Archive for June, 2013

The Great Aparo

Spectre-Adventure10Ah, summer. The time when I can not only write as much as I want, but also READ as much as I want. This summer, I have dived back into comics in a big way. One of the great things about comic books as an art form is that there’s always something spectacular to discover—even if it was published decades ago.

This summer I’m on a serious Jim Aparo kick. Aparo’s Silver Age and Bronze Age work was simply amazing. The artist is best known for his runs on Aquaman, Phantom Stranger, and Brave and the Bold (Batman), but he did tons of other work. When Neal Adams came to comics in the mid-60s, he set a new standard for stylish, photo-realistic artwork that few people could match, and he changed the face of comics. Jim Aparo was an artist in that same style.

Both of these artists could have been right at home on Madison Avenue doing high-profile advertising illustrations (and in fact Adams did come from that field). Both Neal and Aparo utterly captured the look and feel of 1960s American—and they made it look fantastic. I can’t watch an episode of MAD MEN without thinking how much certain characters look like Jim Aparo drawings.

PhantStgrFor a long time I’ve been searching out Aparo’s issues of the original PHANTOM STRANGER comic. A couple of years ago the entire run was finally collected in DC’s SHOWCASE PRESENTS: PHANTOM STRANGER Volumes 1 and 2. Even in black-and-white Aparo’s art is gorgeous. Last year I picked up the SHOWCAWSE PRESENTS: THE SPECTRE collection, which begins in the 60s but also includes Aparo’s early 70s run on the character in the pages of ADVENTURE COMICS. Spectacular stuff. Aparo followed Neal Adams on both of these titles–which given their similar styles is no coincidence.

Now I’ve never been much of an AQUAMAN fan, and in fact I’ve laughed at the popular jokes made about this character who “fights crime underwater.” But Jim Aparo did one of the most legendary AQUAMAN runs in the character’s history, and came back to do another one a few years later. His first run on the character was in the original Silver Age AQUAMAN comic (#40 -56), and in the 70s he came back to do an 11-issue revival of the character in ADVENTURE COMICS–this was a direct follow-up to his SPECTRE run in that same title. The original AQUAMAN Aparo run has yet to be collected, but a peek at the pages of these issues reveals some truly gorgeous artwork. Both of these runs are now on my list of classic must-haves.

Fortunately, BATMAN fans will have an easier time getting a fantastic Aparo fix. The artist’s long-standing BRAVE AND THE BOLD run has been collected in a full-color hardcover edition called LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT: JIM APARO Vol. 1. These were the stories that cemented Aparo’s legend, since Batman is one of the most high-profile characters ever. I’m sure I’ll pick this volume up eventually, but it’s his non-Batman work that thrills me the most.

Spectre-Adventure164303960264.21Phantom Stranger and The Spectre are two of my favorite comics of all time, and looking back now at the age of 43, this is all due to the great Jim Aparo. His work was my first exposure to these DC characters and—much like John Buscema’s work defined Marvel Comics for me at an impressionable age—Jim Aparo’s version of these mysterious beings became the definitive versions in my mind.

Come to think of it, the only Aquaman comics I bought as a kid had Aparo artwork as well. I’ve heard other comics fans say that the Aparo Batman is THE Batman
to their minds, and I have to agree with that as well.

Jim Aparo was a true giant of the comics field,
and we need more of his great work in collected editions.

Until then, I’ll be hitting the back issue bins.

I’m pleased to announce that THE REVELATIONS OF ZANG
is now available in BOTH Kindle and Nook formats.

Kindle @ Amazon

Nook @ B&

Click for larger view

Click for larger view

A collection of dark fantasy tales with a metaphysical edge, full of grotesque wonders and weird splendor. Artifice the Quill flees from tyrant sorcerers into a world of strange magic, ancient gods, and exotic kingdoms. The exiled author joins a traveling troupe of performers known as the Glimmer Faire, where he learns the magical power of art and the art of magical power. These Twelve Tales of the Continent alternate between the exploits of Artifice and the adventures of Taizo the Rogue, a master of skullduggery who sparks a rebellion in the name of bloody vengeance.

The Lost Gods of Narr were displaced a century ago by the Sorcerer Kings, a council of dictators who rule the Golden City with necromancy, alchemy, and terror. The mysterious folk of the Red Isle foster dissension in Narr by smuggling their enchanted goods into the city, while the ancient Zang Forest expands itself across the lands of men, devouring farms and towns as it reaches to smother the wicked city.

Now that the Lost Gods are returning to destroy the world, only Artifice, Taizo, and a small band of rebels have any hope of preventing the apocalypse. Seven of these interrelated stories are previously unpublished, including the 16,000-word novelette “Spilling the Blood of the World,” which brings the entire Zang Cycle to a staggering finale.

The trailer for THE HOBBIT, Part 2, “The Desolation of Smaug” has just arrived,
and it is — in a word — awesome
Watch it. ‘Nuff said. 

Click for larger view

Click for larger view

It’s here! My first-ever short story collection,
THE REVELATIONS OF ZANG, is now available as a Kindle e-book at for $4.99.

(A Nook version will follow soon, and there are plans for a  Limited Edition print version eventually.)

At last the entire Zang Cycle is presented in a single volume. It all began with “The Persecution of Artifice the Quill” in WEIRD TALES #340, then the story-cycle  hopped over to BLACK GATE magazine for the next few years. Five of the tales were published in WT and BG, while the remaining seven tales are presented here for the first time.

I’ve spent the last couple of months perfecting, revising, and updating the text of each story. Josh Finney (Titanium Rain) did the amazing cover art, which features Artifice the Quill and Taizo of Narr, who star in most of the stories. The grand finale to the entire cycle is a 16,000-word novella, “Spilling the Blood of the World.”

In one sense THE REVELATIONS OF ZANG is a series of stories about the power of storytelling. The tales that Artifice writes are brought to life by his skilled troupe of performers and the clever illusions of Mordeau the Showman. Is this Sword & Sorcery? More like “Pen & Sorcery”.  When I began writing the first of these tales, I wanted something rather different for fantasy: a central protagonist who is, first and foremost, an intellectual.

The cover of WT #340 features the deadly Vizarchs from "The Persecution of Artifice the Quill."

The cover of WT #340 featured the deadly Vizarchs from “The Persecution of Artifice the Quill,” the story that began the Zang Cycle.

Artifice is a writer whose fame in Narr the Golden City thrusts him into a world of peril. The Quill isn’t saddled with the role of a reluctant savior, or weaned on blood and iron to lead a conquering army. No, his is a thinker, a philosopher, an Artist. His journey is one of discovery, as he explores the link between Art and Sorcery.

Taizo of Narr started off as a supporting character, but drew my attention again and again, until he became the “second lead” of the series. In many ways he is the opposite of Artifice—his tool is a blade, not a pen. Taizo begins as a self-concerned opportunist, a thief and smuggler. His are the arts of larceny and skullduggery. Unlike Artifice, who is a slave to his craft, Taizo is driven by raw emotions. He is a man pushed too far, and ultimately bent on revenge at all cost.

Definitely there are some statements about the nature of Art and its essential relationship to humanity in these stories. You may see a reflection of today’s self-obsessed politicians in the narcissistic personages of the Sorcerer Kings. You may see your local tortured artist glimmering in the eyes of Artifice the Quill. You may see yourself in the grieving, desperate moments of Taizo’s journey.

“The Persecution of Artifice the Quill” was my first professionally published story, and it gave birth to this entire cycle. I always intended to collect these stories someday under a single cover. I’m really glad that day has come at last.

Artifice and Taizo have been waiting long enough…


Michael Whelan’s beautifully creepy illustration for a mid-80s Lovecraft collection.

Horror fans know H.P. Lovecraft as the father of “cosmic horror” and the man who invented Cthulhu, Azathoth, Nyarlathotep, and host of other legendary monsters known as the Great Old Ones. His body of work also inspired its own genre of horror fiction—the Lovecraftian Mythos.

I’ve been pleased to have stories in such Lovecraftian anthologies as CTHULHU’S REIGN and THE BOOK OF CTHULHU II. Now PS Publishing (the publisher that brought us BLACK WINGS I & II) has assembled an impressive new anthology under the editorship of the great Darrell Schweitzer.

THAT IS NOT DEAD features all-new tales of cosmic horror set in various periods of history. You might call it “Historical Lovecraft.” The title comes from one of Lovecraft’s most famous lines: “That is not dead which can eternal lie, yet with stranger eons, even death may die.”


Azathoth, as rendered by CRODEART

Here’s what Schweitzer has to say about the concept:

“THAT IS NOT DEAD is a collection of Mythos stories, based on the premise that if the Old Ones have been around since elder aeons, someone should have noticed before Lovecraft’s characters did about 1900. The theme then is lurking presences. Inasmuch as the stories deal with history, it is secret history, i.e. “what really happened…”

I wrote a story called “Anno Domini Azathoth” for the book, and I’m humbled to be in the company of so many fine writers. My tale is set in the wild Arizona Territory in the late 1700s. It involves an obscure Amerindian cult of Azathoth worshipers, and the missionary priest who discovers their horrible secret.

It also purports to tell the “real story” behind the all-too-real massacre of two Spanish missions in 1781. Like most of these tales, it peels back the layers of known history to reveal the mind-blasting horrors that lie beneath.

Here is the final Table of Contents:

“Herald of Chaos” by Keith Taylor.
“What A Girl Needs” by Esther Friesner
“The Horn of the World’s Ending” by John Langan 
“Monsters in the Mountains at the Edge of the World” by Jay Lake
“Come, Follow Me” by Darrell Schweitzer 
“Ophiuchus” by Don Webb 
“Of Queens and Pawns” by Lois Gresh 
“Smoking Mirror” by Will Murray 
“Incident at Ferney” by S.T. Joshi 
“Anno Domini Azathoth” by John R. Fultz 
“Slowness” by Don Webb 
“The Salamanca Encounter” by Richard Lupoff 
“Old Time Entombed” by W.H. Pugmire 
“Nine Drowned Churches” by Harry Turtledove.

Darrell Schweitzer revealed that the 14 stories appear in chronological order, beginning in the 2nd millennium BC and going up to the end of the 19th century, and the Turtledove piece ” takes place in the present but looks back on events in medieval times.”

THAT IS NOT DEAD is set for release toward the end of this year. I’ll be sure to announce it right here when it arrives.