So 2012 was pretty darn good, writingly-speaking. I’ve managed to churn out a few more manuscripts and BLACK DOG has been pretty successful so far, and it’s all thanks to you guys–the readers. I hope we have many more adventures together, if only through the shared telepathy of writer and reader.
Just to keep you all up to date, here’s a list of projects coming up this year and next year. I have a ton more that hopefully will fill the next five years or so after that, but those will keep until I have somewhat of a release date.
BLACK DOG: PROPHET IN THE WILDERNESS–The sequel to BLACK DOG: THE LONG DARK ROAD. It’s being edited right now and has tallied-out at a little over four-hundred pages. There’s a few more stories in this volume than the first. The two books were actually one book originally, but that would’ve had the page count at just over eight-hundred pages, so it was deemed necessary to split the book in two. I think the flow from one book to the next is pretty smooth. Since they’re episodic short stories (and as a result, resemble the episodic nature of a TV series), you can read either one on its own, but if you want the full story, it’s better to pick up the first volume. In the second volume, readers will see what happened to Amos to turn him out on the road as a hobo, how he got his special guitar, when he first saw the phantom black dog, and how his road finally ends. Out in April!
NIC ARCHER: ARROWHEAD–The first in a planned ten-book YA/Teen series about a boy who discovers his parents were soldier-agents for A.R.R.O.W.–a clandestine secret army that has been protecting America since before the American Revolution. He also discovers that he was a test subject for the Arrowhead Initiative–a plan to create the perfect agent, one who will spearhead their army in a terrible looming conflict. No one’s asked Nic what he wants, but now that he’s been targeted by SCARAB–A.R.R.O.W.’s ancient nemesis–he may not live to make up his mind! Mid-to-late 2013. (Fingers crossed!)
THE MARK OF CAIN (The Book of Cain–Vol. 1)—The first book in a Civil War supernatural trilogy about Ira Cain, a Confederate cavalry captain who is cursed by an old Haitian slave woman. Cain must not only survive the final year of the Civil War with Hell literally on his trail, but must also wander the Antebellum South, searching for the slave to remove the curse before he is dragged to Hell. The second and third books are called GONE SOUTH and HELL ABORNING, respectively, and will find Cain and a Buffalo Soldier named Deke Sherman searching through the post-war South for the slave woman, dodging bounty hunters, and fighting the forces of Hell itself.
ALONE—A stand-alone post-apocalyptic novel set in rural North Georgia. No zombies, no vampires, but plenty of Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Man, and especially Man vs. Himself. I wanted to do something in the vein of George Stewart’s Earth Abides mixed in with a little Jack London and the Tom Hanks film Castaway. Too many post-apocalyptic novels have a protagonist that’s ex-military/Special Forces/Super-Prepper and is all kitted-out and ready for the downfall of civilization. I wanted to show what a normal, average Joe-Schmoe would do if suddenly pressed to survive. How would he learn to shoot? To hunt? To dress game or make shelter or preserve food and keep a fire going? So the main character is a guy who, like most of us, has become so dependent on the Internet, cell phones, and prepackaged food that he’s at less than Square One when he starts out. I also wanted to explore the effects of being alone on a person (which the protagonist is for most of the book.) What would it do to their mind? Would they crave human companionship or shun it completely? And when other humans do show up in the story, what then? Find out late 2013-early 2014.
If you’ve read BLACK DOG, please take a moment to write a review on Amazon.com, B&N.com, Goodreads.com, FaceBook, and anywhere else you can paint Internet graffiti. Believe it or not, word of mouth still makes the best advertisement!
Thanks again for reading!
Hope all of you have a happy one! Thanks so much for the support and well-wishing all year! I hope you all hang around for another year and then some! I’ve got a LOT more stories to tell and I hope as many readers.
Speaking of, here’s a BLACK DOG Christmas greeting by way of Mike Torrance over at the Daily Sketch Blog.
Until next time, be safe!
Let me get this in the open right from the jump:
I am ALL ABOUT self-publishing. I LOVE self-publishing. I AM self-published—twice.
My name is Matt, and I’m a self-published author. (Hi, Matt…)
Do I think it’s the ONLY way to go?
Is it a VIABLE way?
But—BUT!—not for everybody.
There is a certain stigma about self-publishing, and a lot of you writers out there know what I mean. You may be a writer who’s doing their due diligence, (i.e. riding herd on yourself, keeping your butt in the chair, and putting out the best quality work possible by making sure the manuscript itself DOESN’T SUCK a turd-flavored lollipop), and still you get patronizing comments (Oh, self-published? Well, that’s all right.” Unspoken comment: “You’ll get there one day.”) Or you answer the question “Who’s your publisher?” with “You’re lookin’ at him,” and the person winces like they just gulped a 44-ounce Thirstbuster of curdled milk, sets your book back down like it’s a two-headed, napalm-spitting spider, and slowly backs away, whispering “Don’t touch me…!”
(Actually, a two-headed napalm-spitting spider sounds pretty cool.) *jots down for future reference*
Hyperbole? Maybe, but both of the above have happened to me, and I’m betting some of you other due-diligence pen-jockeys have had similar experiences.
And before we feel high and mighty in our super-scribedom, there is a definite reason for this preconceived notion:
It is insanely easy to self-publish these days. Anyone can regurgitate onto the page and upload their vomit to Amazon, B&N.com, or any number of internet venues and charge whatever they want.
Within the open-ended system of Amazon’s Create Space and the eBook off-ramp of soiled baby diapers in the guise of “novels,” there is absolutely no system of checks and balances. There could (and probably should) be some sort of filter through which Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and every other self and eBook publisher runs the steady stream of bilge-water that passes for “published” work. And I’m talking about just the basics—grammar, spelling, punctuation.
After that, the Sargasso Sea of shitty book covers needs to be addressed—by which I mean taken out back and shot. You! Yeah, you–the one who is so in love with Papyrus and Comic Sans? The one who can’t create a relevant title to said book? the one who thinks Photoshop covers a multitude of sins? Hire a cover artist/designer and at least make it look like you care about putting out a professional product. That whole don’t judge a book by its cover thing? Crap and double-crap. If your cover is half-assed, mediocre, or downright awful, and your title is incomprehensible or just plain nonsensical, guess what? I’m thinking the inside is the EXACT. SAME. WAY. I worked for two major bookstores as a Receiving Manager for 10+ years, and let me tell you: we knew when a self-pub came down the pike. You could take one look and tell.
So that’s one-half of the key to self-publishing (or hell, any venture in life): Put your best foot forward; first impressions matter. Even if you clean up your Comic Sans funk later on, the stink will never wash off in the minds of prospective readers, and they are the ones for which your book (and consequently you) should smell like a Yankee Candle factory. Otherwise, readers will associate you with the endless morass of warm garbage that already exists out there and it’ll be over before it starts.
The other half, again, is you actually writing something that doesn’t suck.
Yeah, I know, right? Pretty simple, yeah? You wouldn’t think so, browsing through Amazon. A few tips:
1.) Develop a good story idea: This doesn’t mean writing your Star Wars/Strawberry Shortcake erotic fan-fiction, either; it means you need to develop a strong idea that can be built upon. Influence is fine, but know where to draw the line. Even if you change the names, we can still tell that Boba Fett and Peach Blossom are getting it on, while a sexually exploited Blueberry Muffin in a slave girl outfit takes out her bottled-up rage on Jabba the Hutt during a private dance session, and meanwhile on Bespin, Lobot has come out to Lando, expressed his long-repressed feelings for him, while also admitting to an affair with Huckleberry Pie during the last podraces on Tatooine…
…not that I gave that much thought, or even wrote a six-book series, available individually or as a bundle on Amazon, under the pen name “Wedge Antitties.”
2.) Know your craft: A buzz word a few years back that really dragged a cheese-grater over my scrotum was “artisan.” Suddenly, every fast-food joint in the nation was sporting “artisan” bread. There were artisan knives, cakes, houses, yachts, bongs, Nikes, water…you get it. Supposedly the term lent greater value to the products and let their purveyors charge more for them. Personally, I had artisan underwear and they hugged me like they were painted on, brother—wait.
Did I say that out loud?
Anyway, artisan actually means a craftsman—someone who knows their shizzle about their shizzle. A craftsman is someone who others come to because he can do a particular thing like no one else. (At one point in my life, that thing was breakdancing; now, it’s pencil-fighting.) People know they can get a quality product from this guy or gal, and will pay for the privilege of having it. That’s what you should strive to be as a writer—what we all should strive to be. People should see your name in the Kindle Shop or on a bookstore shelf and practically wet themselves getting to the Buy Now button or front counter. You should strive to produce work that makes people get that “have to go to the bathroom from excitement” feeling, not the “can’t make it to the bathroom fast enough to paint the toilet with my lunch” feeling.
3.) EDIT YOUR CRAP! EDIT YOUR CRAP! EDIT YOUR CRAP! : Speaks for itself. Edit the work. Read it out loud. See how good or craptastic it sounds, then edit it again. Rinse and repeat. Still concerned? Hire an editor (Psst! It’s what they do.) They can either revamp your existing work, or tell you why it’s awful. Either way, the feedback you’ll get is absolutely valuable. In some ways, editing is my favorite part of the writing process. If the actual composition is the hammer beating out the manuscript, then editing is the scalpel, slicing away the cancerous parts until the story is healthy and whole. EDIT. YOUR. CRAP.
4.) Get a test reader. Or eight. It can be your wife, husband, girl/boyfriend, sure. Most writers start with these, but move out of your comfort zone—of course Granny’s gonna think her Wittle Pumpkin’s story is the best thing since bunion cream. (And let’s be honest, has there really been anything that good?) Go out. Leave your PC, typewriter, chalkboard, human skin and bone pen, and get out there and meet people. Coworkers, writers’ groups ( a post about these guys later), friends, friends of friends, hobos under freeway bypasses, whoever. Just let it fly out to readers and get the honest feedback you desperately need, not the ego-stroking you desperately want.
5.) Do everything in your power to NOT make your book look self-published. Editing. A strong, awesome cover. Good back copy that reads like a hook from a movie trailer. A barcode and ISBN (both of which can be bought individually or are already included in Create Space’s publishing options.) A formatted interior, preferably an existing template. Break your back to make your book look like one that’s already on the shelves professionally. To paraphrase Crash Davis’s advice to Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham: “Your manuscript has multiple errors. You’ll never make it to the bigs with errors on your manuscript. Think classy, you’ll be classy. If you sell a million books, you can let the errors stay and the press’ll think you’re colorful. Until you sell a million, however, it means you’re a slob.”
This all sounds mean, I know, and I’m not trying to discourage people from writing—just from writing crap. When you upload and/or publish your serial killer unicorn-urban fantasy-epic-cop drama and it looks like something that bubbled back up the garbage disposal, you RUIN it for the rest of us who are trying to produce quality work. That stigma I mentioned earlier? It’s because of the lack of quality-control on the writer’s part, first and foremost. How could anyone want to hang anything less than their best out there for the world to swing at like a piñata?
And, as I said, the venues are equally responsible. Amazon, B&N, and all the rest are throwing a house party for crappy books, no cover for the ladies, and not even bothering to card anyone at the door. They need a filter—some sort of literary three-headed Cerberus at the gate to drag the shitty books down to Bad Book Hades—but that won’t ever happen; there’s no money in it for them. We, as writers and readers, have to demand more of ourselves and the writing community; we have to police ourselves. What do you think? Your responses, rebuttals, and experiences—forthwith!
And seriously—quit with the Papyrus and Comic Sans, okay?
May I introduce you to Times New Roman and Garamond?
Yeah—I’ll just let you guys talk.
Now, I know clichés are clichés for a reason: they’re used so often they become part of the vernacular. But what really stinks is when they become overused to the point of being annoying.
There are tons out there, but these are the five that just make my fillings twinge when I hear them in a movie or read them in a book.
And yes, I’ve used some of these on occasion. I’m in the middle of writing the first book in a teen action/adventure series about a teenaged spy for a secret military force which began in the American Revolution called NIC ARCHER. Halfway through Chapter 6, I used one without thinking, (it’s on the list) and while describing the scene to a good friend, he sarcastically said verbatim what I had written. I gulped, went back and changed it, and vowed never to do it again.
Right. And a lot of drunks make that same promise every Saturday night.
Still, take a look and see what you think. Feel free to comment, too.
And those of you with fillings, grab your mouthguards.
5.) “I’VE GOT A BAD FEELING ABOUT THIS…”
Yeah, I know. It wasn’t a good idea to begin with, but here we are doing it anyway.
George Lucas made this one famous;so famous that he decided to use it–as well as a hundred others from his Good Trilogy–to a fare-thee-well in the Bad Trilogy as a sort of “in-joke” for the rabid nerds of the series. “See guys? Remember I used these in the first movies? See how my eternal genius works? Characters from earlier in the same world are using the same exact dialogue that you know so well from the later characters! I tied it all together!”
No, George: all we see is that you should let someone else write your movies and direct them. We see you’re a one-trick pony and an idea-man. Your writing sucks, and you wouldn’t know character development if it corn-cobbed you with a lightsaber.
After STAR WARS, people have used this tired, hackneyed phrase to let us know what we already know: that the writer(s) fell asleep at the keyboard.
4.) “I’M GETTING TOO OLD FOR THIS.”/”I’M GETTIN’ TOO OLD FOR THIS (YOUR CHOICE OF EXPLETIVE)”
Either pick another complaint or stop doing stuff that doesn’t involve tapioca, ginger ale, bran cereal, Depends, or the VFW. That includes volunteering for life-threatening assignments when you’re a week away from retirement, climbing ladders to put out fires in skyscrapers, breaking back into Alcatraz to take out homegrown terrorists, or mounting a rescue operation to Alderaan.
And we’re all just supposed to chuckle to ourselves and say “Yep, there it is again. I know that line. How funny!”
You know, I really am getting too old for this… bad writing.
3.) “IT’S QUIET… [ALMOST] TOO QUIET.”
All right, we get it: something’s up.
The birds have stopped chirping, the neighbor’s death-metal that plays night and day has stopped setting off car alarms, and you can hear a gnat fart three doors down.
Maybe it’s a secret clan of vampire ninjas waiting to drop from your skylight, maybe that serial killer the douchebag media have made into a superstar is hiding in your half-bath, or maybe a UFO is about to abduct another hillbilly and give him a stainless-steel enema.
(Psst…! There’s no such thing as ‘too quiet’–there’s just ‘quiet’ and ‘not quiet.’)
You have to admit, Protagonist-That’s-About-To-Have-Your-Tuckus-Handed-To-You, that it ain’t really ‘too quiet.’ Nobody has completely drowned out all the auditory sensation in the entire freaking world so that they can get the drop on you; they’re just being really not-noisy so you don’t know that they’re around. And if you happen to have some extra-sensory ability that let’s you know they’re around, so much the better.
So stop complaining about how much quiet there is; you know the feces is about to hit the proverbial bladed cooling device. Lock and load, baby, and tee-off on that mother. Then let’s get on to Act II before we all die of hypertension brought on by extreme page-rage.
2.) “IT HAS BEGUN”/”AND SO IT BEGINS…”
While they deliver a sense of mystery and foreknowledge on the part of the speaker to things/events/long-unfulfilled prophecies, these puppies have gotten stale. Now, I like a good epic storyline and mysterious plotline as much as the next Cecil B. DeMille fan, but dang, has this one got to go.
I recently burned thorough four seasons of Babylon 5, which in my estimation is one of the most tightly-written shows in history. Spanning five planned years of epic story, it has a beginning, middle, and end–something modern shows could use a healthy dose of–the sci-fi juggernaut featured a master-plan of sorts with a race of aliens called the First Ones, and their interference in the normal flow of galactic history and its races’ development. Apparently one of the First One races, the Vorlons, tinkered with human and alien DNA over the course of thousands of years. Their opponents, The Shadows, did the same, all for their big war to see who would run the Milky Way. They knew the war was coming, and so Kosh, the Vorlon ambassador to the Babylon 5 space station, tells the Captain (who plays a MAJOR part in the coming war) “And so it begins.”
You know, I respect J. Michael Straczynski, the show’s creator and writer–anybody who could link up a story of this magnitude on the backs of pizza boxes in college puts Billy Shakespeare to shame. The guy is a genius storyteller, but even geniuses trip over their I.Q.s at some point, and so I have to protest his use of this WAY-overused cliché. Back when the show aired (1993-1998), it was just on the cusp of being overused; you’d heard it before, but only sparingly. And in light of how mind-bakingly awesome that show was, J.M.S. gets a pass. Today, however, it’s the literary equivalent of sitting in traffic: you see it all the time, but hate it with a passion.
AND A TIE FOR #1
No. No, I don’t get it. So why don’t you use up the next six paragraphs or five minutes of screen-time to explain to me in a long, boring, expository manner, just what the hell you do mean? And while we’re at it, the audience/reader will find out, too! Yay us!
I could say more, but the video below speaks volumes.
“THE ONE”/”THE CHOSEN ONE”
Anytime a writer needs an instant superhero origin or and easy way out of creating a backstory for an otherwise humdrum character, he throws out the ancient prophecy and all of a sudden, the nerdy kid is supposed to save the world. Ridiculously, ridiculously overused.
Now, you might be saying: “Wait–Matt, isn’t Amos Harlow’s character in BLACK DOG ‘The Chosen One?'”
Yes and no. Yes, because he’s special and has a destiny to fulfill and doesn’t know it; no, because I never actually call him ‘The Chosen One.”
That phrase is trite and even looks stupid on paper. A character can have a destiny to fulfill and never even know it, and never be told he’s/she’s the Chosen One. They can just be special or marked out for greatness (or tragedy) and let that play out naturally in the story without having to give them a special title. It’s gross negligence/laziness on the part of the writer, shunning depth of character and a detailed background in favor of a moniker that’s become a catchphrase.
Writers out there: AVOID AVOID AVOID this cliché like Brussel sprouts.
The sequel to BLACK DOG: THE LONG DARK ROAD will be out sometime in the Spring, hopefully March or early April.
Travis Gentry, the cover artist, sent me an image to use at Space City Con last weekend here in Houston. He turned the “unfinished” image into a teaser poster, which drew the crowds to the table like flies to, um… dead stuff.
If this is unfinished, the final product is going to be phenomenal.
Things that we find pleasing but believe the majority of the rest of the world does not, so we keep our yaps shut– at least until we find other like minds and openly admit our secret with a nervous chuckle or a pent-up belly laugh.
Like how you were too embarrassed to admit you liked Jem, even though you only watched it the first time because you had to share the family’s one TV with your two younger sisters, and got sort-of-kind-of-semi-but-not-really-too-interested in the storyline, which actually wasn’t that bad, really, and maybe the animation was pretty good, because after all, it was done by Hasbro and Sunbow Productions (“the same guys that did G.I. JOE and Transformers,” you told a buddy, if said buddy happened by and caught you watching it and maybe laughing out loud at the antics of Jerrica Benton and the rest of the Holograms.)
Or, you know… any similar hypothetical that never, ever really happened.
Anyway, here are my Top 5 Comics that I’m slightly ashamed of admitting that I like, why I think that the world thinks they’re shameful to like, and why I like them.
Agree or disagree at your individual whim.
Tiger-men controlling a Roman Empire-esque east coast; leopard-men sailing the seas as post-apocalyptic pirates; lion-men conservationsists herding and protecting “animals” (humans) on wildlife preserves in the west; rat-men living in the sunken ruins of New York City. Lost in this strange new world and hunted by its denizens is Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth. The titular hero took his name from a bunker (Command-D) where he and the last remnants of humanity survived a namless cataclysm that engulfed the earth, turning animals into our intelligent, bipedal masters and humans into mindless, speechless, bestial cattle.
While obviously a rip-off of Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Apes, creator/writer/artist Jack Kirby put a new spin on the idea, adding his flair for action and adventure with a twist of weird science that became his trademark in the comics industry.
Out of all Kirby’s legendary creations–Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the New Gods, Silver Surfer, Challengers of the Unknown, among many others–I think KAMANDI is the one that stands out to me the most. It’s different from the rest of his work; the hero is still a paragon of right in a world of wrong, but the world itself is darker, more sinsiter, and totally alien.
I list it at #5 because it’s the least embarassing–it’s Kirby, it’s post-apocalyptic, and both are right down my driveway. AND I just bought the first of two omnibus editions collecting the entire run for my birthday. I’m about halfway done and loving it.
So is KAMANDI a guilty pleasure?
In the sense that it’s a bit goofy, sometimes over the top, and has morals and ideals that most people find too old-fashioned nowadays?
In the sense that it’s an embarrassment, awfully-executed, and unworthy of our time and respect?
4. THE HAUNTED TANK
You know, like a scout tank haunted by a dead soldier in World War II.
Yeah–that kind of oddball.
The Haunted Tank was a series feature in G.I. Combat from DC Comics. Written and created by great war comics writer Robert Kanigher (SGT ROCK, THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER, THE LOSERS, ENEMY ACE) and illustrated by some guy named Russ Heath, The Haunted Tank was the story of the crew of a World War II Stuart tank–a light reconaissance tank used to scout ahead of tank columns for danger. The tank’s captain was Jeb Stuart–just like the tank and just like the Confederate general the tank was named for. The crew were all Southern boys and because of this, the ghost of general J.E.B. Stuart “haunted” the tank, giving his namesake cryptic guidance from the Great Beyond and helping them get through the war alive. No one but Jeb ever saw the General, and though the crew thought Jeb might be a little crazy, they hung a Confederate battle flag from the tank’s radio antenna in honor of the General’s ghost that seemed to be helping them.
The crew of the Haunted Tank faced a lot of real-world nightmares from the Nazis in the European and African theaters of war and the Japanese in a rare Pacific theater stint. But they had their share of supernatural danger as well, once in the form of Genghis Khan’s ghost, who battled General Stuart’s ghost while the crew of the Haunted Tank tussled with a Panzer tank that Khan was championing.
People wince when I mention this book; obviously, it’s the Confederate battle flag (which DC needlessly and cowardly erased from their DC SHOWCASE black and white compilations) and the good guys being Southern and helped along by a Southern general.
But if you can get past the historical taboo and look at the story for what it is–a great supernatural war comic–then you can enjoy it and leave the past in the past where it belongs.
Cable is one of those characters you aren’t supposed to like, simply because he was drawn by an artist who is held in low regard, who I won’t name but his name rhymes with ROB and LIEFELD. Yes, he was part of a cheesy reboot of NEW MUTANTS, and yes, he was something of a Mary Sue, what with his teleportation (bodysliding) to practically anywhere he wanted, his massive telekinetic powers that dwarfed those of Professor X and Jean Grey combined, and his uncanny tactical mind that always seemed to make the right choices, combat-ically speaking.
But what a lot of the naysayers don’t realize is that even though [That Artist] created the look of Cable, he didn’t create Cable. That was a gal by the name of Louise Simonson, picking up where a little-known X-MEN writer named Chris Claremont left off. Claremont introduced us to Nathan Summers, the mutant wünderkind offspring of Scott Summers (Cyclops) and Madelyne Pryor (the Jean Grey clone) in the pages of UNCANNY X-MEN. The kid was sent into the far-flung future to be cured of a techno-organic virus (which eventually claimed his left arm) and to be raised there in safety. Growns-up Nathan shows back up in NEW MUTANTS #87, calling himself Cable, and proceeds to whip the ever-loving crap out of a villain named Stryfe, who he’s come to stop from creating the future that Cable grew up in. Cable recruits some of the young mutants for soldiers in his war, along with a few merc types, and forms X-Force, a team that goes on to crush Stryfe and stop the mega-villain Apocalypse from ruining the Earth’s day by destroying it.
I like the book’s (and character’s) paranoia, the sense of impending doom that always hung over the stories. You got the sense that if the Cable Company didn’t set things to rights, there would be nothing to set to rights. Cable already knew what was going to happen to the world–he’d just come from living in the midst of a war zone and freedom-fighting his entire life. I like those types of “future-warning” characters (Kyle Reese, anyone?) and attempts by present-day heroes to wipe out an undesirable future. The whole time-travel, undoing-what’s-already-been- done thing gives me a calculus headache that sixty kilos of street-cut of Goody’s or BC powders couldn’t dent, but I still love it, and Cable had it in spades.
To be honest, I haven’t kept up with the future-soldier in years, partly because of caving in to comic-book peer pressure and partly because I really don’t collect comic books anymore, unless I can get them in trade paperback collected editions or omnibus editions. There’s some whole new story about Cable fleeing to the future to protect a messianic mutant child that could tip the balance… waitaminute. Maybe I might head down to the local shop, you know…just to see.
So yes: I declare my love for this book, and that’s something even The Artist Formerly Known As Rob Liefeld can’t tarnish.
2. POWER PACK
POWER PACK came out at a time when I was heavily into the kids’ action-adventure movies that defined my generation–CLOAK AND DAGGER, THE GOONIES, EXPLORERS. The common denominator in all these films were the kids: they acted on their own, with no adult supervision, and had the adventures of a lifetime–and if they weren’t careful, they might just learn something (as Bill Cosby once said of his obese creation.)
The story was of four kids–all siblings–Alex, Julie, Jack, and Katie Power–who lived with their parents in Virginia Beach, VA. Their dad was a physicist who was working on an antimatter converter to make a pure, clean, abundant energy source. An alien whose planet was destroyed by a similar experiment with antimatter, tried to warn the Powers, but was mortally wounded by enemy aliens in the attempt. The alien–Whitey, a humanoid-horse guy–passed his powers on to the Power kids to finish his mission. The enemy aliens, the Snarks–a reptilian race–wanted the secret to Dr. Power’s antimatter experiments, and kidnapped the kids’ parents. The kids, with the help of Whitey’s intelligent starship named Friday (I’m guessing a tip of the hat to Heinlein), stopped the experiment and saved their parents, using costumes created by Friday.
Reasons I loved the book:
POWER PACK was the ultimate example of the last comic that was created FOR KIDS, back before the industry whored itself out to “mature audiences.” You know what, comics industry? Even when you create something specifically for kids, the kid in ALL of us can enjoy it. Just ask Steven Spielberg.
The kids kept their identities secret from their parents.
They HAD parents, lived with BOTH of them, and were loved and cared for BY THEM. Jim and Maggie Power provided stability and support, and the kids didn’t have a “horribly tragic background” to make them heroes.
They dealt with “kid stuff,” like loose teeth and bullies, yet they also faced serious issues: sexual abuse, death of parents, kidnapping and missing children, child abuse, homelessness, and even murder.
They made up their own codenames: Gee, Lightspeed, Mass Master, and Energizer. And all the names SOUNDED like a kid made them up.
Two supremely talented women created the book: Louise Simonson and June Brigman. Simonson’s writing was always great, and she knew her inner kid as well as anyone out there, and Brigman’s artwork was spectacular, bringing out the kids’ emotions while still keeping the art comic-booky. AND they’re both Georgia girls, which may account for some of their innate awesomeness.
All the stuff I like about the book are all the things that make it a guilty pleasure comic–by TODAY’s standards, at least. I STILL love the book, and I know it’s been collected in at least three trades, but the series ran 62 issues, and I want ’em ALL.
Above all, it was fun–something a comic book hasn’t been, since, well… POWER PACK.
1. CAPTAIN CARROT AND HIS AMAZING ZOO CREW!
I will not defend this book, other than to present you with the Heroes and Villains of the book. And for those of you who don’t give a single chuckle or, at the very least, a wry smile, I would consult a doctor to see if your pulse is still there, and the religious leader of your choice to check up on the existence of your soul.
Captain Carrot: Rodney Rabbit, a rabbit of Gnu York; a rabbit. The leader of the team; After consuming one of his “cosmic carrots” he gains superpowers for roughly 24 hours–super-strength, endurance, heightened hearing and vision senses and a super-powerful leap.
Alley-Kat-Abra: Felina Furr of Mew Orleans; a cat. A martial arts instructor and student of the mystical arts, Felina uses her “Magic Wanda” to cast various types of spells.
Pig-Iron: Peter Porkchops of Piggsburgh; a pig. Struck by a meteor fragment, the diminutive Peter fell (along with the meteorite) into a vat of molten metal in the steel mill where he worked. The consequent chemical reaction transformed his now-enormous body into living steel, with strength and invulnerability to match.
Rubberduck: Byrd Rentals of Follywood, Califurnia; a duck. Byrd, a movie star, was given the power to stretch his body into any shape and length when a meteor fragment struck his hot tub. Byrd Rentals’ name is a parody of Burt Reynolds.
Yankee Poodle: Rova Barkitt, also of Follywood; a poodle. Rova, who worked as a gossip columnist, was interviewing Byrd when they were both struck by meteor fragments. Rova gained the ability to project a repelling force (in the form of blue stars) with one hand and an attraction force (in the form of red-and-white stripes) with the other. Rova Barkitt’s name is a parody of gossip columnist Rona Barrett.
Fastback: Timmy Joe Terrapin of the Okey-Dokey Swamp (Okeefenokee) in the American south; a turtle. While trying to catch a bus to Kornsas City, Timmy was struck by a meteor fragment and gained the ability to move at superspeed in his family.
Little Cheese: Chester Cheese, a student at Follywood High School; a mouse. Chester had the ability to shrink from the comparable size of his teammates to a size of only a few centimeters
American Eagle: Replaced Little Cheese on the reconstituted Zoo Crew after the latter’s death. In his civilian life, the Eagle is Johnny Jingo, “the talk radio host with two right wings”. He is the only member who does not have powers, though he does use gadgets similar to those used by Batman.
A.C.R.O.S.T.I.C. : A Cabal Recently Organized Solely To Instigate Crimes (and other variants designed to fit that particular acrostic), a secretive organization that plots to overthrow the American government.
Brother Hood: A.C.R.O.S.T.I.C.’s shadowy leader, named for his black hood. He turns out to be “Feathers” Fillmore, Mallard Fillmore’s criminally-adept brother.
Dr. Hoot: an owl who uses various scientific gadgets to commit crimes.
Cold Turkey: A turkey with weather control and “cold ray” devices; he calls his hoodlums “Snowbirds.”
Jailhouse Roc: a giant flying vulture who had been in jail since the late 1950s until released to work for A.C.R.O.S.T.I.C.
Armordillo: A villain from the “Lone Stork State” of Taxes with “nine-banded armor” and razor-sharp claws.
Kongaroo: A massive kangaroo from Aukstralia who is transformed into a giant by A.C.R.O.S.T.I.C.
Rash Al Paca: An analogue of DC’s Ra’s al Ghul; he is working with the anti-mammal movement in the storyline The Final Ark to flood the world.
Salamandroid: A heat-based villain and creation of Dr. Hoot; a member of the anti-mammal movement in The Final Ark.
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So here is my challenge to you, my dare: If YOU can come up with a better TOP 5, please do. Post them in the COMMENTS for this entry. And if you DISAGREE with me, throw it up in a COMMENT and let us ALL hear about it.
I’ll be doing these Top 5 lists from time to time, all with various subjects, so keep checking back!
Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet Mary Robinette Kowal, a fantasy author whose books, Shades of Milk and Honey and Glamour in Glass are set in a post-Napoleonic War Europe where magic exists. A great mix of Jane Austen-type fiction with a fantasy element, where ladies vie for suitors using glamour, an illusory magic that helps (or hinders) their social status. It’s an interesting take on the mores of using magic to get ahead in a world where women are socially down a rung on the ladder.
The signing was at Murder by the Book, a local indie bookshop and one of the best in Houston. They began as a mystery/crime bookshop, but expanded to include all genres.
Kowal was the epitome of the Three P’s–pleasent, polite, and patient–signing whatever folks wanted signed and taking the time to answer questions about her writing. She also gave a terrific display of shadow puppetry and described the art of puppetry itself, in which she’s trained and performed professionally for many years.
Thanks to Amanda, my-sister-in-law, who’s friends with Mary, for the introduction and the opportunity to meet her.
Check out Mary’s site and her books, and let her know what you think!