SWEET. I’m enjoying an amazing album for the first time. It’s “Idiots Savants” by GOMER PYLE. There’s no other word for this album–and this song–and this video–than “awesome”–which doesn’t even begin to describe their heavy psychedelic greatness. But don’t take my word for it, take a trip on the cosmic-thought sonic wavebeam yourself, i.e. watch the video for “Mimesis,” the second song on the album.
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More often than not the best art comes from the indie side of any field. Case-in-point: AVATARS OF WIZARDRY from P’rea Press. It is one of the best works of pure dark fantasy I’ve read in a long time.
This superb collection of poems inspired by the work Clark Ashton Smith and his mentor George Sterling offers one fantastic, phantasmal head trip after another, transcendental goth romanticism with shades of cosmic sword-and-sorcery.
Now I’m not usually someone who seeks out poetry. I teach it often, but fantastic poetry is something of a rarity in academic texts. Reading this collection (with some Pink Floyd, Kyuss, or Monster Magnet rumbling softly in the background for good measure) takes me right back to the “wonder years” of my early reading life.
From the ages of 9 to 12 I discovered the amazing fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs, J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and other great fantasists. Reading AVATARS OF WIZARDRY sends me back to those days when fantasy was still dangerous, mysterious, and full of strange wonders.
One of Smith’s greatest poems “The Hashish Eater, or The Apocalypse of Evil” was inspired by George Sterling’s “A Wine of Wizardry.” Both of these poems are celestial odysseys of fantasy perfection. They begin AVATARS OF WIZARDRY back-to-back and are followed by eight poems from more contemporary writers: Alan Gullette, Wade German, Michael Fantina, Richard L. Tierney, Liegh Blackmore, Bruce Boston, Earl Livings, and Kyla Lee Ward. The result is an epic fantasy experience like none other. The words “psychedelic” and “phantasmagorical” are barely enough to describe it.
These poems aren’t for the shallow-minded 160-character world that we live in today. Each one is an epic adventure beyond space and time, directly into the center of eternal imagination, rife with cosmic transcendence. This is spirit-freeing fantasy in the best sense of the word, literary escapism as psychological catharsis. It’s some of the best damn poetry I’ve ever read, which makes it some of the best fantasy I’ve ever read, period.
You don’t have to be a poetry expert (or fan) to take this cosmic ride. Just get yourself a copy before they’re all gone.
Someone had the terrific idea of making a video for “Wizard in Black” by English Doom-Rockers ELECTRIC WIZARD, using clips from Ralph Bakshi’s classic film WIZARDS (1977). A perfect match. Crank it up.
Usually it’s because they have a conception, a personal vision, something they want to say—and the best way they can say it is through the crafting of stories. Most writers tend to write in both short and long formats (i.e. short stories AND novels). In fact, these days if you don’t write in both formats you’re missing a large segment of the audience.
Why do editors edit?
Every publication needs a good editor with a strong sense of what is “good writing” and what isn’t. But there’s more to it than that. More often than not, editors publish stories that meet their specific “editorial vision.” This explains why writers often get rejections that read like this: “Good story, good writing, but it does not fit our needs at this time.” The subtext is: “You’re good, but not MY publication’s definition of good.”
There is often a vast discrepancy between a writer’s vision and that of the editor who is considering his/her story for publication. Editors are loathe to publish a story that does not fit their personal “editorial vision” for their magazine/web site/anthology. Of course editors are entitled to this specific concept—after all, it’s their job to serve the publication. If THEY don’t know what they’re looking for, nobody does.
Some writers will tailor their writing to fit a specific venue’s editorial vision. To do so (i.e. to give the editor what the editor wants) is the fastest and surest way to get published. Writers need sales, and altering one’s personal vision to correspond more closely with that of a specific editor/publication is part of the game.
Yet, what about the writers and the stories that DON’T fit into anyone’s vision but their own? What happens when editors are overly beholden to their own specific vision—which by the way is usually 90% defined by personal taste? The editor, today more than ever, is likely to also be the publisher. Hence the entire look, feel, and mentality of the publication stems from the editor’s personal taste and sense of aesthetics. In fact, half of an editor’s job is to “weed out” those submissions that do NOT fit his/her vision (or the vision of the particular venue for which he/she is editing). We get it.
But what about the WRITER’s vision?
Which is more important: Writing to “fill a slot” or writing to explore one’s own literary fascinations and sense of personal aesthetics? Should a writer only write stories that will “sell” because they meet somebody else’s sense of what is good/proper/interesting? Well, if the writer’s foremost concern is SELLING STORIES, the answer is YES. You’d better write what the Editors want, because they’re the ones cutting you a check when they accept your story. But nobody is making a living from writing short stories these days. It ain’t the 1930s anymore.
So the question arises: What should a writer’s foremost concern be? Fulfilling the demands of a market (commercial concerns) or following his/her own inner vision to its ultimate conclusion (artistic concerns)?
Perhaps an even more important question is: How many wonderful stories are READERS missing because those stories didn’t meet someone’s “editorial vision”? The readers, let’s not forget, don’t pick the stories. The editors do. The editor serves as a filter, only letting in the stuff that meets his/her pre-set ideas of what is good/worthy. In fact, this is what editors get paid to do (among other duties).
Something about this seems backwards to me. Editors should be looking for writers who have something to say—writers who aren’t interested in jumping through editorial hoops, but who are far more interested in PURSUING THEIR OWN CREATIVE VISION and creating something unique, original, and separate from whatever else is out there.
Writers today have to make a choice: Write exactly what you WANT to write, or write what this-or-that editor will respond to (and therefore publish). Of course, today writers have the option of self-publishing, which doesn’t have the stigma that it used to. However, if you’re seeking to get paid for your work and get it out to as many readers as possible, you really need to get it into an established venue (magazine/anthology/website). Which means finding a compromise between your artistic vision and the editor’s editorial vision.
Instead of setting up a set of parameters that writers MUST meet, editors should be casting a wide net, looking for diverse voices and sensibilities, opening their doors and minds to creative visions that don’t simply fill a well-designed niche. Nobody wants to read the same kinds of stories over and over. Yet editors often end up BUYING the same kinds of stories over and over.
Traditional wisdom has been: “Read our publication and get familiar with it so you know what we are looking for.” In reality it should be the other way around: Writers should be pursuing their muses WHEREVER IT TAKES them and in WHATEVER STYLE THEY FEEL BEST SUITS THEIR STORIES. A writer’s vision can vary from story to story. A publications’ “editorial vision” rarely changes, but instead becomes a monolithic hurdle that writers must learn to climb or jump over to avoid being crushed.
In short: Editors shouldn’t be telling writers what to write.
But they often do.
I’m sure many editors reading this post will say “Hey, man, feel free to take your creative vision elsewhere if you don’t want to write what we publish.” And many writers are doing that, and will continue to do so. Sometimes you HAVE to.
But where are the editors who put the writer’s vision first? Do they even exist in today’s market? Have they ever?
All of this doesn’t apply to famous writers with massive followings (your Stephen Kings, George R.R. Martins, J.K. Rowlings, etc.). Those writers can write ANYTHING they want, and ANY editor will be glad to have it—regardless of how well it fits with the magazine’s “editorial vision.” Why? Because those writers’ work SELLS. It’s a proven commodity.
So how did those mega-writers get where they are? Was it by trying to please every editor’s unique vision for what fiction should or should not be? Or was it by blazing new trails with their work, ignoring what people were telling them to write, and instead following their own dreams? I propose that it’s always the latter that makes a writer stand out from the pack and break through into mega-popularity.
When a writer’s personal vision comes through so clean and clear that thousands or even millions of people respond to it, that writer becomes his own “editorial vision.” Other writers start imitating it—not because they are trying to steal that person’s readership, but because they are inspired as hell by these super-successful writers and their work: Creative accomplishments that set out not to fulfill some editor’s personal taste, but to please the writer’s own sense of aesthetic quality. We see this across the board in the Arts, whether it be music, film-making, painting, or fiction writing.
The point is: Writers need to pursue their own visions. If you can find an editor who shares your vision, or who appreciates yours enough to incorporate it into his/her own vision, then so much the better. This is how non-famous writers find a “home” for their fiction—not a temporary roadside hotel, but a palatial estate where every story finds a readership. Every writer I know has venues where their work is welcome, and other venues where they can’t get published at all. It’s all part of the game when Art becomes a Commodity.
Editorial vision is necessary because it gives editors and publications a mission statement. But too often editorial vision becomes exclusionary, and too many writers are kept out of the garden by these well-meaning gatekeepers.
Editorial vision, when it becomes a barrier to new voices, can be a handicap. It should be a tool, a set of guidelines for what defines a publication, not a one-size-fits-all checklist with no room for growth, metamorphosis, or challenges.
The greatest of artists (including writers) are always those who don’t fit into ANYONE ELSE’S vision but their own. They are the ones who pursue their private Holy Grails, blaze new trails, and do something that pleases themselves first and foremost. If you can’t please yourself, then what’s the point?
If you’re an editor, the question is: “Are my editorial sensibilities too narrow? Am I taking chances on new voices and fresh ideas, or am I stifling the creativity of others so that it fits my own personal vision?”
Should fiction be crafted to fit a pre-conceived notion of what is acceptable? Or should it be kicking down doors, knocking over mailboxes, and subverting the principles of what has come before in a never-ending quest for the new, the fresh, and the original?
Writers New and Old: Are you going to follow your dream or let someone else define it for you?
Whatever you decide, you’ve got to live with it.
Go forth and CREATE.
Follow that muse wherever it takes you.
“Good writing is like water. It seeps through the cracks
in the barriers placed in front of it.”
— Darrell Schweitzer
“I did it for the pure joy of the thing.
And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.”
— Stephen King
“So write your story as it needs to be written.
Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can.
I’m not sure that there are any other rules.
Not ones that matter.”
– Neil Gaiman
Recently I finished reading actor Ron Perlman‘s excellent memoir EASY STREET (THE HARD WAY), a book so fascinating and insightful it sparked several ephiphanies. Ron’s book isn’t just the story of an actor’s roller-coaster career over four decades. It’s just as much about Ron’s inner journey as a human being—a slow and painful process of learning to accept himself without any outside approval. This problem is common to those with what is often called “the artistic temperament.”
Something I’ve realized, thanks to The Perl’s book, is how much this makes sense. Consider what Art truly is: An escape from mundane reality that increases our ability to appreciate that reality and often helps to define (or redefine) the lives of those who experience it. For some of us, an unhappiness with ourselves can be replaced with immersion in the imagino-sphere of Art itself. Ron talks in his book about getting into the drama program in high school almost accidentally because he wasn’t that good on the swim team. As soon as he discovered the thrill of delivering lines on the stage and getting that blessed audience response, he was hooked for life.
Man, do I get this. I grew up with low self-esteem like a lot of writers do. Hell, a lot of people in general have low self-esteem issues. They can plague you your whole life if you don’t eventually face up to and wrestle down those inner demons. The Perl pointed out how so many talented artists in music, drama, and other fields end up being consumed by those demons. It’s obvious from looking at case after case of overdoses, suicides, and tragedies that escaping into the world of Art can be a way of soothing that inner pain. But it never lasts because eventually the show is over, the book ends, or what-have-you, and you have to come back “down to earth.” So many artistic folks turn to drugs at this point to extend that high, but any performer will tell you that drugs can NEVER reproduce the high you get from an appreciative and grateful audience response. It feels good when people cheer for you.
What transformed my life in my early 20s (i.e. the early 90s) was music. I grew up reading comics and fantasy/horror/sci-fi fiction. As a pre-teen all I ever wanted to be was a comic book artist, an unlikely goal for a kid from Eastern Kentucky (and boy did everybody let me know it). It wasn’t exactly an environment that encouraged you to “pursue the arts”—it was more about “get a job.” I grew up in a very down-to-earth environment full of loving but practical people. The only artists in my immediate family were my grandfather, who played guitar and banjo, and his son (my Uncle Johnny) who also played country-style guitar. I used to stay with my grandparents every summer, at least a month or two every year.
Once or twice a week my grandfather would get out his old, battered acoustic guitar with the strings that smelled like oiled bronze. He’d play and sing Hank Williams and Jerry Lee Lewis tunes on the porch. His only audience was my grandmother and us grandkids—later I realized he was too shy to perform for anybody else. My grandfather and uncle were working men, so Art for them wasn’t something serious to pay the bills. They had “real” jobs for that.
I got my first guitar at 15 when I was a sophomore in high school. I was a bona fide MetalHead, and I taught myself to play by listening to records and jamming with friends. Music got me through the living Hell that was the first three years of high school. My first band, Badly Bent, played one show and broke up. Most of us went off to college, where I studied creative writing and started submitting stories to WEIRD TALES.
Robert Silverberg’s WORLDS OF WONDER was my new Bible for awhile, and the precious rejection feedback from WT’s Darrell Schweitzer set me on a path to getting my writing up to professional standards. I wrote an entire post-apocalyptic novel while I was going to college—in longhand script that filled five spiral-bound notebooks. It wasn’t very good, but I was happy to complete a novel-length story.
Music and Writing have always been parallel forces in my life. After graduating from the University of Kentucky in ’91, I formed Wild Love Rebellion with a fellow unemployed college graduate. We had come out of the higher education system at the peak of a massive recession and the job market was shit at the time.
We were part of an entire generation that said “Fuck this, I’m gonna form a band and make music.” So the music dream consumed my life for the next three years or so. Wild Love Rebellion called itself “love punk” but evolved into “psychedelic hard rock.” We hated the terms “grunge” and “metal” but we had a heavy dose of each in our DNA. Man, we had some good times. There’s nothing like making loud-ass music when you’re young and pissed off at the world.
While Wild Love Rebellion played the same three clubs in Lexington, KY, for three wild years, a guy named Brian Warner was playing clubs around Florida fronting a band called Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids. Brian grew up in Ohio (just north of my home state) and graduated from high school the same year as my friends and I (’87). His band went on to fame and fortune in ’94 with the classic “Portrait of an American Family,” while Wild Love Rebellion imploded before we could even release our debut album. And that’s the way rock’n’roll goes.
I played in a couple other bands after the death of Wild Love, but I also came back to writing. After moving to Chicago and going through a divorce a few years later, I got even more serious about writing. Remember what I said about Art as an antidote to inner pain? I see it now, clearly, since hindsight is always 20/20. All my life I’ve immersed myself in the world of Art—from the time I was 10 years old drawing Master of Kung Fu comics at my grandparents’ dinner table, to the blazing guitar solos and pyschedelic thunder of Wild Love Rebellion, and back to my ultimate calling as a storyteller.
I moved to California and for two years labored with pencil and inks to create a self-published graphic novel NECROMANCY, which years later I revised into an online comic called SKULLS (published at BlackGate.com). But after that experience—which was invaluable—I realized I was primarily a Writer, and I’d never be a professional comics artist. If I had focused on my comics art skills since I was 9 years old, I’d have been pretty damn good. But I had given that dream up at the age of 15 and replaced it with an electric guitar.
Ten years I worked on breaking into comics. I started hitting the San Diego Comicon every year. I constantly networked with potential artists between long shifts at my Day Job (editing trade magazines). I had no budget for hiring artists, so I got nowhere. I decided to draw PRIMORDIA (my follow-up to NECROMANCY) myself, but gave up after 8 pages or so—losing a Day Job in ’02 didn’t help. However, I did hit a jackpot of artistic success when I teamed up with the mighty Roel Wielinga, whose Sirius comic THE SEVENTH SYSTEM was an indie favorite of mine.
Roel and I worked on PRIMORDIA for a year solid and completed the 96-page graphic novel. “We’ll get it published SOMEHOW,” was our only mantra. After a few aborted starts, Archaia Comics’ Mark Smylie jumped at the chance to bring PRIMORDIA into the Archaia family. And he hired Joel Chua to color it—a genius move that trumped the original vision of a black-and-white novel. Did I mention Mark Smylie is a genius?
Success with PRIMORDIA led me to a couple of script-writing gigs for the great Mark Waid, who was editing for Boom! Studios at the time. I wrote 8-pagers for CTHULHU TALES and ZOMBIE TALES, which was a hellva lotta fun. I was working with Mark friggin’ Waid! “We’ll do more of these,” Mark told me in San Diego. I was psyched. And wouldn’t you know it, things fell apart once again. To paraphrase what Ron Perlman was saying about his own career, every step forward seemed to be followed by two steps back.
Mark Waid left Boom! Studios and both books were cancelled. Then the Great Recession of 2008 hit like a ton of bricks–Wall Street and Big Banking had almost destroyed our economy. Jobs were lost in the hundreds of thousands. I was so very lucky to have a full-time teaching position in Sunnyvale, CA, during that time. Everybody was afraid of getting laid off, and the comics industry seemed to “close ranks”–all the established writers were scrambling for assignments. It became ten times harder for a relatively unknown, up-and-coming comics writer to get any attention at all.
All this time I had been publishing fantasy short stories in WEIRD TALES and BLACK GATE. I saw my writing career as a two-pronged approach: comics and fiction. But comics had dried up and it was time to make the next leap. Time for me to write my Big Fantasy Novel. I had completed a cycle of 12 interrelated tales (the Zang Cycle, now collected in THE REVELATIONS OF ZANG), but that wasn’t a novel. I decided “Fuck comics, I’ll write a novel.” Yeah, it was that easy. Not.
The first version of my Big Fantasy Novel got no response from agents, although I shopped it around for three years. Finally, I joined the Scribes workshop in San Jose and started getting feedback from the early chapters. Immediately I realized what was wrong with my first attempt at the B.F.N. So I moved the story twenty years into the future and wrote ANOTHER Big Fantasy Novel, with everything I had dreamed up before serving as background. This second attempt I decided to call SEVEN PRINCES.
About this time I got to attend my first WORLD FANTASY CONVENTION, when the con came to San Jose. More networking with potential agents got me nothing until my friend Howard Andrew Jones (then Managing Editor of BLACK GATE magazine) referred me to his agent Bob Mecoy. Bob liked the SEVEN PRINCES manuscript enough that he offered to represent me. After three years of wooing every agent in the book with no success, I finally got one! And just in time: Once again my Day Job dried up.
I moved to Napa to start a new job at another school. I would have been crushed that after three years in Sunnyvale they weren’t going to give me permanent status. But I had a muthafuggin’ AGENT now, so I smiled when I realized that my three years at this school amounted to nothing. However, it all worked out for the best as I ended up with a permanent position at a high school in the Napa Valley district.
My first year teaching in Napa, eleven months after finding an agent, he called with news that Orbit Books was offering me a three-book deal. THE BOOKS OF THE SHAPER was finally becoming a reality. SEVEN PRINCES was already written, and I’d write two more to complete the trilogy.
What an experience.
Now the trilogy is all done. Out there.
Winning hearts and minds. And shelves.
Someone once said that success is more dangerous than failure. I never understood that completely until I read Ron Perlman’s memoir. Artistic success has little to do with personal self-worth. The most important thing an artist can do is learn to accept himself and rise above the stifling need for external validation (from readers, publishers, reviewers, peers, etc.). True happiness, honest peace-of-mind, NEVER comes from outside yourself. Externally driven happiness is fleeting, a cloud dissolving into the ether even as you look at it.
Artists must learn to separate external validation from internal peace. You might say “Well, every person has to do that.” But artists, I believe, have an even harder time with it because they have such an intimate relationship with Art. It often defines them to the point where they are “nothing without it.” This explains why great talented artists sometimes completely abandon their artistic careers to embrace a simpler lifestyle, and why ALL artists contemplate the abandoning of their trade from time to time.
I used to tell my ex-wife: “I wish I wasn’t creative and had no ideas because I’d be happier as a dumb brute.” She didn’t agree, and she was probably right. I cannot separate my Creativity from my Self, and I quit trying to do so a long time ago. They say if you love something you should set it free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it was never yours to begin with. The same rule applies, whether you’re talking bout a love affair or an art form.
Humans are complex creatures. Artists, I’ve observed, are even more complex. They usually have some kind of inner conflict that expresses itself artistically. A demon that drives them, or several demons. Art can be therapy, but it can also be an addiction. An artist can never let his Art define him. Only his Humanity can do that.
The most important Art of all is the Art of Living. We craft our own lives to a set of aesthetic principles. Or let them be sculpted by forces beyond our control. Or perhaps a little of both.
The trick is to look inward for peace and security, never out to the inconstant and fickle world.
Look inward with meditation, with music, with silent contemplation.
The only approval you need is your own.
HAPPY HALLOWEEN! One of my all-time favorite horror movies, the compelling and disturbing CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962), is now available for FREE viewing thanks to the magic of YouTube. If you haven’t seen it yet, sit back, turn down the lights, spark some candles, lock your door, and get ready to get SKEERED.
You can order it right here.
The Kindle edition is on sale here.
To read my previous post about it click here.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
“Success” by Michael Blumlein
“Like Feather, Like Bone” by Kristi DeMeester
“A Terror” by Jeffrey Ford
“The Key to Your Heart Is Made of Brass” by John R. Fultz
“A Cavern of Redbrick” by Richard Gavin
“The Krakatoan” by Maria Dahvana Headley
“Bor Urus” by John Langan
“Furnace” by Livia Llewellyn
“Eyes Exchange Bank”
by Scott Nicolay
“A Quest of Dream” by W.H. Pugmire
“(he) Dreams of Lovecraftian Horror” by Joseph S. Pulver Sr.
“Dr. Blood and the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron” by A.C. Wise
“The Year of the Rat” by Chen Quifan
“Fox into Lady” by Anne-Sylvie Salzman
“Olimpia’s Ghost” by Sofia Samatar
“The Nineteenth Step” by Simon Strantzas
“The Girl in the Blue Coat” by Anna Taborska
“In Limbo” by Jeffrey Thomas
“Moonstruck” by Karin Tidbeck
“Swim Wants to Know If It’s as Bad as Swim Thinks” by Paul Tremblay
“No Breather in the World But Thee” by Jeff VanderMeer
“Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us?”
by Damien Angelica Walters
A poem by Robert E. Howard
Dedicated today to the memory of Robin Williams.
Something tapped me on the shoulder
Something whispered, “Come with me,
“Leave the world of men behind you,
“Come where care may never find you
“Come and follow, let me bind you
“Where, in that dark, silent sea,
“Tempest of the world ne’er rages;
“There to dream away the ages,
“Heedless of Time’s turning pages,
“Only, come with me.”
“Who are you?” I asked the phantom,
“I am rest from Hate and Pride.
“I am friend to king and beggar,
“I am Alpha and Omega,
“I was councilor to Hagar
“But men call me suicide.”
I was weary of tide breasting,
Weary of the world’s behesting,
And I lusted for the resting
As a lover for his bride.
And my soul tugged at its moorings
And it whispered, “Set me free.
“I am weary of this battle,
“Of this world of human cattle,
“All this dreary noise and prattle.
“This you owe to me.”
Long I sat and long I pondered,
On the life that I had squandered,
O’er the paths that I had wandered
In the shadow panorama
Passed life’s struggles and its fray.
And my soul tugged with new vigor,
Huger grew the phantom’s figure,
As I slowly tugged the trigger,
Saw the world fade swift away.
Through the fogs old Time came striding,
Radiant clouds were ’bout me riding,
As my soul went gliding, gliding,
From the shadow into day.
REQUIEM: VAMPIRE CHEVALIER
by Pat Mills and Olivier Ledroit
What can I say about Pat Mills? He’s practically the British Stan Lee. He founded the UK’s #1 long-running comic magazine 2000AD back in 1976 and it’s still going strong today. One of his greatest creations is SLAINE, who I’ve talked about in a previous review (SLAINE: THE HORNED GOD). Pat has authored many long-running 2000AD characters, but he also has been telling the story of “vampires in hell” in the pages of HEAVY METAL magazine for the past few years.
REQUIEM: VAMPIRE CHEVALIER is the fantastic creation of Mills and French artist extraordinaire Oliver Ledroit. It was released over time in 10 volumes of 50 pages each. Yes, that’s a 500-PAGE GRAPHIC NOVEL. The art is, in a word, spectacular. Each panel is fully painted, and Ledroit has some of the coolest designs and otherworldly landscapes in the history of graphic novels. You don’t have to be a vampire fan to enjoy REQUIEM; there are plenty of different monsters, spectres, werewolves, and demonic entities to go around. (FYI: “Chevalier” is the French word for “Knight.”)
Here’s how Wiki describes the basic plot: “The story is set in a world called Resurrection [where] people are re-incarnated into monsters according to the sins of their life. Vampires form the elite of the society and the ruling class. The more cruel one was in life, the better he is rewarded on Resurrection…[where] everything appears to be the opposite way around than on Earth. Land has replaced the oceans, while seas of perpetual fire occupy our known continents and time flows backwards. People do not get older but rejuvenate until they become a foetus and ultimately are forgotten; their memory follows the same cycle and is ‘lost’ as people get younger.”
That only scratches the surface. What we have in REQUIEM is one of the most beautifully-drawn horror tales every created. A true odyssey of macabre adventure. There’s really no describing in words what Ledroit’s eye-popping, jaw-dropping art does on the page. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by how beautiful he makes this horrible world seem. The vampires are vicious, gorgeous, and sadistic, waging an eternal war against the “Gods of Limbo” and their undead servants. But all of this spectacular art would be beside the point if the story wasn’t so well told. Pat Mills is a master storyteller, and REQUIEM: VAMPIRE CHEVALIER is nothing short of a masterpiece.
Currently HeavyMetal.com offers this story in a number of different packages: You can order the REQUIEM Collection, Volumes 1 and 2, which includes the first 6 chapters of the 10-chapter story. Each volume will set you back about $20 before shipping. Chapters 7-10 are not yet available in print in the USA.
HOWEVER—if you have a Kindle or E-Reader—you’re in luck! You can download ALL TEN CHAPTERS for $4 each. Finally, the best possible deal—the one I chose—gets you the ENTIRE 10-chapter, 500-page graphic novel for a measly $20!!! This kind of rare deal, folks, is the reason I bought a Kindle Fire in the first place.
I’ve read the first 3 volumes and am currely on the 4th. I’ve never been more grateful to have an e-reader. The painted panels look gorgeous on my hi-def Kindle Fire. One caveat: The story of REQUIEM does feature a lot of violence, blood, and sadistic behavior. But what would you expect? It’s about vampires fighting an eternal war for control of a hellish afterlife!
For fans of fully-painted, non-superhero graphic novels, it just doens’t get any better than REQUIEM: VAMPIRE CHEVALIER. But don’t take my word for it, go to www.heavymetal.com and look at the free samples from each volume. Your eyes will pop, your blood will race, and your mind will be blown. Mine certainly was—and continues to be every time I dive into a new chapter.
Could REQUIEM: VAMPIRE CHEVALIER be the greatest vampire epic ever written? I say “Yes, it very well could be.” If you’re not offended by violence and nudity, you must check out this book.
THE SPECTRAL LINK
by Thomas Ligotti
Getting any new material from the great Tom Ligotti is always a special treat. A dark treat, of course, with an edge of insanity and super weirdness. Ligotti is one of the greatest living horror writers, but the last decade hasn’t been a prolific one for him. He only writes when he’s inspired to write, and thankfully he’s getting inspired again.
THE SPECTRAL LINK is a small hardcover containing one short story (“Metaphysica Morum”) and a novella (“The Small People”). It’s metaphysical horror firmly in the “weird fiction” tradition. As I expected, both stories are brilliant examples of what Ligotti does best.
What’s different about this volume, compared to his other works, is a dark sense of humor that penetrates both stories. The humor never distracts from the dread and horror of the tales, but adds a new facet to the gleaming diamond of Ligotti’s talent.
Instead of describing the plot and contents of each story, let me just say that any horror fan—or any fan of weird fiction—should get this book immediately. It’s delightfully creepy and completely original, just like all of Ligotti’s work.
Here’s piece I posted here back in March about Ligotti:
When I was 11 years old this was the coolest thing I had ever seen: “Taarna,” the final segment of the film HEAVY METAL. This is the climax of the movie set to Sammy Hagar’s “Heavy Metal” song from the film’s soundtrack. My buddy Ivan and I snuck into this Rated R film in 1981 because we just couldn’t miss it. Rock-and-roll sci-fi with a sword-and-sorcery twist. CLASSIC.
Blew. Our. Minds.
Yep, I buy books all year long—can’t get enough of ‘em. Yet my reading proceeds at a crawl because of my busy schedule until summer hits. It’s kind of a tradition for me to blog here about what I read each summer, so let’s get to it:
THE LIGHT IS THE DARKNESS by Laird Barron
I’ve greatly enjoyed reading Barron’s many story collections and his terrific first novel THE CRONING. LIGHT is something between a novella and a novel—call it a short novel if you will—and it actually came out before THE CRONING. It has everything that Barron’s fans have come to expect from him: Hard-boiled protagonists, creeping evil from beyond space/time, and a two-fisted plunge into cosmic phantasmagoria.
Barron’s protagonist is Conrad Navarro, reigning champion of a global underground gladitorial fighting ring. He’s a modern-day Beowulf or Conan, although he might remind readers more of Frank Miller’s Marv (from SIN CITY). Barron channels his crime-noir skills here as Conrad’s journey into mystery takes him behind the veil of consensual reality, where he discovers the horrible truth about himself and the nefarious forces that killed his brother and stole his sister.
It’s dark, slick, mysterious, and brutal. It’s Laird Barron, a one-of-a-kind talent, at his most uninhibited. If THE CRONING was a cerebral descent into cosmic terror, then THE LIGHT IS THE DARKNESS is a blood-soaked roller coaster ride through a world of decadent horrors. Along with the incredible “Hand of Glory”, this is one of Laird’s best stories, hands down.
SLAINE: THE HORNED GOD
by Pat Mills and Simon Bisley
Next up: COMICS! It’s the Summer of SLAINE for me. Pat Mills created this Celtic hero in the pages of 2000AD, where he chronicled the character’s adventures for many years. The very height of those adventures came when a young Simon Bisley came onboard to illustrate a new series of Slaine installments beginning in 1989.
The result was THE HORNED GOD a 3-book magnum opus that helped make Bisley an art legend. It also gave Mills the chance to bring Slaine’s world to life in a deeper way than ever before. Bisley’s fully painted panels are breathtaking, and often he changes techniques in the middle of scenes to evoke emotion or contrast.
The story of Slaine doesn’t begin in THE HORNED GOD, but it serves as a great introduction to the character for anybody new to Slaine’s world. Ukko the Dwarf, Slaine’s longtime companion (the Sancho Panza to his Don Quijote, if you will) is scribing the story in the remote future, so we get a story within a story, often with Ukko’s skewed and humorous viewpoint.
Mills uses Slaine to explore and expound on Celtic mythology in ironic and unexpected ways. Bisley’s art is equal parts Frank Frazetta and Richard Corben, with a bit of Bill Sienkiewicz. In short, it’s absolutely gorgeous, and perfect for such a mythic story.
Sea demons, undead monsters, phantom dragons, and marauding hordes of men and beasts come to life in the weird world of pre-history that Mills envisions. The Celtic women are strong and gorgeous, often mighter and more deadly than their male counterparts.
Slaine isn’t your typical “musclebound barbarian,” he’s a complex character in a savage world of magic and brutality. He’s a servant of the Earth Goddess, a slayer of dragons, a “warp-spasm” warrior, and a man determined to save his long-suffering people from diabolic forces. Rarely have story and art blended so perfectly into the construction of an illustrated fantasy. THE HORNED GOD is a must for any fantasy fan’s graphic novel library.
COMPANIONS ON THE ROAD by Tanith Lee
This is actually two unrelated fantasy novellas packaged into a single slim paperback originally released in 1975. This was the same year Lee won a Nebula Award for her debut novel (THE BIRTHGRAVE). The first novella is “Companions on the Road,” the story of a cursed goblet and two soldiers who steal it from a burning castle after a seige. It becomes a “road story” of haunting spirits and deadly curses, but the magic is underplayed in favor of rising menace.
The second half of COMPANIONS ON THE ROAD provides great contrast, as the sorcery factor is amped way up. “The Winter Players” is a tale of feuding sorcerers where Lee lets the magic fly. The young sorceress protagonist discovers the depth of her power as she pursues a thief who stole a holy relic from her seaside shrine. The tale builds in depth and complexity, delivering a stunning and clever conclusion.
I liked the second novella (“The Winter Players”) better than the first, but both are superb works from one of Lee’s most prolific periods (i.e. the 70s)—which also happened to be the Golden Age of Sword-and-Sorcery. No coincidence there…
Read PRIMORDIA issue #1 for FREE at Comixology! It’s the first chapter of a 96-page (3-issue) mini-series. Issues #2 and #3 are $2 each. That’s the ENTIRE graphic novel on your Kindle or eReader for only $4!!!
“Twenty years have flowed away down the long river
And never in my life will return for me from the sea
Ah years in which looking far away I saw ages long past
When still trees bloomed free in a wide country
And thus now all begins to wither
With the breath of cold-hearted wizards
To know things they break them
And their stern lordship they establish
Through fear of death”
– J.R.R. Tolkien
Read aloud by the author in the Elvish Language
Rotterdam Hobbit Dinner, 1958
“What’s gonna happen now?
Will the good guys pull through somehow?”
———- MONSTER MAGNET ———-
It’s an in-depth look at one of the greatest and most under-appreciated graphic novels ever written: Jamie Delano and John Higgins’ WORLD WITHOUT END (from 1990), which still remains sadly uncollected. (Yet cheaply available in its original prestige format issues.)
A classic like this is worth promoting as often as possible, so please check it out.
“In fact, consciousness exists outside of constraints of time and space. It is able to be anywhere: in the human body and outside of it. In other words, it is non-local in the same sense that quantum objects are non-local.”