero instead. I could imagine that the cowpoke in my version is one of Billy’s associates who takes shelter to get some rest. He looks up in the sky, “When all at once a parliament of steel-eyed owls he saw.”

As they travel through the clouds, he gets a good look: “Exhaust pipes breathing fire and their talons made of steel. Their beaks were black and shiny and their hot wake he could feel.” Our cowhand shudders as he hears his old friend Billy shout out, “owl riders in the sky!”

Billy’s old friend then sees the determined looks on the riders’ faces. Unlike the original song, these are not desperate men who never hope to reach the end of their quest. These are men and women on the quest for justice. It’s possible it will never end, but the next bad guy they catch makes the world just a little better. It’s at this point that Billy turns to his old companion and warns him to change his ways, otherwise the owl riders will come or him next.

Songs rarely tell a whole story. Like poems, they just present a moment in time or an image. This will go in my mental file as an image that might be part of a story. It may not be used directly, but might inspire something down the road. I hope you’ve enjoyed this peak into how I get my ideas. If you want to learn more about the owl riders and how they came to be, read the novel Owl Riders. You can read the first chapter and find places to buy the novel at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/owl_riders.html.

Armageddon’s Son

I’m proud to announce the release of the latest novel from Hadrosaur Productions: Armageddon’s Son by Greg Ballan. In the novel, the forces of Light and Dark wage war on and above Earth as each side seeks human allies to advance either the destruction or salvation of an ignorant mankind. In one bold, desperate act, an agent of Chaos has stolen the most powerful and coveted holy relic from the very heart of Vatican City, The Ruby Crucifix of Christ. This powerful relic was carved from the very cross where the savior was nailed, and is stained with His blood. This holy relic is said to be the instrument to end Armageddon and herald a new age of Man.

Ex-CIA Agent Erik Knight is recruited to assist his mentor, Martin Denton, in discovering the identity of the mysterious thief and locate the stolen relic. The agents soon realize the clergy of Vatican City have secrets and political schemes surpassing even Washington DC’s politicians. In order to solve the mystery, the agents must break through the papal code of silence and accept that the world as they know it is mere illusion, hiding a brutal physical and spiritual war of ‘Good’ versus ‘Evil’. As Erik Knight digs deeper into the mysteries of faith, he realizes his own alien ancestry is linked to biblical prophecy. Is he the fabled ‘Armageddon’s Son’?

This is the first book of Greg’s HYBRID: Ethereal War duology. The first book is a taut suspense thriller with supernatural chills lurking in the background and manipulating events. In the second book, Battle Lines, Greg ramps up the supernatural action as Erik Knight takes the war to those who threaten his family. When Greg submitted Armageddon’s Son to me, I finished and immediately asked to see the next book and I blew right through it. We’ll be publishing the second part of the duology this fall.

The character of Erik Knight should be familiar to readers of Greg Ballan. He appeared in two other novels, Hybrid and Hybrid: Forced Vengeance. The two novels are published by Lachesis Publishing, which has been one of my long-time publishers. I read both of the earlier Hybrid novels and loved them. They tell the story of how Erik Knight learns that that he’s an alien-human hybrid with superhuman powers. Unfortunately, Lachesis recently decided not to accept new novels, but I thought it would be a shame not to see the second two Hybrid novels published. You don’t need to read the first two novels to leap into Armageddon’s Son, but I do highly recommend them. Hybrid and Hybrid: Forced Vengeance are both only 99 cents in ebook format at Amazon.

You can get Hybrid at: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0041KKLLI/

Hybrid: Forced Vengeance is available at: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005CBX1R6/

You can get Armageddon’s Son in print at Amazon.

You can get the ebook of Armageddon’s Son at: