Ursa Minor

This weekend, I’m at Las Cruces Comic Con. If you’re in town, I hope you’ll drop by the convention center, say “hi,” and browse our fine selection of books. Back in June at Duke City Comic Con, I had the opportunity to meet Tom Hutchison, owner of Big Dog Ink and writer/creator of most of the company’s titles, which include Legend of Oz: The Wicked West and the superhero comic, Critter. Another title he publishes is Ursa Minor, which imagines an alternate world where, in 2012, a pair of werewolves emerged and killed the president of the United States. Soon after that, vampires made themselves known and offered to out the werewolves, tag, and control them for humanity. However, these vampires aren’t the altruists they appear to be on the surface. They’re actually seeking a position of power among humankind and a way to utilize humans as easy food stock.

David and Tom at Duke City Comic Con

As an astronomer, I know the constellation Ursa Minor well. Its name is Latin for “Little Bear” and it’s also known as the Little Dipper, which is the constellation containing Polaris, the pole star. In Tom’s comic, the title character is Naomi, a young woman who also happens to be a werebear. In this world, werebears are among the most dangerous creatures to vampires. They are one of the few creatures strong enough to do physical harm to a vampire and they have silver in their claws, which make them an especially potent force when fighting vampires. Unfortunately for humans, werebears are quite rare and it looks like Naomi may be the only one currently alive.

As the story opens, Naomi works at Papa Gamboli’s Carnival, a carnival-themed nightclub in Los Angeles. Late at night, Naomi and her best friend, Angela, stalk the streets of LA hunting vampires. It soon becomes apparent this is a losing battle. The vampires can make more of their own kind faster than Naomi can kill them. They seek advice from their friend Onyx, a rock golem who tends bar at the Carnival. Onyx takes Naomi and Angela to Japan in search of a witch named April who he believes can help them be more effective vampire hunters. April tells them all vampires are descended from one of four “Legends.” These Legends are ultra-powerful vampires: Countess Bathory, Dracula, Vlad, and Orlock. Our team sets out to take on Dracula, but when they realize the vampires can easily deduce their plans, they change tack and confront Elizabeth Bathory instead.

One of the things that was fun about meeting Tom in person was the opportunity to get his thoughts on creating a vampire/horror comic. We also talked about how I had created a short comic based on my novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires and he told me he had actually novelized the original Ursa Minor miniseries. The novelized version of Ursa Minor is available for just 99 cents at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Ursa-Minor-Fear-April-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B01EHK50FS/

Ursa Minor and Guinevere and the Stranger

It was interesting to compare the comic book and prose novel versions of Ursa Minor. Tom’s prose novel is mostly a blow-by-blow retelling of the comic, but there are a few expanded scenes and the novel extends a little beyond the end of the first comic book mini-series. Interestingly, in the comic book, I felt like some of the fight scenes were over and done very quickly. In the novel, he took some time and built more suspense, making me worry more for the fate of our heroes. Overall, I felt like I got to know Naomi, Angela, April, and Onyx just a little better in the prose novel than I did in the comic series alone. As with many small press works, the prose novel would benefit from another round of copyediting, but it was enjoyable and it would be interesting to see Tom try his hand at novelized versions of some of his other universes.

You can learn more about the Ursa Minor comic series at: https://bigdogink.com

You can find my vampire comic at: https://hadrosaur.com/GuinevereStranger.php

My Scarlet Order vampire novels are at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

Dracula, Dead and Loving It

I grew up with classic Mel Brooks films such as Blazing Saddles, History of the World: Part I and Young Frankenstein. At 94, Mel Brooks is still around and still involved in the film business, though his later films don’t have the same reputation for greatness as his earlier films. So, I was a little uncertain when my wife brought home a copy of Dracula, Dead and Loving It, which, to-date, is the last film he directed. Although the movie didn’t quite reach the heights of Brooks’s earlier films, it still had a lot of great moments and I was glad to have watched it.

Nosferatu contemplates Dracula, Dead and Loving It

One of the things that makes Young Frankenstein great is the clear love Mel Brooks has for the Universal monster films of the 1930s. He pays homage to many of the great moments in Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein while poking fun at them. That same love comes through in Dracula, Dead and Loving It. The story largely follows the 1931 Dracula which starred Bela Lugosi but also includes send-ups of the 1922 Nosferatu and Bram Stoker’s Dracula from 1992.

The earlier Mel Brooks films benefit a lot from the comedic talents of people like Gene Wilder, Madeleine Kahn, and Cleavon Little. It’s hard to say anyone in Dracula, Dead and Loving It rises to their level, but there are still some fun performances. Harvey Korman is one of those actors who appears in a lot of Mel Brooks films, and I confess I’ve tended to like movies more in spite of Korman than because of him. In this case, I thought Korman did a brilliant job of playing Dr. Seward. He “disappeared” into the role and felt very much like versions of Seward who appeared in the Universal and Hammer films, which made the humorous lines he delivered straight all the funnier. Peter MacNicol is another actor who I’ve seen in other films but didn’t especially stand out to me. In Dracula, Dead and Loving It, he channels Dwight Fry’s Renfield beautifully. One of the best scenes in the movie involves Korman and MacNicol having a dialog over tea while MacNicol surreptitiously snatches bugs and tries to eat them unseen.

Mel Brooks gives a nice performance as Abraham Van Helsing and also pokes fun at many of the tropes surrounding the character. Like Korman, his performance here is a little more understated than in other films where he appears and it works to the film’s benefit.

For me, Leslie Nielsen’s best film is Forbidden Planet where he really defined the role of the brave, stalwart starship captain for many actors who would follow in his footsteps. Unfortunately, Forbidden Planet was made at a time when Hollywood didn’t take science fiction seriously and Nielsen didn’t get many roles until he found his way into comedy. To me, his real comedy talent is delivering silly lines with the same kind of stalwart earnestness he gave to the Captain Adams part in Forbidden Planet. That ability served him well in Dracula, Dead and Loving It. He delivers a performance that pays tribute to both Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee. The only problem is that by this time, Nielsen was so recognizable that he didn’t quite disappear into the part in the same way that Korman and MacNicol did into theirs.

While there are stronger vampire comedies and even stronger Mel Brooks films, I enjoyed Dracula, Dead and Loving It and plan to give it another watch to see if there are other elements and classic film tributes I missed the first time. Although my own vampire novels are intended as serious works, I do throw in some light moments. You can learn more about them at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

The Baron and the Firebird

“I hate vampire stories!” One of my co-workers made that statement at the dinner table this week. It’s a sentiment I sometimes hear at conventions when people glance at my vampire novels without learning more about them. Of course, what they mean is that they hate the proliferation of vampire romances and it’s actually a sentiment I can appreciate, especially when the protagonist vampire is creepily stalking a girl centuries younger than himself. I read a book this week that definitely doesn’t fit that mold.

firebirdebook J. A. Campbell’s novelette The Baron and the Firebird is a vampire romance, but most definitely not one involving a vampire pretending to be a high school student. The story opens with a Russian vampire named Peter in a New York diner looking for his lost love—a woman with a beautiful voice named Zoya. A waitress at the diner suggests he try a musical that recently opened. Having nothing to lose, Peter takes her advice.

The story then flashes back to Russia in 1725. Peter, known back then as Pyotr, is a Baron managing lands. Even though he’s a vampire, he’s learned to subsist on goat’s blood so he doesn’t have to drink the blood of his subjects. Pyotr is able to walk in sunlight through the aid of magical cherries that grow in his garden. Only a small number grow in the harsh Russian winter and he parcels them out carefully because they help him to be a good and effective ruler of his land. Unfortunately, a bird has entered the orchard and has started eating the magical cherries.

This is not just any bird, but a magical firebird. Pyotr traps her. Entranced by her beauty, he builds her a bigger cage. One day, he’s surprised to find not the firebird in his cage, but a beautiful woman. He lets her out and they talk. She makes a bargain to stay a year for each cherry she ate from his garden.

As you might infer, events happen which cause them to become separated, since Pyotr is searching for her years later. I was delighted by the fairy-tale like quality of this particular vampire story. I also appreciated that this story explored the love of two immortal creatures, one of light and one of darkness. The vampire elevates himself to become better than most would expect while the firebird comes down to Earth. Campbell effectively builds tension, making us wonder whether or not the vampire and the firebird will be able to build a love that can last forever.

The Scarlet Order vampires would be pleased to make the acquaintance of Pyotr and Zoya. If you like tales of timeless romance, classic fairy tales, or just want to read a good, non-formulaic vampire tale, then The Baron and the Firebird is the book your looking for. You can pick up a copy in print or ebook format at Amazon.