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Thursday, July 22, 2010

John Carter: "I still Live!"

Not only do we get reprints of some of the classic comic adaptations of Burroughs' John Carter, Warlord of Mars tales via Dark Horse, we're also going to get some fresh material derived from the first five Barsoom novels that are in the Public Domain thanks to Dynamite Entertainment.  Let's hope that they're better than the movie...(Continued)...you know the one, with Traci Lords and Antonio Sabato Jr.  Way low budget and a drastic revisionism spurred by how 'Modern science has ruined the old romantic assumptions,' which is a f*ing cop-out for not having read the original material thoroughly.  Modern science and what we know now does Not ruin Burroughs interpretation of Barsoom.  Hardly.  Burroughs' Barsoom is situated in the distant past and may well be taking place on a finer, more spiritual plane of existence rooted in Theosophical speculations, if you look very closely to all the mentions of cliffs of gold, a lot of other hints scattered through Burrough's text.  If you thought that H. P. Lovecraft was influenced by Theosophy, you really need to give Burroughs another look.  The whole translation/transmigration to another world with attendent super-powers, etc. that features in John Carter's astral projection/bodily dislocation/vapor-induced dream-made-reality is suspiciously close to the whole ascended master stuff that Madame B. liked to peddle back in the day.  If you accept that Carter went into the past, possibly millions of years into the past, it opens-up a lot of possibilities that remain viable and possible and plausible...at least as plausible as anything else people accept these days and far easier to swallow than others such as the whole Men Who Stare at Goats kind of stuff that actually received funding once upon a time.

As for the big-budget movie announced by Disney...it has a lot of good stuff going for it.  Michael Chabon revising the script is possibly the biggest and best bit of good news I've heard so far.  The Unofficial Fan Site has a lot of news on how things are progressing, and there's a Wikipedia page on the whole John Carter Movie phenomenon/process that leads off into some of the other, previous attempts, including the original animated project that Burroughs was personally involved with--fun stuff!

Oh, and while you're at the Dark Horse site, be sure to check out the Tarzan/John Carter: Warlords of Mars miniseries.  Tarzan and John Carter together on Barsoom.  This is some very cool stuff. At least visually...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Warrenverse

Warren Publishing started out in the late Fifties with an 'adult' zine called After Hours.  It made it to four issues before dying, but in the course of its last issue they ran an interview with the one and only Forrest J. Ackerman.  From the ignominious ashes of After Hours arose Famous Monsters of Filmland, without a doubt the quintessential monster-movie magazine aimed at kids and anyone else who liked a good scare or monsters in general.  (Forry Ackerman also was responsible for importing/translating the German SciFi Pulp Perry Rhodan into English and distributing it in North America, but that's another story for another day).

Forry Ackerman, working through Warren Publishing, established both Famous Monsters of Filmland and Monster World which introduced what he called 'Monster Comics.'  Monster World eventually gave rise to Creepy and Eerie and in time Vampirella as well as other magazines including a reprinting of Eisner's The Spirit.

Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella introduced a completely new universe of characters, a Warrenverse, if you will.  The combination of horror, monsters, science fiction, fantasy and pulpish heroics combined with a bit more adult perspective and frank language/sexual situations proved a fairly potent and memorable influence on quite a few readers, writers and artists exposed to this stuff at an early and vulnerable age.  Exterminator One (pictured above) still beats the so-called Terminator hands-down.  The first story alone packs more of an emotional wallop than anything Ahnuld's walking, talking bullet-catching miscreants have managed.  Or what about The Rook, a wild west tinged time-traveller whose time machine is shaped like a chess piece and who packs six shooters, not a screwdriver, sonic or otherwise.  The Rook is still cool after all these years, and though the stories were uneven on any given instance, the character is still very, very fun and would benefit greatly from being revived by an author with some imagination and a firm grasp of Zane Gray or Louis L'Amour more than Doctor Who.  Then there is the infamous Night of the Jackass...a series that dealt with the proliferation of a drug --Hyde25-- in Victorian London and its horrific effects on the downtrodden masses as they suddenly gain superhuman strength at the cost of losing their minds, going hyper-violent and dying within 24 hours.  It's a peculiar blend of Jack the Ripper and 28 Days Later, but with horribly mutated and cracked-out bat-shit-crazy street people, not zombies.  Again, the series as presented is a bit uneven, but the core concept is intriguing and horrific in a way that From Hell simply isn't, despite being far and away much better written and layered with tons of cleverness, allusions and versimilitude.  I, for one, would dearly love to see Alan Moore re-vamp the Night of the Jackass series...but it'll probably never happen.  I doubt that he's ever even heard of it, for one thing.

Mac Tavish, while appearing a great deal like a poor man's Magnus Robot Fighter in space, did manage to scrape together some fun moments.  Darklon the Mystic (an early Starlin creation) was a strange mash-up of sorcery and super-science featuring a galaxy-hopping sorcerer anti-hero that still reads as good today as it did decades ago; and I mean that in a good way.  Darklon the Mystic would easily be right at home on Planet Algol, Fomalhaut or right in the middle of a Sorcery & Super-Science session.

Hunter and Hunter 2 were actually kind of fun as well.  Hunter was about the post-apocalyptic retro-dystopian adventures of Demian Hunter who fought against the horrific 'demons,' saurian-like mutants who had branched-off from humanity after a cataclysmic war long ago.  In the usual gambit of such tales, Hunter was not only the foremost killer of 'demons,' but his father was actually the king of the demons who had ravaged Hunter's mother.  It was a real Empire Strikes Back kind of thing, and Hunter spent most of his time hunting down daddy un-dearest in order to lay the righteous smack down on his scaly butt.  The Big Bad Guy really was Demian Hunter's daddy...and he, himself was a half-mutant, which gave him some measure of improved abilities, but nothing too outrageous or useful beyond the usual large muscles and diminished brains that comes standard for most such heroes.  Demian Hunter was an emotionally distant, amoral killer who was reminiscent of a Captain America style super soldier gone really bad, barbaric and after the fall of civilization.  In some ways it is as if a half-breed Conan drank the Super Soldier Serum and then went about kicking ass in a world that wouldn't let Thundarr come out to play.  It was a fairly popular series and the character of Demian Hunter has been resurrected several times now, mostly for cross-over stories with The Rook, Vampirella and Darklon the Mystic.

Hunter 2 involved the inheritor of the Hunter franchise, a full-blooded human warrior named Karas who took up the mantle, title and helmet and got to work killing off artificial mutants being mass-produced by evil wizards.  This series was more like Thongor or one of those second-string Conan-types facing off against wizards and mutants in a post-apocalyptic Shannara-like setting...and he gets a very special side-kick/ally--the Exterminator Cyborg!  Very Cool.

This series was far less dystopian, and more fantastical, more Tolkein-esque, but in a thoroughly Warren way.  Instead of being a superhero from the start, Karas has to learn the ropes and live up to the legend of his fore-runner...and that makes the whole series take on a very different feel right from the start.  You watch Karas become a great hero, which is admittedly a stock plot, but it works very well.  This series was superior to its predecessor in many respects but it hasn't gotten the same level of support, recognition or plain old respect that Demian Hunter has. Maybe that'll change eventually.  It's a shame that this really good series was lost amidst the horror-stuff that surrounded it in Eerie at the time.  People looking for Science Fiction or Fantasy were not going to necessarily look at Eerie and that, if nothing else, really cramped this series' popularity pretty severely.

Vampirella was one of Forry Ackerman's best ideas ever.  A vampiric answer to Barbarella, this character became an icon for Warren Publishing and one of the single most stared-at characters in all of comic-dom.  Vampi is not just any old jiggly cheesecake vampiress in a skimpy red swimsuit, she's a 'good' vampire from the planet Drakulon where blood flows in rivers...and...yeah...it does get kind of silly...but her first issue had a cover painted by Frank Frazetta, and did I mention the skimpy red swimsuit?

The Jose Gonzalez wall poster of Vampirella is still a classic and it's available for sale once again at the Vampirella website, which is very cool.

So, why dredge-up all this Warren-stuff?

Simple.  It's not all that well-known outside of those of us who grew up with this stuff or those old collector-dudes who smell like cats and grumble about insanely inconsequential minutiae only three other people in the universe know or care about.  And that sucks.  Period.

Warren Publishing produced some abysmal dreck in its time, sure, but so has any and every other publisher in any genre or media.  Sturgeon's Law applies.  But amidst all the hype and titillation, crudity and silliness (rivers of blood for crying out loud?!?), there were shining moments of inspired imagination at work, stories that didn't fit the cookie-cutter mold of Marvel or DC who would never have allowed Starlin to produce Darklon the Mystic until after it came out via Warren (they let him write Thanos, but only after Darklon proved viable).  Stories like the first Hunter series or Exterminator One's origin, let alone Night of the Jackass could never have been done through DC or Marvel  or anyone else who was peddling 'respectable' and code-approved stuff.

Warren was putting out stories that were different, demented and dangerous.  There was a grim and gritty Noirish sensibility in a Warren story that you wouldn't normally find in comics. The sorts of things that you'd find in the Pulps and Men's Adventure Novels, yes, but not in comics.  Not prior to Warren. Not in the US.  Sure some of the stories fail miserably, as do many stories written more than thirty years ago, but others stand the test of time quite well, aside from matters of taste (or lack thereof).

The grittiness and Noirish-ness became something one expected from Warren.  It made their characters such as The Rook or Hunter 2 seem more coherent, cohesive, even more literary than just the usual costumed 4-color oafs they were competing with--and that added to the overall versimilitude of the Warrenverse.  When you discovered the Exterminator Cyborg within the Hunter 2 series, that automatically lent a lot more gravitas to the mix because it just welded the whole Exterminator back-story onto Hunter 2.  And yes, the other guys did their own bit of intra-title crossovers, but there was something special about how Warren handled it--little things like the Exterminator Cyborgs, and Darklon the Mystic being a distant descendant of Demian Hunter really gave it a feel and a flavor unique unto itself.

So what does any of this mean from an RPG-type perspective?  Glad you asked.  When developing a setting, it is not enough to just go down the checklist and develop a set of archetypal characters as opponents, obstacles or potential allies.  You need to look at how these various characters that you're developing as NPCs interact with the world, with each other, and look for ways to develop their inter-personal relationships wherever it feels appropriate or useful to do so.  Relationships make more of a difference than powers, stats or weapons.  The Rook, Restin Dane, has various ancestors and descendants who are out there, crossing his path at inconvenient moments or sometimes working at cross-purposes to one another, while others are his supporting cast and the like.  That's before we get to his competitors, rivals, opponents, obstacles and former lovers.  It was the almost soap opera-esque emphasis upon the various characters' relationships to one another that really made The Rook work.  You could forgive a lot of hookum and balonium if it was broken-up by the stories that dealt more with the mischief-making of Bishop Dane and the robot gentleman Manners, the complications in Restin's relationship(s) with January Boone, Katie McCall (who also had a relationship with Bishop for a while...), and so on.  It was the richness of the character interaction that made it all work, not the gimmicks or gadgets, though those didn't hurt any--especially the Time Castle shaped like a rook from off of a chessboard.

If your NPCs arise from a vacuum and return to the void in-between encounters, they're too flat and static to be any good for anything beyond crowd-scenes and filler.  You're going to need a few decent NPCs that have more meat on their bones, more heft, more to them than just a few random quirks and a moustache or blue hair.  A good NPC is more than a bunch of stats with a name.  They're your chance to flesh-out aspects of the universe that could open doors for the players that they never knew existed.  The bad guy Gat Hawkins for The Rook is responsible for introducing Bishop and Restin Dane to both January Boone and Katie McCall, a very significant development.  This kind of NPC can become a catalyst for adventurers, like trying to live up to the legend of Demian Hunter or some similar hero that the PC may be descended from--and that could likewise lead to a betrayal of that heritage for the sake of power and revenge, becoming a dire bogeyman that others hear about in hushed whispers of dread such as in the case of a Darklon type of sorcerer.

The Warren characters occupy a strange twilight niche in-between the Pulps and the more tame and bland comics most people are used to, and that makes them a veritable treasure trove of potential inspiration and ideas to draw upon that most of your players won't automatically recognize or be able to peg off the bat.  The sheer inspired lunacy of some of the Warren stories have yet to be repeated, let alone topped...and that makes them a very good resource for your fiction, your game, or your reading pleasure.

This, of course, opens the door to the Wold-Newton Universe parascholarship efforts set into motion by P. J. Farmer...which we'll get to in another post.  Shortly.


The Warrenverse

Warren Publishing started out in the late Fifties with an 'adult' zine called After Hours.  It made it to four issues before dying, but in the course of its last issue they ran an interview with the one and only Forrest J. Ackerman.  From the ignominious ashes of After Hours arose Famous Monsters of Filmland, without a doubt the quintessential monster-movie magazine aimed at kids and anyone else who liked a good scare or monsters in general.  (Forry Ackerman also was responsible for importing/translating the German SciFi Pulp Perry Rhodan into English and distributing it in North America, but that's another story for another day).

Forry Ackerman, working through Warren Publishing, established both Famous Monsters of Filmland and Monster World which introduced what he called 'Monster Comics.'  Monster World eventually gave rise to Creepy and Eerie and in time Vampirella as well as other magazines including a reprinting of Eisner's The Spirit.

Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella introduced a completely new universe of characters, a Warrenverse, if you will.  The combination of horror, monsters, science fiction, fantasy and pulpish heroics combined with a bit more adult perspective and frank language/sexual situations proved a fairly potent and memorable influence on quite a few readers, writers and artists exposed to this stuff at an early and vulnerable age.  Exterminator One (pictured above) still beats the so-called Terminator hands-down.  The first story alone packs more of an emotional wallop than anything Ahnuld's walking, talking bullet-catching miscreants have managed.  Or what about The Rook, a wild west tinged time-traveller whose time machine is shaped like a chess piece and who packs six shooters, not a screwdriver, sonic or otherwise.  The Rook is still cool after all these years, and though the stories were uneven on any given instance, the character is still very, very fun and would benefit greatly from being revived by an author with some imagination and a firm grasp of Zane Gray or Louis L'Amour more than Doctor Who.  Then there is the infamous Night of the Jackass...a series that dealt with the proliferation of a drug --Hyde25-- in Victorian London and its horrific effects on the downtrodden masses as they suddenly gain superhuman strength at the cost of losing their minds, going hyper-violent and dying within 24 hours.  It's a peculiar blend of Jack the Ripper and 28 Days Later, but with horribly mutated and cracked-out bat-shit-crazy street people, not zombies.  Again, the series as presented is a bit uneven, but the core concept is intriguing and horrific in a way that From Hell simply isn't, despite being far and away much better written and layered with tons of cleverness, allusions and versimilitude.  I, for one, would dearly love to see Alan Moore re-vamp the Night of the Jackass series...but it'll probably never happen.  I doubt that he's ever even heard of it, for one thing.

Mac Tavish, while appearing a great deal like a poor man's Magnus Robot Fighter in space, did manage to scrape together some fun moments.  Darklon the Mystic (an early Starlin creation) was a strange mash-up of sorcery and super-science featuring a galaxy-hopping sorcerer anti-hero that still reads as good today as it did decades ago; and I mean that in a good way.  Darklon the Mystic would easily be right at home on Planet Algol, Fomalhaut or right in the middle of a Sorcery & Super-Science session.

Hunter and Hunter 2 were actually kind of fun as well.  Hunter was about the post-apocalyptic retro-dystopian adventures of Demian Hunter who fought against the horrific 'demons,' saurian-like mutants who had branched-off from humanity after a cataclysmic war long ago.  In the usual gambit of such tales, Hunter was not only the foremost killer of 'demons,' but his father was actually the king of the demons who had ravaged Hunter's mother.  It was a real Empire Strikes Back kind of thing, and Hunter spent most of his time hunting down daddy un-dearest in order to lay the righteous smack down on his scaly butt.  The Big Bad Guy really was Demian Hunter's daddy...and he, himself was a half-mutant, which gave him some measure of improved abilities, but nothing too outrageous or useful beyond the usual large muscles and diminished brains that comes standard for most such heroes.  Demian Hunter was an emotionally distant, amoral killer who was reminiscent of a Captain America style super soldier gone really bad, barbaric and after the fall of civilization.  In some ways it is as if a half-breed Conan drank the Super Soldier Serum and then went about kicking ass in a world that wouldn't let Thundarr come out to play.  It was a fairly popular series and the character of Demian Hunter has been resurrected several times now, mostly for cross-over stories with The Rook, Vampirella and Darklon the Mystic.

Hunter 2 involved the inheritor of the Hunter franchise, a full-blooded human warrior named Karas who took up the mantle, title and helmet and got to work killing off artificial mutants being mass-produced by evil wizards.  This series was more like Thongor or one of those second-string Conan-types facing off against wizards and mutants in a post-apocalyptic Shannara-like setting...and he gets a very special side-kick/ally--the Exterminator Cyborg!  Very Cool.

This series was far less dystopian, and more fantastical, more Tolkein-esque, but in a thoroughly Warren way.  Instead of being a superhero from the start, Karas has to learn the ropes and live up to the legend of his fore-runner...and that makes the whole series take on a very different feel right from the start.  You watch Karas become a great hero, which is admittedly a stock plot, but it works very well.  This series was superior to its predecessor in many respects but it hasn't gotten the same level of support, recognition or plain old respect that Demian Hunter has. Maybe that'll change eventually.  It's a shame that this really good series was lost amidst the horror-stuff that surrounded it in Eerie at the time.  People looking for Science Fiction or Fantasy were not going to necessarily look at Eerie and that, if nothing else, really cramped this series' popularity pretty severely.

Vampirella was one of Forry Ackerman's best ideas ever.  A vampiric answer to Barbarella, this character became an icon for Warren Publishing and one of the single most stared-at characters in all of comic-dom.  Vampi is not just any old jiggly cheesecake vampiress in a skimpy red swimsuit, she's a 'good' vampire from the planet Drakulon where blood flows in rivers...and...yeah...it does get kind of silly...but her first issue had a cover painted by Frank Frazetta, and did I mention the skimpy red swimsuit?

The Jose Gonzalez wall poster of Vampirella is still a classic and it's available for sale once again at the Vampirella website, which is very cool.

So, why dredge-up all this Warren-stuff?

Simple.  It's not all that well-known outside of those of us who grew up with this stuff or those old collector-dudes who smell like cats and grumble about insanely inconsequential minutiae only three other people in the universe know or care about.  And that sucks.  Period.

Warren Publishing produced some abysmal dreck in its time, sure, but so has any and every other publisher in any genre or media.  Sturgeon's Law applies.  But amidst all the hype and titillation, crudity and silliness (rivers of blood for crying out loud?!?), there were shining moments of inspired imagination at work, stories that didn't fit the cookie-cutter mold of Marvel or DC who would never have allowed Starlin to produce Darklon the Mystic until after it came out via Warren (they let him write Thanos, but only after Darklon proved viable).  Stories like the first Hunter series or Exterminator One's origin, let alone Night of the Jackass could never have been done through DC or Marvel  or anyone else who was peddling 'respectable' and code-approved stuff.

Warren was putting out stories that were different, demented and dangerous.  There was a grim and gritty Noirish sensibility in a Warren story that you wouldn't normally find in comics. The sorts of things that you'd find in the Pulps and Men's Adventure Novels, yes, but not in comics.  Not prior to Warren. Not in the US.  Sure some of the stories fail miserably, as do many stories written more than thirty years ago, but others stand the test of time quite well, aside from matters of taste (or lack thereof).

The grittiness and Noirish-ness became something one expected from Warren.  It made their characters such as The Rook or Hunter 2 seem more coherent, cohesive, even more literary than just the usual costumed 4-color oafs they were competing with--and that added to the overall versimilitude of the Warrenverse.  When you discovered the Exterminator Cyborg within the Hunter 2 series, that automatically lent a lot more gravitas to the mix because it just welded the whole Exterminator back-story onto Hunter 2.  And yes, the other guys did their own bit of intra-title crossovers, but there was something special about how Warren handled it--little things like the Exterminator Cyborgs, and Darklon the Mystic being a distant descendant of Demian Hunter really gave it a feel and a flavor unique unto itself.

So what does any of this mean from an RPG-type perspective?  Glad you asked.  When developing a setting, it is not enough to just go down the checklist and develop a set of archetypal characters as opponents, obstacles or potential allies.  You need to look at how these various characters that you're developing as NPCs interact with the world, with each other, and look for ways to develop their inter-personal relationships wherever it feels appropriate or useful to do so.  Relationships make more of a difference than powers, stats or weapons.  The Rook, Restin Dane, has various ancestors and descendants who are out there, crossing his path at inconvenient moments or sometimes working at cross-purposes to one another, while others are his supporting cast and the like.  That's before we get to his competitors, rivals, opponents, obstacles and former lovers.  It was the almost soap opera-esque emphasis upon the various characters' relationships to one another that really made The Rook work.  You could forgive a lot of hookum and balonium if it was broken-up by the stories that dealt more with the mischief-making of Bishop Dane and the robot gentleman Manners, the complications in Restin's relationship(s) with January Boone, Katie McCall (who also had a relationship with Bishop for a while...), and so on.  It was the richness of the character interaction that made it all work, not the gimmicks or gadgets, though those didn't hurt any--especially the Time Castle shaped like a rook from off of a chessboard.

If your NPCs arise from a vacuum and return to the void in-between encounters, they're too flat and static to be any good for anything beyond crowd-scenes and filler.  You're going to need a few decent NPCs that have more meat on their bones, more heft, more to them than just a few random quirks and a moustache or blue hair.  A good NPC is more than a bunch of stats with a name.  They're your chance to flesh-out aspects of the universe that could open doors for the players that they never knew existed.  The bad guy Gat Hawkins for The Rook is responsible for introducing Bishop and Restin Dane to both January Boone and Katie McCall, a very significant development.  This kind of NPC can become a catalyst for adventurers, like trying to live up to the legend of Demian Hunter or some similar hero that the PC may be descended from--and that could likewise lead to a betrayal of that heritage for the sake of power and revenge, becoming a dire bogeyman that others hear about in hushed whispers of dread such as in the case of a Darklon type of sorcerer.

The Warren characters occupy a strange twilight niche in-between the Pulps and the more tame and bland comics most people are used to, and that makes them a veritable treasure trove of potential inspiration and ideas to draw upon that most of your players won't automatically recognize or be able to peg off the bat.  The sheer inspired lunacy of some of the Warren stories have yet to be repeated, let alone topped...and that makes them a very good resource for your fiction, your game, or your reading pleasure.

This, of course, opens the door to the Wold-Newton Universe parascholarship efforts set into motion by P. J. Farmer...which we'll get to in another post.  Shortly.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Everything New is Old Again

Public Domain.  In a nutshell those things that are in the Public Domain are ours to use freely as part of the inheritance of all the world, free from royalties.  In practice it means that the Copyright has lapsed and the Trademark might still be in force, or legally contestable.  Things pass into the Public Domain most often through sheer neglect.  But once anyone smells the possibility of making money off of something, they tend to get interested real quick.  One good case in point is the use of the long forgotten 1940's characters from the Nedor Comics characters in Tom Strong by Alan Moore and the subsequent invention by Moore of Terra Obscura which placed Public Domain characters into the peculiar position of being re-copyrighted and trademarked by ABC, which was part of Wildstorm and then DC.  An explanation of the intricacies involved in this situation can be had from the Newsarama archives on the Nedor Heroes being the property of DC/ABC/Everyone.  This was truly a most fascinating chain of events.

Usually, Public Domain is a fairly safe thing to mine for free stuff.  But in terms of Comics and Pulp Heroes and Villains...it gets a bit trickier than just reviving an obscure character.  Trickier, but eminently do-able, if you do the research involved in due dilligence.  If these sorts of characters/opportunities appeal to you, then you might consider reading through Ivan Hoffman's various articles including the one on The Protection of Fictional Characters.  And there are a LOT of these old, neglected characters out there for anyone wanting to go and seek them out.

Some defunct Comics Publishers such as Fox Feature Syndicate, Crestwood Publications, Quality Comics, Spark Publications, and others have left behind an massive collection of characters that have barely been tapped-into by a few intrepid explorers of the Public Domain such as Alan Moore, though tehre are a few new publishers really making a concerted effort to mine this treasure such as AC Comics who provide a very interesting series of Golden Age Reprints and an "Official" Golden Age Heros & Heroines Directory, and Moonstone Books which are in the process of reviving Karl Kolchak (Darren McGavin Rocks!), Buckaroo Banzai, The Green Hornet and a host of other Characters and franchises including such Public Domain characters you know and love or might never have heard of before such as Sherlock Holmes, Mandrake the Magician and many, many others (even The Spider!).  Moonstone is bringing back a lot of Original Characters from the brink of the abyss, and they are bring out comics based on The Saint, Captain Action, Mister Moto, The Avenger, and other classics as well as reviving the old White Wolf fiction, which is ...odd... but as a publisher mining the old and obscure, Moonstone are definitely worth checking out.

You can find a bit more information, including thumbnail pictures in most cases, about Standard/Better/Nedor Comics' Characters, Fox Features Syndicate Characters, Quality Comics Characters, and Spark Publications Characters (and piles more!) over at the International Catalogue of Superheroes (an essential resource for researching all sorts of old, forgotten, lost or abandoned Pulp and Comics characters irregardless of their being in the Public Domain or not: a truly wonderful resource is the page dedicated to Various Golden Age Characters where you can look-up some really obscure publishers like Centaur and others).

Jeff Rovin has also published a pretty comprehensive Encyclopedia of Superheroes, as well as an Encyclopedia of Monsters, both of which might be of interest or use in researching the old, out-of-date and Trademark-expired Heroes and Villains of Yesterday.  You can find a lot of old names, publishers and stuff to start your own search.  Another online resource to consider is the Golden Age Comic Book Stories blog where you could easily loose hours digging through some amazing and fun stuff.  The Digital Comics Museum and you can view a nice gallery of Golden Age comics covers at the excellent Ben Samuels Design webite as well (That's where we found the nifty Black Terror cover used above).

If your tastes run a bit more to the European end of the Comics spectrum, you can check out Lambiek and their Comiclopedia, Cool French Comics, or Black Coat Press and their comic imprint: Hexagon Comics.  There are dozens upon dozens (hundreds?) of European (not just French!) Heroes and Villains languishing in obscurity, some of whom are in the Public Domain, others who are just waiting to be revived by an interested writer/artist and translator. 

There are also a couple of online Comic Database projects like Comicbookdb, (They have a Blog as well) and the Grand Comics Database (Wiki), both of which seem to be doing more or less the same task, cataloging every last scrap of information that they can gather on any and every comic ever produced.  There's a lot of information at those two sites/projects, and you can volunteer to help out as well.  If you have any spare time on your hands.  If you're so inclined.

Public Domain Super Heroes (Wikia) is an incredible resource.  As is Project Rooftop and especially their Retro-Fix column where an artist will re-imagine/re-design the look of an older, public domain character.  Very inspirng, especially the recent redesign of Zardi: The Eternal Man, which really looks cool.  It's similar to the Comic Twart Blog, only for Public Domain characters.

Whew.  That's a lot of stuff.  But it's far from exhaustive.  You can get a pretty good start on digging around for old timey Pulp and Golden Age goodness from here though.

But why?

Huh.  I would have thought that would be obvious.  There's a ton of stories, characters and loads of art out there that we can learn from, if only to use as a source of inspiration and self-education.  Tarzan is cool, but once you look over some of the alternatives, parallels, and blatant rip-offs, you start to see some fairly archetypal themes and a host of fresh insights start to bubble up from the depths of the primordial collective unconscious.  Wandering barbarians are a dime-a-dozen, but when you familiarize yourself with a dozen or more such characters, you really get a feel for the plots and stories that have been done to death, the tried-and-true, the boring cliches and a peculiar, divine dissatisfaction comes over you --or you cave-in to ennui and waddle off on another tangent-- and you begin to see ways that things could have been or should have been or might have been different.  And then you start to write, draw or create and you either breathe life back into some forgotten character, or you create and contribute your own brand new hero or villain to the overall mix.

Why endlessly repeat and regurgitate the stuff of the past when we can use it as a hyper-fertile matrix for growing fresh new stuff?  Reviving old heroes was old when the Greeks were doing it.  It was stale when Sinbad did it.  And yet those stories are as timeless as they are shameless, and we keep on re-tooling them, re-editing them, and re-presenting them, only now this time in a blue cape or with a domino mask and a pair of hand guns...

The Public Domain is all our tool-set and playing field combined.  Those characters relegated to it are ours to use as we see fit, so long as we do our research and are clear on what all someone else has already done or is currently doing, and we take steps to make it uniquely our own interpretation.  Like how Kevin Smith is reviving The Green Hornet for Dynamite as opposed to the stuff coming out via Moonstone.  They're also doing their own version of Zorro and a few others.  I guess it comes down to "Let the best writer/artist team win."  Kind of like capitalist publishing gladitorial combat.

It's nice to have choices.  Not every superhero belongs in the modern age, or even in a retro-steampunk/dieselpunk setting.  Some heroes translate exceptionally well to the prevailing conventions of Fantasy, dark or otherwise.  Zorro is amazingly easy to re-adapt to a faux-medieval setting, just as Robin Hood morphed into DC's Green Arrow fairly easily.  The Shadow could just as easily wield twin hand-crossbows as .45s, and The Spider would make for an intimidating character in just about any setting you cared to bring him into.  Doc Savage would be a worthy replacement for Merlin in King Arthur's court, just as he could easily take Gandalf's place...and probably change the flow of things so drastically that you'd have an entirely new story that'd be both exciting and very, very different than a band of pedestrians taking forever to deal with the world-threatening crisis.

Exceptional characters are fun, when handled appropriately.  Sure, they can easily dominate or wreck a typical world that is not ready for them, but given some thought and consideration, you can adapt Pulp hereoes and Golden age superheroes--and villains--into your setting, making suitable modifications so that Fu Manchu becomes Ambassador DeCluny, or some C-list gunslinger is transformed into a masked bandit stirring up trouble in the Eastern Forests, or that freakish meteorite that recently streaked across the midnight sky has birthed a whole generation of peculiar mutant offspring similar to Philip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton Family.  And that's without introducing aliens, ghosts or time travllers...

The sky was never the limit.

Cold Text File Series: C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan

The first Cold Text Files installment (an analysis of WG4: The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun) was a lot of fun and really opened-up this classic module in several unexpected ways, enabling it to be totally evisited, re-examined and re-run all over again, which is quite a remarkable achievement for a module that's been dead in the water for quite a few years.  We're looking forward to the PDF Compilation that is currently in-the-works.  Blogs are nice, but having everything all in one place, in sequential order and possibly even printed-out is very useful and appealing.  You can check-in with the folks over at Lord of the Green Dragons as to when the WG4 Compilation-PDF will be available.

The AD&D Module C1: The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan is a stange mix of tournament-rules and exotic Meso-American aesthetics.  Your group's focus is not to beat the dungeon, nor even clear the jungle, but rather to survive and possibly escape.  It's a radical departure from the usual stuff that was coming out around the same time as it (1979: Origins, 1980: Main Release).  Tamoachan is a tough, demanding module to run.  It's even tougher to play in.

"...the whole dungeon is trap-o-palooza, and it’s really important to listen, pay attention, and always assume that when something looks too good to be true, you’re probably dead already, so go ahead and grab it."
Ken Denmead, Wired: Top 10 D&D Modules I Found in Storage This Weekend
This was also one of the first modules that included a complete booklet of artwork for the DM to show the players what they were seeing at crucial locations, usually fiendish traps.  It was quickly understood that if the DM was showing you a pretty picture, you were in a world of hurt.  And to be fair, you usually were, too.

The thing that always made this one module really stick out was not the lethality of the traps, nor even the (then) new monsters, nor even the tournament-style stuff, it was the notion of adapting this module as the entry-point to a whole new campaign in a Central/South American style environment confronting cultures inspired by the Mayans, Incans, Aztecs, and others.  That made it really stand out over and above everything else in 1980 and has guaranteed this module a place of honor amongst many, many gamers, game designers, and game developers.

The new series for Cold Text Files begins with PartOne, which lays down the ground rules (better look up 'Atttrition,' 'teamwork, and 'survival,' if haven't already).  Part Two sets the stage nicely, especially in terms of some ideas for how to flesh this module out past the core presented in the text itself.  Part Three is a very nice explanation of 'paths' and how to map-out a module/adventure into a flowchart...which is really, really quite effective and useful for unraveling the structure of this module--and darned essential for developing something similar for yourself as well.  Part Three is very worth your time to read, if you intend to produce adventures or run adventures for actual players.

As this series continues, it should get even more interesting and engrossing as possibilities and opportunities for really fleshing things out pop up around just about every corner of the thing.  Grendelwulf over at the Axe & Hammer has also written-up a nice introduction to the Cold Text Files that's worth a look.  It's good stuff.  Check it out for yourself.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Some Common Sense

Common Sense.  It's a quality sorely lacking in most on-going internet skirmishes and what passes for discussion online.  Now, Thomas Paine's classic might not solve or settle any of the last round of kvetching nor stave off the next bit of gum-flappery and text-flinging, but it is a book well worth reading, especially for those who live in the United States.  This is the book that really got things rolling right around the time of the American Revolution.  It's right there with Adam Smith and Ben Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac in terms of influence and impact.

It's a sourcebook that we're using for the underlying competing political models involved in Riskail, but we'll discuss that over at the Riskail blog.  Eventually.

Right now, we'd like you to take a look at Wowio.  Their tag-line is "Books Evolved," and they offer a bit more than just eBook version of crapulous creeds and political screeds--they offer a load of really high quality articles/essays (for Free) on Graeco-Roman Mythology, Eric Drexler's updated & Expanded Engines of Creation (about Nanotechnology), and more--including a massive pile of Webcomics that might distract you with pretty pictures and such (dubious) treats as XXXena Warrior Pornstar...we kid you not.  It sounds like something right off of the Playing D&D with Pornstars blog...but it's a webcomic.  We think that the concept/title is probably the funniest thing about it, though, so we haven't downloaded it ourselves, and probably won't.  You go ahead, if it's your cup of tea.

Wowio is a growing community, a sort of social network meets online distributor hybrid that delivers loads of remastered 'Classics,' contemporary eBooks, PDFs, and webcomics.  It is also fairly virgin territory for enterprising RPG enthusiasts and publishers to explore and exploit.  It *might* even open things up a little bit beyond the same old sets of eyeballs scouring the same old forums, which has been a real limiting factor in the development of anything approaching a realistic, let alone healthy or growing market amongst the RPG end of the pond.  Endless competition for the same six hundred hearts and minds is a losing proposition from the get-go.  A waste of time.  Scavenging the carcass of previous publishers is a stupid business model.  We need to extend outside the digital confines of what is comfy and known and boldy go forth into the Wilderlands like a bloody-handed barbarian and found fresh new kingdoms out there, past what is established, already tapped and mapped and sapped dry of all real economic juice.

We're hunters by nature, not scavengers.  How about you?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Sketchbook Project

Netherwerks has just signed-up to participate in The Sketchbook Project. It's Like a Concert Tour only with Sketchbooks.  How Cool Is That!

The Sketchbook Project: 2011

We have chosen 'Dirigibles and Submersibles' for our Theme.

From The Sketchbook Project website:

Thousands of sketchbooks will be exhibited at galleries and museums as they make their way on tour across the country.

After the tour, all sketchbooks will enter into the permanent collection of The Brooklyn Art Library, where they will be barcoded and available for the public to view.

Anyone - from anywhere in the world - can be a part of the project.

Once the sketchbook arrives, we'll be setting aside time just for this project and we'll post a few of the sketches up to the blogs as well. We're very excited about this project. It should be a lot of fun!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Creativity Crisis

Lord of the Green Dragons has a post called "Lessons to be Learned."  It is essentially a link to an article at Newsweek titled The Creativity Crisis which you can find here.
Quote:
"In middle childhood, kids sometimes create paracosms—fantasies of entire alternative worlds. Kids revisit their paracosms repeatedly, sometimes for months, and even create languages spoken there. This type of play peaks at age 9 or 10, and it’s a very strong sign of future creativity. A Michigan State University study of MacArthur “genius award” winners found a remarkably high rate of paracosm creation in their childhoods."
Paracosm.  Cool name.  I was always curious why more of my so-called peers and school-mates didn't have their own worlds.  For a while I thought it was just another after-effect of my having been through so many bouts of hellish pneumonia, intense fevers, drowning in my own lungs, even the N.D.E.s which we didn't call that back then.  But deep down, I've always held out hope that other folks likewise had their own invented worlds...I was so happy and relieved when I discovered Tolkein and when Tim introduced me to OD&D in Junior High.  That made a real difference to me.
Quote:
"From fourth grade on, creativity no longer occurs in a vacuum; researching and studying become an integral part of coming up with useful solutions. But this transition isn’t easy. As school stuffs more complex information into their heads, kids get overloaded, and creativity suffers. When creative children have a supportive teacher—someone tolerant of unconventional answers, occasional disruptions, or detours of curiosity—they tend to excel. When they don’t, they tend to underperform and drop out of high school or don’t finish college at high rates."
No Shit.  One sympathetic and supportive teacher can really make a big difference.  But even with three supportive teachers on your side, all it takes is one jerk to derail a young person who is vulnerable, incredibly vulnerable during their formative years.  It can be hard enough to fight your way up from a hateful, evil family situation that isn't any of your fault without some sanctimonious self-righteous jerkwad to screw thigns up.
Quote:
"They’re quitting because they’re discouraged and bored, not because they’re dark, depressed, anxious, or neurotic. It’s a myth that creative people have these traits. (Those traits actually shut down creativity; they make people less open to experience and less interested in novelty.) Rather, creative people, for the most part, exhibit active moods and positive affect. They’re not particularly happy—contentment is a kind of complacency creative people rarely have. But they’re engaged, motivated, and open to the world."
There is no contentment for artists.  That is an antithetical value that is flasely projected upon and indoctrinated into young people as though somehow 'Everyone' needs to be content.  Bullshit.  Only sheep need to be uniformly content.  Not artists.  We don't need contentment because we have art, passion and drive--those messy, organic things that scare the conformists, frighten the would-be arbiters of taste and confound the rules-makers trying to tell everyone else what they can't do.  (Good rules are open-ended guidelines that enable and empower, not extensive and arbitrary restrictions on what you can't do.)
 
Read this article.  It might help you understand how screwed-over some of your friends have been up to now and maybe we can do something about not screwing-up the generations coming up now.  That'd be cool.  Kids encouraged to get fully engaged with their imaginations and to run like hell with whatever the Muse hands them.  Can you imagine it?  How many new Tekumels might we finally see then?  What totally new and so-far unnamed and unthought of stuff might become available with just a few kind words, some encouragement and understanding?  If there's a crisis in terms of creativity, it's that there simply isn't enough of it and our current culture is stifling and hampers the free expression of real creativity as monolithic market interests choose to instead peddle corporatized sanitized conformist-script pablum instead.  Reject the mediocre.  Create.  Find that world we all are given early-on and bring it back.  We need it.  Now more than ever.

Singularity 101


The Singularity(And Yes, they've gone and made a movie to explain propagandize The Singularity.)
Here's a quote from the Singularity Is Near webpage:

"The Onset of the 21st Century will be an era in which the very nature of what it means to be human will be both enriched and challenged as our species breaks the shackles of its genetic legacy and achieves inconceivable heights of intelligence, material progress, and longevity. While the social and philosophical ramifications of these changes will be profound, and the threats they pose considerable, celebrated futurist Ray Kurzweil presents a view of the coming age that is both a dramatic culmination of centuries of technological ingenuity and a genuinely inspiring vision of our ultimate destiny."
Ooh.  Scary-wonderful stuff.  Just like the Victorians who were sure that they'd basically solved all the really big questions, or the retro-future vibe of Donald Fagen's song I.G.Y.

Whatever the Singularity actually turns out like, almost everyone who talks about it is pretty certain that it's not going to be anything like what we can imagine from where we are now, otherwise it just wouldn't be The Singularity.  At least that's a major conceit of the whole thing, despite all the attempts to explain it, define it and imagine it by people like Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil, to name just two of the popularizers/pontificators of the Singularity concept.  I smell a mythology-in-the-making here.

Essentially, The Singularity is a point in time when technology and intelligence both take off on their own, possibly leaving us behind just like in a song by Ozzy, or totally redecorating things so that we can no longer recognize the world or each other, possibly not even ourselves--and we may well be able to be plural as well as immortal and all sorts of other stuff, whether we want to be or not.  At least that's part of the debate surrounding this moment of drastic transformation.  You can explore the probabilities/time table for the process at The Uncertain Future, a website dedicated to helping suss-out when it'll happen, if it's as probable as people seem to think.  You get to plug in your own numbers and see what happens for yourself.  I'm not sure how accurate it is in the final analysis, but it is interesting nonetheless.
"I think it's fair to call this event a singularity ("the Singularity" for the purposes of this paper). It is a point where our models must be discarded and a new reality rules. As we move closer and closer to this point, it will loom vaster and vaster over human affairs till the notion becomes a commonplace. Yet when it finally happens it may still be a great surprise and a greater unknown."
— The Coming Technological Singularity by Vernor Vinge, 1993
A single moment of drastic transformation that changes everything forever afterwards.  In Tarot terms this could be summed-up as XIII: Death/Rebirth meets XVI:The Tower.  Brutal.  But appropriate.

I like using an old-fashioned means of expressing something as futurific as the Singularity.  It helps tone-down the pseudo-Lovecraftian fixation on 'We Can't Describe It/Unnameable Horror of the Thing' which really only demonstrates the lack of vision, paucity of imagination, and limited vocabulary of those who keep harping on the same note like it explains everything.  It doesn't.  It has already gotten old.  Stale even.

I grant you that, yes, it's damned difficult to accurately describe the front-end of an elephant you've only now met for the first time when you're staring at its ass.  Any and every attempt to describe, depict or delineate the Singularity prior to its onset is/was/will be every bit as difficult, inaccurate, futile and full of poorly digested fiber that smells bad as any attempt to describe the elephant's front-end while staring at its wrinkly behind.  Unless you've seen one before.  But then, of course, it's not The Singularity.  Like I said; it's a tough concept to deal with and many people retreat into mythology to do so.  It's a time-honored and very human response to things we don't understand.  If we have any hope at all of coming to terms with this impending event, it's going to come from the development of a synthetic mythology calculated to prepare our steamy little monkey brains for the culture-disrupting technological shocks headed our way.  Oh boy.

Synthetic Mythology?  Yeah.  We used to call it science fiction, back before science fiction became about as forward-thinking as your average romance novel.  Back before paranormal became the ..uh.. norm ...as it were.  

The Singularity creates an imaginary Berlin Wall behind which we cannot effectively model the future, or so the thinking goes.  But I disagree.  Humans have modeled beings that are smarter than we are and we've populated all sorts of myths and stories with them.  We call them angels, gods, superheroes and geniuses.  Case in point: Tom Swift.  A classic.  Edward Stratemeyer created the character of a precocious boy genius and established the collective pseudonym 'Victor Appleton' which has been used by every author working on one or the other series of books featuring the Boy Genius since 1910.  Steve Wozniak has mentioned Tom Swift as one of his inspirations.  So did Isaac Asimov.  Some of the inventions dreamed-up in the various (around 100) books in the 5 different series have actually been manufactured/become actual inventions.  It's old school and it's of its time.  But it wrestles with the very same, very human concerns over the perceived rapid pace of technology and the changes that those rapid advances can bring upon society, whether we're ready or not.  Another example is E. E. Doc Smith's Lensmen series.  Every couple of chapters the level of technology undergoes a drastic and profound transformation and it's simply amazing how Doc always manages to keep topping himself again and again.  They don't specifically or directly address the Singularity issue itself, mostly because they were written prior to the 1950's when John Von Neumann was discussing what would turn out to become the Singularity after Vinge capitalized the term and made it stick.  But they do deal with modelling things outside of the known and taking them farther out there so that we can start to get a handle on just how big a change we might be facing.  More importantly, they model how people react to the impending changes in a controlled, fictional setting.  We can't model the changes themselves, but we can start looking at our models of how we handle change, cope with rampant progress and start dreaming-up whatever it is we might actually want brefore the Genie is standing before us with arms crossed ready to deliver our heart's desire.

Now I fully realize that neither of those examples are necessarily the best examples, but they are a good place to start from.  Humans have no idea what awaits any of us after death, but we have developed innumerable mythologies, religions and ideas all about what comes next.  Death remains a Floydian Wall behind which we can only sometimes snatch glimpses and glances.  Just like Vinge's Singularity.

When we do make whatever transition awaits us up ahead, however the Singularity challenges us or empowers us, we will come at it with the full range and depth of our accumulated experience, mythology and folklore with which to describe it, define it, and explore it.  Even with our brains suddenly ramped-up a thousandfold, we'll still need to make things make sense with what we know, with whom we are, and where we've been.  And we'll need to sort things out in respect to our ancestors as much as ourselves and our descendents and dependents.  We may well completely re-evaluate the past in totally new terms and revised/improved language, but we will ahve to deal with the past, and that will open the door to interpretaton and extrapolation, to couching fresh new things in comfortable old terms.  People are people, and people work off of analogies and mythologies.  We will refer to the nightmares of of childhood, the wonders of our dreamscapes, and the rich heritage of the literatures that we've inherited as part and parcel of the human expeience. 

In many respects you could say that we tend to see things in slightly distorted mirrors, based upon our societal expectations, cultural assumptions and personal attitudes.

Sometimes a distorted mirror is more useful, as in the case of Orwell's 1984 which has managed to come true, more or less, in a way and a manner that the author would undoubtedly be extremely uncomfortable with -- the object lesson becoming instead a primer on practical technique.

Instead of focusing on the horror stories of what the runaway escalation of technological change is going to do, the terminator-style tales of retribution and fear-based fantasies of machine-directed apocalypses, we probably should start considering what we really want from the future that is ahead of us.  My bet is that Doc Smith would have no trouble writing post-Singularity stories.  He'd start by looking at what sort of society would make sense based on where we've been, where we are currently, and how we've responded to radical changes so far.  Twelve-year-olds don't have a tenth the trouble adapting to new technology as a lot of people over fifty seem to have.  Technology is already locked in a form of perpetual revolution, if you don't mind looking at Moore's Law in sensationalistic terms, very similar to what the Surrealists called for in their manifestos and magazines.  All revolutions are periods of adjustment and transformation, often violent, but that's not really necessarily, nor altogether desirable.  Gutenberg's printing press was one of those revolutionary developments that upset all previous power-holders and disrupted society from the ground-up, eventually.  Transistors likewise changed things immensely, but the secondary effect of allowing people in repressive regimes to hear the propaganda of the West cannot be overlooked in terms of its revolutionary impact.  As newer and more radical forms of nanotechnology ramp-up and spread out from the laboratories into the marketplace, as genetic modifications already have, people will adjust.  One way or another.  And the transformations will escalate as people find ways to apply or adapt these new tools in ways previously unforeseen.

Not being able to see directly ahead has never stopped the train of progress, innovation and eminent destiny.  At times it might feel like the Titanic, and at others it can seem like looking out over the desert at the glare of an unholy mushroom cloud, but in the end whatever happens, however the new technologies change things, people will look to their mythologies, their memories and their cultures to make sense of it all.  What the scientist learns and the engineer puts into motion, the artist interprets and the poet describes.  The outmoded and deprecated technologies will fall away, like bakelite and vacuum tubes.  Discredited notions and faulty assumptions will likewise get discarded and replaced with new versions.  Fears will pass to be replaced with the humdrum banalities of modern existence that most will never think twice about.  Just like how no one suffocates from driving their car over thirty miles-an-hour.

We'll adjust.  Whether it's an apocalypse or a singularity, hordes of zombies or telemarketers, people will do what people have always done--they'll protest, riot, fight or just accept the inevitable since all that other stuff is too much work.  Whatever comes, people will adjust.

"Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended."
— "The Coming Technological Singularity" by Vernor Vinge, 1993
When technology outgrows us, and intelligence becomes an editable commodity distributed like tap water, we're still going to need to come to terms with who we are as persons and as members of whatever society (Polite or otherwise) we happen to belong to.  Some things remain timeless and integral to the human experience.  Those beings who do not engage in this reflective self-examination are inhuman and not us, hence anything we might say in their regard is suspect and subject to loads of projection and misinterpretation.  We can't figure-out dolphins or primates all that well, so entirely new forms of posthuman beings who grow their own internal iPods on demand are going to be even tougher to figure out -- or are they?

We do not share a common mythos with the chimps nor the cetaceans.  But our comic books, soap operas and dirty magazines will be part and parcel of the cultural legacy we bequeath to those who come after us/amongst us, however it happens.  Those Post-Humans are going to inherit a wealth of human-derived stories, tall-tales, legends (urban and otherwise), myths and fictional accounts of how many, many of our best (and worst) thinkers wrestled with the notion of humanity and what it means to be human, sentient, or even existent.  Philosophy will fail because it is built upon assumptions that will no longer apply: capitalism is nonsense when each person is directly and immediately, personally in complete possession and control of all the capital they could ever need--with the means to reproduce more if they so desire.  Kant, Clauswitz and all those bearded dead old white guys won't amount to a hill of beans in the crazy mixed-up world to come.  Visionaries like Jack Kirby will bury them Khruschev-style.  We will have made a transition out of the harshly delineated mathematically restrictive mythos of what we once thought technology was, to the imagination-empowered exploration of whatever technology might develop into with and/or without us.

In many respects, once we have intelligences superior to anything we currently can acknowledge available on the Earth and operating within society at large, what has passed as Surrealism previously will become the new norm, rather than the exception.  Day-to-day life will take on some of the aspects of a super hero cartoon or comic book as technology serves out a wish-fulfillment function, just as it already has for many of us when you consider how our daily routines and what we take for granted would look like to people only a hundred, two hundred or a thousand years ago.  We cannot define the Singularity, perhaps, but we can certainly consider just what people will do once they start seeing the changes such an event (or series of events) brings about.  We can (and damn well ought to) model what those of us who are going to live through this event might do.  Modeling potential and prospective outcomes.  Hmmm.  I wonder what that sounds like...
"The Singularity happened. Get over it. It was a one-time event and whatever you thought it was going to be, however you hoped it would manifest or feared it might express itself was wrong. Completely off the mark. Anything that you could imagine or describe was by default no longer any part of the then impending Singularity. It was beyond anything anyone could have visualized, predicted or described. It happened. Now we're past all that. It's history. Our history. All of our history. All of us. All."
Zubra Daliskos
Chimpan Scholar and Archivist Emeritus (Retired)
There will be a period of adjustment.  A nine-second war, perhaps.  In any case, an adjustment will certainly be necessary.  In Riskail, the Singularity is far less of a factor than the Plurality, something that we'll be delving into later in the coming week.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Wyrd, Weird, Wired

"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."
H. P. Lovecraft

Weird Fiction can be weird in several ways that have nothing to do with the actual content of the story.  If you consult the Wikipedia entry, you'll get a definition of Weird Fiction that is okay, as far as it goes, but really M. R. James was mostly a writer of ghost stories more than Weird stuff, but that's a quibble.

If you consult H. P. Lovecraft's extensive essay on Supernatural Horror in Literature, either via the online version here, or here or here, or if you are ambitious and willing to fork over money for dead tree printing of this essay then go here.  However you decide to access the essay, if you read what the old dead dude from back East had to say on such stuff, you'll come away with an even keener sense of despair, alienation and a growing sense of cosmic horror in the pit of your stomach as you realize nothing he wrote on teh subject, no matter how often cited, has anything to do with how stuff is handled in the marketplace today.  And if you want to buy your books away from the computer, that's a big deal.

You could try to sort out what the folks at Weird Tales are up to in this regard, but the last couple of issues I sampled just didn't really suit me.  I'm old fashioned in some respects.  I am a big fan of Clark Ashton Smith and prefer weird stories to have some actual weirdness in them, not just weird-like subsitute and definitely not any of that weirdLite stuff. 

There is also a 'New Weird,' kind of like when a certain cola company switched its recipe, sort of.  I have re-read that entry at Wikipedia a couple of times now to make sure that I got it right, but I'm not so sure that it really explains what exactly Weird is, new or otherwise.  Not all Weird stories are necessarily urban, though they can take place in cities.  Otherwise, using realworld stuff to leap boldly into the slavering maw of the unknown, reading stuff by dead French Decadents like Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Novalis, etc. is cool by me, though Valery Briusov needs to be mentioned as well--The Fiery Angel is awesome stuff.  This guy is so cool that his portrait is on stamps.  Not all that many other writers of the weird are so honored, and yet so overlooked and mostly forgotten.  Part of it is that no one can spell the guy's name right, or at least that's my theory.

When I was a kid, back when I was reading Blavatsky and suffering from recurring fevers and pneumonia every fall and winter, I made my first sale of an illustration to a small press magazine called Weirdbook.  It was a wonderful publication produced by W. Paul Ganley.  The weirdness in Weirdbook was palpable, a very real thing.  I remember reading my first Brian Lumley story in Weirdbook. It was through Ganley & Weirdbook that Titus Crow first entered the American weird/horror/dark fantasy scene.  Back then weird was used as a perjorative, it had an almost Fifties-esque connotation of non-conformity bordering on the perverse or nasty.  To be called weird back then was a major put-down, an insult.  But I never saw it as such.  Not after getting published in Weirdbook.  After that weird was just fine by me.

To me, weird fiction combines any and every element that the writer wants to, incorporates any technique, and can encompass any situation both conceivable and inconceivable--it is weird after all--and it is something that partakes of just about all other genres the way a painter like Jackson Pollock uses colors or Van Gogh used texture.  It's an approach that turns expectations arund, inverts the known and goes places that sanitized and approved commercial stuff rarely goes for fear of losing its audience.  It can be rude, vulgar, challenging and uncomfortable like an insane cat-lady riding the bus at midnight with all her cats in a tattered cardboard box leaking urine onto the seat next to her.  It can be purple prose that evokes conundrums, enigmas and paradox all in one sentence with or without a plot.  It is a way of taking the old forms of mythology, especially the once popular stuff too low-brow for academia to concern itself with it, and convert it from a sow's ear of rubbish to the gold of something special and deeply, philosophically potent.

At least that's what it could be, might be, or used to be, but I'm not sure any one definition will ever really do the job as it shifts and changes in response to people's impressions, reactions and so one.  You can't always tell the same joke a second time and get very many laughs.  You have to move on.  Grow.  Adapt.  Subvert the expectations and so forth and so on.
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