Friday, March 29, 2013

Tarzan 101 | Tarzan and the Golden Lion

Celebrating Tarzan's 101st anniversary by walking through Scott Tracy Griffin's Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration.

Tarzan and the Golden Lion picks up where Tarzan the Terrible left off. Because it's a spoiler, Scott Tracy Griffin doesn't mention in his Tarzan the Terrible summary that Tarzan and Jane's son, Korak shows up at the end to rescue his parents, but the young man is with them as The Golden Lion picks up. The three of them are returning to familiar jungle when they encounter an orphaned lion cub that Tarzan adopts and names Jad-bal-ja ("The Golden Lion" in the language of Pal-ul-don, which Tarzan seems to have taken to).

When the family gets home to their estate, they find it repaired (after its destruction two books ago in Tarzan the Untamed) by their Waziri friends and some employees. Unfortunately though, WWI has depleted Tarzan's funds, so the ape man undertakes another trip to the lost city of Opar to replenish his wealth. The villain of the book is the Greystoke's former maid who has teamed up with a Tarzan lookalike named Esteban Miranda in hopes of also getting gold from Opar. Shenanigans ensue and Tarzan ends up rescuing La from her own subjects and escaping into the neighboring valley. There, they're captured by the bolgani, a race of talking gorillas, but neither Esteban Miranda nor Jad-bal-ja are out of the story just yet.

Griffin doesn't provide a lot of background detail for The Golden Lion. It looks like after Tarzan the Terrible, Burroughs found a groove and kept on writing. Griffin does offer a supplementary chapter on lions though. Burroughs was extremely fond of them (and even had a couple of cubs as pets at one point, given to him by a film producer) and worked them into all but two of the Tarzan novels. He also included them in his other work like The Lost Continent and even created a cult of lion-worshipers in Thuvia, Maid of Mars.

Though Tarzan starts off in an adversarial relationship with Numa (a name Burroughs believed he subconsciously cribbed from a Roman emperor) in the early books, he forms a bond with a black lion in Tarzan the Untamed. And Jad-bal-ja of course would become a lasting companion, reappearing in several other novels later on, including the one we'll look at next.

Short, virile men hate cephalopods

[Submitted by mermaid-fan extraordinaire Shad Daly]

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Tarzan 101 | Tarzan the Terrible

Celebrating Tarzan's 101st anniversary by walking through Scott Tracy Griffin's Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration.

Hey, look! It's my comic book birth sign! (I have an ascendant one too, but this ain't that.)

In 1920, Edgar Rice Burroughs was just about out of ideas. According to Scott Tracy Griffin, Burroughs wrote a letter to his editors saying that he'd written every possible scenario in the Tarzan books. Fortunately, a fan sent him some newspaper clippings about a prehistoric creature that had been reported in the swamps of central Africa. The lightbulb went on and Burroughs went back to work.

The result was Tarzan the Terrible, in which Tarzan tracks the German villain from Tarzan the Untamed whom Tarzan suspects has abducted Jane. The ape man follows them to a hidden valley called Pal-ul-Don, a land filled with dinosaur-like creatures such as the man-eating, underwater triceratops called the Gryf. It's the valley's inhabitants who give Tarzan the title, "Tarzan-jad-guru," or "Tarzan the Terrible."

As Griffin points out in his supplementary chapter on "Dinosaurs in Africa," the name Gryf brings to mind the bird-like griffin; appropriate considering the dinosaurs' evolutionary legacy in general and the triceratops' beaked mouth in particular.

Thank God for writers block and weird fans, because with Tarzan the Terrible, Burroughs found his groove and pulped the heck out of the series. It was a short jump from there to ant-men, lost colonies of the Roman Empire, and the earth's hollow core.

Incidentally, if you'd like to read the comic behind the cover above, ERBzine has the whole thing scanned in for you.

Please consider pre-ordering Kill All Monsters, Volume 1: Ruins of Paris

That there is page 244 from the April issue of the Previews catalog. Looks like something exciting might be coming to comics stores in June.

I say "might be" because for that to happen, shops have to order it. As exciting as it is that Kill All Monsters, Volume 1 is in the catalog, that really doesn't mean anything unless the stores order. Jason and I are doing our best to get the word out, but nothing tells a retailer that they should stock a comic like customers coming in and telling them they want it.

If you'd like your very own, printed copy of Kill All Monsters and aren't able to make it to a convention to buy it from me or Jason directly, please consider pre-ordering it at your comic shop. If they're like mine, you don't even have to pay for it until it shows up. But it'll help your shop to know there's an interest. It might also help them to know that the item code is APR130764, so feel free to pass that along if it's convenient.

As another way of spreading the word, I've got a PDF version of the entire book that I'd love to send to anyone who'll promise to review it. Just email me at michaelmay at michaelmay dot us and I'll make sure you get one.

Thanks, everyone!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The spiritual side of writing

Sorry about not posting yesterday. I got back from FablesCon Sunday night and immediately went to work on writing it up for Robot 6. That, plus just being gone all weekend, didn't leave any time for here.

I won't go over again how much I loved the convention as a whole, but I can go into more detail about the effect it had on me. At some point over the weekend, I tweeted that the cumulative effect of the panels was "incredibly inspirational for storytelling. Like, spiritually so." What I meant was that being in the same room with experienced writers like Kurt Busiek, Mike Carey, Peter Gross, and Chris Roberson - and listening to these guys talk about not just writing, but storytelling in general - kind of filled up my tanks.

Writing is a lot of fun for me, but I don't always feel passionate about it. I discipline myself to write every day whether I feel like it or not, and that keeps me productive, but though I always enjoy writing as I'm doing it, there are times when I don't really want to sit in that chair. I've also developed disciplines to help me organize my stories and keep them on track and that's all really good. I need that, because I'm not that disciplined by nature, but it can get stifling.

At FablesCon, I got a lot of permission to let loose and just enjoy the flow of ideas. Roberson, Carey, and Gross talked a lot about it (Matt O'Keefe has a good write-up of that particular panel at The Beat) with Carey even saying that he doesn't teach three-act structure anymore in his workshops. Carey also poked holes in other writing conventions, like the idea that characters can steal control of a story from the writer (he writes more about that on his Good Reads blog, which is now in my bookmarks). He admits to being a very organized, outline-using writer, but he also lets himself play, as does Roberson. Their excitement about telling stories was contagious and motivating.

I want more of that and I think my experience at FablesCon showed me a way to get it. I got to chat with Roberson a couple of times in addition to attending some of his panels and was blown away by how well-read he is. I'm pretty good at consuming large quantities of stories, but Roberson makes me want to be a better, pickier reader. Though I don't do much linkblogging anymore, I still tend to read the Internet that way: scouring for details about comics and movies that I'm not even interested in. That time could be better spent on a critical essay or two; or even watching Life of Pi, which I understand has some deeply profound things to say about the power of stories.

In fact, I'm going to add Life of Pi to the top of my Netflix queue right now, because if it's everything I hear it is, I have post in me about it and Roberson's famous quote about Superman and Jesus. Thanks to FablesCon, I'm starting to realize how much of a spiritual activity storytelling is and I want to think and discover more about that.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Tarzan 101 | Tarzan the Untamed

Celebrating Tarzan's 101st anniversary by walking through Scott Tracy Griffin's Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration.

In 1918, World War I was nearing its conclusion, but anti-German sentiment was still running high in the United States. Edgar Rice Burroughs wasn't immune and let those feelings influence his books from that period, from The Land That Time Forgot to Tarzan the Untamed.

Tarzan the Untamed is actually two, shorter novels that were serialized in different magazines. Tarzan and the Huns showed up in Red Book in the spring and summer of 1919; Tarzan and the Valley of Luna came out in All-Story a year later. None of his editors were all that thrilled about his politicizing Tarzan, but by then no one was going to stop him either. I haven't read it, but reviews suggest that it's one of the weaker entries in the series, not only because it switches plots in the middle, but also because Tarzan loses something of his noble heroism.

The story begins with Tarzan's return to his jungle plantation after visiting British East Africa. He finds his home destroyed by German troops with the body of a woman he believes to be Jane burned in the wreckage. That sends the ape-man into a rage and he enters the war, helping the British defeat the Germans in Africa (something that didn't actually happen in the real war). Sort of Burroughs' version of Inglorious Basterds.

Like Marvel Comics and DC with Spider-Man and Superman, Burroughs had decided that it had been a mistake to marry off his hero and was attempting to undo that by killing off Jane in Tarzan and the Huns. By the time he was wrapping up Valley of Luna though, his editors and family had convinced him that that was a mistake, so he wrote himself a way out that leads into the next novel.

In Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration, Griffin includes a chapter on Jane after the one on Tarzan the Untamed, talking about her transformation in the novels from damsel-in-distress to self-reliant hero, but also how none of the movies or TV shows really wanted to mess with her for too long. In fact, she wasn't initially supposed to recover from that spear she got in the back in Tarzan Finds a Son, but Burroughs - perhaps thinking of Tarzan the Untamed - got the filmmakers to change their mind.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Heading to Fabletown and Beyond

This weekend I'm planning to be in Rochester for the first ever Fabletown and Beyond convention celebrating Mythic Fiction comics. I won't have a table or anything, I just want to go to show my support and cover the convention for Robot 6.

It's inspired by Rochester-resident Bill Willingham's Fables comic, so he'll be there, but so will other great guests like Mark Buckingham (Fables), Chris Roberson and Allison Baker (Memorial, Monkeybrain Comics), Steve Leialoha (Fables), Kurt Busiek (Arrowsmith, The Wizards Tale), Mike Cary (The Unwritten), Peter Gross (Lucifer, Books of Magic), Adam Hughes (Fairest), Van Jensen (Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer), Mike Oeming (Mice Templar), David Petersen (Mouse Guard), Matt Sturges (Jack of Fables), and over a dozen other good people. It promises to be a unique convention and I've been looking forward to it for a long time. Let me know if you're going and we'll meet up.

In other news, Bleeding Cool did a nice write-up of Emerald City Comic-Con focusing on Jason Copland and Melissa Pagluica. It misspells Jason's last name and misidentifies the writer of Kill All Monsters, but I'm grateful for the attention to the book. Writer Matt Harding talks about "the epic scale of color and explosions that caught my eye as they decorated the full wrap-around cover of this landscape-printed volume. [...] The artwork is fun and clean, yet conveys a sense of drama, therefore capturing the storyline perfectly." Thanks, Matt! (Pagluica's stuff is amazing too. Check out the Beauty and the Beast piece at the top of the post.)

Fellow Robot 6 contributor Corey Blake is also involved with the Comics Observer site and one of the things he does there is a digital comics column called Pixel Pages. He recently profiled Kelly Yates' MonstHer from Artist Alley Comics (where you can also buy Kill All Monsters in digital form) and talked a little about AAC. He calls it "unique from other digital comics distributors in that they let you download a PDF file that you can keep, instead of leasing you a digital file stored by them. They’re still formatted like print comics, so they read best on tablets like iPads, even though they don’t have an app yet (and their website’s navigation isn’t the best despite a nice and clean look). But the low price ($0.99 instead of $2.99-$3.99) and a true purchase are where digital comics should be."

Finally, if you're curious about the Avenger anthology that I contributed to and want to know a little more about the character, Snell gives the Jack Kirby version of him the Monstrobot treatment at Slay, Monstrobot of the Deep. By "Monstrobot treatment" I mean that he shares some panels and talks about the character in a really entertaining way, in this case comparing him favorably to the Punisher.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tarzan 101 | Jungle Tales of Tarzan

Celebrating Tarzan's 101st anniversary by walking through Scott Tracy Griffin's Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration.

I've never read all the Tarzan novels completely through and I blame Jungle Tales. I tried to read the entire series once, but my OCD kicked in when I hit Burroughs' collection of short stories from early in Tarzan's life. One of the best things about reading a series is watching the characters grow and it was getting frustrating to deal with an aged Tarzan in Son of Tarzan, jump back to young Tarzan in Jewels of Opar, and then regress all the way to childhood and teenage years in Jungle Tales. I wasn't keeping in mind that Burroughs didn't create the series as a series, but was simply trying to sell stories where he could on a schedule that worked for him.

In 1916, Burroughs was planning to spend several months travelling. Scott Tracy Griffin speculates that Burroughs realized he wouldn't be able to complete a full novel under those circumstances and that may be why he pitched the idea of a series of short stories. The result is twelve tales of Tarzan from his time growing up among the apes.
1. "Tarzan's First Love" gets uncomfortable when Tarzan falls into unrequited love with a female ape named Teeka. It's icky, but an important step in Tarzan's distancing himself from the apes.

2. In "The Capture of Tarzan," young Tarzan is captured by a village of cannibals and rescued by an elephant, building the foundation of his long friendship with those animals.

3. "The Fight for the Balu" is sort of a sequel to "Tarzan's First Love" when Teeka and her husband's new baby raises new emotions and challenges for the ape man.

4. In "The God of Tarzan," Tarzan discovers the concept of deity in the books of his parents' cabin. He investigates further, trying to understand the idea in the context of jungle life.

5. "Tarzan and the Black Boy" continues the ideas of "Tarzan's First Love" and "Fight for the Balu," while also starting a new trilogy of short stories. Tarzan wants a child of his own and kidnaps one from the neighboring village. That doesn't go over well with the boy's real mother, of course, who solicits the help of an exiled witch-doctor named Bukawai. The old man's price is too high, so Mom goes away disappointed, but Tarzan sees her distress and returns the child to her.

6. That story continues in "The Witch-Doctor Seeks Vengeance" when Bukawai tries to claim credit for the boy's return and extort payment from Mom. He fails and plans his revenge, but Tarzan interferes with his scheme.

7. The title is a spoiler in "The End of Bukawai."

8. In "The Lion," Tarzan tries to teach his ape tribe to defend themselves by foolishly disguising himself as a lion and attacking them. Turns out, they're not as defenseless as he thought.

9. Tarzan steals some rotten elephant meat from the nearby village and experiences "The Nightmare." It's an awful fever dream that makes it tough for him to separate fantasy and reality. He swears off elephant meat immediately after.

10. Tarzan joins forces with Teeka's husband to rescue her from another ape tribe in "The Battle for Teeka." Interestingly, this story was reprinted in the May 1964 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine as "Tarzan, Jungle Detective."

11. "A Jungle Joke" takes place after the death of Tarzan's adopted mother Kala. As part of his revenge against the tribe of the man who killed her, Tarzan uses his wits to pit the village against a lion.

12. The final story is "Tarzan Rescues the Moon," in which Tarzan is temporarily shunned by the apes for freeing a particularly brave warrior from them. Tarzan gets back in their good graces during an eclipse when he convinces them that he's responsible for the moon's return.
Though I got frustrated with these stories' place in the series the first time I read them, they're worthwhile not only for enriching Tarzan's life among the apes, but also for humanizing the native villagers in a way Burroughs hadn't done before.

Since a lot of these stories feature Tarzan's using his wits against much stronger people and creatures, Griffin includes a related chapter called "Tarzan the Trickster." He goes over the history of the trickster character in folklore, then shows how Tarzan fits the archetype, not only as a child, but also into adulthood in other stories like Tarzan and the Lion Man and Tarzan and the Leopard Men.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Project updates on Avenger, Kill All Monsters, and Christmas Carol

Proofed my story and wrote my bio for the Avenger anthology last week. It's exciting to see that book coming closer and closer to being a real, physical object. The Mike Kaluta art above isn't from the book, it's from The Golden Age site, but it's a nice representation of the Avenger's heritage and where he deserves to sit in the pantheon of pulp hero deity.

Got back some comments from James Powell (my editor) on the ending to Kill All Monsters. I thought I had a nice, dramatic ending for it, but that was until I read James' ideas on how to make it better. I'm giving myself a week to think through how best to implement them, but it's going to improve the book dramatically once I do.

I don't want to quit writing while I'm thinking about KAM, so I started working on something that I'd planned to save for later, a comics adaptation of A Christmas Carol with my friend and frequent collaborator Jessica Hickman. I'm talking about it against my better judgment, because I've learned the hard way that a thousand things can go wrong with any project and it's usually best to wait until things are done and official before blabbing about them.

This project's a little different though, mostly because it's a labor of love. Jess and I are both doing it because we're passionate about the story and want to do a definitive version of it. As long as I'm critiquing other versions, I want to put my money where my mouth is and figure out what a perfect version would look like for me. Jess does too.

So expect to see more about this as we go. I'd like to chart our progress and capture lessons learned, including what happens after the story's completed and we need to get it into public. I imagine that we'll pitch it to some publishers, but we both want to see this thing enough that we'll self-publish it if need be. That's becoming easier and easier to do these days.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Tarzan 101 | Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar

Celebrating Tarzan's 101st anniversary by walking through Scott Tracy Griffin's Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration.

If I'm going to finish this project by the end of the year, I'm occasionally going to have to do two posts a week on it. So this is that.

With Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, Burroughs didn't pick up the series where Son of Tarzan left off. Instead, the events of Jewels of Opar make most sense if they take place during Son of Tarzan (probably between chapters 12 and 13), but I don't get the feeling that Burroughs was too concerned about that. Mostly he seems to just be getting back to telling ripping yarns about everyone's favorite jungle lord.

Opar is especially memorable for Tarzan's getting amnesia just when Jane needs him most, but it also brings in a lot of characters and elements from previous stories. Most notably, the lost city of Opar and its priestess La are back from Return of Tarzan, while Tarzan's friend Mugambi shows up again after Beasts. This is one of the first Tarzan stories I remember reading as a kid and it's still one of my favorites. In a way, it's the Tarzan novel that sets the template for what the series eventually became: a series of stand-alone adventures.

There's also a bit about a maddened elephant that I'd forgotten about, but Griffin didn't and uses that to springboard into a chapter on Tantor, discussing Tarzan's relationship with elephants through the novels and films. I'd forgotten that Tarzan killed an elephant in Return of Tarzan and actually eats some elephant meat in next week's story, but that's by way of explaining why he'll never do it again.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Tarzan 101 | The Son of Tarzan

Celebrating Tarzan's 101st anniversary by walking through Scott Tracy Griffin's Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration.

Burroughs was pretty much done with Tarzan in 1914. He was feuding with his editor at All-Story over reprint rights and didn't have a lot of motivation to continue the series. But when a new editor took over the magazine and promised to work with Burroughs on his complaints, Burroughs agreed. He even accepted the new editor's idea of making the next story about Tarzan's son, Jack, running away from London to Africa with an ape. It would be the last time Burroughs set part of a Tarzan story in England.

Jack ends up stranded in the wild with his ape pal and has to adapt. He becomes known to the jungle animals as Korak the Killer and eventually meets his own "Jane," a girl named Meriem whom he rescues from slavery. Burroughs ties the story into the previous Tarzan novels in a couple of ways outside of just Tarzan (Nikolas Rokoff's henchman plays a vital role in getting Jack to Africa, and Jack's ape friend turns out to be a character from earlier books), but it's a serious departure from what's come before. A lot of time passes in order for Jack to become Korak, which would put Tarzan past adventuring age if the subsequent novels took place after Son of Tarzan. Burroughs wrote himself into a corner with this one. Of course, he figured out how to write his way out again, but that's tomorrow's post.

Korak went on to have a healthy career of his own thanks to comics. Gold Key started a Korak, Son of Tarzan series in 1964 that lasted 45 issues until 1972 when DC got the license and continued it for another 14 issues (keeping the numbering from the Gold Key series).

Interestingly, the Korak comics mess with the novels' continuity by having the main character not be Tarzan and Jane's biological son, but Boy from the Johnny Weissmuller movies. To no one's surprise, Boy reaches an ages that he doesn't like his nickname anymore, so he insists on being called Korak instead.

That ties into the first of Griffin's extra chapters relating to Son of Tarzan: a discussion of Boy and other children in the Tarzan movies. Among other things, Griffin points out that Boy had to be an adopted son because Tarzan and Jane were never married in the Weismuller films. I've often admired that they weren't married even though Jane's explicitly identified as Tarzan's "mate" in the second film. One of the major themes in those movies is Jane's rejection of civilization for a more primitive, natural way of doing things and an official wedding would have contradicted that. I'm okay with an adopted son if that's the cost.

After the chapter on Korak and Boy, Griffin has another on feral children in general, from mythological characters like Enkidu from Gilgamesh to historical cases like the eighteenth century Wild Peter. My favorite bit in this part is Burroughs' admission that Tarzan's instinctive nobility is as much a fantasy as the talking apes. Burroughs makes a big deal in the Tarzan books about Tarzan's heritage kicking in and taking over, separating him from the savage nature of his surroundings. But Griffin quotes a couple of interviews in which Burroughs acknowledges that a real-life Tarzan would "develop into a cunning, cowardly beast" and that "the resultant adult would be a most disagreeable person to have about the house." He adds, "I decided not to be honest, but to draw a character people could admire."

Monday, March 04, 2013

The Kill All Monsters Kickstarter video

You guys want a sneak peek at the Kickstarter video?

The Kickstarter is coming soon! Working on building the page right now.

In the meantime, KAM now has an official page on the Alterna Comics website.


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