Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Low Brow Tarot

The Low Brow Tarot Project which has been assembled and organized by Aunia Kahn has been featured at the Hi Fructose site and will be on exhibit from Oct.1 to Oct.31 in Los Angeles, CA.  The Press Release is available here.  It looks amazing.  A full preview of the art is available here.  The Tarot Deck itself is slated to be available sometime in 2011 and t is definitley a collectible Tarot Deck, so it'll probably sell-out real fast.  What a cool project. 

The Press Release is as follows:
The Lowbrow Tarot Presented by La Luz de Jesus and Guest Curator Aunia Kahn
Opening Reception: October 1, 2010 (8-11 p.m.)

Culver City, CA October 16, 2009 – The Lowbrow Tarot Project will showcase 23 artists who will use their creative and unique styles to take on the tarot 22 Major Arcana and original card back totaling 23 new works of art in the rugged glow of the lowbrow art movement to be displayed in an exhibition at La Luz de Jesus on October 1, 2010.

The group exhibition will feature 23 new and original works by renowned and accomplished artists Carrie Ann Baade, Christopher Ulrich, Edith Lebeau, Cate Rangel, Kris Kuksi, Chris Mars, Christopher Umana, Chris Conn, Brian M. Viveros, Claudia Drake, Heather Watts, Molly Crabapple, David Stoupakis, Laurie Lipton, Patrick “Star 27” Deignan, Chet Zar, Jessica Joslin, Danni Shinya Luo, Jennybird Alcantara, Angie Mason, Scott G. Brooks, Aunia Kahn and Daniel Martin Diaz.

Curator and artist Aunia Kahn developed the project after the completion of her own 78 card Silver Era Tarot deck and believed most artists would enjoy the exploration of divination without the commitment to a larger, overwhelming project. In addition, a hardcover tabletop book and full color tarot card deck of the work will be produced.

La Luz de Jesus is located at 4633 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90232, and will host the show starting October 1, 2010 with a free opening reception with the artists and public from 8pm – 11pm and will run until November 1, 2010; all works for sale will be transacted through the gallery.

Press and Preview Contact, Gallery Director: Matt Kennedy (323)297-0600

Lester Dent's Master Fiction Plot (Essential Reading)

Lester Dent's pen name was Kenneth Robeson.  He invented Doc Savage.  There is a decent Bio of Lester Dent at the Altus Press site, as well as here, here and here(An essential site for Dent/Doc Savage is Doc Savage Organized.) He often claimed to have cranked out around 200,000 words a month and remains a highly imaginative, effective and influential author, above and beyond his trailblazing work in establishing and developing the Pulps in their prime/Golden Age to this very day.  Lester Dent's Master Plot Formula has been in circulation for decades and is still recommended to up-and-coming writers by many, many established authors--including Michael Moorcock.  (A copy of Lester Dent's Formula is available at the Multiverse Forums here.) This Formula of Dent's is clear, concise and to-the-point just like the man himself, and it worked beautifully for him throughout his career and still offers a very good jumping-off-point for writers seeking to produce riveting yarns, rip roaring adventure, or modern re-tellings of the classic Pulps.  The Formula also will serve as a very effective skeleton for stringing together adventures for Role Playing Games as well.  It's pure gold and you should get a copy ASAP.  You can find a version of Lester Dent's Master Plot Formula hereherehere, here and here.  The very best place to ge tthe most authentic version of Lester Dent's Master Plot Formula is very probably the Lester Dent Properties site since they seem to be Dent's literary executors.  Likewise you can find a wealth of Doc Savage links at ThePulp website and over at the Homepage for Popular Culture's Doc Savage page.  PulpGen is also useful as a resource for learning about the Pulps such as The Shadow, Black Mask or Avenger, all contemporaries of Doc Savage.

A Quick Two-Minute Bio of Lester Dent:

One Observation in Regards to Mister Dent's Formula

Lester Dent says:
This is one opinion. It is opinion of one who believes in formula and mechanical construction, for a pulp yarn.  It is opinion of one believing:
1—Majority of pulps are formula.
2—Most editors who say don’t want formula don’t know what they are talking about.
3—Some eds won’t buy anything but formula
Stating that Pulp fiction is inherently formulaic is about as radical and unexpected as admitting that poop Pop music is formulaic.  Yawn.  No kidding.  But the cool thing is that Lester Dent then goes on from this bald-faced admission and spells it all out in no uncertain terms just what to do, and how to do it.  He shows how to make a formula really work.  In point of fact all writing is inherently derived from formulas, this is the role of grammar and plotting.  It's not a bad thing.  It is something to be aware of and to turn to your advantage.  Mister Dent's observation regarding editors who say that they don't want formula and won't buy formula not knowing what they are talking about is a bit harsh at first, but is essentially true, as far as it goes.  All forms of story obey some form of convention and ultimately can be boiled down to a formula.  Some formulas are like Elmer's Glue, others are like the Colonel's Secret Recipe or the formula for Original Coke.  Some we all know in the most general forms, quite a few are heavily used, abused and over-used.  Others are magical things that only a few have figured out for themselves.  It's not enough to bow to Formula, one must come up with their own approach, their own secret recipe for what makes the stories you're doing unique, sexy, engaging, and intrinsically Yours.

Formulas are tools.  Not excuses.  No one wants to see the scaffolding Michelangelo used in painting the Sistine Chapel, they want to see the final product of the process.  Same with your writing, your adventure design, whatever.  Dent gives you a marvellous structure/scaffolding with which to paint your own stories using tried and true techniques that he knew to work and work very well.  Why not give it a shot?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Magnus: Robot Fighter

Magnus: Robot Fighter is back.  The man in a manny-skirt and white go-go boots who beats robots to pieces with his bare hands has returned from the cloying foeter of obscurity and disappointment where he's languished since his last foray into comicdom was truncated preceipitously.  ComicBookResources has some details on the New Model Magnus and there's a nice piece about Magnus (the old version) over at Tor as well.  The 56-page spectacular debut of the New Magnus is available via Dark Horse.

Jim Shooter, the Editor-in-Chief of Valiant, who saw Magnus revived back in the Nineties is in charge of resurrecting the robot-buster from the year 4,000 one more time.  Dark Horse has begun the process of reviving the old Gold Key characters via what is being called Dark Key Comics which is good news to those of us who remember Turok: Son of Stone, Doctor Solar: Man of the Atom, Doctor Spektor, and Magnus.

Magnus is a very cool comic.  Think Billy Jack or maybe a Mexican Wrestler (like Santo or Mil Mascaras--but without a mask) combined withTarzan or Hercules in the future and with robots in need of smashing...with the guy's bare fists.  It's all about the adventures of this one lonely guy raised in the far future by a robot with human emotions, 1A, who is his Sensei, foster-father and mentor, and how this one warrior raised from birth is predestined by a computer-mind to be the savior of the human race in the face of another possible robot rebellion.  A lot of the character development over the course of the original Russ Manning series for Gold Key revolved around Magnus learning how to become more than a living weapon and become a man, a human being in his own right.  The training that he underwent dehumanized him more than a little, but that was seen as an acceptable cost for getting a warrior who could smash robots to pieces with his bare knuckled martial arts prowess and considerable strength.  Sorting out the Dell/Gold Key from the Valiant/Acclaim continuity is easier if you check out the Magnus page at the International Hero site.  Toonpedia also gives some details on Magnus.  You can also read an old Dell/Gold Key Magnus: Robot Fighter story "The Beasts of Steel" at Mykal Bantas' excellent Gold Key Stories blog.  There's a gallery of all the old Dell/Gold Key covers for Magnus at Comic-Covers(dot)com.  And if you prefer the Valiant/Acclaim version of Magnus, the folks at ValiantFan(dot)com have you covered.

What I particularly like about Magnus is that he is a prime example of an alternative Tarzan-esque Ranger (of the future) in D&D/Classic RPG terms.  He has a dedicated enemy: robots, and the specialized skills/attacks necessary to smash robots (some of which resemble a martial Monk's abilities).  But who says that a Ranger has to be Aragorn or Drizzt?  Who says that they even have to take a weapon other than their fists?  They don't.  There's just an entrenched expectation that they will, of course they will...but they don't need to...they could opt to go the route of a Magnus and become a dedicated almost Kensai-focused killing machine devoted to the complete extermination of a particular foe.

Kind of changes things a bit, but it's inherently already codified right there in the essential concept of the Ranger class.  You just shift the weapon focus to unarmed combat and you're three-quarters of the way there.  Easy-peasy.

Of course Magnus has a ceramic-durium armored tunic (apparently it's not a skirt--Really) to go with those infamous white go-go boots.  Don't laugh, he'll whup your butt in a New New York minute.  This is a guy who breaks robots into scrap metal without any tools, gadgets, or foreign objects.

A specialist luchadore-martial artist Robot Fighter would be a fun class/sub-class/prestige class/whatever-class to develop for a setting with lots of maniacal, dangerous rogue robotic menaces running around...hmmm...gonna have to get busy: we need some more robots around here...

Some Insight and Advice (Plus Bonus Resources)


What follows is a set of resources that you may or may not find useful in your own writing, be it fiction or RPG-oriented stuff.  I make no distinction, as most such things can be fine-tuned to your own purposes without too much effort.  Poul Anderson's article (Thud and Blunder), Howard's Hyborian Age essay, and Lovecraft's Supernatural Horror in Literature are classics, must-haves and required reading for anyone engaged in Weird Fiction, speculative fiction, adventure RPG writing, etc.  The letter-extract/essays by Clark Ashton Smith are definitely thought provoking and hardly as well-known or well-worn as HPL's viewpoints and that makes them doubly as valuable in my opinion.  The links at the end of this post are like sprinkles on an upside-down sundae melting away in some abandoned alley-way strewn with the necromantic debis of a post-modern zombie holocaust.  Use them or ignore them as you so will.  Now that I have these golden nuggets out of the way, I can wrap-up my work on a very special series based upon the All Time Best Article For Writers that I've ever run across.

Poul Anderson's excellent essay On Thud and Blunder is one of the best bits of advice from a professional author who knows what they are talking about that you're  likely to find anywhere  Read it.  If you want to write short stories, novels, intricate Setting Guides, exciting adventures and modules for any rules-set and any genre (but especially and triply-so if you're anywhere near high fantasy, sword & sorcery, or the like)--you need to read this essay.  Really.  While you're there, SFWA offers a ton of other resources that might make life easier and your work more interesting (in a good way).

Robert E. Howard drafted an amazing bit of pseudo-history for his Hyborian Age.  This one piece of writing established Conan, his world, and the seeds for most of his stories in one fell swoop.  You can find a copy of Howard's Hyborian Age essay here, and at Project Gutenberg (Australia), as well as an illustrated version adapted from the work of Roy Thomas which is located at Xoth(dot)net.  (As a side note the following list is also a good resource for Conan-ophiles in terms of the 'canon.')  The original publication of this essay was in an obscure fanzine, ran about 39 pages, and was extraordinarily ground-breaking.  It still is.  Read it and you'll see a master at work, crafting one of the best and most enduring examples of a Setting Guide ever managed.  It is easily the gold standard.

H. P. Lovecraft wrote an essay called Supernatural Horror in Literature,  which is still an impressive document well worth reading.  Hippocampus Press brought out a very nice Annotated version, but the Dover edition of this essay is still available fairly cheaply (and a truncated version of the Dover edition is available at GoogleBooks), and it's still out there on the internet at the Yankee Classic site, hplovecraft(dot)com, Wikisource, the Lovecraft Library site, and at Answers(dot)com, where it is broken-down into installments by chapter, which might make it easier to skip the parts you find boring or irrelevant and to get to the meat of the matters most appealing/intriguing to you personally.  If you want to track down any of the works citred by HPL, especially in respect to The Weird Tradition in America, Britain,and Modern Masters; you might consider starting here at this SFF Chronicle post.  It's very helpful, for getting started in collecting all those creepy-weird tales referenced by HPL.  You can also find a lot of these stories at Project Gutenberg.  Most of them are quite good.  But then, HPL ought to have some idea of what made the grade in terms of cosmic fear, right?  There's also a handy set of links to everything Lovecraft wrote that is online via Locus Magazine's site.  (Just in case it comes in handy...or you need a distraction to do some research.)

Clark Ashton Smith was a genius, even HPL lauded him repeatedly in print.  The Eldritch Dark site is an amazing and wonderful collection of all things CAS and it is highly recommeneded in general.  The letters/essays Atmosphere in Weird Fiction, On Fantasy, The Philosophy of the Weird Tale, and Planets and Dimensions in particular are well worth your time, especially if you are at all interested in Weird Fiction or the art and craft of developing your own Weird Adventures.

Ten Rules for Writing Fiction.  This is one of the few such articles that has some teeth, some depth, and is actually worth reading.  Don't miss Part Two.  There are a ton of 'Rules for Writers' articles/lists all over the place, both in print and online.  I'll compile a selection of such articles in a future post because some of them are actually entertaining, educational or ocassionally worthwhile, but most of them are not.  Though a writer can make a quick buck writing a list of 5-10 rules for other writers, whether they actually use the stuff themselves or not.  Advice for writers is one of those areas where Caveat Emptor really comes into effect right away.  One other potentially relevant advice article is Robert Sawyer's revision of Heinlein's famous 5 rules.  So far the only Rule for writing that I've heard that works absolutely and without fail is simply write.  One word.  Write.  It's hard to get paid very much for a one-word article though.  Even if you're Stephen King...speaking of whom...

Stephen King at YouTube:

People are lazy.  King's On Writing is an excellent book filled with real lived-in advice that takes the hokum out of the mix and tosses the reality in front of you like an alley cat dropping a dead bird at your feet.  Read this book if you want to write, either fiction or gaming-wise.  Even if, or especially if you don't much care for his work itself.  This one book will make you re-think a lot of cherished nonsense notions and start the real work involved with actually writing.

Ray Bradbury at YouTube:

Persistence.  If there's one word to sum up all the advice out there, it is Persistence.
(Oh...and have you seen the F*k Me Ray Bradbury video yet?  Do NOT play it at work.  It's vulgar, disturbed, sexually graphic and funny as all get out...but to each their own...)

Some Bonus Online Resources
Mark Twain's Ten Tips For Writers as compiled by Richard Nordquist.  George Orwell's Six Rules for Writers.  Leigh Brackett on her Screenwriting experiences at the GoIntoThe Story blog.  Hugo Gernsback on Writing a 'Science' Story.  Horror can be educational.  The Horror Writers of America host a load of resources, articles and links at their site that might come in handy.  Another site that contains more links than you can shake a typewriter at is the aptly named Internet-Resources site.  The SpecFic World site offers a bunch of links to writing advice that isn't all just for SciFi.  If you're experiencing insomnia you could do worse than check out E. A. Poe's essay on The Philosophy of Composition which offers adice that many doubt Poe himself ever really followed.  I only include it here just in case someone else finds a kernel of wisdom in there that they can use.

So why hasn't there been a Johnny Cash/H.P. Lovecraft crossover story?  Or was there one and I missed it?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Return of the C57D

Monday September 20, 2010, The Heights Theater is showing the 1956 Classic SciFi movie Forbidden Planet.  One show only (7:30PM).  Advance tickets are available via The Heights Theater website.  All seats are $8.00.  We've already reserved ours.

This is part of the Before CGI: Six SciFi Classics series being co-presented by The Heights and the local Take Up Org.  More details about this series can be found on the Heights site or at TakeUp Production's site.  They'll be doing a War of the Worlds/Invasion of the Body-Snatchers double-feature!  Plus The Invisible Man, The Incredible Shrinking Man and the original King Kong are all slated to be part of this series of incredible, classic movies.  Fun, fun, FUN!

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In the meantime, you can catch Forbidden Planet at Youtube, as long as you don't mind the lower quality image and having it chopped into 10 parts. You can also find some Out-takes and if you're really pressed for time you can just watch the highly memorable Monster Attack scene.

Here's Part One to get you started:
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And for Christmas...there's the Ultimate Collector's Edition box-set of the Forbidden Planet DVD.

Then there's the reproduction of the movie poster: which you used to be able to find at All Posters dot com, as well as a few other sites/services. 
This is a truly Classic movie.  The sets are well-done, the costumes have been ripped-off for decades by both TV and other, lesser movies, and the special effects are tastefully done despite being top of the line for 1956 are still decent, still effective, and the interior shots of the alien Krell Labs have been ripped-off borrowed by such gems of TV-dom as The Time Tunnel amongst others.  Then there's the theramin used in the soundtrack.  Hmmm...what other Classic SciFi franchise used a theramin in their soundtrack?  Duh! 

Robby went on to guest star in two episodes of Lost in Space (War of the Robots & Condemned of Space), the 1957 movie The Invisible Boy, a cameo on The Twilight Zone, The Thin Man, Love Boat, Ark II and other TV shows.  Robby The Robot has really and truly become the hardest working robot in Hollywood.  He even did a Charmin commercial back in the Seventies with Mr. Whipple.

An interesting bit of trivia: Robby was designed by Robert Kinoshita, the guy who also designed GUNTER the Lost in Space robot nearly a decade later.  You can find a far more exhaustive list of Robby The Robot trivia at Goremaster's blog, or check out Fred Barton's website. (Both links are defunct, sorry).

Getting back to Forbidden Planet itself, It's rather interesting how much influence Forbidden Planet had on many, many other productions and in particular, Irwin Allen's TV Series Lost in Space -- just take a look at the suspended animation tubes from the unaired episode No Place To Hide which are shown on the Wikipedia page.  If you take a few minutes you'll be able to find a few more points of similarity/convergence.  Irwin Allen always stole borrowed from the best, despite whatever he wound up doing with it...which almost always involved explosions and things shaking around a lot.  They sure blew up a lot of stuff on all of Irwin Allen's shows.  It still didn't make up for the generally lousy scripts and overly cheesy acting(?) that tended to dominate those shows, though every now and then something cool would filter through.

John C. Snider includes Forbidden Planet in his accounting of the Ten Movies That Changed Science Fiction.  J. Michael Straczynski paid a nice homage to the Krell Machine of Forbidden Planet with his own Great Machine on Epsilon 3 in the episode "A Voice in the Wilderness" of Babylon 5.  Gene Roddenberry claimed Forbidden Planet as an influence, something that is fairly obvious if you just watch the re-vised pilot The Cage which became the episode The Menagerie.  The influence and impact of Forbidden Planet goes deep and lingers on to this day, in a very, very positive way.

When I first got my hands on the Little Black Books for the Traveller Box Set, I was happy to see the H. Beam Piper influences, but I was sad to see Forbidden Planet get short shrift.  I have always wanted to see a SciFi RPG based on the core assumptions and tropes of Forbidden Planet.  Hyperdrive saucers, autonomous robots that can distill extra-fine whisky on demand, alien relics that would have given Lovecraft bad dreams...isn't it about time that someone developed an RPG rooted/based upon Forbidden Planet?

Planet of the Vampires (also a brief Atlas Comics tangent)

Planet of the Vampires.  A classic SciFi/Horror movie made in 1965, Planet of the Vampires was Directed by Mario Bava (Famed horror-director of such classics as 'Black Sabbath') and based upon an original Italian science fiction story by Renato Pestriniero's "One Night of 21 Hours," which I've never been able to locate in English anywhere.  And that's probably for the best.  Like the brief review in The Essential Monster Movie Guide by Jones and Ackerman, the plot almost makes sense.  But don't take my word for it; you can find a few other folk's reviews and coverage of this movie here, here and herePlanet of the Vampires is far more memorable for its costume design and use of in-camera effects than the plot, acting or cast.  But the sets are interesting, the effects are clever for a B-movie getting done on the ultra-cheap back in the Sixties, and it has exerted a strange influence over later SciFi directors including Dan O'Bannon (Alien).  Here's the trailer:

As you can see from the trailer, Planet of the Vampires is definitely a movie of its time.  A real Spaghetti-Raygun movie, if you will.  One of the more interesting scenes that you've probably seen in another movie...like say Alien is the following scene:

Another thing that is memorable about this movie are the costumes.  The all-leather, high and notched Dracula-collars and the bold yellow racing stripes kind of resemble something that you'd find on an Italian race car driver and might have been designed by Gucci or one of the more fashionable houses of haute couture.  These costumes must have been hotter than blazes to wear, but they are still cool, they're very reminiscent of motorcycle leathers for outspace motocross.  Check them out:


These costumes also remind me of Northwest Smith's "Spaceman's Leathers," as Leigh Brackett once described his apparel.  Even Freddy Mercury very likely wouldn't have been able to find spacier leather gear outside of a Leather bar in Munich...
Back in 1975 Atlas Comics produced a short-lived comic series adapting Planet of the Vampires into a Post-Apocalyptic Free-For-All that actually was a lot of fun, even if it only lasted for three issues.   The comic series essentially re-wrote things so that a bunch of astronauts (as in Planet of the Apes) returned from a manned-mission to Mars (around 2010, plus they had one woman crew-member), and as they approach Earth they can't raise mission control.  There was a nuclear war.  They land in the middle of a royal mess, getting 'rescued' by dome-dwelling humanoids who turn out to vampires who are caught-up in a doomed never-ending cycle of internecine geurilla warfare with the more barbarous survivors outside the domes, sanguinous predation upon said survivors, and their own internal political squabbling within each of the various domes which have become xenophoobic, paranoid and ripe for overthrow by the heroic astronauts leading the assembled masses of the barbarian riff-raff hordes who would like nothing better than to destroy the bloodsuckers once and for all...except maybe kill one another off over various tribal squabbles.

It's a very fundamental RPG setting that retains the cool leather outfits for the vampires, but essentially rewrites everything else from the ground up.  Which, upon reflection, isn't a half-bad way to deal with this particular movie/story/setting.

I'm not sure who owns Atlas Comics' or rather I should say Atlas/Seaboards' IP right now (I originally thought that it was Marvel...but...Goodman left/was forced out from Marvel and started-up Seaboard/Atlas in the early Seventies and they were the ones who produced Planet of theVampires, Scorpion, Wulf the Barbarian, etc. not the Pre-Marvel Atlas, which is an entirely other entity), and I'm not sure if there is any hope to revive/resurrect the old Seaboard/Atlas version of Planet of the Vampires, but I, for one, would like to see it happen.  Those three issues from 1975 had a lot of untapped potential and it could easily be shifted into a more Pulp-ish sensibility, lifting tropes and trappings from related/parallel B-movies and possibly re-integrating the franchises' roots into the bargain.  It would be cool.  Just as long as you kept the leather spacesuits...

You can find a list of Seaboard/Atlas comics at the Grand Comics Database.  Steve Ditko's off-the-wall Destructor was a lot of fun, as were the first three issues of Howard Chaykin's Doc Savage-esque Scorpion which has long since been abandoned / re-worked into Dominic FortuneIronjaw was just plain weird, and The Grim Ghost always felt like a rip-off of a Charlton comic especially as it was drawn by Ditko...and I won't even mention the weirdest title Atlas ever put out: Tarantula...
Yeah.  A guy gets cursed by a witch being burnt at the stake.  He transforms into a humanoid tarantula.  A bipedal, green spider-dude.  Bizarre stuff.  Not exactly their most enduring nor exactly memorable work, but also not entirely or totally derivative either.  In any case, out of all the Seaboard/Atlas titles that I remember the best and most fondly, it is Planet of the Vampires. It only has a tangential relationship to the movie it is derived from, but it is fun and boldly took things forwards in a very, very Seventies manner.  SyFy could easily adapt the comic into one of their schlocky productions...that'd be ... weird ... Maybe we'll see a Planet of the Vampires supplement for Terminal Space or Xplorers someday?  Heck, the alien-possessed crew of a returning atomic spaceship could get written into a War Rocket scenario even.  That'd be fun.

They don't make movies like this any more.
Or do they?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pencil and Paper

There's something viscerally satisfying about working with pencils on paper.  For all the wonderful digital toys and tools, the software and long hours lost to Photoshop, it's nice to get back to something as rudimentary and basic as pencil and paper creation.  Sketching, just sketching things out by hand on a handy pad and visually working out the intricacies of half-remembered dreams, snippets of visions still flitting about within one's skull, right when the coffee just about kicks in...that's a magical process.

I've missed it.

Far more than I had realized.

So, from now on, I'm scheduling some time to focus on just sketching things out, by hand, in the time honored, old fashioned, old school way.  Just like when I was a kid.  All over again.  Like when I did the piece over on the Left based on someone else's careless scribble with a simple No.2 pencil on a sheet of Bristol Board that had gotten discolored along one side  and was going to get tossed-out.

Maybe this will help me get the maps for Riskail worked-out once and for all.  That'd be nice.  Who knew that something so simple and silly could/would/did rekindle a sense of wonder all over again.  This is going to be fun!