Scary Oz

While I’ve been reading through L. Frank Baum’s Oz novels, Zenescope Entertainment released their 2021 Oz Annual featuring their version of the Patchwork Girl. Like Big Dog Ink’s vision of Oz which I mentioned last month, Zenescope has their own take on Baum’s most famous creation. It helps to realize that like many other comic companies Zenescope has their own “multiverse” and many of their stories fit in that world. Oz is one of the magical lands in the Zenescope multiverse. The other lands are Neverland, Wonderland, and Myst. In the center of it all is the Earth we all know and love. In this multiverse, Neverland, Wonderland, and Oz do bear a passing resemblance to their literary counterparts, but they also have distinct differences. In the Zenescope version, Dorothy travels to Oz and ultimately becomes queen of the land. Thorne, the counterpart of the Cowardly Lion, is from a race of lion men. Bartleby is a living scarecrow.

Zenescope’s Patchwork Girl Annual

The 2021 Oz Annual introduces us to the Patchwork Girl. Instead of the happy-go-lucky Scraps of Baum’s novel we meet a witch called Jenny Patch. Long ago she was put on trial for witchcraft. Found guilty, the villagers tried to drown her. Instead of dying, Jenny came back as a living doll, capable of turning others into dolls. Eventually she’s captured and placed into Oz’s Ojo prison. The name is a neat reference to Ojo the Lucky who appeared in the original Patchwork Girl novel. Once she’s in the prison, the people she turned into dolls revert to normal.

Moving forward to the present day, Jenny summons a tornado, which destroys the prison and she escapes with her sidekick, a bug. I don’t recall Zenescope introducing an analog of H.M. Wogglebug T.E. before, so wondered if this was a nod to that character. Not only does Jenny escape, she escapes to Kansas where she unleashes a reign of terror on the townspeople of an unnamed, large town. From the buildings, I’d guess the city is supposed to be Wichita or the Kansas portion of Kansas City.

Dorothy, Toto, Bartleby and Thorne make their way to Kansas and find the Patchwork Girl is creating a whole army of living dolls. So, it’s up to our heroes to stop them. In the Oz novels, it’s stated several times that Oz’s magic doesn’t work outside the fairyland. In this case, the magic has no problem operating in our world, but again, this fits the rules of Zenescope’s multiverse. Overall, I find that Zenescope does a good job with horror action and this comic fits comfortably in that niche. The comic is written by Jenna Lyn Wright, whose work I haven’t encountered before. She seemed to sneak in a few more sly Oz references than I’ve seen in earlier Oz volumes from Zenescope.

Overall, I recommend this for the Oz fan looking for a twisted, scary take on the world. This one is definitely not for younger Oz fans. For those wanting to explore the Zenescope Oz universe you can start with the graphic novels at: https://zenescope.com/collections/tales-from-oz-trade-paperbacks

Marvel Comics in Oz

While reading L. Frank Baum’s original Oz novels, I discovered that Marvel Comics ran an Oz series from 2009 through 2012. Written by Eric Shanower with art by Skottie Young, the series adapted the first six Oz novels into comic format. Shanower is a long-time Oz fan and knows the books and characters well. He’s also an artist in his own right and I first discovered his work by finding his illustrations of Oz characters, which are strongly inspired by John R. Neill’s illustrations for the original novels.

Skottie Young started at Marvel drawing such titles as Spider-Man: Legend of the Spider Clan, Human Torch, and Venom. He was soon tapped to take on the Oz series. I have to admit, when I first encountered these adaptations the art almost kept me from diving in. It was a little more stylized and, well, cartoonish than my taste in comic book art. However, the more I looked at the art, the more I was reminded of the surreal illustrations Tim Burton drew while imagining The Nightmare Before Christmas. There’s something about the illustrations that’s warm and loving, but just a little creepy, which actually suits the material nicely. I warmed to Young’s style even more after watching a video where he told how Oz helped him find his preferred artistic style. I really love his take on Dorothy, the Wizard, and the Tin Woodsman, along with characters like General Jinjur and Professor H.M. Wogglebug T.E. from the later books. He also does real justice to scary characters like the Wicked Witch of the West and Road to Oz’s terrifying Scoodlers.

The comics are almost word-for-word adaptations of the novels, which means the adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has many notable differences from the famous MGM movie. That said, I noticed that Eric Shanower didn’t slavishly adapt the Oz novels when writing these comics. In his adaptation of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, Shanower actually corrects a logic problem in the novel. Where L. Frank Baum gave us a deus ex machina ending, Shanower tweaks the resolution slightly and foreshadows it giving us some plot tension along the way. Yes, Shanower changes Baum, but he shows us how someone who knows and loves an author’s work can make it better. I suspect Baum would have approved.

After reading the six adapted novels, my primary complaint is that they didn’t continue to adapt the rest of Baum’s canon. Still, if you’re looking for a way to quickly see what the larger Oz universe has to offer, the Marvel Oz comics are a good place to jump in. They helped to refresh my memory of the first three novels, which I’d read several years ago. I then had fun seeing Shanower and Skottie’s adaptation of the three novels that began my current journey through Baum’s fantasy series. In 2020, Marvel brought the series out in three digest-sized volumes under the title Oz: The Complete Collection. Copies were available at both my local comic store and my local Barnes and Noble.

Aftershock and Awe

This has been a busy summer for my daughter. She had a remote NASA internship and took second semester physics as an intense six-week summer course. I did what I could to help with both of these areas, explaining things like orbital parameters for the internship and helping her understand physics problems. I know how intense these things are and some of what I did was simply not provide a distraction at inappropriate times by turning on the television. This caused me to turn to books and comics for more of my entertainment, which is not altogether a bad thing. In seeking things to read, I stumbled across a comic published in 2012 based on the TV series Space: 1999 called Aftershock and Awe, written by Andrew Gaska. Given my recent interest watching the show and listening to the audio re-imagining by Big Finish Productions, I thought this looked interesting. The only problem is that it had gone out of print around the time the COVID-19 pandemic began and appeared to be somewhat difficult to find. I did find some copies on eBay and most appeared to be available for a fair price, considering that it was a hardcover book. Still, I decided to ask some devoted fans whether this was worth the price.

On Facebook, there is a group devoted to a podcast hosted by Jamie Anderson, Richard James, and Chris Dale. Jamie is the son of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, the producers of Space: 1999 and the podcast is devoted to the shows. If you enjoy shows like Thunderbird, Stingray, UFO, or Space: 1999, the podcast is well worth a listen. What’s more, the Facebook group is full of fans who genuinely enjoy these shows and have fun discussing them. So, I asked about the book there. I had some nice responses, including one from Chris Dale who said the book was worthwhile. I was surprised and delighted a few days later when they read my question on the podcast itself. Jamie Anderson indicated he was familiar with the book and liked it. The upshot of all of this is that I took the plunge and picked up a copy for my collection.

Showing off Aftershock and Awe while wearing my Space: 1999 shirt.

I’ve now had a chance to read the graphic novel and I agree, it was a good choice for my collection. The first half is a retelling of the show’s first episode, “Breakaway.” It features fabulous, classic Space: 1999 comic art by Gray Morrow along with new art and colors by Miki and dialog by Andrew Gaska. Like Big Finish’s version of “Breakaway,” it expands the story. It tells more about the backstory of Commander Gorski who leaves Moonbase Alpha at the beginning. It also suggests there is more to the moon leaving orbit rapidly than simply being propelled by a nuclear explosion. It’s not quite as satisfying as the explanation in the Big Finish audio, but it’s clearly heading in that direction and dovetails with it nicely. When I do have a chance to turn on the TV for a little while, I’m watching the second season of Space: 1999 and it was nice to see second season characters Tony Verdeschi and Shermeen Williams introduced right from the outset as minor characters. The opening title pages also give nods to both the first and second season credit sequences. Like many fans, I’m not as fond of the second season as the first, but the second season has grown on me and I think for the most part, it improved toward the end. So, it was nice to see this nod to continuity.

The second half of the book is set on Earth and sets up Space: 1999 as existing in an alternate history. As someone who has written various flavors of alternate history, I really like this approach. Featuring lovely painted illustrations by David Hueso, we find out what was happening on Earth to a group of people connected to those crewmembers on Moonbase Alpha who blasted out of orbit. Of course, the moon leaving Earth’s orbit suddenly would be catastrophic and such an event would set off numerous natural disasters. The apocalyptic events are highlighted by lines of poetry and quotes from the book of Revelation. The timing was interesting, since I’m about to embark on editing my 2007 novel, Heirs of the New Earth for a new edition, and I also highlight key elements with quotes from Revelation. The other aspect both the graphic novel and my novel share is that while they both imagine great disaster befalling the Earth, they’re both ultimately hopeful stories in that they imagine the human race persevering in the wake of the disaster. First edition copies of my novel are available for half off the cover price at: https://www.hadrosaur.com/HeirsNewEarth.php or you can support me at Patreon and support the work I’m doing on the new edition. My Patreon site is: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers.

I was sufficiently impressed with Aftershock and Awe that I’d recommend it to any Space: 1999 fan. There was a follow up, which also featured Gray Morrow’s art, but that book, To Everything that Was, is much rarer and much more expensive. As I understand, these books were on Comixology for a time. It would be great if a new distribution deal could be made and they could return to digital format, or a new print run ordered for more fans to discover these books.

Oz in the Wild West

The Oz novels of L. Frank Baum take the kinds of ideas that appeared in the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and give them a distinctly American spin. One of the few ways Baum could have made them more uniquely American would have been to have put Oz in the Wild West. As it turns out, comic book writer and publisher Tom Hutchison of Big Dog Ink did just that with his series The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West. I met Tom at El Paso Comic Con a few years ago and bought the first two graphic novels in the series. Since then, I’ve purchased the next two. Given my read-through of Baum’s canon, I thought it was time to revisit Hutchison’s take on Oz.

The Volume 1 graphic novel largely follows the plot of Baum’s first novel and the 1939 MGM film. As one might expect from the premise, the settings and characters are changed to match the wild west setting. Dorothy is an adult and Toto is her horse. The Tin-Man is a Marshall who could really use a heart. The Scarecrow is a Native American “puppet” who is filled with straw and can’t speak. The Cowardly Lion moves more-or-less directly into the story, although he does wear make-up and a crown. The climactic showdown between Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West happens back on Dorothy’s farm in Kansas. Of course, it is presented as a western showdown, but water is still involved. I’ll leave it at that to avoid too many spoilers.

Volumes 2 through 4 of the series have largely followed the plot of the second novel, The Marvelous Land of Oz. Dorothy is on the sidelines of the action and we now follow the adventures of a boy named Tip. Although her adventures are on the sidelines, Dorothy’s arc is continuing the story as it wraps up in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Jack Pumpkinhead teams up with Tip. In this version, Jack is a former palace guard from the Emerald City who wears a pumpkin bandana to cover his disfigured face. Meanwhile, General Jinjur has taken over the Emerald City. Although the overall plot is inspired by The Marvelous Land of Oz, Hutchison draws in story elements and characters from several of the later Oz novels. We meet the Patchwork Girl and the glass cat along with their creator, Dr. Pipt. The Sawhorse has also entered the story.

Reading the Oz novels, it soon becomes clear that Baum did not plot any kind of story arc for the series as a whole. Each novel is written as something of a standalone story, though new characters introduced in earlier volumes appear in later volumes. One of the things I like about Hutchison’s adaptation is that he takes this vast universe of characters and weaves them into a tighter narrative arc. Hutchison recently ran a Kickstarter to fund the next few issues of Legend of Oz and I was one of his supporters. I’m looking forward to seeing where he takes the story after the first four volumes.

If you want to check out The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West, you can pick up the graphic novels at https://bigdogink.com. Also, watch Kickstarter. I gather Hutchison will be running another Legend of Oz campaign later this year and that can be an opportunity to pick up back issues. For those seeking out single issues, the Volume 1 graphic novel covers the original six issue mini-series. Volume 2 begins the on-going series with a new issue 1. The end of volume 4 coincides with issue 15. There are also two related mini-series. One covers the origin of the Scarecrow and the other is an adventure involving Tik-Tok.

Guinevere and the Stranger Now Available

Print copies of the comic Guinevere and the Stranger are now available to order. I wrote the comic, Michael Ellis illustrated it, and Bram Meehan lettered it. The comic adapts one of the standalone interlude chapters from my novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I often present these when I’m asked to give a short reading because they are not only short, but satisfying, complete tales. This comic tells a story of Queen Guinevere after the battle of Camlan. She’s now a nun in a convent and some kind of monster is killing her fellow sisters. As the former Queen of the Britons, she’s not going to stand by while innocents die. Believing it to be a wild beast, she goes on a hunt and is surprised to discover not a beast, but a vicious, beast-like man.

I’ve long wanted to try my hand at scripting a comic book. It’s a medium I enjoy greatly as a reader. I’ve also enjoyed collaborating with other artists on projects, and comic books are very much a collaborative art form. What’s more, I enjoy minimalist writing, such as short poems or flash fiction. If anything, comics are writing stripped to its bare essentials. In the process of writing the comic book, I learned that there is a little more involved than just the words people speak or that appear in captions on the finished page. I learned you have to give the artist fairly detailed descriptions of what you imagine. I did my best with this and I also gave the artist the original chapter as a reference. I also sent him links to some of the web pages I used as research when writing the story, so he could see images of the real places as they are today and as historians have reconstructed them.

As the artwork came in, I took a lot of delight in seeing the emotion that Michael brought to the characters. I loved seeing the expressions on their faces as they delivered the lines and I thought he did an amazing job of showing what I hoped to convey. I also gained a solid appreciation of the letterer’s art. It may seem simple to put words in balloons, but they need to flow so that readers can follow the dialogue. Bram also added touches to help convey emotion through the lettering, showing hopelessness at one point by reducing the font size. Not only did Bram create the lettering in the word balloons, he laid out the cover, the credits page, and an ad in the back which pointed people to the novel. He also made sure I had the book delivered in a format ready for the printer, which made for a completely trouble-free printing experience. He also formatted the comic for digital presentation and I’m excited to announce it will be available tomorrow, June 23 from Comixology.

Troy Stegner of Zia Comics in Las Cruces has reviewed the comic and shows off some of the interior pages.

You can grab a print copy of Guinevere and the Stranger exclusively at https://hadrosaur.com/GuinevereStranger.php

If you’d like it signed, just go to the contact page at hadrosaur.com after you place your order, drop me a note, and let me know who you would like the book signed to.

The digital edition will also be linked to the Hadrosaur Productions page when it goes live tomorrow.

Update 6/23/2021: The digital edition is now available! You can grab it at https://www.comixology.com/Tales-of-the-Scarlet-Order-Vampires/digital-comic/948321

Justice Society: World War II

A little over a month ago, I was excited to learn there would be a DC animated movie featuring the first ever super hero team from comics, the Justice Society of America. I’ve discussed the Justice Society a few times here and I’ve enjoyed many of their incarnations in the comics from their earliest appearance in 1940 up through their more modern appearances in the 1990s and early 2000s. This new movie promised to return the Justice Society to World War II to punch some Nazis.

Justice Society: World War II

The story opens with President Franklin D. Roosevelt learning about the Justice Society from Colonel Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman’s long-time romantic interest. Trevor suggests these heroes could make a real difference in the war effort. We then jump ahead to what appears to be the present day. Barry Allen, the Flash who first appeared in the Silver Age comics, is having a picnic with his girlfriend Iris West when a fight breaks out between Superman and Brainiac. During the fight, the Flash attempts to stop a speeding Kryptonite bullet from hitting Superman. In the process, he speeds up so much he appears to go back in time to World War II, into the middle of a battle where the Justice Society is involved. The only thing is, Barry has never heard of this superhero team and the whole concept of superhero teams is alien to him. Still, the Flash from the modern era earns the trust of the heroes of the past and they begin following leads to a Nazi invasion of North America. The climactic scenes involve a battle between Nazi-controlled sea-dwelling kaiju-like creatures and the Justice Society.

Over the course of the movie, plenty of Nazis are punched or dispatched in other ways. At the risk of a minor spoiler, Barry learns that he didn’t travel back into the past, but to an alternate Earth. In the comics, this was a pretty typical conceit used to bring the Justice Society and Justice League together for an annual team-up. The best character arc involves the romance between Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman, which then pays off in the story involving Barry Allen and Iris West.

I was pleased to see that the early Justice Society was well represented. Hourman, Hawkman, Jay Garrick’s Flash, Black Canary and of course Wonder Woman are all present and accounted for. That said, Hourman and the original Flash were the only two Justice Society members we don’t see as familiar, regular characters again in the Silver Age and beyond. I would have enjoyed seeing at least a couple more of the early Justice Society members such as Alan Scott’s Green Lantern, the Sandman, or Al Pratt’s Atom. I also think it’s past time for the original Red Tornado, Ma Hunkel, to get a little more of the spotlight.

That all noted, I was pleased to see Wonder Woman depicted as the leader of this Justice Society incarnation. Wonder Woman’s first appearance was, in fact, in the back of an issue of All-Star Comics featuring the Justice Society and she was soon made a member. However, she was relegated to the role of secretary and rarely went on actual adventures. So, giving her the spotlight was nice.

Although I liked several elements of this movie, I didn’t think it quite lived up to the quality standards of earlier DC animated films. It’s tricky to give people good character development in large team-up pieces like this, but the script writers managed it in movies like Justice League Dark and Teen Titans: The Judas Contract. Aside from the parallel romance story, the characters weren’t explored much at all. Also, the climactic battle just seemed a little too big and over-the-top like what we’ve come to expect in the DC live action movies. I wanted to see the Justice Society punch Nazis. Somehow, a battle with a gigantic shark-octopus hybrid felt a little anti-climactic.

It was nice to see the Justice Society get the spotlight in an animated film and I hope they get a chance to appear again. I also hope they can get a stronger story and more time for less-familiar characters to show us what made them as cool as more modern heroes.

In the meantime, I’m in the process of sharing my debut comic book over at my Patreon site. We’re taking a break for the weekend, but we’ll be back with a new page on Monday. Even if you haven’t subscribed, you can see the first two pages for free. After that, you would need to subscribe. To learn more, visit https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers

Fevre Dream

I first became aware of George R.R. Martin’s vampire novel from a review Kurt MacPhearson wrote for Tales of the Talisman Magazine back in 2010. His enthusiasm for Fevre Dream caused me to put it on my to-read list. I finally had a chance to dive in and my only real regret is that I waited so long to read the book.

Fevre Dream Novel

Starting in 1857, Fevre Dream tells the story of Abner Marsh, owner of a small steamboat company in St. Louis, who lost most of his boats the previous winter when they were crushed by ice during an unusually harsh winter. A stranger named Joshua York shows up on his doorstep and offers to buy half the company and gives Abner enough money to build his dream steamboat, which Abner calls the Fevre Dream after the river which flowed by his home town. The Fevre Dream sets off down the Mississippi with Marsh and York serving as co-captains. It soon becomes apparent that York only appears at night. What’s more, York insists that the steamboat make many stops on its journey where he will disappear for days at a time. Meanwhile, on a plantation near New Orleans, we meet Damon Julian, leader of a vampire nest. A human thrall named Sour Billy Tipton buys slaves and brings them to the plantation for the vampires to drain dry. It soon becomes clear that Marsh, York, and Julian are heading toward a confrontation. Martin offers some twists and turns that kept me guessing about the exact nature of the confrontation.

I loved Martin’s description of steamboats. The places the Fevre Dream visits in the novel came to life through his writing. Martin also did a great job of creating vampires that felt like they could be real creatures who exist in the world we know. Also, instead of simply dismissing vampire mythology as so much nonsense, as many other writers did in the 1980s and 1990s, he lets his characters speculate about how that mythology built up around the real creatures, which I liked. I was less impressed with his use of an offensive word for African-Americans. While it lends some authenticity to the novel in its period and setting, and it ultimately serves a good story point, there are some points where the word just feels overused.

Fevre Dream Comic

One of the things that led me to read the book now was discovering that Daniel Abraham had adapted the novel into a comic book. Abraham is one-half of the writing team who created the Expanse novels under the pen-name James S.A. Corey. Since I recently went through the exercise of adapting an episode from one of my vampire novels into a comic book, I was curious what the comic adaptation of this novel was like. He did a good job of paring the novel down to it’s essence and hitting the key plot points. In a comic book, the art needs to do a lot of the heavy lifting of conveying the story’s emotions. At some level, a comic writer’s job is to give the artist all the tools needed to show the story to the reader. Overall, the art did seem to capture the emotions I felt when reading the novel. I did catch a couple of places where it seemed like important plot points were mentioned in passing and if I hadn’t known they were important from the novel, I might have missed them in the comic. This is a challenge in comic book writing because you have to be so minimalist that you have to make choices about what to emphasize and what not to. I might have made a different choice, but without more experience than I have, I don’t know if it would be a better choice.

For those people looking for an interesting, historical vampire tale, I do recommend either the novel or the comic book adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s Fevre Dream. Studying how Daniel Abraham adapted Martin’s novel has given me some ideas about what I would do in further adaptations of my own work.

As a reminder, I will be sharing my comic book, Guinevere and the Stranger with my Patreon subscribers starting on Monday. If you want to be first in line to read the comic, be sure to subscribe at https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers. What’s more, print comics have arrived and will go on sale at https://www.hadrosaur.com soon after it’s appeared for Patreon subscribers.

Alita Battle Angel – The Movie

Two weeks ago, I shared my thoughts about the Robert Rodriguez film, From Dusk till Dawn. This past week, I watched Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of the manga Battle Angel Alita, which I discussed here at the Web Journal back in December. There was a lot about From Dusk till Dawn that suggested Rodriguez would be a good director for this manga. He clearly had a good sense of both character and action, both of which would be essential for adapting Alita for mainstream American audiences.

The American movie adaptation largely follows the plot of the first two volumes of the Alita manga. Set in somewhat grungy city under a pristine floating city, Dr. Ido finds Alita’s cybernetic head in a scrap heap and attaches it to a new body. We learn that Dr. Ido supplements his income as a bounty hunter. While following Dr. Ido, Alita unlocks some of her latent combat abilities. She also decides to become a bounty hunter. As all of this is going on, she meets a young man named Hugo who teaches her about life in the city. He also shares his dreams of traveling to the floating city, Zalem. In the film, Hugo takes Alita to a fallen spaceship from an ancient war, where she learns more about her past. He also introduces her to a futuristic, rocket-propelled version of roller derby called motorball. These last two elements weren’t in the first two volumes of the manga, but I gather are introduced in later volumes.

Overall, the movie felt like a faithful adaptation of the manga. It stayed true to the story of Alita and her journey of self-discovery and independence. It also kept the manga’s spirit of fighting for justice even when the odds are against you. I liked how even though we’re presented with something of a dystopia, the film’s “Iron City” didn’t seem an entirely bad place. You could get chocolate, make friends, and find moments of joy.

One element of the script that bothered me was the need to change and anglicize some of the names. The manga came from an era when anglicizing names was common. For example, Alita’s name in the original manga was Gally. However, in the movie, they change Dr. Daisuke Ido to Dr. Dyson Ido. They also change Yugo to Hugo, which doesn’t bother me as much since they sound similar. Still, it seems anime and manga translation has largely moved past the need to anglicize Asian names for American audiences. It’s time for more mainstream movies to follow suit.

I have mixed feelings about the movie’s choice to give Rosa Salazar’s Alita large eyes reminiscent of the style seen in anime and manga. On one hand, it’s an interesting nod to the story’s artistic roots. Also, it makes some sense that a battle cyborg might have enhanced, larger eyes to take in more than ordinary human eyes. The large eyes serve to emphasize that Alita isn’t human. However, that’s where I think the filmmakers missed the mark somewhat. Alita is supposed to be very human despite the fact she’s manufactured. Also, in manga and anime, the large eyes are something of an artistic style designed to emphasize the role eyes play in conveying emotion. It seems unnecessary to give one character literal anime eyes. It also had a tendency to remind me I’m watching a “special effects movie” instead of letting me disappear into the story.

So far, Alita: Battle Angel is my favorite American live-action adaptation of an anime. It may be flawed, but it largely stayed true to the source material. It gives me hope for better adaptations in the future and if it introduces some new readers to the source material, so much the better.

Guinevere and the Stranger Cover Reveal

Back in March, I teased the comic Guinevere and the Stranger that I had been working on in collaboration with artist Michael Ellis. The project is now far enough along that I can give a few more details about the release. The first people who will get to read the comic in its entirety are my Patreon supporters. I plan to present the pages of the comic over a two-week span in June, essentially sharing a page per day after I’ve finished sharing the work I’m doing on the twentieth anniversary edition of my novel Children of the Old Stars. If you want to be one of the first people to read the comic, be sure to sign up for my Patreon at https://patreon.com/davidleesummers by June 1. You don’t have to wait to see the cover, though. I’ll share that today. The cover features art by Michael Ellis. The layout is by Bram Meehan who was responsible for lettering the interior.

Guinevere and the Stranger Cover.

Inside the front cover, I set up the story. It reads: “In the sixth century, the vampire Desmond persuaded King Arthur to seek the lost Book of Jesus and the Holy Grail. While Arthur’s knights sought these artifacts, the king’s son began a campaign to usurp the throne. It’s said Guinevere went to a convent after King Arthur’s final battle. What happened to her has long been a mystery. At last, this book tells a lost tale from Queen Guinevere’s final years.” As you can see, Dragon’s Fall elaborates on Arthurian legend. I first started delving into the early tales of Arthur in college. Of course, my Scarlet Order vampires are mercenaries involved with the highest level of government, so there was never any doubt that some of them would have known King Arthur. The involvement with the grail legend came from the realization that vampires would no doubt find an artifact so connected with the “blood of Christ” and forgiveness irresistible.

As I mentioned before, this is a retelling of a chapter from my novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires. I had several goals for this project when I started. First and foremost, I’m a longtime fan of the comic book medium and I’ve long wanted to try my hand at scripting a comic. I have sat in on some online courses and some panels given by the group 7000 BC, based in Albuquerque and had learned some of the basics, but realized the only way I would learn more about the process would be to actually dive in, write a script, and hire someone to illustrate it.

When I set out to create this comic, I thought it would be something I would share here at my blog as a fun way to introduce new readers to my novel. In effect, it would serve as a comic book “trailer” for the novel. If I liked how it turned out, I thought I might print some copies to give away at conventions.

What lurks outside?

The thing is, much as I enjoyed the work at Michael’s online portfolio, it really didn’t prepare me for how well he could capture the images I had in my head. As I saw the quality of the work he delivered, I realized it deserved better distribution than I had originally planned. In fact, if you go over to his page, you’ll see several of the pages from Guinevere and the Stranger without dialogue. What’s more, I realized I didn’t want this one 8-page experiment to be the end of our collaboration. Dragon’s Fall contains four short self-contained stories like Guinevere and the Stranger. each one is a brief look into the lives of the Scarlet Order vampires providing insight into who they are. What’s more, I’ve written numerous vignettes about the Scarlet Order vampires. If I can raise sufficient funds to keep paying Michael and Bram what they deserve for their work, I’d love to create more of these books.

As a first step toward this goal, I’m releasing the comic as an exclusive for those people who are signed up for my Patreon. Supporting me there will not only give you a first look at this comic, but you’ll help support the artists I’m collaborating with. After the comic is released on Patreon, a print edition will be released that I will sell at conventions and at hadrosaur.com. Look for that to appear by the middle of June. I’ll likely approach some of my friends in retail about carrying this as well. The print edition will give you the opportunity to hold a copy of the comic in your hand. Finally, I have taken the time to learn how to submit the comic to the Comixology platform for distribution, which I’ve discussed in other comic book reviews. Presuming they accept the book, I’ll share when it’s available there. Out of necessity, the print edition will be the most expensive and most of the income will go to printing costs. Likewise, much as I like Comixology, they will take a large cut of the sales. For now, supporting me on Patreon will be the least expensive way for readers to support this project, but also the way that allows most of the funds to actually go to the artists who created it. Click on the button below to go to my site and sign up.

The Maxx

I have long seen animation as an underutilized and undervalued medium for telling stories. I suspect part of this comes from early encounters with animation that didn’t talk down to kids. One early example was Star Trek: The Animated Series. Even though it appeared in the Saturday morning kid’s cartoon slot, it was produced by the live action show’s staff with writing of a similar caliber. The show’s only real writing shortfall was that stories were constrained to 30-minutes instead of a full hour. I also encountered anime, like Space Battleship Yamato at a fairly young age. Another real eye-opener was the French science fiction film, Fantastic Planet based on the novel Oms in Series.

So, in the 1990s when cable station MTV came along and introduced an animation block called “Oddities,” I was rather interested to see what stories they told. This block was introduced while I lived in Tucson, Arizona, when I first worked for Kitt Peak National Observatory. TV watching was somewhat intermittent and I don’t remember details from many of the shows that aired during the Oddities segment. One did grab my attention and held me enough that I still remember it fairly well some 25 years later. That show was The Maxx.

The animated adaptation of The Maxx was based on Sam Kieth’s comic book of the same name. The title character is a large, purple-clad homeless superhero who lives in a box in a large city. A young woman named Julie Winters is a social worker who looks out for the Maxx. Meanwhile, a serial rapist called Mr. Gone is on the loose and he’s stalking Julie. As the series progresses, we meet a teenage girl named Sarah, whose mom is friends with Julie. Besides Maxx being homeless, what made this different from the normal superhero fare is that Maxx popped back and forth between two separate realities. One was the “real world” city where he’s a superhero and Julie is a social worker. The other reality was a place called “the outback” inhabited by surreal, Dr. Seuss-inspired creatures. In that reality, Julie is the Leopard Queen, in charge of the realm.

As the series progressed, it became clear that the outback was a manifestation of the subconscious shared by Julie and Maxx. Something about their past bound their subconscious realities together. Each individual episode only ran for about 12 minutes, but they contained enough character development to engage me and make me want to see where the story led. Not only were the characters interesting, but the series explored the intersection of dream reality and the real world, plus had some serious discussions of feminism, missing from more mainstream entertainment. I especially appreciated that the series didn’t try to sell me on a viewpoint, but just gave me some issues to think about. I recently discovered that the series is available on home video. It only takes about two hours to watch all thirteen episodes, but it was worthwhile to rediscover this animated gem.

What was perhaps even more fun was that I discovered the original comic run is all available digitally at Comixology. It turns out the thirteen episodes of the animated series are almost a frame-by-frame retelling of the first twelve issues of the comic, which was remarkable. I only noticed minor variations in the story. I have continued on to read more of the story. The tale of Julie, Maxx and Sarah in the 1990s wraps up in issue 20. In issue 21, the story leaps ahead to the (then) near-future of 2005 where Sarah takes center stage as the comic’s protagonist. During this time, we continue to learn more about how the characters are interrelated and Kieth continued to explore interesting ideas and sometimes uncomfortable topics in comic form.

Given my recent experiences dabbling in the comic book form, it’s been fascinating to revisit Sam Kieth’s creation from the 1990s. The comic is available at: https://www.comixology.com/The-Maxx-Maxximized/comics-series/12331