Showing posts with label Scott McCullar. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Scott McCullar. Show all posts

Friday, March 30, 2012

Chuck Dixon: The Best Damn Comic Book Writer Ever

I first met Chuck Dixon not in Chicago at my first Wizard World Chicago Convention, but in the pages of all of my favorite comic books. You see, I may be slow on the uptake, but eventually I started to notice something they all tended to have one thing in common. It was this name in the "written by" part of the credits. Chuck Dixon.

Then my friend Scott McCullar, who was doing Chuck's website (www.dixonverse.net) at the time, offered to introduce me to him if I wanted to make the trek from Atlanta to Chicago one summer. Thankfully, I had the cash on hand for a flight.

What can I say about Chuck that hasn't been said already? Precious little, I'm sure, but I will say this. His work is the textbook definition of how to write an enjoyable, action-oriented comic book that never lets a reader down. Call his style a formula or a knack, it doesn't matter -- because it rarely (and by rarely I really mean never) makes you feel as though you've wasted your money on one of his books.

But enough of my gushing. It's time for Chuck to speak on his own behalf.


Tell us a bit about your latest work.

I’m kind of all over the place at the moment. I just wrapped up a script for an issue of the Simpsons. I’m working on my third novel about the Navy SEALs and I started the first issue of a Lone Ranger limited series. I’m also helping out on some dialogue for a computer game. That’s coming in piecemeal so I work on it when it arrives.

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work?

I don’t really tie myself to any one theme or genre. I take what comes be it action adventure to SpongeBob. It’s the comic book medium that’s always fascinated me. Within that realm I feel free to create anything. 

What would be your dream project?

 An unlikely one; a long run (a year or more) on the Fantastic Four.

If you have any former project to do over to make it better, which one would it be, and what would you do?

There was a long arc at the end of my run on Airboy that I felt at the time could have been presented better. The conclusion (with art by Adam and Andy Kubert) worked out great, but the lead-up to it didn’t come out the way I’d envisioned it.

What inspires you to write?

Everything. I’m a compulsive writer. I read recently where David Mamet said, “All prolific writers are lazy.” I think the fear of having to do actual manual labor drives me to write.

What writers have influenced your style and technique?

Archie Goodwin would be number one. Then Larry Hama, Harvey Kurtzman. Carl Barks, John Stanley and Frank Robbins.

Where would you rank writing on the "Is it an art or it is a science continuum?" Why?

It’s a craft. It can be art but not if you set out to make art. You learn what works and what doesn’t and spend your life (if you’re serious about it) trying to warp the rules to come up with something new. Even if you fail, the endeavor is what it’s all about.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?

Well, I’m still on GI Joe and Snake Eyes over at IDW. I do a half dozen stories a year for Simpsons and Spongebob. In addition to that I’m adapting Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time cycle to comics. And I’d like everyone to go see Dark Knight Rises a dozen times.

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For more information about Chuck Dixon, step inside a comic book shop and ask for the best damn story ever. If you need more info than that, go to his website.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Childhood Books and Movies: When You Can't Go Home Again

We've all faced that moment when we go back to a childhood favorite book or movie or character and it just doesn't hit us the same way anymore. It's a sad, but true, and perhaps even vital part of maturing as a person.

But how does it feel for writers, particularly when it may be some of your early inspirations that no longer hold sway over you?

Well, curiosity suitably stoked, we asked. 

When was that for you?

Scott McCullar: For me, I’ve recently gone back to episodes of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION after taking about a decade hiatus from watching re-runs. I’m struck at how incredibly tired I get watching some of the episodes. Characters I absolutely loved 20 years ago now seem parodies of what I remembered. When Worf gets all wide-eyed and full of Klingon pride, I want to laugh. I just can’t take him serious any longer. Data isn’t as funny as I remembered. Geordi seems tired. Dr. Crusher gives me the heebie-jeebies. Picard isn’t as sharp as I thought. Riker comes off as a putz without motivation. Troi is a headcase. Guinan makes me want to roll my eyeballs with her wisdom. The Enterprise NC 1701-D comes off as a Caribbean cruise ship.

The only improvement? Wesley Crusher is much cooler than I remembered.

Ron Fortier: I think it is really the material that makes the difference here.  I remember reading J.D. Salinger's Catcher In The Rye as a thirteen year old and being so taken with it.  Yet when I tried to re-read it as an adult, I couldn't get past the first chapter.  I thought it was just dumb.

At the same time I first read Frank Herbert's Dune at sixteen.  Ten years later I re-read it and loved it even more.  I've since re-read it every decade and it continues to entertain and amaze me.

Some works are timeless, others are not.

Erwin K. Roberts:
A lot of this depends on whether the book/movie/whatever was created just for little kids, or with all ages in mind. And, sometimes this may be unintentinial. I doubt Carl Barks worried all that much if adults enjoyed his Duck stories. But the man told tales (or tails) for everybody with an open mind.

Ed Erdelac: I used to have a rabid admiration for a Charlie Sheen movie from 1986 called The Wraith. I had seen it one night on Cinemax as a kid. In my mind, it was this brilliant amalgamation of The Road Warrior, The Punisher, and every mid-'80s sci-fi movie from Back To The Future to Weird Science, all things I was heavy into at the time.  In later years, I recalled it as a precursor to The Crow. It was about a kid living in a weird remote desert community of gearheads who was killed in a car crash by a local drag racing gang and returned as Charlie Sheen, a kind of High Plains Drifter outlaw stranger on a cool red bike who romanced his own hot girlfriend (an oh so sexy Kerilyn Fenn, whom I'd rated up there with the inimitable Kerri Green in my pantheon of 80's crushes) and also transformed into this awesome Ghost Rider-type avenger all in black motorcycle helmet and leathers with a sweet indestructible black car (the Turbo Interceptor!). Armed with a Predator-like mystic laser cannon (?), he dished out vengeance on the weirdo punks who'd killed him. Sounds great right? Even writing it it sounds great. Well, years and years passed, then at some point in college I found out it was going to be released on DVD and purchased a copy sight unseen. I put it back up for sale the very next day.

Pete Miller:
Any of the 60s Saturday morning cartoons. They are terrible. I guess when you're 6 or 7 you can watch just about anything that has superheroes or monsters or spacemen in it. (Note - Jonny Quest was an evening show and that holds up well...)

What changed? Had the reality of life changed you or had you graduated to a higher quality of storytelling?

Lee Houston Jr.: With me, it's not a sense of disappointment. If anything, when I return to something I loved in the past, what gets me more than anything else is usually either the datedness of the material or a sense of melancholy realizing the passage of time because some (if not all of) the creative personnel involved are no longer with us.

Scott McCullar: I think I matured and couldn’t take some of the characters seriously as adults. Some of the storytelling was clunky. Some of the acting was poorer than I remembered.

Ed Erdelac: Obviously the movie hadn't changed. I guess I had. I like to think I matured, but there are plenty of things from my childhood I still enjoy with the same juvenile glee. I have a problem. When I don't like something, I put it entirely out of my mind. I can't recall a bit of my last viewing of this movie. I only remember coming away thinking it was just a bad movie, full of lame posing, hyper overediting, and plain old nonsense.

Kim Smith:
I believe the higher quality of storytelling is what got me. The situations were pretty comical when looked at with an adult perspective. Reading it aloud to someone with a lower reading level got me back into it again.

Pete Miller: What changed was my ability to recognize the complete lack of money and time that went into those shows. There are some great ideas and designs, but Hanna-Barbera apparently had no money.

Erwin K. Roberts: Tom, Jr. seemed to have no depth, for want of a better term.

I remember when Gladstone Comics brought back Disney Comics in the U.S. And, in addition to U.S. reprints, they started presenting stories created in and for other countries. And some darn good ones. But, they said, there would be nothing from the U.K. The publisher mindset in the U.K. was that no person above the age of ten would dream of reading such material. So they removed anything that their target audience would not "get." Sort of a comic strip lobotomy.

At age ten or eleven I blazed a trail thru all of the Tom Swift, Jr. books I could find. I still have the first twenty or so. But have not had any desire to re-read them as an adult. (In fact, I now prefer the Tom Swift Senior books.) On the other hand I re-read the Rick Brant Science Adventures every few years. And occasionally one of Fran Striker's Lone Ranger books.

Alan Lewis: With maturity comes a need for more mature entertainment. The simple stories of our youth can enthrall us then, but as we take on more responsibilities and hardships, we want or need to see that life is as hard for our literary/movie heroes as it is for us.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. Take for example the Harry Potter series. The first book was a playful story of a young boy entering a magical world. It captured the wonder and imagination we expect our children be drawn too. But by the time the seventh book rolled around, the series had transformed into an adult drama, a struggle between good and evil, love and loss, life and death. The series matured in a manner of speaking just as the children who read the first books grew and found themselves needing more than just another playful kid’s story.

Did any subsequent re-reading or re-watching help you to recapture the original feeling, or was it gone for good?

Ed Erdelac: I never looked back once somebody on ebay bought it. I pray it gave them more enjoyment than it did me. Although I gotta admit, re-reading my description of it, I kinda have the urge to give it another shot. I must be a glutton for punishment.

Kim Smith: Reading it aloud to someone with a lower reading level got me back into it again.

Alan Lewis: Sometimes as a parent, reading an old story that’s lost it charm on me to my young ones is the best way to reconnect. I may not feel the same connection, but watching their faces reminds me that the story never lost its charms, but I lost my ability to be charmed by it.

Scott McCullar: I’m going to give it another try at a future date. I think I may need to distill my viewing to “the best of” episodes. I don’t know if I have enough hours remaining in my life to watch each and every episode of the seven year run ever again. Still, I love Star Trek in all of its incarnations, but TNG lost some of the allure.

Maybe the transfer to Blu-Ray may help rekindle some of the love?

Lee Houston Jr.: We grow older and times change. But the best thing to do is when returning to those classics, to remember why you enjoyed and loved them before and embrace that spirit again, at least for a little while, before coming back to the present and looking forward to the future.

Erwin K. Roberts: I am fortunate that I can appreciate many things that thrilled me as a child. But that doesn't prevent me from seeing the flaws I didn't notice then. Today I watch a movie serial fight scene more for its choreography than for thrills.

Pete Miller: Gone for good. I don't watch Space Ghost reruns so that the show I saw as a kid still lives in my brain.

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To follow the works of these fine creators who took part in this roundtable, simply look for their links on the list of Heavy Hitters on the right side of this page.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

How Dangerous a Mask Can Be -- The Fascination with the Masked Hero in Pulps

“You be careful. People in masks cannot be trusted.” -- Fezzik, The Princess Bride

“We understand how dangerous a mask can be. We all become what we pretend to be.” -- Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

“All great things must first wear terrifying and monstrous masks in order to inscribe themselves on the hearts of humanity.” -- Friedrich Nietzsche

"As we ascend the social ladder, viciousness wears a thicker mask." -- Erich Fromm

No matter how often we writers use them metaphorically, when it comes to pulp fiction, the masks are often more real than symbolic. Sure, I'll admit they can be both, but regardless of any symbolism they might have in the story, the mask itself has found a regular address in pulp stories, but old and new.

What is so fascinating about writing the exploits of a masked hero? Why are pulp and comics so full of them? Does the mask mean anything anymore outside of a mere set-piece for a type or genre of story? And if it's only window dressing, then what makes  the masked hero so darn compelling to both writers and readers?

Once again, I turned to the writers of new pulp and comics for answers.

Where did your interest (as a reader) in the masked heroes of pulp originate?

Lee Houston, Jr.:
I was just starting to venture into reading comic books when Batman teamed up with The Shadow back in the 1970s. (Yes, I'm that old.) After I read a few issues of the DC produced Shadow comic book with Denny O'Neil writing and Michael Wm. Kalutaa art, I finally found a couple of the paperback Shadow reprints and was hooked, although this was after I had already read A Princess of Mars. But before the comic books, I was already familiar with the concept of masked hero between characters like Space Ghost and the Lone Ranger on television.

John Morgan Neal: Comics and paperbacks. Specially DC's adaptation of Justice Inc. and The Shadow in the '70s and while he isn't masked

Marvel's Doc Savage comic and magazine in the '70s. And the paperbacks reprints of the original pulp stories of Doc, The Shadow, the Avenger and others in my favorite used book store David's Books. This is also when I devoured Tarzan and Jon Carter and Pellucidar . And the Star Trek novels. Good ol' Bantam books.

Erwin K. Roberts: Who needed to read? At age four I had the greatest all-ages "gateway drug" imaginable. Three nights a week WXYZ Radio gave us Brace Beemer as "The Lone Ranger." Top that! Plus, my family believed in reading aloud. This, too, was action packed fair. Robin Hood and Thor illustrated by N.C. Wyeth. Kipling, "The Swiss Family Robinson," even Carl Barks' ducks. When I did find the new Shadow paperbacks the radio show had been revived. Plus I found odd issues of "The Phantom Detective" & "Masked Rider Western." Finally I began picking up both reprints and, at conventions, hero pulps.

Scott McCullar: As a kid, I was first drawn to super-heroes through cartoons and comics at a very, very young age. When I was about 12, I was sucked into the world of James Bond with Ian Fleming’s novels and later read the World War III series called THE GUARDIANS in the mid-1980’s.

I really didn’t get into true pulp novels until the late 1990’s when I think actually segued into them courtesy of THE GREEN LAMA. I had actually picked up a few genuine Golden Age comics drawn by Mac Raboy from the 1940’s and had discovered some of the golden time radio shows of the GREEN LAMA’s adventures along with the original BLUE BEETLE that I loved. Being curious, I picked up a reprint of a GREEN LAMA pulp fiction novel. "Om mani padme hum!”

From there, I picked up a few art books on pulp fiction covers that just filled my imagination as an artist. I would then pick up and read some reprints or any that I might find in used book stores.

Andrea Judy: Okay, so my love of masked heros actually started with court jesters. I was amazed by their masks and costumes (I was an odd child…) and that led to a love of superheroes through Harley Quin and the Joker. As far as pulp masked heros I'm still very new and exploring the genre. It's a very recent interest and I'm always cautious and slow to jump into new things, but so far it seems very promising.

As a writer, what is it about masked pulp heroes that drives you to write them?

Lee Houston, Jr.: Well, I've only just started writing about them with my forthcoming contributions to the Pulp Obscura project, but as stated above, I have definitely been interested in them for years. Regardless of how I came into the genre, it is the longing to always want to do right and help those in need that keeps me coming back as a reader.

John Morgan Neal: I think they are one of the most primal and one of the most Americanized art forms in the world and like most Americanized art forms have been retaken by others and given new life and new vistas by the Europeans and Japanese. For me it's just plain fun. And the formula still provides plenty of punch and room for experimentation and excitement. Ironically I don't have any masked pulp/comic hero characters that I have published but they are a huge part of who and what I am as a writer/reader and I need to get on that horse soon. The masked hero of mystery just works. For those whom it doesn't work for I pity them.

Erwin K. Roberts: Some have been assignments. Like the Moon Man for Airship-27. But I jumped at the chance to write the Masked Rider and the Phantom (Detective). And probably would again. Creating new adventures for heroes that have entertained me provides me with great satisfaction. And I will respect their history. Strangely, my own characters tend not to wear masks. Like Secret Agent-X and others, the Voice  spends almost all of his working hours in disguise. He mostly puts on a mask to conceal the face he's wearing.

Scott McCullar: I love the gritty, unforgiving brutality of the genre. I love unapologetic titillation of the temptresses in these tales. I love being whisked away in my mind to exotic lands, dank drenched back alleys, and looking at the character flaws that these protagonists carry around with them like a ball and chain.

Andrea Judy: I love the concept of the masked hero! I always have. I have an obsession with masks in particular so the hero who hides his/her face from the world is a huge temptation. I enjoy the fact that the mask can become and represent so many things. The reasons behind wearing the mask are as important as what the mask looks like. It adds another layer to the character.

Do you see the masked hero as a timeless tradition for pulps, or did it evolve to comics while pulps evolved into 50's Noir, 60's spy thrillers, and so on?

Lee Houston, Jr.: Considering my personal background, that's kind of hard for me to say. If anything, the concept might have grown too big to be contained just within the pulps. But I will definitely agree with the timelessness of the characters.

John Morgan Neal: That's poppycock. Pulp is what it is. Pulp hasn't changed or evolved one bit. It has expanded and grown and in some ways grown more 'sophisticated'. But deep down pulp is pulp and still covers many genres. Now, if we're talking actual major publishing then yes I suppose pulp has leaned in that direction but that is the publisher's -- not the genre's -- doing. Pulp is a style as much or more than what genres it covers (indeed, I think steampunk is pulp) and the masked hero can and always will be able to be told in that style. As long as The Shadow and The Spider and The Avenger live so will masked hero pulp.

Erwin K. Roberts: Mystery men are a long held tradition. But the masked avenger is relatively new. As far as I know the first "Masked Rider of the Plains" was Deadwood Dick in Dime Novels beginning about 1880. The irony here is that the pulp paper hero had frontier women swooning in all directions. But the historical Deadwood Dick was a rowdy former slave turned cowboy.

Pulp style action did migrate in a lot of directions. To paperbacks. To TV. To films. But the masked hero tradition mostly faded away, except for comics. (Disney's Zorro TV series being a major exception. But the less said about the Batman series, the better.) Mack Bolan and his platoon of imitators, brought paul style action roaring back. But not the masked/mystery man part.

Scott McCullar: In my mind, yes it is all connected like the spokes to an oscillating desk fan that you would see on Philip Marlowe’s desk.

Andrea Judy: I think pulp has evolved in a number of different directions while still retaining it's heart. It branches outwards but the origin of the movement is still there as well.

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Look for these creators on the links to the right to check out more of their work:

Lee Houston Jr. is a freelance writer and editor. He is the author of HUGH MONN and is writing for the forthcoming THE NEW ADVENTURES OF THE EAGLE VOLUME ONE from Pulp Obscura.

J. Morgan Neal is co-creator (along with Todd Fox) of AYM GERONIMO AND THE POSTMODERN PIONEERS, and he was a founder, partner, editor and writer at Shooting Star Comics. He was the co-creator and co-writer of GONE TO TEXAS and REX SOLOMON along with Gregg Noon and the soon to debut THEM! along with artist and co-creator Rob Bavington.

Erwin K. Roberts is the author of PLUTONIUM NIGHTMARES, featuring his second generation pulp hero The Voice, and a contributor to JIM ANTHONY - SUPER DETECTIVE. Erwin is also wries regularly for the on-line Pulp Spirit magazine at http://www.planetarystories.com His "cousin" Bob Kennedy is an Assistant Editor for the site.

Scott McCullar is a comic book writer and artist who has written and drawn for various comic book publishers such as DC Comics, Shooting Star Comics, West End Games, Campfire Comics and IDW Publishing. Scott is also the creator of Thrill Seeker Comics™ Featuring The Yellow Jacket Man of Mystery™ that he writes and illustrates.

Andrea Judy is far too cute, too sweet and too girly to possibly write anything as dark and twisted as she does, or so she is told. She is new to pulp, but is looking to make a splash this year in several anthologies that are in the works from publishers ranging from New Babel Books to Pro Se Productions’ Pulp Obscura imprint.